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The name given to the companions of Jason in his search for the Golden Fleece (for the origins of this expedition, see Jason). They were so called after the Argo, the name of the ship they sailed in, which means swift but also evokes the name of its builder (see Argos).

  • The Argonauts. A number of catalogues have preserved the list of names of the Argonauts who had come running at the news, proclaimed by heralds throughout Greece, that Jason was preparing an expedition to Colchis. These lists have obvious differences, reflecting their various ages. Two of them are especially interesting because they are largely independent of each other, namely those of Apollonius of Rhodes and of Apollodorus. The number of the Argonauts is fairly constant at fifty to fifty-five. The ship was built for forty oarsmen. A certain number of names occur in both lists and represent the firmest basis for the legend. Apart from Jason, who was in command of the expedition, there was Argos the son of Phrixus (or, in other versions, of Arestor) who built the ship, and Tiphys, son of Hagnias, who was the helmsman. He had taken on this duty on the orders of Athena who had taught him the art of navigation, previously unknown. When Hagnias died in the land of the Mariandyni (see below) his place was taken by Erginus, the son of Poseidon. Then there was Orpheus, the musicmaker from Thrace, whose task it was to set the rhythm for the oarsmen. The gods were said to have bidden him to sail on the ship so that his singing might counter the allurements of the Sirens. The crew numbered several soothsayers - Idmon, the son of Abas, Amphiaraus and, at least in the list of Apollonius, the Lapith Mopsus. Then there were the two sons of Boreas, Zetes and Calais, the two sons of Zeus and Leda, Castor and Pollux, and their two cousins, the sons of Aphareus, Idas and Lynceus. The herald of the expedition was Aethalides, a son of Hermes, whose name does not occur in Apollodorus. All these heroes played an active part in the Argo's adventures. The following generally played minor parts: Admetus, the son of Pheres; Acastus, son of Pelias, who had accompanied his cousin Jason in defiance of his father's orders; Periclymenus, the son of Neleus; Asterius (or Asterion), the son of Cometes; the Lapith Polyphemus, the son of Elatus; Caeneus, or sometimes his son Coronus; Eurytus, the son of Hermes and (according to Appolonius) his brother Echion; Augias, son of Helios and king of Elis, the brother of Aeetes, who took part in the expedition, according to tradition, from a desire to see his brother, whom he did not know; Cepheus, the son of Aleus and (only in Apollonius' account) his brother Amphidamas; Palaemonius, the son of Hephaestus or of Aetolus; Euphemus, son of Poseidon; Peleus and his brother Telamon, both sons of Aeacus; Iphitus, son of Naubolus; Poeas, father of Philoctetes, is mentioned by Valerius Flaccus and Hyginus. There were also Iphiclus, son of Thestius, and his nephew, Meleager; Butes, son of Teleon and, in Apollonius only, Eribotes, the son of another Teleon. Apollonius and Apollodorus both include Heracles, whose name occurs in the incident concerning the abduction of Hylas, but about whom the traditions were widely at variance. Finally, both Apollonius and Apollodorus include Anceus, son of Lycurgus.

    The following names are not mentioned by Apollodorus: three of the sons of Pero, Talaus, Areius and Leodocus (Table 1); Iphiclus, son of Phylacus; Eurydamas, son of Ctimenus; Phalerus, son of Alcon; an Athenian Phlias or Phlius, son of Dionysus (Apollodorus records instead two other sons of Dionysus, Phanus and Staphylus); Nauplius, whom Apollonius distinguishes, on chronological grounds, from the father of Palamedes; Oileus, the father of Ajax the lesser. Among the relatives of Meleager, Apollonius adds to the names already listed Laocoon, the son of Porthaon, who is not mentioned by Apollodorus. There were also Eurytion, the son of Irus; Clytius and Iphitus, the sons of Eurytus; Canthus, the son of Canethus; and Asterius and Amphion, the sons of Hyperasius.

    On the other hand, Apollodorus names the following heroes who are not mentioned by Apollonius: besides Phanus and Staphylus (see above); Actor, son of Hippasus; Laertes, and his father-in-law Antolycus; Euryalus, son of Mecisteus, who is to be found in the Trojan cycle, like Peneleos the son of Hippalmus, Leitus, son of Alectryon, then Atalanta, the only female member of the expedition, Theseus, in whose legend it is only an episode introduced as a contrived and late device, Menoetius, the son of Actor (see above) and finally Ascalaphus and Ialmenus, two sons of Ares.

    The imagination of differing scholars and later poets ended by including among the Argonauts impressive names which were not accepted by either Apollonius or Apollodorus: for example, Tydeus, Asclepius the healer, Philammon the musician, Nestor, who is mentioned only in the poem of Valerius Flaccus, Pirithous, Theseus' inseparable companion, who is there only because of the latter's presence in the legend, just as the mention of Heracles brings in his son Hyllus in direct contradiction of the generally accepted chronologies, together with Iolaus, Iphis the brother of Eurystheus and even, but only in Hyginus, Iphicles, the twin brother of Heracles. Valerius Flaccus gives the name of a certain Clymenus, uncle of Meleager, generally thought to be one of his brothers (Table 27). Finally Hyginus is the only writer to mention Hippalcumis, the son of Pelops and Hippodamia, who finds no places in the generally accepted genealogies, Deucalion of Crete, the father of Idomeneus, and a hero whose twisted name seems to be Thersanor, son of the Leucothoe who was changed into a sunflower or heliotrope (see Clytia).
  • The Voyage. The ship was built at Pagasae, a Thessalian port, by Argos (see Argos 4) with the help of the goddess Athena. The wood came from Pelion save for the prow, which was a piece of the sacred oak of Dodona brought by the goddess. She herself had cut it and given it the power of speech, to such a degree that it could prophesy.

    The Argo was launched by the heroes, amid a great crowd of onlookers, on the beach of Pagasae and they embarked, after sacrificing to Apollo. The omens were good; they were interpreted by Idmon and disclosed that everyone would return safe and sound, except for Idmon himself who was fated to die during the voyage.

    The first port of call was the island of Lemnos. At that period it was inhabited only by women, since they had put all the men to death (see Aphrodite, Hypsipyle, Thoas and others). The Argonauts coupled with them and fathered sons. When they left, they set sail towards the island of Samothrace where, on the advice of Orpheus, they were initiated into the Orphic mysteries. Then they made their way into the Hellespont; they reached the island of Cyzicus in the country of the Delians whose kings was called Cyzicus. These people also received them hospitably and the king invited them to a feast and gave them many tokens of his friendship. The following evening the heroes set sail, but during the night adverse winds got up and blew them back before dawn one again on the Delian coast. The inhabitants, who did not realize that the Argonauts were their guests of the previous night, took them for Pelasgian pirates. Battle was joined. When he heard the noise King Cyzicus came in haste to lend assistance to his subjects and was immediately killed by Jason himself, who ran him through the chest with his spear. The other heroes inflicted great slaughter on their enemies, but when dawn broke and the two sides realized their mistake there was universal grief. Jason arranged a magnificent funeral for King Cyzicus. For three days the Argonauts carried on their rites of lamentation and arranged games in his honour, but Clete, Cyzicus' young wife, hanged herself in her despair. The Nymphs wept so deeply for her that from their tears there sprang a fountain which was called Clete. Before they left, as a storm precented them from putting to sea again, the Argonauts erected a statue of Cybele, the mother of the gods, on Mount Dindymus, which overlooks Cyzicus.

    The next stage of their voyage took them further east to the coast of Mysia. The inhabitants welcomed them and gave them gifts. While the heroes were busy preparing a banquet Heracles, who had broken his oar with power of his rowing during the crossing, went into the nearby forest to find a tree from which to make another. At the same time Hylas, a young man whom he loved, and who had embarked on the Argo with him, had been sent to look for fresh water in preparation for the feast. At the edge of a spring he met the Nymphs, and, overcome by his good looks, they lured him to the spring where he drowned. Polyphemus, another of the Argonauts, heard the boy's cry just as he was disappearing beneath the water. He rushed off to help him and on the road met Heracles returning from the forest. They both spent the whole night searching in the forest for Hylas and when the ship left before dawn they were not on board. Accordingly the Argonauts had to resume their voyage without Heracles and Polyphemus, for Fate had not decreed that the two heroes should take part in the capture of the Golden Fleece. Polyphemus founded the nearby town of Clios and Heracles went on to carry out his exploits single-handed.

    The Argo arrived next at the country of the Bebryces, ruled by King Amycus. According to some traditions, after Amycus had been defeated by Pollux, the fighting between the Argonauts and the Bebryces became general. Many of the latter were killed and finally they fled in every direction.

    On the following day the Argonauts left again and, swept along by the wind, they put it on the coast of Thrace, that is to say on the European bank of the Hellespont, before they could make their way into the Bosphorus. There they found themselves in the land of Phineus, a son of Poseidon, and a blind seer on whom the gods had visited an extraordinary curse: every time a table laden with food was set before him, the Harpies, creatures half woman and half bird, swooped on the food, taking part of it and leaving the remainder polluted with their droppings. The Argonauts asked Phineus to tell them what the outcome of their expedition would be but the seer refused to give them an answer before they had rid him of the Harpies. The Argonauts bade him sit at their table and when the Harpies swooped down, Calais and Zetes, who had wings as they were sons of a god of the wind, launched themselves in pursuit, until the Harpies were exhausted and promised by the Styx not to molest King Phineus any more. Once his curse had been lifted Phineus revealed that part of the Argonauts' future which they were allowed to know. He warned them against a danger which would soon threaten them on their journey, namely the Blue Rocks, moving reefs which collided with each other. To know whether they would be able to pass between them, Phineus advised them to get a dove to fly in front of them. If it succeeded in passing through the straits in safety they would be able to follow it without danger. But if the reefs closed on it the will of the gods was against them and the wise course of action would be to abandon their attempt. Then he gave them some hints about the main landmarks on the route.

    After hearing this oracle the Argonauts went on their way. When they arrived at the Blue Rocks, also known as the Symplegades, meaning the Colliding Rocks, they let loose a dove which managed to get through the channel. But the rocks, closing up again, gripped the longest feathers of its tail. The heroes waited until the rocks had parted again and then made the passage in their turn. The ship got through safe and sound, but the stern was slightly damaged, like the tail of the dove. Ever since then the Blue Rocks have remained motionless, for fate had decreed that once a ship passed them safely they could move no more.

    Having thus made their way into the Euxine or Black Sea, the Argonauts reached the land of the Mariandyni whose king, Lycus, received them favourably. It was there, during a hunt, that the seer Idmon was wounded by a boar and died. There too their steersman Tiphys, died. His place at the helm was taken by Ancaea. Then the Argonauts passed the month of the Thermodon (the river on the banks of which the Amazons were sometimes said to live) then skirted the Caucasus and arrived at the mouth of the river Phasis, which was the goal of their voyage.

    The heroes disembarked and Jason presented himself to King Aeetes, to whom he explained the mission with which Pelias had entrusted him. The king did not refuse to give him the Golden Fleece, but added as a condition that he should yoke, unaided, two bulls with brazen hoofs which breathed fire from their nostrils. These huge bulls, which Hephaestus had given Aeetes, had never known the yoke. When he had finished this first test Jason would have to plough a field and sow the teeth of a dragon. These were the rest of the teeth of Ares' dragon at Thebes, which Athena had given to Aeetes (see Cadmus and Ares).

    Jason was wondering how he could yoke these monstrous beasts when Medea, the king's daughter, who had fallen deeply in love with him, came to help him. She began by making him promise that he would marry her and take her to Greece if she allowed him to succeed in the tests which her father had set him - a promise which Jason made. Medea then gave him magic balsam (for she was very skilled in all the occult arts) with which he was to cover his body and his shield before he attacked the bulls of Hephaestus. This balm had the property of making anyone covered by it invulnerable for a whole day to harm from iron or fire. Furthermore, it showed him that the dragon's teeth would give birth to a crop of armed men who would try to kill the hero, but he had only to throw a stone into their midst from a distance and the men would start to attack each other, each accusing his neighbour of having thrown the stone, and they would all be killed by each other's blows.

    Jason, thus forewarned, managed to yoke and harness the oxen, and then to plough the field and finally he sowed the dragon's teeth. Then he concealed himself and from a distance stoned the warriors who had sprung from this strange seed. They began to fight each other and, taking advantage of their failure to notice him, Jason slew them.

    Aeetes, however, did not keep his promise: he tried to burn the Argo and kill her crew. But before he had time to do so Jason, acting on Medea's advice, had already secured the Fleece (Medea had put a spell on the dragon which was guarding it) and made his escape.

    When Aeetes discovered that Jason had fled taking with him both the Fleece and his daughter, he set out in haste to try to overtake the ship. Medea, who had foreseen that this would happen, killed her brother, Apsyrtus, whom she had taken with her, and scattered his limbs along the way. Aeetes spent some time picking them up and by the time he had done so it was too late to overtake the fugitives. Accordingly, taking with him his son's limbs, he put in at the nearest port, which was Tomi, on the western shore of the Black Sea, and buried his son there. But before he returned to Colchis he sent out several groups of his subjects in pursuit of the Argo warning them that if they returned without Medea they would be put to death in her stead.

    Another version of the story says that Apsyrtus had been sent by Aeetes in pursuit of his sister but that Jason, with the help of Medea, had killed him in a temple dedicated to Artemis which lies at the mouth of the Danube. Whatever the truth may be the Argonauts went on their way towards the Danube and followed the river upstream until they reached the Adriatic (at the date of this story the Danube, or Istros, was regarded as a river artery, linking the Black Sea and the Adriatic). Zeus, roused to anger by the murder of Apsyrtus, sent a storm which blew the storm off course. At this point the ship itself began to speak, and made Zeus' anger clear, adding that this would not cease before the Argonauts had been purified by Circe. Accordingly the ship went upstream on the Eridanus (the Po) and the Rhône, through the territories of the Ligurians and the Celts. From there the Argonauts got back into the Mediterranean, skirted Sardinia and reached the island of Aeaea, the kingdom of Circe (which was no doubt the peninsula of Monte Circeo, north of Gaeta, between Latium and Campania). There the sorceress, who, like Aeetes, was a child of the Sun and thus the aunt of Medea, purified the hero and had a long conversation with Medea, but refused point-blank to offer Jason hospitality in her palace. The ship set forth yet again on its erratic course and, guided by Thetis in person, at Hera's bidding, it crossed the sea of the Sirens. At this point Orpheus sang so sweetly that the heroes had no wish to respond to the Sirens' call. Only one of them, Butes, swam to their rock, but Aphrodite saved him by extracting him and settling him at Lilybaeum (the modern Marsala) on the west coast of Sicily.

    Thereafter the Argo passed through the straits of Scylla and Charybdis, then the Wandering Isles (no doubt the Lipari islands) above which hung a cloud of black smoke. Finally they arrived at Corcyra (the modern Corfu) in the land of the Phaeacians, where Alcinous was king. There they met a band of men of Colchis who had been dispatched by Aeetes in pursuit of them. The men of Colchis demanded that Alcinous should hand over Medea to them. Alcinous, after consulting his wife Arete, replied that he would agree if Medea, on being examined, appeared to be a virgin. If, however, she was already Jason's wife she should stay with him. Arete confided Alcinous' decision secretly to Medea, and Jason lost no time in making sure that the condition which would save Medea was satisfied. Alcinous could do nothing but refuse to hand the girl over. The men of Colchis, who dared not return to their own country, settled in Phaeacia and the Argonauts took to the sea once again.

    They had hardly left Corcyra before a storm drove them towards the Syrtes, on the Libyan coast. There they had to carry the ship on their shoulders until they reached Lake Tritonis. Thanks to Triton, the spirit of the lake, they found a channel to the sea and continued their voyage towards Crete. But during this phase they lost two of their company, Canthus and Mopsus, though they are not mentioned in all the lists of the Argonauts traditionally recorded (see above).

    Just as they were disembarking in Crete, the Argonauts came into conflict with a giant named Talos, a kind of monstrous automaton created by Hephaestus whom Minos had charged with the responsibility for stopping anyone from landing on the island. He used to tear huge rocks from the coast and throw them at passing ships to make them turn away from the shore. He used to walk all round the island three times every day. This giant was invulnerable except that in his ankle, beneath a very thick skin, he had a vein which was his life spring and if it was opened he would die. Medea got the better of him by means of her spells. She gave him delusions which made him so wild with rage that he tore the vein in his ankle against a rock and instantly died. So the Argonauts reached land and spent the night on the beach. On the following day they built a shrine to Athena of Minos and went on their way.

    On the Cretan Sea, they were suddenly overtaken by a black night of mysterious impenetrability which caused them to run into the greatest dangers. Jason prayed to Phoebus, asking him to show them their way in this darkness. In response Phoebus-Apollo threw out a shaft of flame which showed them that the boat was very close to a small island of the Sporades where they could cast anchor. They called the island Anaphe (the Isle of Discovery) and raised on it a shrine to Phoebus the Radiant. But on this rocky islet the offerings for celebrating the inaugural sacrifice worthily were lacking and they had to make their ritual libations with wine rather than water. When the female Phaeacian servants given by Arete to Medea as a wedding present saw this, they began to laugh and made robust jokes about the Argonauts. The latter responded in kind and a merry scene ensued, which was repeated every time a sacrifice in honour of Apollo was made on this tiny island.

    Next the Argonauts called at Aegina and, coasting along Euboea, they arrived back at Iolcos, having accomplished they round voyage in four months, and bringing the Golden Fleece with them. Jason then sailed the Argo to Corinth where he dedicated it to Poseidon as an ex voto.

The core of this highly complex legend is earlier than the composition of the Odyssey, which shows familiarity with the exploits of Jason. For modern readers it is exceptionally famous on account of Rhodes, who tells the story in detail. It was extremely popular in the ancient world and ended by forming a cycle to which a number of local legends became attached. In it possible to extract from the adventures of the Argo, as from the Iliad, plots for plays and poetry of every description. The story of Medea, in particular, caught the imagination of the poets (see Medea and Jason).


Table of Sources:

  • General:
    - Pindar, Pyth. 4; Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 16ff.; 4, 40ff.; Tzetzes on Lyc. Alex. 175; Hyg. Fab. 12; 14-23; Ovid, Met. 7.1ff.
  • Catalogues:
    - Pind. Pyth. 4, 171ff. (303ff.); Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 1, 23ff. with schol. on 77; Hyg. Fab. 14; Diod. Sic. 4, 41; Stat. Theb. 5, 398ff.; Val. Flacc. Arg. 1, 352ff.; Orphic Arg. 118ff.
  • Voyage:
    (a) Lemnos: Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 17; Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 1, 607ff. with schol. on 609, 615; schol. on Hom. Il. 7.468ff.; Val. Flacc. Arg. 2, 77ff.; Hyg. Fab. 15. See also Hypsipyle; Thoas.
    (b) Cyzicus: Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 18; Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 1, 935ff.; Val Flacc. Arg. 2, 634; 3, 1ff.; Hyg. Fab. 16. See also Cyzicus.
    (c) Hylas: Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 19; Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 1, 1207ff. with schol. on 1290; Val. Flacc. 3, 521ff.; Theocr. 13; Antoninus Liberalis Met. 26; Prop. 1, 20, 17ff.; Hyg. Fab. 14; Steph. Byz. s.v. 'Αρεται
    (d) Bebryces: Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 20; Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 2, 1ff.; Theocr. 13, 27ff.; Val. Flacc. 4, 99ff.; Hyg. Fab. 17; Pseudo-Lact. Plac. on Stat. Theb. 3, 353; Serv. on Virgil, Aen. 5, 373
    (e) Phineus: Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 21; Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 2, 176ff. with schol. on 177f; 181; schol. on Hom. Od. 12, 69; Val. Flacc. Arg. 4, 422; Hyg. Fab. 19; Serv. on Virgil, Aen. 3, 209; Diod. Sic. 4, 43ff. See also Phineus.
    (f) Cyaneae (Clashing Rocks): Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 22; Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 2, 317ff.; 549ff.; Val. Flacc. Arg. 4, 561ff.; Hyg. Fab. 19
    (g) Colchis: Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 23f; Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 2, 720-4, 240 with schol.; Val. Flacc. Arg. 5, 1-8, 139; Hyg. Fab. 14; 18; 23; Tzetzes on Lyc. Alex. 890; Diod. Sic. 4, 48; Ovid, Met. 7, 1ff.; Pind. Pyth. 4, 211ff. (375ff.) See also Jason; Medea
    (h) Return: Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 24ff.; Apoll. Rhod. Arg. 4, 576ff.; Hyg. Fab. 14; 23; Diod. Sic. 4, 56. See also Talos; Medea; Triton.
  • On the legend as a whole, see J. Bacon, The Voyage of the Argo (1925).

Ar"go*naut (&?;), n. [L. Argonauta, Gr. &?;; &?; + &?; sailor, &?; ship. See Argo.]


Any one of the legendary Greek heroes who sailed with Jason, in the Argo, in quest of the Golden Fleece.

2. (Zoöl.)

A cephalopod of the genus Argonauta.


© Webster 1913

Ar"go*naut (?), n.

One of those who went to California in search of gold shortly after it was discovered there in 1848. [U. S.] Bret Harte.

The "Argonauts of '49" were a strong, self- reliant, generous body of men.
D. S. Jordan.


© Webster 1913

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