1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jason

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JASON (Ἰάσων), in Greek legend, son of Aeson, king of Iolcus in Thessaly. He was the leader of the Argonautic expedition (see Argonauts). After he returned from it he lived at Corinth with his wife Medea (q.v.) for many years. At last he put away Medea, in order to marry Glauce (or Creusa), daughter of the Corinthian king Creon. To avenge herself, Medea presented the new bride with a robe and head-dress, by whose magic properties the wearer was burnt to death, and slew her children by Jason with her own hand. A later story represents Jason as reconciled to Medea (Justin, xlii. 2). His death was said to have been due to suicide through grief, caused by Medea’s vengeance (Diod. Sic. iv. 55); or he was crushed by the fall of the poop of the ship “Argo,” under which, on the advice of Medea, he had laid himself down to sleep (argument of Euripides’ Medea). The name (more correctly Iason) means “healer,” and Jason is possibly a local hero of Iolcus to whom healing powers were attributed. The ancients regarded him as the oldest navigator, and the patron of navigation. By the moderns he has been variously explained as a solar deity; a god of summer; a god of storm; a god of rain, who carries off the rain-giving cloud (the golden fleece) to refresh the earth after a long period of drought. Some regard the legend as a chthonian myth, Aea (Colchis) being the under-world in the Aeolic religious system from which Jason liberates himself and his betrothed; others, in view of certain resemblances between the story of Jason and that of Cadmus (the ploughing of the field, the sowing of the dragon’s teeth, the fight with the Sparti, who are finally set fighting with one another by a stone hurled into their midst), associate both with Demeter the corn-goddess, and refer certain episodes to practices in use at country festivals, e.g. the stone throwing, which, like the βαλλητύς at the Eleusinia and the λιθοβολία at Troezen (Pausanias ii. 30, 4 with Frazer’s note) was probably intended to secure a good harvest by driving away the evil spirits of unfruitfulness.

See articles by C. Seeliger in Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie and by F. Durrbach in Daremberg and Saglio’s Dictionnaire des antiquités; H. D. Müller, Mythologie der griechischen Stämme (1861), ii. 328, who explains the name Jason as “wanderer”; W. Mannhardt, Mythologische Forschungen (1884), pp. 75, 130; O. Crusius, Beiträge zur griechischen Mythologie una Religionsgeschichte (Leipzig, 1886).

Later Versions of the Legend.—Les fais et prouesses du noble et vaillant chevalier Jason was composed in the middle of the 15th century by Raoul Lefèvre on the basis of Benoît’s Roman de Troie, and presented to Philip of Burgundy, founder of the order of the Golden Fleece. The manners and sentiments of the 15th century are made to harmonize with the classical legends after the fashion of the Italian pre-Raphaelite painters, who equipped Jewish warriors with knightly lance and armour. The story is well told; the digressions are few; and there are many touches of domestic life and natural sympathy. The first edition is believed to have been printed at Bruges in 1474.

Caxton translated the book under the title of A Boke of the hoole Lyf of Jason, at the command of the duchess of Burgundy. A Flemish translation appeared at Haarlem in 1495. The Benedictine Bernard de Montfaucon (1655–1741) refers to a MS. by Guido delle Colonne, Historia Medeae et Jasonis (unpublished).

The Histoire de la Thoison d’Or (Paris, 1516) by Guillaume Fillastre (1400–1473), written about 1440–1450, is an historical compilation dealing with the exploits of the très chrétiennes maisons of France, Burgundy and Flanders.