Classical Mythology: Crime and Punishment: The Long Way Home

Crime and Punishment: The Long Way Home

Learning of the theft, Aetes quickly sent his son Apsyrtus and a fleet of warships after them. Half the fleet headed for the Bosporus; the other half for the mouth of the Danube. Though the Argo had made for the Danube as well, Apsyrtus arrived there before them.

The Argonauts soon found themselves trapped: A Colchian ship guarded the entrance to the Danube River. They took refuge on an island sacred to Artemis, where they knew the Colchians would not dare launch an attack that might offend the goddess.

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Sending him a message claiming she had been abducted, Medea then lured her brother to a meeting on the island, where Jason ambushed and killed him. The Argonauts killed everyone on Apsyrtus's ship and fled toward the Danube.

Mythed by a Mile

The crime might have been even worse. According to Apollodorus, Apsyrtus was just a child who ran away with his sister on the Argo. Medea and Jason killed the innocent boy, dismembered him, and tossed the body parts into the sea. This forced the Colchian ships to call off the chase in order to collect the body parts for burial.

The Argo escaped the Colchians. But Zeus—furious at this brazen betrayal of Medea's brother—brewed up a storm. Zeus ordered Jason and Medea to seek purification for the murder from Medea's aunt, the famed sorceress Circe. But Circe lived on the island of Aeaea off the western coast of Italy—and the Argo lay in the Danube, cut off from any direct route to Aeaea. Rather than finding an outlet to the sea and sailing all the way around the southern coasts of Greece and Italy, the Argo boldly chose a circuitous—and highly improbable—route of inland rivers to somehow cross northern Greece and Italy. After making its way to the western Mediterranean, the ship sailed on to Aeaea.

Without asking any questions, Circe purified Jason and Medea with the blood of a pig and made sacrifices to both Zeus and the Erinyes (Furies). But when Circe learned who they were and how they had betrayed her brother, Aetes, and her nephew, Apsyrtus, she angrily chased them off the island.

Dangerous Waters

Jason and Medea were fortunate that Hera had not given up her plot to punish Pelias. The goddess ordered favorable winds from Aeolus, the keeper of the winds, and asked the sea goddess Thetis for help, too.

As they approached Anthemoessa, home of the Sirens, whose seductive singing had caused so many sailors to abandon their voyages and slowly waste away from hunger, Orpheus began to sing and play on his lyre as loudly as he could. By drowning out the seductive strains of the Sirens, Orpheus saved the Argonauts.

To reach the Ionian Sea, west of Greece, the Argo still had to navigate the narrow strait between the cliff of Scylla, a six-headed beast that preyed on sailors from a sea cave, and the whirlpool of the monster Charybdis. But Thetis secretly took the helm and steered them safely through.

The Nereids then safely skimmed the Argo over the surface of the water around Sicily. This prevented the violent currents from carrying them into the Wandering Rocks—moving rocks that destroyed ships attempting to pass among them.

After crossing the Ionian Sea, the Argonauts at last reached the Greek island of Drepane (probably what we call Corfu today). Here they met the other half of Aetes' fleet. The Colchians demanded the immediate return of Medea.

The Argonauts sought help from Queen Arete and King Alcinous, who agreed to prevent the separation of Jason and Medea—as long as the couple were married. The crew performed the marriage rites that very night in the sacred cave of Macris. The newlyweds slept that night in this cave, which was known forever after as Medea's Cave.

The next morning, King Alcinous informed the Colchians that he would not allow them to take Medea from her new husband. The Colchians, unwilling to challenge the King of Drepane and afraid to face the wrath of Aetes if they returned home empty-handed, received permission from Alcinous to settle there. Jason and Medea were free to go.


Just as the Argo reached the southern coast of Greece, an ill wind blew them all the way across the Mediterranean Sea to the Libyan coast. An enormous wave then deposited the ship far inland, leaving it stranded on the desert sands.

The Argonauts might have given up, but three nymphs appeared and issued a cryptic oracle: After seeing Poseidon's horses unyoked, they should repay their mother for carrying them so long in her womb. When a horse galloped out of the sea and raced across the desert, Jason solved the riddle. Their mother's womb was the Argo. So the Argonauts repaid the ship by carrying her on rollers across the desert for nine arduous days.

When they arrived at the saltwater Lake Tritonis, the Argonauts went out to search for fresh water. They found themselves in the Garden of the Hesperides, where the wailing nymphs informed them that after stealing their apples, Heracles had created a freshwater spring just the day before (see The Labors of Heracles).

In trying to find Heracles, the Argonauts lost two more of their members. Canthus was killed by a shepherd after trying to steal some sheep. The seer Mopsus died from the bite of a deadly snake—one of those that had sprung up from the blood that dripped from Medusa's head as Perseus flew over Libya (see The Model Hero: Perseus).


To the ancient Greeks, a tripod was a three-legged vessel used for heating coals, usually in preparation for a sacrifice to the gods. In essence, a tripod was a barbecue grill.

After returning to the Argo, the crew searched for days but could find no outlet from Tritonis to the sea. Orpheus suggested offering the gods his bronze tripod, a gift from his father Apollo. The god Triton responded, pushing the ship all the way to the Mediterranean along a route that the Argonauts never could have navigated themselves.

After the long journey across the sea, the Argonauts arrived at Crete. But the giant Talus prevented them from landing by hurling boulders at the ship. The last of the ancient race of bronze giants, Talus was invulnerable—except for one vein near his ankle. Medea used her sorcery to hypnotize the giant, who stumbled, banging his ankle against a sharp rock. The vein burst and Talus plummeted into the sea.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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