Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Friday, 13 April 2012

Narcissus, Argus, Jason and Argonauts


The myth of Narcissus is one of the most known Greek Myths, due to its uniqueness and moral tale; Narcissus, was the son of River God Cephisus and nymph Lyriope. He was known for his beauty and he was loved by God  Apollo due to his extraordinary physique.
The myth of Narcissus comes in two different versions, the Greek and the Greco-Roman version, as both Conon the Greek and Ovid, the Roman poet, wrote the story of Narcissus, enhancing it with different elements.

The Greek Version of the myth of Narcissus
According to Conon, Aminias, a young man fell in love with Narcissus, who had already spurned his male suitors. Aminias was also spurned by Narcissus who gave the unfortunate young man a sword. Aminias killed himself at Narcissus’ doorstep praying to the Gods to give Narcissus a lesson for all the pain he had provoked.
Narcissus was once walking by a lake or river and decided to drink some water; he saw his reflection in the water and was surprised by the beauty he saw; he became entranced by the reflection of himself. He could not obtain the object of his desire though, and he died at the banks of the river or lake from his sorrow.According to the myth Narcissus is still admiring himself in the Underworld, looking at the waters of the Styx.

The Roman Version of the Myth – Ovid
The myth presented by Ovid the poet is slightly altered. According to this myth, Narcissus’ parents were worried because of the extraordinary beauty of the child and asked prophet Teiresias what to do, regarding their son’s future.

Teiresias told them that the boy would grow old only if “he didn’t get to know himself”. When Narcissus was sixteen he was walking in the woods and Nymph Echo saw him and felt madly in love with him. She started following him and Narcissus asked “who’s there”, feeling someone after him.
 Poussin , Echo and Narcissus 
                                            Benczur Gyula, Narcissus
 John William Waterhouse Echo and Narcissus
Homer's Odyssey (c. 800 BCE) alludes to the story of Argus by referring to Hermes as 'the guide, the slayer of Argus' (8.332). Similar references to Argus appear in Hesiod's Works and Days (c. 750-700 BCE) and many of the Homeric Hymns, including those to AphroditeApollo, Hermes, and Demeter (c. 700-500 BCE). Hermes's epithet 'Argeiphontes'  means 'slayer of Argus.'
The myth's outline is that Zeus had seduced Io when Hera arrived on the scene. Zeus transformed Io into a cow to hide his infidelity, but Hera was not deceived. When Hera asked, Zeus was obliged to give her the cow. Hera appointed her servant Argus to guard the cow, and Hermes, at Zeus' command, killed Argus. The detail omitted in this summary varies depending on which source is referenced. Two prominent sources of the myth of Argus's death are Aeschylus's play Prometheus Bound (c. 500 BCE) and Ovid'sMetamorphoses (c. 8 CE).
In Prometheus Bound Io, as a cow, has been wandering all over Greece desperately fleeing from a stinging gadfly ever since Hermes killed Argus. She comes upon Prometheus and relates her story in exchange for a prophecy. According to Aeschylus, the ghost of "Argus --that evil thing-- / The hundred-eyed- / Earth born herdsmen" (617-9) was the gadfly sent by "Hera's curse... [to pursue Io] ever on [her] endless round" (657-8). Little else is revealed about Argus in the play, as Io focuses on her wanderings. The play presents the myth in a manner that suggests it should be familiar to the audience, revealing only the details that are pertinent to the themes of the play.
Unlike Aeschylus, who assumes knowledge of the myth and omits details such as Argus' death at the hand of Hermes, Ovid tells a complete narrative of one version of this myth in the Metamorphoses. According to Ovid, Argus had "the hundred eyes / All watching and on duty round his head, / Save two which took in turn their sleep and rest" (I.625-7). The following lines tell that Zeus dispatched Hermes to slay Argus and set Io free. Hermes sang Argus to sleep, used his magic wand to seal Argus's eyes shut, and decapitated Argus. Hera was furious about the death of her servant Argus, and "Juno [Hera] retrieved those eyes to set in place / among the feathers of her bird and filled / his tail with starry jewels" (I.721-3), creating the eyes of the peacock. Furthermore, Hera, "before her rival's [Io's] eyes and in her mind... set a frightful Fury" (I.725-6).
Sources with different details for the same myth are characteristic of Greek myth, which is rooted in oral transmissions. Notice that in Ovid's tale Hera does not dispatch the ghost of Argus to torment Io as a gadfly. Hera calls upon a Fury as she does in an episode in Virgil's Aeneid that recounts Hera enlisting a Fury to torture the wife of Latinus. In Prometheus Bound, Argus is the child of Gaia, but Ovid is silent on the issue of Argus's lineage. While Ovid and Aeschylus give Argus one hundred eyes, other traditions, according to Pierre Grimal, attribute one eye or four eyes to the monster Argus. Just as there are differences in the literary preservation of this myth, representations of Argus in the plastic arts may differ. For example, Ovid describes Argus with one hundred eyes in his head, but an Attic vase (c. 490 BCE) depicts Argus with eyes all over his body (Powell 375).
Ovid I, 625.

Peter Paul Rubens Argus and Juno
 Mercury and Argus, Rubens
 Hermes and Argus, P. I. Sokolov
 Juno (Hera) with peacock.
Jason was a late ancient Greek mythological hero from the late 10th Century BC, famous as the leader of the Argonauts  and their quest for the Golden Fleece. He was the son of  Aeson, the rightful king of Iolcus. He was married to the sorceress  Medea.
In Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece  is the fleece of the gold-haired winged ram, which can be procured in Colchis. It figures in the tale of Jason  and his band of Argonauts, who set out on a quest by order of King Pelias for the fleece in order to place Jason rightfully on the throne of Iolcus in Thessaly. The story is of great antiquity – it was current in the time of Homer (eighth century BC) – and consequently it survives in various forms, among which details vary. Thus, in later versions of the story, the ram is said to have been the offspring of the sea god Poseidon and Themisto (less often, Nephele or  Theophane).
 Aeson's mother Tyro had had a son with the god Poseidon, named Pelias, who seized the kingdom from his half-brother, and slaughtered Aeson's family to prevent any future retaliation. But Aeson's youngest son Jason was saved and smuggled to safety in the countryside, where he grew up under the care of Chiron the centaur.
 Maxfield Parrish, Jason and his Teacher 
 When he had grown up, Jason was determined to win back the throne of his father from Pelias, and confronted him. But Pelias came up with a scheme to be rid of Jason forever, by sending him on a mission he thought to be impossible: to retrieve the Golden Fleece and return it to Iolcus.
Jason accepted the challenge and organized the greatest voyage of Greek mythology, first having a ship designed and constructed, which was named the Argo in honor of its designer, Argus. Once the ship was ready, he sent out the word of his expedition and the greatest heroes of his time came to Iolcus, eager to participate in the great adventure; even the great hero Herakles arrived to be part of it.
 Costa Lorenzo, The Embarkation of the Argonauts
 W. Russell Flint, the Argonauts

Upon reaching their destination, Jason approached the king, Aetes, to ask for the Golden Fleece, but he was refused, for the people of Colchis regarded it as a sacred object, and not something to be simply given away. But luckily for Jason, Medea, the daughter of Aetes, had fallen in love with the handsome stranger at first sight and agreed to help him get the Fleece. Medea was a priestess of Hecate, a goddess associated with magic and witchcraft, and she would use her magical skills to help Jason achieve his goal.
THE DRAKON KHOLKIKOS (or Colchian Dragon) was an ever-wakeful, giant serpent which guarded the golden fleece in the sacred grove of Ares at Colochis. When Jason and the Argonauts came to fetch the fleece, the beast was either slain by the hero or put to sleep by the witch Medea. In one version of the story, preserved only in vase painting, Jason was first devoured and disgorged by the dragon.

Jason and the Snake, Vatican
 Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples, Italy
Date: C4th BC
Period: Late Classical
The hero Jason removes the Golden Fleece from the sacred tree, while Medea (not shown) puts the guardian Drakon to sleep with her potions.

Museum Collection: TBA
Period: Late Classical
The hero Jason and fellow Argonaut battle the guardian Drakon of the Golden Fleece. The serpent is coiled around the sacred tree from which the Fleece hangs.
 Jason seizing the Golden Fleece, fragment of a sarcophagus. Luni marble, Roman artwork, second half of the 2nd century AD.
The next two paintings are both from the later 1600s: first, a dramatic scene of Jason administering the potion given by Medea on the dragon by Salvator Rosa, and then Jason carrying the Golden Fleece past a statue of Ares (who was the god of the grove where the Fleece was located) by Erasmus Quellinus.
                               Salvator Rosa
 Erasmus Quellinus

The painting by Herbert Draper (about 1900), shows the departure of Jason and Medea, and the gruesome fate of Medea's brother Apsyrtus, whom she had brought along as hostage. Seeing that her father's fleet would catch up to the Argo, she ruthlessly ordered that her brother be butchered and the pieces tossed overboard, in order to delay the pursuing ships. Although Draper has not shown the gory details, we see the boy pleading with Medea, while Jason stands behind her holding up the Fleece.
 Herbert James Draper The Golden Fleece
 Gustave Moreau Jason and Argonauts