Argonautica: Ia, Ib, IIa, IIIa.

What follows are three spoken word pieces for the Argonauts to sing/say/recite while various other things are happening on stage. There’s also some actual dialogue between Jason and Aeëtes. There is also a lot of it. Please feel free to ignore this if you are not interested in this project.

Ia & 1b

Enter King Aeëtes.

Aeëtes: Our laws of hospitality demand
We welcome strangers, honor them as guests,
And put food before them. The gods command
We greet them in peace – but ill my heart rests
At seeing how strong these sailors appear:
How fierce their aspect, and their frowning brows.
Apollo’s sunlight gleams on swords and spears;
Poseidon’s wave laps at their brazen prows.
What pirate or merchant uses such sails
Painted with peacocks? And why is their stern
Smashed and mangled? Imagination fails
And the visitors make my stomach churn.
(aloud) Let all fearful women depart the beach.
While the brave keep a sword or bow in reach.

The sailors of the Argo approach the beach in pairs, port and starboard side, as if rowing, singing/saying this song:

All: Back in Icolus, we built fair Argo,
A swift narrow hull to carry Jason
To distant Colchis with billowing sail.
We’ve long been weary of pulling our oars,
Keeping a watchful eye for hidden rocks
And listening for cooing from land-doves.

Port: Not long ago, we made use of a dove
For we released the bird first, when Argo
Came upon the terrible clashing rocks
That smashed every ship before us. Jason
Told us if we pulled strongly at our oars
We might slip through and be first to raise sails

Starboard: in the Black Sea. So we took down our sails
And watched the swift-winging course of the dove.
We would have to match her speed with our oars;
Failure meant our deaths, and doom for Argo,
But we trusted in the skill of Jason.
We cheered when the bird winged through crashing rocks.

Port: Only her tail was ripped out by the rocks:
Her form escaped intact, as did her sails.
“We’ll follow her now!” commanded Jason.
We started rowing as fast as the dove –
Never was any ship as swift as Argo –
We never wearied as we pulled our oars

Starboard: And never did we entangle our oars
As we sped through the strait between the rocks.
Only the stern of our fair ship, Argo,
Was lost to the rocks. Then we raised our sails
And followed the flight of the holy dove
Which divine Hera had given Jason.

Port: Zeus’s wife has a fondness for Jason:
Surely she gave strength to our arms and oars,
So we could surpass the speed of the dove
And find safe passage between clashing rocks.
For her, we painted peacocks on our sails;
To Hera’s praise we dedicate Argo.

Argonauts: As swift-winging dove sped through clashing rocks,
So we flew with oars, and winged her with sails,
Following Jason, captain of Argo.

The Argonauts leave their ship, led first of all by Jason. They arrange themselves on the beach in a spear-point formation, which the Colchians counter. Jason and Aeëtes stand face to face.

Aeëtes: Who are you, sailor, and why have you come?
Few enough ships ever approach our shore,
And you look as men do when far from home,
Visiting lands they’ve never seen before.

Jason: My name is Jason, and I am a king —
Or would be, if not for my uncle’s deed.
He robbed me of crown, of scepter and ring
And takes the poor’s food, so great is his greed.

Aeëtes: Such faults are common to some kings elsewhere,
But are you in exile, or seeking aid?
Icolus? I don’t know how to get there,
Much less if I should send vessels, to raid.

Jason: Mighty Icolus lies in mainland Greece,
But we have come here, searching for the Fleece.

Aeëtes: A fleece, you say? Are there none in your land?
Have the gods robbed you of both rams and ewes?

Jason: No, sir! Icolus has much wealth at hand,
And such flocks of sheep that it’s hard to choose
Which beast to slay for divine sacrifice.

Aeëtes: Why visit us? You’re a long way from home.
We have neither gold nor magic device
That could topple your uncle from his throne.

Jason: A tale of my country tells of a ram,
A wild creature with great curving horns
Whose fleece was spun gold. It’s said that the ram
Was blessed by Artemis, and it adorns
An oak-grove of that goddess in this place —
I intend to claim it, by Hera’s grace.

Aeëtes: There’s no such thing here; you’ve make a mistake.

Jason: You know the whole country?

Aeëtes: Both the woods and farms.
You’re a nice kid, and I’ll give you a break,
Since all my people are swayed by your charms.
There’s no Golden Fleece, and there never was.
When panning for gold, miners set fleeces
Down in the creeks, to catch gold in the fuzz.

Jason: I’ve heard about this, how the natural greases
Catch the gold nuggets, and the fleece looks gold.

Aeétes: But no magic animal ever flew
Any princess to us in days of old.

Jason: Yet you know the story, just as we do.

Aeëtes: Well, yes – the tale’s popular in these parts.
It’s got some romance to touch women’s hearts.

Jason: I’ve traveled for months, though the sea is wide,
But never has anyone fully known,
In any harbor, the tale’s other side.
They know of the ram, and how its coat shone
As it flew over the breadth of the wave.
But no one knew of the girl she carried.

Aeëtes: (aside) Far-ranging travelers are not all brave,
But his wit and courage are well-married.
(aloud) I’m guessing some songster told me the tale.

Jason: The woman was a priestess in my land.

Aeëtes: A prophet once was swallowed by a whale,
Or so goes a tale I’ve heard before-hand.
Listen, kid: not every story is true.

Jason: Then why is it so hard to believe you?

IIa.

The Argonauts watch Jason get ready for his battle with the dragon, putting on his armor and sharpening his sword. They reflect on the strange chances and paranoia of the king of Icolus which brought them to Colchis, and the mysteries which cause a goddess like Hera to intervene in the life of a hero.

Port: Back in Greece, Jason’s uncle wears the crown,
And he sent Jason out after the Fleece
At the conniving of divine Hera,
Who sent Jason, shoeless, to Icolus.
The king feared Jason as men fear dragons;
Paranoia attacked him like harpies.

Starboard: He had sent Jason against the harpies,
Guessing that a dead man could not be crowned.
But Jason lived. The king thought the dragon
Famed as the keeper of the Golden Fleece
Would rid him of this prince of Icolus.
He could not guess that the goddess Hera

Port: Would lend him a hand. It was with Hera’s
Support that he chased away the harpies.
For that, he was revered in Icolus.
People were ready to give him the crown!
So the king sent him out after the Fleece.
Lots of heroes get eaten by dragons.

Starboard: We didn’t know it was a real dragon.
Jason never got a clue from Hera
Of how it coiled hugely ‘round the Fleece,
Fifty times larger than any harpy.
For facing that beast, we’d want several crowns,
Not just the tin-pot cap of Icolus.

Port: But Jason actually wants Icolus,
And so he’s planning to fight the dragon,
Who’ll roast him whole for dreaming of the crown,
And daring to claim he’s sent by Hera.
It was just a fluke, getting the harpies
To fly away. Jason won’t get the Fleece,

Starboard: And we’ll be stuck in the land of the Fleece,
Far away from our homes in Icolus,
Where I bet the return of the harpies
Is ruining more than any dragon.
We hope Jason’s really blessed by Hera,
Or else he’ll die for his dream of the crown.

Argonauts: For slaying harpies, he’ll face a dragon.
He left Icolus on whim of Hera,
But the Golden Fleece will win him the crown.

IIIa.

Jason, the Argonauts and Medea prepare to leave, having defeated the warriors of Colchis. The Argonauts speak, port and starboard as before, about their planned voyage home to Icolus:

Starboard: We’re done in Colchis. We’ve found our glory.
Say farewell to the girls, and board Argo.
Our Captain won the woman Medea –
And she has eyes only for Jason;
And he has eyes only for the Fleece.
Already his thoughts and dreams sail for home.

Port: Yet we’re disquieted, thinking of home.
It seemed large enough ere we sought glory,
But the journey to find the Golden Fleece
Made the world larger. Even on Argo,
We saw things to make us gape at Jason
Beneath the vast stars. Meeting Medea –

Starboard: Well, there’s no one at home like Medea,
And we doubt they’ll like her strangeness, back home.
A Greek princess is waiting for Jason,
And not just to hear stories of glory,
But to marry the captain of Argo:
To be queen of Icolus. And the Fleece…

Port: It ain’t easy to divide a gold fleece,
And none of us really want Medea.
There’s not much to be gotten from Argo:
We’re likely to be poor when we get home,
And there’s not much one can buy with glory;
Most of it will be bought by King Jason.

Starboard: Don’t get us wrong! We love Captain Jason,
But we’ve worked right through this quest for the Fleece
And what do we get? A safe voyage home?
Not likely, with her on board. Medea’s
Magic won most of our captain’s glory,
While we were just bench-warmers on Argo.

Port: And there’s not much extra space on Argo
When Medea gets angry at Jason;
And her dad will chase us all the way home,
To kill us poor sailors, and grab the Fleece,
And his daughter, too. Likely, Medea
Will kill him without honor or glory.

Argonauts: Let us sail for home, Masters of the Fleece.
Our Captain Jason has won Medea!
Aim homeward, Argo, for fame and glory!

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7 comments

  1. for those of you who have not read “Medea’s Lament” and did not get my last comment

    Here is “Medea’s Lament”

    Medea’s Lament

    I have stood upon the parapets of Colchis
    staring at the sea
    oppressed by sun
    caressed by rain
    I watch thunderbolts savage the sky

    The stone of this castle wall
    cuts my clutching hand
    I am an eagle with its talons
    sunk into armored flesh

    Though my skin shivers from the wind
    I am molten chaos at the core
    And yet they call Poseidon
    Earth-Shaker!

    The moon fills my vision
    Cold and hard and blade-bright
    I curse the traitorous goddess who
    guided your ship to my shore

    Where is the Lady I served so long and so well?
    around my shoulders I feel only empty shadows
    and I cannot hear her voice in the wind

    I can only see the sunset
    Wash bridal sails with blood

    But I remember the night
    I called to the Queen of Hades
    That spring maiden snatched into her dark grave
    I screamed and she remembered her terror
    And took pity and worked a curse for me

    And I watched as Jason’s princess
    Was laid in golden splendor
    Upon her purple bier

    But now the poison tears no longer burn
    I only wonder why
    I did not let you perish
    Under the steely teeth of the dragon’s brood

    I only wonder how
    Did you slip from this harbor, your ship not torn asunder
    By wind and sea and a goddess’ wrath?

    And if I had known what you would do
    Would I myself not draw the blade
    Across the throat where once my kisses burned?

    Better that, better still to open my own throat
    Than to spill my children’s blood
    In libation to empty skies
    I will never be free of these dark deeds
    Not in waking nor in dreams
    And so I walk these parapets, watching and waiting
    through ceaseless wind and stinging spray

    But wait-is that a ship?
    Glorious sails of victory gleaming white
    And is that you at her helm,
    Brass-armored, golden-haired
    As radiant and rapacious as Apollo?

    For one moment my heart leaps
    in terrible ecstasy

    Then I see
    It is only a merchant’s barge
    And you,
    But the glint of sunlight
    On the sea

    Revised 5/3/2005

  2. for those of you who have not read “Medea’s Lament” and did not get my last comment

    Here is “Medea’s Lament”

    Medea’s Lament

    I have stood upon the parapets of Colchis
    staring at the sea
    oppressed by sun
    caressed by rain
    I watch thunderbolts savage the sky

    The stone of this castle wall
    cuts my clutching hand
    I am an eagle with its talons
    sunk into armored flesh

    Though my skin shivers from the wind
    I am molten chaos at the core
    And yet they call Poseidon
    Earth-Shaker!

    The moon fills my vision
    Cold and hard and blade-bright
    I curse the traitorous goddess who
    guided your ship to my shore

    Where is the Lady I served so long and so well?
    around my shoulders I feel only empty shadows
    and I cannot hear her voice in the wind

    I can only see the sunset
    Wash bridal sails with blood

    But I remember the night
    I called to the Queen of Hades
    That spring maiden snatched into her dark grave
    I screamed and she remembered her terror
    And took pity and worked a curse for me

    And I watched as Jason’s princess
    Was laid in golden splendor
    Upon her purple bier

    But now the poison tears no longer burn
    I only wonder why
    I did not let you perish
    Under the steely teeth of the dragon’s brood

    I only wonder how
    Did you slip from this harbor, your ship not torn asunder
    By wind and sea and a goddess’ wrath?

    And if I had known what you would do
    Would I myself not draw the blade
    Across the throat where once my kisses burned?

    Better that, better still to open my own throat
    Than to spill my children’s blood
    In libation to empty skies
    I will never be free of these dark deeds
    Not in waking nor in dreams
    And so I walk these parapets, watching and waiting
    through ceaseless wind and stinging spray

    But wait-is that a ship?
    Glorious sails of victory gleaming white
    And is that you at her helm,
    Brass-armored, golden-haired
    As radiant and rapacious as Apollo?

    For one moment my heart leaps
    in terrible ecstasy

    Then I see
    It is only a merchant’s barge
    And you,
    But the glint of sunlight
    On the sea

    Revised 5/3/2005

  3. this is so wonderfully sarcastic!! gives me ideas…

    and I think I can adapt my “Medea’s Lament” to fit it….

    For example, the goddess Medea serves is Hecate (goddess of witches, magic, etc)

    The goddess that Jason serves is Hera

    I could flesh out the poem quite a bit with these two contrasting goddesses and their personalities.

    So part of the battle is between Hera and Hecate

    Hecate (and Medea) sees Hera as a Hillary Clinton-like hypocrite wife… she’s casting her favor on Jason while complaining about the exploits of her divine spouse…. Hecate despises Hera’s use of political trickery which she does not consider true “magic.”

    Since the original poem is a monologue, and your piece is mostly dialogue, do you think that maybe I should add Hecate’s responses?

  4. this is so wonderfully sarcastic!! gives me ideas…

    and I think I can adapt my “Medea’s Lament” to fit it….

    For example, the goddess Medea serves is Hecate (goddess of witches, magic, etc)

    The goddess that Jason serves is Hera

    I could flesh out the poem quite a bit with these two contrasting goddesses and their personalities.

    So part of the battle is between Hera and Hecate

    Hecate (and Medea) sees Hera as a Hillary Clinton-like hypocrite wife… she’s casting her favor on Jason while complaining about the exploits of her divine spouse…. Hecate despises Hera’s use of political trickery which she does not consider true “magic.”

    Since the original poem is a monologue, and your piece is mostly dialogue, do you think that maybe I should add Hecate’s responses?

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