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THE ship Argo was the theme of many songs during the oldest periods of the Grecian epic, even earlier than the Odyssey. The king Aetes, from whom she is departing, the hero Jason, who commands her, and the goddess Here, who watches over him, enabling the Argo to traverse distances and to escape dangers which no ship had ever before encountered, are all circumstances briefly glanced at by Odysseus in his narrative to Alkinous. Moreover, Euneus, the son of Jason and Hypsipyle. governs Lemnos during the siege of Troy by Agamemnon, and carries on a friendly traffic with the Grecian camp, purchasing from them their Trojan prisoners.

The legend of Halus in Achaia Phthiotis, respecting the religious solemnities connected with the family of Athamas and Phryxus (related in a previous chapter), is also interwoven with the voyage of the Argonauts; and both the legend and the solemnities seem evidently of great antiquity. We know further, that the adventures of the Argo were narrated not only by Hesiod and in the Hesiodic poems, but also by Eumelus and the author of the Naupactian verses — by the latter seemingly at considerable length. But these poems are unfortunately lost, nor have we any means of determining what the original story was; for the narrative, as we have it, borrowed from later sources, is enlarged by local tales from the subsequent Greek colonies—Kyzikus, Herakleia, Sinope, and others.

Jason, commanded by Pelias to depart in quest of the golden fleece belonging to the speaking ram which had carried away Phryxus and Helle, was encouraged by the oracle to invite the noblest youth of Greece to his aid, and fifty of the most distinguished amongst them obeyed the call. Heracles, Theseus, Telamon and Peleus, Castor and Pollux, Idas and Lynkeus—Zete and Kalias, the winged sons of Boreas— Meleager, Amphiaraus, Kepheus, Laertes, Autolykus, Menoetius, Aktor, Erginus, Euphemus, Ankaeus, Poeas, Periklymenus, Augeas, Eurytus, Admetus, Akastus, Kaeneus, Euryalus, Pencleos and Leitus, Askalaphus and Ialmenus, were among them. Argus the son of Phryxus, directed by the promptings of Athene, built the ship, inserting in the prow a piece of timber from the celebrated oak of Dodona, which was endued with the faculty of speech: Tiphys was the steersman, Idmon (the son of Apollo) and Mopsus accompanied them as prophets, while Orpheus came to amuse their weariness and reconcile their quarrels with his harp.

First they touched at the island of Lemnos, in which at that time there were no men; for the women, infuriated by jealousy and ill-treatment, had put to death their fathers, husbands and brothers. The Argonauts, after some difficulty, were received with friendship, and even admitted into the greatest intimacy. They staid some months, and the subsequent population of the island was the fruit of their visit. Hypsipyle, the queen of the island, bore to Jason two sons.

They then proceeded onward along the coast of Thrace, up the Hellespont, to the southern coast of the Propontis, inhabited by the Doliones and their king Kyzikus. Here they were kindly entertained, but after their departure were driven back to the same spot by a storm; and as they landed in the dark, the inhabitants did not know them. A battle took place, in which the chief, Kyzikus, was killed by Jason; whereby much grief was occasioned as soon as the real facts became known. After Kyzikus had been interred with every demonstration of mourning and solemnity, the Argonauts proceeded along the coast of Ilysia. In this part of the voyage they left Heracles behind. For Hylas, his favorite youthful companion, had been stolen away by the nymphs of a fountain, and Heracles, wandering about in search of him, neglected to return. At last he sorrowfully retired, exacting hostages from the inhabitants of the neighboring town of Kius that they would persist in the search.

They next stopped in the country of the Bebrykians, where the boxing contest took place between the king Amykus and the Argonaut Pollux: they then proceeded onward to Bithynia, the residence of the blind prophet Phineus. His blindness had been inflicted by Poseidon as a punishment for having communicated to Phryxus the way to Colchis. The choice had been allowed to him between death and blindness, and he had preferred the latter. He was also tormented by the harpies, winged monsters who came down from the clouds whenever his table was set, snatched the food from his lips and imparted to it a foul and unapproachable odor. In the midst of this misery, he hailed the Argonauts as his deliverers—his prophetic powers having enabled him to foresee their coming. The meal being prepared for him, the harpies approached as usual, but Zetes and Kalias, the winged sons of Boreas, drove them away and pursued them. They put forth all their speed, and prayed to Zeus to be enabled to overtake the monsters; when Hermes appeared and directed them to desist, the harpies being forbidden further to molest Phineus, and retiring again to their native cavern in Crete.

Phineus, grateful for the relief afforded to him by the Argonauts, forewarned them of the dangers of their voyage and of the precautions necessary for their safety; and through his suggestions they were enabled to pass through the terrific rocks called Symplegades. These were two rocks which alternately opened and shut, with a swift and violent collision, so that it was difficult even for a bird to fly through during the short interval. When the Argo arrived at the dangerous spot, Euphemus let loose a dove which flew through and just escaped with the loss of a few feathers of her tail. This was a signal to the Argonauts, according to the prediction of Phineus, that they might attempt the passage with confidence. Accordingly they rowed with all their might, and passed safely through: the closing rocks, held for a moment asunder by the powerful arms of Athene, just crushed the ornaments at the stern of their vessel. It had been decreed by the gods, that so soon as any ship once got through, the passage should forever afterwards be safe and easy to all. The rocks became fixed in their separate places, and never again closed.

After again halting on the coast of the Maryandinians, where their steersman Tiphys died, as well as in the country of the Amazons, and after picking up the sons of Phryxus, who had been cast away by Poseidon in their attempt to return from Colchis to Greece, they arrived in safety at the river Phasis and the residence of Aetes. In passing by Mount Caucasus, they saw the eagle which gnawed the liver of Prometheus nailed to the rock, and heard the groans of the sufferer himself. The sons of Phryxus were cordially welcomed by their mother Chalciope. Application was made to Aetes, that he would grant to the Argonauts, heroes of divine parentage and sent forth by the mandate of the gods, possession of the golden fleece: their aid in return was proffered to him against any or all of his enemies. But the king was wroth, and peremptorily refused, except upon conditions which seemed impracticable. Hephaestus had given him two ferocious and untamable bulls, with brazen feet, which breathed fire from their nostrils: Jason was invited, as a proof both of his illustrious descent and of the sanction of the gods to his voyage, to harness these animals to the yoke, so as to plough a large field and sow it with dragon’s teeth. Perilous as the condition was, each one of the heroes volunteered to make the attempt. Idmon especially encouraged Jason to undertake it and the goddesses Here and Aphrodite made straight the way for him. Medea, the daughter of Aetes and Eidyia, having seen the youthful hero in his interview with her father, had conceived towards him a passion which disposed her to employ every means for his salvation and success. She had received from Hekate preeminent magical powers, and she prepared for Jason the powerful Prometheian unguent, extracted from an herb which had grown where the blood of Prometheus dropped. The body of Jason having been thus premedicated, became invulnerable either by fire or by warlike weapons. He undertook the enterprise, yoked the bulls without suffering injury, and ploughed the field: when he had sown the dragon’s teeth, armed men sprung out of the furrows. But he had been forewarned by Medea to cast a vast rock into the midst of them, upon which they began to fight with each other, so that he was easily enabled to subdue them all.

The task prescribed had thus been triumphantly performed. Yet Aetes not only refused to hand over the golden fleece, but even took measures for secretly destroying the Argonauts and burning their vessel. He designed to murder them during the night after a festal banquet; but Aphrodite, watchful for the safety of Jason, inspired the Kolchian king at the critical moment with an irresistible inclination for his nuptial bed. While he slept, the wise Idmon counseled the Argonauts to make their escape, and Medea agreed to accompany them. She lulled to sleep by a magic potion the dragon who guarded the golden fleece, placed that much-desired prize on board the vessel, and accompanied Jason with his companions in their flight, carrying along with her the young Apsyrtus, her brother.

Aetes, profoundly exasperated at the flight of the Argonauts with his daughter, assembled his forces forthwith, and put to sea in pursuit of them. So energetic were his efforts that he shortly overtook the retreating vessel, when the Argonauts again owed their safety to the stratagem of Medea. She killed her brother Apsyrtus, cut his body in pieces and strewed the limbs round about in the sea. Aetes on reaching the spot found these sorrowful traces of his murdered son; but while he tarried to collect the scattered fragments, and bestow upon the body an honorable interment, the Argonauts escaped. The spot on which the unfortunate Apsyrtus was cut up received the name of Tomi. This fratricide of Medea, however, so deeply provoked the indignation of Zeus, that he condemned the Argo and her crew to a trying voyage, full of hardship and privation, before she was permitted to reach home. The returning heroes traversed an immeasurable length both of sea and of river: first up the river Phasis into the ocean which flows round the earth—then following the course of that circumfluous stream until its junction with the Nile, they came down the Nile into Egypt, from whence they carried the Argo on their shoulders by a fatiguing land-journey to the lake Tritonis in Libya. Here they were rescued from the extremity of want and exhaustion by the kindness of the local god Triton, who treated them hospitably, and even presented to Euphemus a clod of earth, as a symbolical promise that his descendants should one day found a city on the Libyan shore. The promise was amply redeemed by the flourishing and powerful city of Cyrene, whose princes the Battiads boasted themselves as lineal descendants of Euphemus.

Refreshed by the hospitality of Triton, the Argonauts found themselves again on the waters of the Mediterranean in their way homeward. But before they arrived at Iolkos they visited Circe, at the island of Aeaea, where Medea was purified for the murder of Apsyrtus: they also stopped at Corcyra, then called Drepane, where Alkinous received and protected them. The cave in that island where the marriage of Medea with Jason was consummated, was still shown in the time of the historian Timaeus, as well as the altars to Apollo which she had erected, and the rites and sacrifices which she had first instituted. After leaving Korkyra, the Argo was overtaken by a perilous storm near the island of Thera. The heroes were saved from imminent peril by the supernatural aid of Apollo, who, shooting from his golden bow an arrow which pierced the waves like a track of light, caused a new island suddenly to spring up in their track and present to them a port of refuge. The island was called Anaphé; and the grateful Argonauts established upon it an altar and sacrifices in honor of Apollo Aegletés, which were ever afterwards continued, and traced back by the inhabitants to this originating adventure.

On approaching the coast of Crete, the Argonauts were prevented from landing by Talos; a man of brass, fabricated by Hephaestus, and presented by him to Minos for the protection of the island. This vigilant sentinel hurled against the approaching vessel fragments of rock, and menaced the heroes with destruction. But Medea deceived him by a stratagem and killed him; detecting and assailing the one vulnerable point in his body. The Argonauts were thus enabled to land and refresh themselves. They next proceeded onward to Aegina, where however they again experienced resistance before they could obtain water—then along the coast of Euboea and Locris back to Iolkos in the gulf of Pagasae, the place from whence they hail started. The proceedings of Pelias during their absence, and the signal revenge taken upon him by Medea after their return, have already been narrated in a preceding section. The ship Argo herself; in which the chosen heroes of Greece had performed so long a voyage and braved so many dangers, was consecrated by Jason to Poseidon at the isthmus of Corinth. According to another account, she was translated to the stars by Athene, and became a constellation.

Traces of the presence of the Argonauts were found not only in the regions which lay between Iolkos and Colchis, but also in the western portion of the Grecian world— distributed more or less over all the spots visited by Grecian mariners or settled by Grecian colonists, and scarcely less numerous than the wanderings of the dispersed Greeks and Trojans after the capture of Troy. The number of Jasonia, or temples for the heroic worship of Jason, was very great, from Abdera in Thrace, eastward along the coast of the Euxine, to Armenia and Media. The Argonauts had left their anchoring stone on the coast of Bebrykia, near Kyzikus, and there it was preserved during the historical ages in the temple of the Jasonian Athene. They had founded the great temple of the Idaen mother on the mountain Dindymon, near Kyzikus, and the Hieron of Zeus Urios on the Asiatic point at the mouth of the Euxine, near which was also the harbor of Phryxus. Idmon, the prophet of the expedition, who was believed to have died of a wound by a wild boar on the Maryandynian coast, was worshipped by the inhabitants of the Pontic Herakleia with great solemnity, as their Heros Poliuchus, and that too by the special direction of the Delphian god. Autolykus, another companion of Jason, was worshipped as Oekist by the inhabitants of Sinope. Moreover, the historians of Herakleia pointed out a temple of Hekate in the neighboring country of Paphlagonia, first erected by Medea; and the important town Pantikapaeon, on the European side of the Cimmerian Bosporus, ascribed its first settlement to a son of Aetes. When the returning ten thousand Greeks sailed along the coast, called the Jasonian shore, from Sinope to Herakleia, they were told that the grandson of Aetes was reigning king of the territory at the mouth of the Phasis, and the anchoring-places where the Argo had stopped were specially pointed out to them. In the lofty regions of the Moschi, near Colchis, stood the temple of Leukothea, founded by Phryxus, which remained both rich and respected down to the times of the kings of Pontus, and where it was an inviolable rule not to offer up a ram. The town of Dioskurias, north of the river Phasis, was believed to have been hallowed by the presence of Castor and Pollux in the Argo, and to have received from them its appellation. Even the interior of Media and Armenia was full of memorials of Jason and Medea and their son Medus, or of Armenus the son of Jason, from whom the Greeks deduced not only the name and foundation of the Medes and Armenians, but also the great operation of cutting a channel through the mountains for the efflux of the river Araxes, which they compared to that of the Peneius in Thessaly. And the Roman general Pompey, after having completed the conquest and expulsion of Mithridates, made long marches through Colchis into the regions of Caucasus, for the express purpose of contemplating the spots which had been ennobled by the exploits of the Argonauts, the Dioskuri and Heracles.

In the west, memorials either of the Argonauts or of the pursuing Kolchians were pointed out in Corcyra, in Crete, in Epirus near the Akrokeraunian mountains, in the islands called Apsyrtides near the Illyrian coast, at the bay of Caieta as well as at Poseidonia on the southern coast of Italy, in the island of Aethalia or Elba, and in Libya.

Such is a brief outline of the Argonautic expedition, one of the most celebrated and widely-diffused among the ancient tales of Greece. Since so many able men have treated it as an undisputed reality, and even made it the pivot of systematic chronological calculations, I may here repeat the opinion long ago expressed by Heyne, and even indicated by Burmann, that the process of dissecting the story, in search of a basis of fact, is one altogether fruitless. Not only are we unable to assign the date or identify the crew, or decipher the log-book, of the Argo, but we have no means of settling even the preliminary question, whether the voyage be matter of fact badly reported, or legend from the beginning. The widely-distant spots in which the monuments of the voyage were shown, no less than the incidents of the voyage itself, suggests no other parentage than epical fancy. The supernatural and the romantic not only constitute an inseparable portion of the narrative, but even embrace all the prominent and characteristic features; if they do not comprise the whole, and if there be intermingled along with them any sprinkling of historical or geographical fact, — a question to us indeterminable, — there is at least no solvent by which it can be disengaged, and no test by which it can be recognized. Wherever the Grecian mariner sailed, he carried his religious and patriotic myths along with him. His fancy and his faith were alike full of the long wanderings of Jason, Odysseus, Perseus, Heracles, Dionysus, Triptolemus or Io; it was pleasing to him in success, and consoling to him in difficulty, to believe that their journeys had brought them over the ground which he was himself traversing. There was no tale amidst the wide range of the Grecian epic more calculated to be popular with the seaman, than the history of the primeval ship Argo and her distinguished crew, comprising heroes from all parts of Greece, and especially the Tyndarids Castor and Pollux, the heavenly protector: invoked during storm and peril. He localized the legend anew wherever he went, often with some fresh circumstances suggested either by his own adventures or by the scene before him. He took a sort of religious possession of the spot, connecting it by a bond of faith with his native land, and erecting in it a temple or an altar with appropriate commemorative solemnities. The Jasonium thus established, and indeed every visible object called after the name of the hero, not only served to keep alive the legend of the Argo in the minds of future corners or inhabitants, but was accepted as an obvious and satisfactory proof that this marvelous vessel had actually touched there in her voyage.

The epic poets, building both on the general love of fabulous incident and on the easy faith of the people, dealt with distant and unknown space in the same manner as with past and unrecorded time. They created a mythical geography for the former, and a mythical history for the latter. But there was this material difference between the two: that while the unrecorded time was beyond the reach of verification, the unknown space gradually became trodden and examined. In proportion as authentic local knowledge was enlarged, it became necessary to modify the geography, or shift the scene of action, of the old myths; and this perplexing problem was undertaken by some of the ablest historians and geographers of antiquity,—for it was painful to them to abandon any portion of the old epic, as if it were destitute of an ascertainable basis of truth.

Many of these fabulous localities are to be found in Homer and Hesiod, and the other Greek poets and logographers,—Erytheia, the garden of the Hesperides, the garden of Phoebus, to which Boreas transported the Attic maiden Orithyia, the delicious country of the Hyperboreans, the Elysian plain, the fleeting island of Aeolus, Thrinakia, the country of the Ethiopians, the Laestrygones, the Cyclopes, the Lotophagi, the Sirens, the Cimmerians and the Gorgons, etc. These are places which (to use the expression of Pindar respecting the Hyperboreans) you cannot approach either by sea or by land: the wings of the poet alone can carry you thither. They were not introduced into the Greek mind by incorrect geographical reports, but, on the contrary, had their origin in the legend, and passed from thence into the realities of geography, which they contributed much to pervert and confuse. For the navigator or emigrant, starting with an unsuspicious faith in their real existence, looked out for them in his distant voyages, and constantly fancied that he had seen or heard of them, so as to be able to identify their exact situation. The most contradictory accounts indeed, as might be expected, were often given respecting the latitude and longitude of such fanciful spots, but this did not put an end to the general belief in their real existence.

In the present advanced state of geographical knowledge, the story of that man who after reading Gulliver's Travels went to look in his map for Lilliput, appears an absurdity. But those who fixed the exact locality of the floating island of Aeolus or the rocks of the Sirens did much the same; and, with their ignorance of geography and imperfect appreciation of historical evidence, the error was hardly to be avoided. The ancient belief which fixed the Sirens on the islands of Sirenusae off the coast of Naples —the Cyclopes, Erytheia, and the Laestrygones in Sicily—the Lotophagi on the island of Meninx near the Lesser Syrtis—the Phaeakians at Korkyra,—and the goddess Circe at the promontory of Circeium—took its rise at a time when these regions were first Hellenized and comparatively little visited. Once embodied in the local legends, and attested by visible monuments and ceremonies, it continued for a long time unassailed; and Thucydides seems to adopt it, in reference to Corcyra and Sicily before the Hellenic colonization, as matter of fact generally unquestionable, though little avouched as to details. But when geographical knowledge became extended, and the criticism upon the ancient epic was more or less systematized by the literary men of Alexandria and Pergamus, it appeared to many of them impossible that Odysseus could have seen so many wonders, or undergone such monstrous dangers, within limits so narrow, and in the familiar track between the Nile and the Tiber. The scene of his weather-driven course was then shifted further westward. Many convincing evidences were discovered, especially by Asklepiades of Myrlea, of his having visited various places in Iberia: several critics imagined that he had wandered about in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Strait of Gibraltar, and they recognized a section of Lotophagi on the coast of Mauritania, over and above those who dwelt on the island of Meninx. On the other hand, Eratosthenes and Apollodorus treated the places visited by Odysseus as altogether unreal, for which skepticism they incurred much reproach.

The fabulous island of Erytheia,—the residence of the three headed Geryon with his magnificent herd of oxen, under the custody of the two-headed dog Orthrus, and described by Hesiod, like the garden of the Hesperides, as extraterrestrial, on the farther side of the circuinfluous ocean;—this island was supposed by the interpreters of Stesichorus the poet to be named by him off the south-western region of Spain called Tartessus, and in the immediate vicinity of Gades. But the historian Hekataeus, in his anxiety to historicize the old fable, took upon himself to remove Erytheia from Spain nearer home to Epirus. He thought it incredible that Herakles should have traversed Europe from east to west, for the purpose of bringing the cattle of Geryon to Eurystheus at Mycenae, and he pronounced Geryon to have been a king of Epirus, near the Gulf of Ambrakia. The oxen reared in that neighborhood were proverbially magnificent, and to get them even from thence and bring them to Mycenae (he contended) was no inconsiderable task. Arrian, who cites this passage from Hekataeus, concurs in the same view,— an illustration of the license with which ancient authors fitted on their fabulous geographical names to the real earth, and brought down the ethereal matter of legend to the lower atmosphere of history.

Both the track and the terminus of the Argonautic voyage appear in the most ancient epic as little within the conditions of reality, as the speaking timbers or the semi-divine crew of the vessel. In the Odyssey, Aetes and Circe (Hesiod names Medea also) are brother and sister, offspring of Helios. Aeaean island, adjoining the circumfluous ocean, “where the house and dancing-ground of Eos are situated, and where Helios rises”, is both the residence of Circe and of Aetes, inasmuch as Odysseus, in returning from the former, follows the same course as the Argo had previously taken in returning from the latter. Even in the conception of Mimnermus, about 600 BC, Aea still retained its fabulous attributes in conjunction with the ocean and Helios, without having been yet identified with any known portion of the solid earth; and it was justly remarked by Demetrius of Skepsis in antiquity (though Strabo cries to refute him), that neither Homer nor Mimnermus designates Colchis either as the residence of Aetes, or as the terminus of the Argonautic voyage. Hesiod carried the returning Argonauts through the river Phasis into the ocean. But some of the poems ascribed to Eumelus were the first which mentioned Aetes and Colchis, and interwove both of them into the Corinthian mythical genealogy. These poems seem to have been composed subsequent to the foundation of Sinope, and to the commencement of Grecian settlement on the Borysthenes, between the years 600 and 500 BC. The Greek mariners who explored and colonized the southern coast of the Euxine, found at the extremity of their voyage the river Phasis and its barbarous inhabitants: it was the easternmost point which Grecian navigation (previous to the time of Alexander the Great) ever attained, and it was within sight of the impassable barrier of Caucasus. They believed, not unnaturally, that they had here found “the house of Eos (the morning) and the rising place of the sun”, and that the river Phasis, if they could follow it to its unknown beginning, would conduct them to the circumfluous ocean. They gave to the spot the name of Aea, and the Fabulous and real title gradually became associated together into one compound appellation,—the Colchian Aea, or Aea of Colchis. While Colchis was thus entered on the map as a fit representative for the Homeric “house of the morning”, the narrow strait of the Thracian Bosporus attracted to itself the poetical fancy of the Symplegades, or colliding rocks, through which the heaven-protected Argo had been the first to pass. The powerful Greek cities of Kyzikus, Herakleia and Sinope, each fertile in local legends, still farther contributed to give this direction to the voyage; so that in the time of Hekataeus it had become the established belief that the Argo had started from Iolkos and gone to Colchis.

Aetes thus received his home from the legendary faith and fancy of the eastern Greek navigators: his sister Circe, originally his fellow-resident, was localized by the western. The Hesiodic and other poems, giving expression to the imaginative impulses of the inhabitants of Cumae and other early Grecian settlers in Italy and Sicily, had referred the wanderings of Odysseus to the western or Tyrrhenian sea, and had planted the Cyclopes, the Laestrygones, the floating island of Aeolus, the Lotophagi, the Phaeacians, etc., about the coast of Sicily, Italy, Libya, and Corcyra. In this way the Aeaean island,— the residence of Circe, and the extreme point of the wanderings of Odysseus, from whence he passes only to the ocean and into Hades — came to be placed in the far west, while the Aea of Aetes was in the far east,— not unlike our East and West Indies. The Homeric brother and sister were separated and sent to opposite extremities of the Grecian terrestrial horizon.

The track from Iolkos to Colchis, however, though plausible as far as it went, did not realize all the conditions of the genuine fabulous voyage: it did not explain the evidences of the visit of these maritime heroes which were to be found in Libya, in Crete, in Anaphe, in Corcyra, in the Adriatic Gulf, in Italy and in Aethalia. It became necessary to devise another route for them in their return, and the Hesiodic narrative was (as I have before observed), that they came back by the circumfluous ocean; first going up the river Phasis into the circumfluous ocean; following that deep and gentle stream until they entered the Nile, and came down its course to the coast of Libya. This seems also to have been the belief of Hekataeus. But presently several Greeks (and Herodotus among them) began to discard the Idea of a circumfluous ocean-stream, which had pervaded their old geographical and astronomical fables, and which explained the supposed easy communication between one extremity of the earth and another. Another idea was then started for the returning voyage of the Argonauts. It was supposed that the river Ister, or Danube, flowing from the Rhipaean mountains in the north-west of Europe, divided itself into two branches, one of which fell into the Euxine Sea, and the other into the Adriatic.

The Argonauts, fleeing from the pursuit of Aetes>, had been obliged to abandon their regular course homeward, and had gone from the Euxine Sea up the Ister; then passing down the other branch of that river, they had entered into the Adriatic, the Kolchian pursuers following them. Such is the story given by Apollanius Rhodius from Timagetus, and accepted even by so able a geographer as Eratosthenes—who preceded him by one generation, and who, though skeptical in regard to the localities visited by Odysseus, seems to have been a firm believer in the reality of the Argonautic voyage. Other historians again, among whom was Timaeus, though they considered the ocean as an outer sea, and no longer admitted the existence of the old Homeric ocean-stream, yet imagined a story for the return-voyage of the Argonauts somewhat resembling the old tale of Hesiod and Hekataeus. They alleged that the Argo, after entering into the Palus Maeotis, had followed the upward course of the river Tanais; that she had then been carried overland and launched in a river which had its mouth in the ocean or great outer sea. When in the ocean, she had coasted along the north and west of Europe until she reached Gades and the Strait of Gibraltar, where she entered into the Mediterranean, and there visited the many places specified in the fable. Of this long voyage, in the outer sea to the north and west of Europe, many traces were affirmed to exist along the coast of the ocean. There was again a third version, according to which the Argonauts came back as they went, through the Thracian Bosporus and the Hellespont. In this way geographical plausibility was indeed maintained, but a large portion of the fabulous matter was thrown overboard.

Such were the various attempts made to reconcile the Argonautic legend with enlarged geographical knowledge and improved historical criticism. The problem remained unsolved, but the faith in the legend did not the less continue. It was a faith originally generated at a time when the unassisted narrative of the inspired poet sufficed for the conviction of his hearers; it consecrated one among the capital exploits of that heroic and superhuman race, whom the Greek was accustomed at once to look back upon as his ancestors and to worship conjointly with his gods: it lay too deep in his mind either to require historical evidence for its support, or to be overthrown by geographical difficulties as they were then appreciated. Supposed traces of the past event, either preserved in the names of places, or embodied in standing religious customs with their explanatory comments, served as sufficient authentication in the eyes of the curious inquirer. And even men trained in a more severe school of criticism contented themselves with eliminating the palpable contradictions and softening down the supernatural and romantic events, so as to produce an Argonautic expedition of their own invention as the true and accredited history. Strabo, though he can neither overlook nor explain the geographical impossibilities of the narrative, supposes himself to have discovered the basis of actual fact, which the original poets had embellished or exaggerated. The golden fleece was typical of the great wealth of Colchis, arising from gold-dust washed down by the rivers; and the voyage of Jason was in reality an expedition at the head of a considerable army, with which he plundered this wealthy country and made extensive conquests in the interior. Strabo has nowhere laid down what he supposes to have been the exact measure and direction of Jason’s march, but he must have regarded it as very long, since he classes Jason with Dionysus and Heracles, and emphatically characterizes all the three as having traversed wider spaces of ground than any moderns could equal. Such was the compromise which a mind like that of Strabo made with the ancient legends. He shaped or cut them down to the level of his own credence, and in this waste of historical criticism, without any positive evidence, he took to himself the credit of greater penetration than the literal believers, while he escaped the necessity of breaking formally with the bygone heroic world