Gateway to the Classics: The Golden Fleece and the Heroes by Padraic Colum
The Golden Fleece and the Heroes by  Padraic Colum

The Golden Fleece

dropcap image HEY brought Jason into a hall where Æson, his father, waited. Very strange did this old and grave-looking man appear to him. But when Æson spoke, Jason remembered the tone of his father's voice and he clasped him to him. And his father knew him even without the sight of the ruby ring which Jason had upon his finger.


Then the young man began to tell of the centaur and of his life upon the Mountain Pelion. As they were speaking together Pelias came to where they stood, Pelias in the purple robe of a king and with the crown upon his head. Æson tightly clasped Jason as if he had become fearful for his son. Pelias smilingly took the hand of the young man and the hand of his brother, and he bade them both welcome to his palace.

Then, walking between them, the king brought the two into the feasting hall. The youth who had known only the forest and the mountainside had to wonder at the beauty and the magnificence of all he saw around him. On the walls were bright pictures; the tables were of polished wood, and they had vessels of gold and dishes of silver set upon them; along the walls were vases of lovely shapes and colors, and everywhere there were baskets heaped with roses white and red.

The king's guests were already in the hall, young men and elders, and maidens went amongst them carrying roses which they strung into wreaths for the guests to put upon their heads. A soft-handed maiden gave Jason a wreath of roses and he put it on his head as he sat down at the king's table. When he looked at all the rich and lovely things in that hall, and when he saw the guests looking at him with friendly eyes, Jason felt that he was indeed far away from the dim spaces of the mountain forest and from the darkness of the centaur's cave.

Rich food and wine such as he had never dreamt of tasting were brought to the tables. He ate and drank, and his eyes followed the fair maidens who went through the hall. He thought how glorious it was to be a king. He heard Pelias speak to Æson, his father, telling him that he was old and that he was weary of ruling; that he longed to make friends, and that he would let no enmity now be between him and his brother. And he heard the king say that he, Jason, was young and courageous, and that he would call upon him to help to rule the land, and that, in a while, Jason would bear full sway over the kingdom that Cretheus had founded.

So Pelias spoke to Æson as they both sat together at the king's high table. But Jason, looking on them both, saw that the eyes that his father turned on him were full of warnings and mistrust.

After they had eaten King Pelias made a sign, and a cupbearer bringing a richly wrought cup came and stood before the king. The king stood up, holding the cup in his hands, and all in the hall waited silently. Then Pelias put the cup into Jason's hands and he cried out in a voice that was heard all through the hall, "Drink from this cup, O nephew Jason! Drink from this cup, O man who will soon come to rule over the kingdom that Cretheus founded!"

All in the hall stood up and shouted with delight at that speech. But the king was not delighted with their delight, Jason saw. He took the cup and he drank the rich wine; pride grew in him; he looked down the hall and he saw faces all friendly to him; he felt as a king might feel, secure and triumphant. And then he heard King Pelias speaking once more.

"This is my nephew Jason, reared and fostered in the centaur's cave. He will tell you of his life in the forest and the mountains—his life that was like to the life of the half gods."

Then Jason spoke to them, telling them of his life on the Mountain Pelion. When he had spoken, Pelias said:

"I was bidden by the oracle to beware of the man whom I should see coming toward me half shod. But, as you all see, I have brought the half-shod man to my palace and my feasting hall, so little do I dread the anger of the gods.

"And I dread it little because I am blameless. This youth, the son of my brother, is strong and courageous, and I rejoice in his strength and courage, for I would have him take my place and reign over you. Ah, that I were as young as he is now! Ah, that I had been reared and fostered as he was reared and fostered by the wise centaur and under the eyes of the immortals! Then would I do that which in my youth I often dreamed of doing! Then would I perform a deed that would make my name and the name of my city famous throughout all Greece! Then would I bring from far Colchis, the famous Fleece of Gold that King Æetes keeps guard over!"

He finished speaking, and all in the hall shouted out, "The Golden Fleece, the Golden Fleece from Colchis!" Jason stood up, and his father's hand gripped him. But he did not heed the hold of his father's hand, for "The Golden Fleece, the Golden Fleece!" rang in his ears, and before his eyes were the faces of those who were all eager for the sight of the wonder that King Æetes kept guard over.

Then said Jason, "Thou hast spoken well, O King Pelias! Know, and know all here assembled, that I have heard of the Golden Fleece and of the dangers that await on any one who should strive to win it from King Æetes's care. But know, too, that I would strive to win the Fleece and bring it to Iolcus, winning fame both for myself and for the city."

When he had spoken he saw his father's stricken eyes; they were fixed upon him. But he looked from them to the shining eyes of the young men who were even then pressing around where he stood. "Jason, Jason!" they shouted. "The Golden Fleece for Iolcus!"

"King Pelias knows that the winning of the Golden Fleece is a feat most difficult," said Jason. "But if he will have built for me a ship that can make the voyage to far Colchis, and if he will send throughout all Greece the word of my adventuring so that all the heroes who would win fame might come with me, and if ye, young heroes of Iolcus, will come with me, I will peril my life to win the wonder that King Æetes keeps guard over."

He spoke and those in the hall shouted again and made clamor around him. But still his father sat gazing at him with stricken eyes.

King Pelias stood up in the hall and holding up his scepter he said, "O my nephew Jason, and O friends assembled here, I promise that I will have built for the voyage the best ship that ever sailed from a harbor in Greece. And I promise that I will send throughout all Greece a word telling of Jason's voyage so that all heroes desirous of winning fame may come to help him and to help all of you who may go with him to win from the keeping of King Æetes the famous Fleece of Gold."

So King Pelias said, but Jason, looking to the king from his father's stricken eyes, saw that he had been led by the king into the acceptance of the voyage so that he might fare far from Iolcus, and perhaps lose his life in striving to gain the wonder that King Æetes kept guarded. By the glitter in Pelias's eyes he knew the truth. Nevertheless Jason would not take back one word that he had spoken; his heart was strong within him, and he thought that with the help of the bright-eyed youths around and with the help of those who would come to him at the word of the voyage, he would bring the Golden Fleece to Iolcus and make famous for all time his own name.

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