36. JASON AND MEDEA
Unable to return to Iolcus, Jason and Medea stayed in Corinth, at the court of King Creon. Creon was proud to have Jason in his city, but the king was afraid of Medea, for he had heard how she had caused the death of her brother Apsyrtus.
Medea was tired of waiting in the palace of King Creon. She wanted to use her powers of enchantment. She did not forget what Queen Arete had said to her—that if she wished to calm the anger of the gods she should have no more to do with enchantments. She did not forget this, but she still had a strong desire to use all her powers of enchantment.
Jason longed to enter Iolcus and show the people the Golden Fleece that he had won. He wanted to destroy Pelias, the murderer of his mother and father and above all he wanted to be a king, and rule in the kingdom that Cretheus had founded.
Once, Jason told Medea of his desires. “Jason,” Medea said, “I have done many things for you and this thing I will also do. I will go into Iolcus, and with my enchantments I will clear the way for the return of the Argo and for your return with your companions and also and for your becoming king.”
He should have remembered then what Queen Arete had said to Medea, but the desire that he had for his triumph and revenge made him forget. He said, ” Medea, help me in this with all your enchantments and you will be more dear to me than ever before.”
Medea then left the palace of King Creon and she made more terrible spells than she had ever made in Colchis. All night she stayed in a tangled place weaving her spells. Dawn came, and she knew that the spells she had woven had not been in vain, for beside her there stood a carriage that was drawn by dragons.
Medea the Enchantress had never seen dragons before. When she looked at them she was afraid. But then she said to herself, “I am Medea, and I will be a greater enchantress and a more cunning woman than before, and I will carry out my plan.” She mounted the carriage drawn by the dragons, and in the first light of the day she left Corinth.
Medea journeyed in her dragon-drawn carriage to the places where the magic herbs grew —to the Mountains Ossa, Pelion, Oethrys, Pindus, and Olympus and then to the rivers Apidanus, Enipeus, and Peneus. She gathered herbs on the mountains and grasses on the rivers’ banks. Some she pulled up by the roots and some she cut with the curved blade of a knife. When she had gathered these herbs and grasses she went back to Corinth on her dragon-drawn carriage.
Then Jason saw her. Her face was pale and drawn, and her eyes were strange and gleaming. She stood by the carriage drawn by the dragons. He went toward her, but in a harsh voice she told him not come near to disturb what she was going to begin. Jason turned away. As he went toward the palace he saw Glauce, King Creon’s daughter. The maiden was coming from the well and she carried a pitcher of water. He thought how fair Glauce looked in the light of the morning, how the wind played with her hair, and how far away she was from witcheries and enchantments.
As for Medea, she placed in a heap beside her the magic herbs and grasses she had gathered. Then she put them in a bronze pot and boiled them in water from the stream. Soon it started boiling, and Medea stirred the pot with a withered branch of an apple tree. The branch was withered it was indeed no more than a dry stick, but as she stirred the herbs and grasses with it, first leaves, then flowers, and lastly, bright gleaming apples appeared on it. When the pot boiled over and drops from it fell upon the ground, there grew up out of the dry earth soft grasses and flowers. Such was the power of life that was in the magical potion that Medea had made.
She filled a phial with the liquid she had made, and she scattered the rest in the the garden. Then, taking the phial and the apples that had grown on the withered branch, she mounted the carriage drawn by the dragons, and once more left Corinth.
She journeyed on in her dragon-drawn carriage until she came to a place that was near Iolcus. There the dragons descended by a dark pool. Medea, took her clothes off and stood in that dark pool. For a while she looked down on herself, seeing in the dark water her white body and her lovely hair. Then she bathed herself in the water. Soon a terrible change came over her. She saw her hair become thin and gray, and she saw her body become bent and withered. She stepped out of the pool a withered and witchlike woman. When she dressed herself the rich clothes that she had worn before hung loosely on her, and she looked the more frightening because of them. She told the dragons to go, and they flew off. Then she hid in her dress the phial with the liquid she had prepared and, the apples that had grown upon the withered branch. Picking up a stick to lean upon, she went hobbling on the road to Iolcus.
The fierce fighting men that Pelias had brought down from the mountains wandered the streets of the city .Few of the men or women of the city showed themselves even in the daytime. Medea went through the city and to the palace of King Pelias. But no one could enter there, and the guards seized her.
Medea did not struggle with them. She drew from the pocket of her dress one of the gleaming apples that she carried and she gave it to one of the guards. “It is for King Pelias,” she said. “Give the apple to him and then the king can do what he likes with me.”
The guards took the gleaming apple to the king. When he held it in his hand and had smelled its fragrance, old trembling Pelias asked where the apple had come from. The guards told him it had been brought by an old woman who was now outside seated on a stone in the courtyard.
He looked at the shining apple and felt its fragrance and he could not help thinking, old trembling Pelias, that this apple might be the means of bringing him back to the health and courage that he had had before. He sent for the ancient woman who had brought it so that she could tell him where it had come from and who it was that had sent it to him. Then the guards brought Medea before him.
She saw an old man, white-faced and trembling, with shaking hands and eyes that looked on her fearfully. “Who are you,” he asked, “and where does this apple come from?”
Medea, standing before him, looked a withered and shrunken woman bent with years, but with eyes that were bright and gleaming. She came near him and said, “The apple, your majesty, came from the garden that is watched over by the Daughters of the Evening Land. Anyone who eats it becomes a little younger. But things even more wonderful than the shining apples grow in that faraway garden. The juices of the plants there make you youthful again. The apple would bring you a little way toward your youthful strength but the juices I have can bring you to a more wonderful time —back even to the strength and the glory of your youth.”
When the king heard her say this a light came into his heavy eyes, and his hands caught Medea and drew her to him. “Who are you?” he cried, “who speaks of the garden watched over by the Daughters of the Evening Land? Who are you who speak of juices that can bring back someone to the strength and glory of his youth?”
Medea answered, “I am a woman who has known much grief. My grief has brought me through the world. Many have searched for the garden watched over by the Daughters of the Evening Land, but I found it by accident so I gathered the gleaming apples and took from the plants there the juices that can bring youth back.”
Pelias said, “If you have been able to find those juices, how is it that you remain so old?”
She said, “Because of my many troubles, king, I do not wish to live longer. I would prefer to be nearer death and the end of all things. But you are a king and have all things you desire at your hand—beauty and state and power. Surely if anyone would desire it, you would desire to have your youth back.”
When Pelias, heard her say this, he realized that there was nothing that he desired more. However old age had come on him, and the weakness of old age, and the power he had won was falling from his hands. He would be overthrown in his weakness, or else he would soon die, and there would be an end then to his name and to his kingship.
How fortunate he would be, he thought, if someone should come to him with juices that would renew his youth! He looked longingly into the eyes of the ancient-seeming woman before him, and he said: “How is it that you show no benefit from the juices that you talk about? You are old and in terrible condition. Even if you don’t want to return to your youth you could have got rich with what you say you have.”
Then Medea said, “I have lost so much and have suffered so much that I would not have youth back at the price of facing even more years. I would prefer to sink down to the quiet of the grave. But I hope for some comfort before I die—for the comfort that is in a king’s house, with good food to eat, and rest, and servants to wait on one’s aged body. These are the things I desire, Pelias, just as you desire youth. You can give me such things, and I have come to you who desire youth eagerly rather than to kings who have a less desire for it. I will give to you the juices that bring one back to the strength and the glory of youth.”
Pelias said,”I have only your word for it that you possess these juices. There are many people who come and try to deceive a king.”
Medea said, “Let’s not speak about it anymore. Tomorrow I will show you the virtue of the juices I have brought with me. Have a great vat prepared—a vat that a man could lay himself in with the water covering him. Have this vat filled with water, and bring the oldest animal you can get—a ram or a goat that is the oldest of their flock. Do this, and you will be shown a thing to wonder at and to be hopeful over.”
Then she turned around and left the king’s presence. Pelias called to his guards and he told them take the woman and treat her well. The guards took Medea away. Then all day the king thought about what the old woman had said and a wild hope kept beating in his heart. He had the servants prepare a great vat in the lower rooms, and he had his shepherd bring him a ram that was the oldest in the flock.
Only Medea was permitted to enter that room with the king. The entrance was guarded, and everything that took place in it was secret. Medea was brought to the closed door by her guard. She opened it and she saw the king there and the vat already prepared. She saw a ram tied up near the vat.
Medea looked at the king. In the light of the torches his face was white and his mouth moved gaspingly. She spoke to him quietly, and said, “There is no need for you to hear me speak. You will see a great miracle, for the ram which is the oldest and feeblest in the flock will become young and invigorated when it comes out of this vat.”
She untied the ram, and with the help of Pelias pulled it to the vat. This was not hard to do, for the animal was very feeble. Its feet could hardly hold it upright, its wool was yellow and only in patches on its shrunken body. The animal was forced easily into the vat. Then Medea drew the phial out of her pocket and poured into the water some of the potion she had made in Creon’s garden in Corinth. The water in the vat began bubbling strangely, and the ram sank down.
Then Medea, standing beside the vat, sang a spell.
“O Earth,” she sang, “O Earth who provides wise men with powerful herbs, O Earth help me now. I am she who can drive the clouds; I am she who can stop the winds; I am she who can break the jaws of serpents with my spells; I am she who can uproot living trees and rocks; who can make the mountains shake; who can bring the ghosts from their graves. O Earth, help me now.” At this strange spell the mixture in the vat boiled and bubbled more and more. Then the boiling and bubbling stopped. The ram came up to the surface. Medea helped it to struggle out of the vat, and then it turned and hit the vat with its head.
Pelias took down a torch and stood before the animal. The ram was lively indeed, and its wool was white and grew evenly on it. They could not tie it up again, and when the servants were brought into the chamber it took two of them to drag away the ram.
The king was very eager to enter the vat and have Medea put in the potion and say the spell over it. But Medea told him wait until the next day. All night the king lay awake, thinking of how he might regain his youth and his strength.
At sunrise he sent for Medea and told her that he would have the vat made ready and that he would go into it that night. Medea looked at him, and the helplessness that he showed made her want to work a greater evil on him, or, if not on him, on his house. Her plot for the destruction of this king would soon have reached its end! But she would leave a misery in the king’s house that would not have an end so soon.
So she said to the king, “I can say the spell over an animal, but I cannot say it over a king. Let someone from your own family be with you when you enter the vat. Have your daughters there. I will give them the juice to mix in the vat, and I will teach them the spell that has to be said.”
Pelias agreed to having his daughters and not Medea in the room of the vat. The daughters of King Pelias were sent for and they came to Medea,.
They were women who had been mistreated by their father. They stood in front of him now, very feeble and fearful. Medea gave them the phial that had in it the liquid to mix in the vat. Then she taught them the words of the spell but she taught them to use these words wrongly.
The vat was prepared in the lower room Pelias and his daughters went there, and the room was guarded, and what happened there was in secret. Pelias went into the vat, the potion was thrown into it, and the vat boiled and bubbled as before. Pelias sank down in it. Then his daughters said the magic words over him as Medea had taught them.
Pelias sank down, but he did not rise again. The hours went past and the morning came, and the daughters of King Pelias cried loudly. The mixture boiled and bubbled over the sides of the vat and Pelias was at the bottom ,dead.
Then the guards came, and they took King Pelias out of the vat and left him in his royal chamber. The word went through the palace that the king was dead. There was a quiet in the palace then, but not the hush of grief. One by one servants left the palace that was hated by all. Then there was clatter in the streets as the fierce fighting men from the mountains galloped away with whatever they could steal. Through all this the daughters of King Pelias sat crouching in fear above the body of their father.
Medea, still seemingly an ancient woman, went through the crowds that now came on the streets of the city. She told people around her that the son of Æson was alive and would arrive. Hearing this the men of the city formed a council of elders to rule the people until Jason’s coming. In this way Medea brought about the end of King Pelias’s reign.
She went through the city in triumph. But as she was passing the temple her dress was caught and held, and turning around she faced the ancient priestess of Artemis, Iphias. “You are Æetes’s daughter,” Iphias said, “who deceitfully came into Iolcus. You and Jason will suffer for what you have done this day! You are not blamed for killing Pelias, but for the misery that you have caused his daughters by involving them in the killing. Leave the city, daughter of King Ætes and never, never come back into it.”
However Medea paid no attention to the ancient priestess, Iphias. Still in the disguise of an old woman she went through the streets of the city, and out through the gate and along the highway that led from Iolcus. She came to that dark pool where she had bathed herself before. But she did not step into the pool or pour its water over her but instead she built two altars One to Youth and the other to Hecate, queen of the witches. She placed on them green branches from the forest, and prayed before each of them. Then she took off her clothes, and rubbed herself with the potion she had made from the magical herbs and grasses. All the marks of age left her, and when she stood over the dark pool and looked down on herself she saw that her body was white and shapely as before, and that her hair was soft and lovely.
She stayed all night between the tangled wood and the dark pool, and with the first light the carriage drawn by the scaly dragons came to her. She mounted the carriage, and journeyed back to Corinth.
Jason had become increasingly fearful of Medea since he had seen her mount the carriage drawn by the scaly dragons. He could not think of her any more as the one who had been his companion on the Argo. He thought of her as someone who could help him and do wonderful things for him, but not someone he could talk softly and lovingly to. If Jason had thought less of his kingdom and less of his triumphing with the Fleece of Gold, Medea would not have had the dragons come to her.
Now that his love for Medea had changed, Jason noted the loveliness of Glauce, the daughter of Creon, the King of Corinth. Glauce, who had red lips and the eyes of a child, saw in Jason who had brought the Golden Fleece out of Colchis the image of every hero she had heard about in stories. Creon, the king, often brought Jason and Glauce together, for his hope was that the hero would marry his daughter and stay in Corinth and strengthen his kingdom. He thought that strange woman ,Medea, was not a suitable wife for Jason.
Jason and Glauce were walking in the king’s garden when a shadow fell between them, and when Jason looked up he saw Medea’s dragon carriage. The dragons flew down, and Medea stepped from the carriage and stood between Jason and the princess. She spoke to him angrily. “I have made the kingdom ready for your return,” she said, “but if you want to go there you must first let me deal in my own way with this pretty maiden.” Medea looked at her so fiercely that Glauce shrank back and clung to Jason for protection. “Oh, Jason,” she cried, “Didn’t you say that I was the one you dreamed of when you were in the forest with Chiron, before the adventure of the Golden Fleece took you away from Greece. Oh, save me now from the witch who comes in the dragon carriage.” Jason said, “I will protect you Glauce.”
And then Medea thought of the king’s house she had left for Jason, and of the brother whom she had let be killed, and of the plot she had carried out to bring Jason back to Iolcus, and she became enraged. She took in her hand foam from the jaws of the dragons, and she threw the foam on Glauce, and the princess fell back into the arms of Jason with the dragon foam burning into her.
Then, seeing that he had forgotten all that he owed to her .The winning of the Golden Fleece, and the safety of Argo, and the destruction of the power of King Pelias seeing that Jason had forgotten all this, Medea went into her dragon-borne carriage and spoke the words that made the scaly dragons carry her away. She flew from Corinth, leaving Jason in King Creon’s garden with Glauce dying in his arms. He lifted her up and laid her on a bed, but even as her friends came around her the daughter of King Creon died.
And Jason? He stayed in Corinth for a long time, a famous man indeed, but sorrowful and alone. However at last he again had the desire to rule. He called around him again the men from Iolcus—those who had followed him as bright-eyed youths when he first proclaimed his purpose of winning the Fleece of Gold. He called them around him, and he led them on board the Argo. Once more they lifted sails, and once more they took the Argo into the open sea.
They sailed toward Iolcus. Their voyage was fortunate, and in a short time they brought the Argo safely into the harbor of Pagasae. Joyful crowds came thronging to see the ship that had the famous Fleece of Gold on her masthead, and people brought green and sweet smelling garlands to wreathe the heads of Jason and his companions! Jason looked at the crowds, and he thought that he had lost much, but that whatever else had gone something remained to him—to be a king and a great ruler over a people.
And so Jason came back to Iolcus. He made a blazing pile of the Argo in sacrifice to Poseidon, the god of the sea. He hung The Golden Fleece in the temple of the gods. Then he took up the rule of the kingdom that Cretheus had founded, and he became the greatest of the kings of Greece.
Year after year, young men came to Iolcus to look at the gleaming thing that was hung there in the temple of the gods. As they looked at it, young man after young man, thought that he would make himself strong enough and heroic enough to win for his country something as precious as Jason’s Golden Fleece. For the rest of their lives they kept in mind the words that Jason had inscribed upon a pillar that was placed beside the Fleece of Gold—the words that Triton spoke to the Argonauts when they wanted to find their way out of the inland sea:—
THAT IS THE OUTLET TO THE SEA, WHERE THE DEEP WATER LIES UNMOVED AND DARK; ON EACH SIDE ROLL WHITE BREAKERS WITH SHINING CRESTS; AND THE WAY BETWEEN FOR YOUR PASSAGE OUT IS NARROW. BUT GO IN JOY, AND AS FOR LABOR LET THERE BE NO GRIEVING THAT LIMBS IN YOUTHFUL VIGOR SHOULD STILL TOIL.