The story of Jason sounds like an over-excited pitch to a Hollywood producer, a tale full of sex and violence with a doomed romance at its heart and plenty of opportunity for exotic locations and special FX. A wicked usurper sends his nephew to Colchis on the far side of the Black Sea, a mysterious kingdom in the former Soviet Union famous for its pheasants and autumn crocus. His mission impossible is to steal a golden fleece from under the watchful gaze of a giant snake. He gathers together a band of useful heroes to help him and invents the boat, even persuading Hercules to come aboard the new-fangled contraption. Their route is full of hazards: six-armed giants, deadly feather-shooting birds, rocks that crash like cymbals, and women - the man-starved women of Lemnos who milk the Argonauts for sperm like lily-sucking bees, and the water-nymphs who like the look of Hylas, Hercules' boyfriend, and reach out from beyond his reflection to make sure he is never seen again. By the time they get to Colchis, the Argonauts are in need of a bit of luck, and luckily the King's daughter, Medea, forms an unsuitable attachment with Jason, betraying her father and her fatherland for the sake of a crush. Jason and his crew are pursued all the way up the Danube and into the Adriatic, but Medea comes to the rescue again, at last finding a use for Apsyrtus, the baby brother with whom she embarked just in case. By the time the Colchians have picked up his pieces, the Argonauts are well away.
LRB 5 March 1998 | PDF Download