Word of the Day – Thursday, January 19th



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ARGO (AHR-goh)

The ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed
Common clues: Ship to Colchis; Medea rode on it; 50-oared ship; Jason's fleece-finding ship; Golden Fleece craft; Mythical ship; Jason's ship; Ship of myth
Crossword puzzle frequency: 6 times a year
Frequency in English language: 68205 / 86800
Mythical Ship Sets Sail

In Greek mythology, the Argonauts were a band of heroes who, in the years before the Trojan War, accompanied Jason to Colchis in his quest for the Golden Fleece. Their name comes from their ship, the Argo which in turn was named after its builder Argus. They were sometimes called Minyans, after a prehistoric tribe of the area.

The Argo, by Lorenzo Costa

After the death of King Cretheus, the Aeolian Pelias usurped the Iolcan throne from his half-brother Aeson and became king of Iolcus in Thessaly (near the modern city of Volos). Because of this unlawful act, an oracle had warned him that a descendant of Aeolus would seek revenge. Pelias put to death every prominent descendant of Aeolus he could reach, but spared Aeson at the dramatic pleas of his mother Tyro. Pelias, however, kept Aeson prisoner and forced him to renounce his inheritance. Later, Aeson married Polymele, who bore him a son named Diomedes. Pelias intended to kill the baby at once, but Polymele summoned her kinswomen to weep over him, as if he were a still-born. She faked a burial and smuggled the baby to Mount Pelion, where he was raised by the centaur Chiron, who renamed the boy Jason.

When Jason was 20 years old, he went to consult an oracle who ordered him to dress himself as a Magnesian, wear a leopard skin and carry two spears. Then he should head to the Iolcan court. Jason did as he was told. Now a new oracle warned Pelias to be on his guard against a man with one shoe. One day, Pelias was presiding a solemn sacrifice to Poseidon, to which some neighboring kings attended. Among the crowd there stood a tall youth in leopard skin with only one sandal. Pelias came to recognize him as his nephew. Jason had lost his sandal while crossing the muddy Anavros river. He helped an old woman who was begging to be transported. That woman was Hera under disguise, who wanted to punish Pelias for having neglected the customary sacrifices to her. When Pelias met Jason, he could not kill him on the spot, for some prominent kings of the Aeolian family were there. Instead, he approached the youth and asked: "What would you do if an oracle announced that one of your fellow-citizens were destined to kill you?". Jason replied that he would send him to go and fetch the Golden Fleece, not knowing that Hera had put those words in his mouth.

Jason learned later that Pelias was being haunted by the ghost of Phrixus, who had fled from Orchomenus riding on a divine ram to avoid being sacrificed, and took refuge in Colchis where he was later denied proper burial. According to an oracle, Iolcus would never prosper unless his ghost were taken back in a ship, together with the golden ram's fleece. This fleece now hung from a tree in the grove of the Colchian Ares, guarded night and day by a dragon that never slept. Pelias swore before Zeus that he would give up the throne at Jason's return, while expecting that Jason's attempt to steal the Golden Fleece would be a fatal enterprise. Hera, however, would act on Jason's favour during this perilous journey.

Jason was accompanied by some of the principal heroes of ancient Greece. The number of Argonauts varies, but usually totals between 40 and 55; traditional versions of the story place their number at 50.

Some have hypothesised that the legend of the Golden Fleece was based on a practice of the Black Sea tribes of placing a lamb's fleece at the bottom of a stream to entrap particles of gold being washed down from upstream. This practice was still in use in recent times, particularly in the Svaneti region of Georgia.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Argo".