Jason and the Golden Fleece is one of the finest tales of Ancient Greece, an epic journey of adventure and trial standing beside similar stories of Perseus, Theseus and the Labours of Heracles. The finest classic account comes from Apollonius of Rhodes, the Greek poet of the 3rd century BCE and librarian at Alexandria. Though less well-known than Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and much shorter, it is an epic poem which is both exciting and moving, with remarkably vivid portraits of the main characters, Jason and Medea. In the hands of Apollonius, these are far from one-dimensional figures of ancient myth.
Jason is a very human hero, forced to undertake the quest by a vengeful ruler, and though he leads a ship full of heroes - Heracles, Peleus, Caster and Polydeuces among them - he has moments of doubt and prevarication which he has to overcome in order to ultimately grasp the Golden Fleece. And Medea, a virgin witch possessing consummate skill with spells and an ability to be cruel, is shown here with some sympathy, for she is under the sway of the immortals Hera and Athena. Succumbing to their machinations and Eros's arrow, she finds herself on a dangerous path, flouting the will of her powerful father Aeetes, King of the Colchians, to help the Argonauts.
And then there is the ship itself, Argo, wrought with the help of Athena to survive the challenges of a distant voyage past Scylla and Charybdis into the Black Sea. Apollonius weaves plot and poetry, courage and boldness, tenderness and sympathy, to fashion one of the greatest monuments of Western literature. R. C. Seaton's classic translation has been considerably revised for this recording by Nicolas Soames, and it is read with verve by Jonathan Keeble.
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