Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece is one of the more well-known stories. Told in the Argonautica and other stories, it chronicles a group of heroes sailing into parts unknown, braving monsters, facing perils, and doing many other questy things. However, what the stories don’t tell is that the whole thing is an elaborate heist.
While most heroic quests follow a group of people out for treasure and facing peril, Jason is out for a very specific treasure, one that already has an owner. Sure, he’s doing it in order to appease a king so he can prove his worth, but theft is theft.
The entire set up is that of a heist, too. Jason assembles a crew for his ship the Argo (the getaway car, sort of). Each member of his crew seems to fulfill the same criteria as on a heist. He outfits himself with specialists to get the job done.
The Boreads (sons of Boreas, the North Wind) are instrumental. Gifted with an ability to fly because of their wings, they are able to fight the Harpies where it counts, up in the air. The Roman poet Virgil will borrow the Harpies in his own heroic epic about the hero Aeneas, so naturally the Boreads simply drive them off so the villains can come back another time.
Orpheus is also part of the crew, but he's a musician and so would seem an odd choice for what most would think is a straightforward quest by heroes using strength of arms; however, Orpheus sings songs that charm and aid in morale. More importantly, he counteracts the song of the Sirens, drowning out their seductive song with his own—all without the aid of a Gibson amplifier.
Atalanta, the huntress, is not allowed on board by Jason in The Argonautica, because Apollonius of Rhodes (the epic’s author) was more than a little sexist, claiming that having women on ships meant doom and would divide the crew. Fortunately, other versions of the story include her, and I think she adds something to the overall mix of the crew as the first acknowledged woman hero in Greek myth, able to stand with some of the most renowned heroes in the ancient world.
Oh, and Hercules comes along, too.
Of course, if Hercules is on the crew, he could get the fleece single-handedly, making the rest of the crew superfluous. In fact, the crew tries to elect Hercules the leader of the entire expedition, but he insists Jason be in charge.
Now, the crew of the Argo is a motley bunch, as is befitting a classic heist. Their accompanying egos are a little disastrous when they reach the island of Lemnos and its all-female government; the crew of the Argo quickly decides that extended shore leave is in order. Only when Hercules dresses them down for this (because the Golden Fleece won’t retrieve itself) do they pull their act together.
Shortly thereafter Hercules is conveniently left behind at one of the stops.
Most interesting about the entire story of Jason is not Jason at all, who is a bit thick, but the princess he meets and eventually marries: Medea. She is the daughter of Aetes, the king who owns (but really doesn’t hold) the Golden Fleece. Medea really is the central character in this epic. Not only is she a princess, but a sorceress who worships the goddess Hecate. Without her, Jason could never succeed in his quest.
Jason accomplishes the Fleece Heist with subterfuge and planning: Medea’s planning. She plans everything Jason must do to overcome each of the challenges set by Aetes, providing the protection, advice, and potions for him. Without her, the Fleece would be lost, and Jason, whose overall intelligence really isn’t there, would die an ignominious death. But with Medea’s help as mastermind of the heist, they are victorious.
So what is thought by many as a great quest, is nothing more than an ancient form of that beloved type of crime story, the heist. It even has a getaway ship in the form of the Argo.
Andy Adams is an adjunct professor of English at various colleges in the Phoenix area. He has an affectation for fedoras as they complement his villainous goatee. He’s been known to poke his head onto Twitter @A3Writer, but he’s never been big into birds. He blogs at A3writer.com about writing, teaching, and the conquest of fictional worlds—they’re more fun than the real world.
Read all posts by Andy Adams for Criminal Element.