Men and women standing on the beach of Aulis/Colchis. The men see the ship and begin watching it, speculating. The women gather on the opposite, inland side of the stage, and express their own worries and memories of visitors from overseas.
MEN: King Aeëtes, Lord of Colchis: come see
The foreign ship with foreign sails approach!
Someone comes to us from over the sea;
A ship has crossed over the wine dark sea
From countries unknown. Who are these strangers
Who know how to cross the storm-tumbled sea
To lonely Colchis? But rarely do we
Have visitors come to our distant shores,
Trusting their lives to hull and sail and oars
Against the storm-wracked and frightful Black Sea.
Do traders or pirates approach our land?
Do they come with gifts? Or with swords in hand?
Women: Ages ago, Diana lent her hand
To a maiden of Greece, across the sea.
Her father was a great king in that land,
But Artemis made a dreadful demand
That no vessel would depart the king’s beach
Until a sacrifice from the king’s hand
Spilled the blood of his daughter to the sand.
Easily do a goddess’s angers
Rise againt mortals; their fury lingers
When hunters kill their creatures out of hand,
And the king had slain Artemis’s does,
Leaving their bodies for ravens and crows.
Men: We can see her hull now; how fast she goes!
Soon the strangers will arrive in our land.
Who are they? What do they want? No one knows.
The ship’s stern looks crushed; the mystery grows.
They must be sailing from a distant sea;
The crew is all dressed in strange-looking clothes.
Did they come from beyond where the sea flows
Between crashing rocks? They turn to our beach.
Watch how swiftly the foreigners approach,
How skillfully and smoothly they pull oars!
Prepare to welcome the unknown strangers,
Either with war, or gifts and singers.
Women: The men have little to fear from strangers;
Sailors won’t look at them as slaves and whores,
But something in a stranger’s eye hungers
To touch a girl with their calloused fingers
And steal her virtue in a foreign land.
For us, Iphegenia’s tale lingers:
Her father’s priests, shamans and scare-mongers
Offered her up so they could put to sea,
So they could fight at Troy, over the sea!
Lust, gold and glory prick them with singers,
And drives them like cattle to every beach
In search of treasure never quite in reach.
Men: The voyagers are coming to our beach!
Soon we’ll meet the mysterious strangers.
They might have some new religion to preach,
Or some strange new philosophy to teach.
Maybe they’re just looking for gold and whores;
We’ll have to keep our secrets out of reach
And hide the deep mysteries that we teach
Our sons and daughters. Keep your tongues in hand,
And speak not of the treasures of the land
To these stinking strangers on our beach.
Say nothing of the Fleece, nor let them see
The skin that brought maiden over the sea.
All: Silence! Here come the sailors from the sea;
They stand at their prow, make ready to land.
The water ripples from their flashing oars.
Let us prepare to welcome the strangers
As they bring their hollow ships to our beach.
While Jason and Medea are off killing the dragon and collecting its teeth, the men and women of Colchis dialogue with one another about their knowledge of the Fleece, their hopes and fears for the future, and the roles of guests and hosts in the world of mortals and gods.
Men: Jason came in a hollow ship, from Greece,
Seeking treasure from our land and king,
A token of Diane, the Golden Fleece
That brought Agamemnon’s daughter from Greece –
Who thus released from sacrifice and pain
Vowed never again to return to Greece
But stayed in Colchis. Now the sacred fleece
Hangs in an oak grove where it shall abide
‘til the world’s ending. Its jaws gaping wide,
a fire-breathing dragon guards the fleece.
Our king, Aeëtes, heard Jason’s demand
And gave his own impossible command.
Women: Jason must slay the wyrm with his own hand,
Before he dares to touch the Golden Fleece;
And then he must plant each tooth in the sand.
So the power inherent in the land
Will rouse the dragon teeth and make them sing:
Each tooth will grow an armed and armored man,
Each a warrior with spear close to hand;
And each shall have but one thought in his brain:
To visit death on his planter, and pain.
Thus does Aeëtes, to ill purpose bend
The sailor’s visit. Custom far and wide
Permits no harm to a visitor’s hide –
Men:By deliberate act. Yet the gods let slide
Cases where travelers make their own end.
Even a minor gift may be denied
To unwelcome guests. So Aeëtes tried
To ruin Jason who comes for the Fleece.
None comes to Colchis from the farther side
Of the Black Sea to get an easy ride.
Aeëtes is a wise and cunning king:
Since Jason landed, he has been plotting.
Thus in public he grinned and smiled wide,
While scheming that he might the Fleece retain,
So Jason died – and the king’s hands stayed clean.
Women: Alas, then! The king’s heart must surely keen!
Medea might have been his ally’s bride,
Since he kept his daughter free from all stain;
Still the sight of Jason twisted her brain.
Now she has magic and knowledge to lend
To make the dragon sleep, and send the rain
So dragon-fire will not even stain
The brazen arms of the sailor from Greece.
With her help, he might seize the Golden Fleece!
No storied future shall Colchis attain
Without the luckiness the Fleece must bring.
Medea’s betrayal must shame our king.
Men: Yet if King Aeëtes did any thing
He would blacken the land with dreadful stain,
And Colchis would linger when poets sing
As the home of beasts, with a wicked king.
The Cyclops were ruined when Homer lied:
Poseidon’s son became cannibal-king.
As Ariadne with her magic string
Led Theseus to the Labyrinth’s end,
We wait to learn what the Goddess intend.
The Argonaut may yet outwit our king,
Slaying the dragon, and seizing the Fleece;
And Medea, too, will leave us for Greece.
ALL: Look – Jason comes from the field of the Fleece,
With a bag of dragon-teeth in his hand,
And Medea the princess at his side.
Thus do triumphant heroes always gain
Honors from battle, and hate from the king.