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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jason and those pesky Argonauts.

So, I just finished reading The Lost Hero and all I could think about as I read this book was how much I NEVER want to have anything to do with Jason and the Argonauts as a writer of historical fiction/fantasy. Never, you guys. Never, ever, ever. I cannot say it enough. And this is why:

1) No one agrees about who all took part in this famous Voyage of Heroes.
    I suppose it isn't Jason's fault that his crew has become muddled over time, so I guess Jason himself is not my enemy in this, but rather the city-states who each wanted to have their hero take part and so completely obscured any truth that might have ever existed. (Myth Shmyth. I said HISTORICAL fantasy, didn't I?)

2) Trying to fit the voyage of the Argonauts into an historical and linear narrative with OTHER heroic quests and adventures is completely impossible.* 
    If you do figure out who went, fitting it in between Heracles' 12 labors etc, Theseus' Labors etc (And don't forget "Not Without Theseus" was actually a SAYING because he was involved in everything, apparently), Helen's abductions and the Trojan War, and the stories of the Dioscuri (Helen's brothers) is kind of ridiculous. It all takes place AT THE SAME TIME. Frankly, I'm inclined to believe that none of the major players went with Jason at all, because there is just no way to put it all together and have everyone be where they're supposed to be later. No. Way.

3) Balancing UMPTEEN Heroes all in one cast of characters while giving them all distinct personalities and a fair shake while not IMPOSSIBLE (Joss Whedon, do not fail me with Avengers), definitely poses challenges.
    There sure would be plenty of conflict within the party. No lack of ego and hubris as they all struggle to work as a team when each one is used to taking the lead and doing their own thing. I mean, if Jason is in charge, that makes everyone else involved his SIDEKICK, and I'm just not sure how to tackle Heracles or Theseus as a sidekick to anyone -- they're both forces to be reckoned with, to say the least. Then of course there is the potential of bad blood between heroes who had engaged in altercations pre-voyage, all confined to a ship for how long?

It isn't that I don't like to challenge myself when writing -- but Jason and the Argonauts is a Gordian Knot of  epic proportions, and frankly, it gives me a headache just THINKING about it. Consider the fact that we're all worried about whether AVENGERS is going to work as a movie, because the cast of heroes is so large -- and then remember that there were between 40 and 60 men (and women) named as Argonauts. Even for a book, which allows a lot more "screen time" than a film, that is a LOT of folks to work into a narrative.

Sorry, Jason. Not for all the tea in China am I touching that story. Not for a million dollars would I write that book (well, okay, I'd give it a SHOT for a million dollars, but I would not make any promises regarding quality, and if I failed, I'd definitely have to be able to keep the money...)

*I've discussed the trouble with chronology and historical dating of myth before, as you might recall.


  1. I don't think I knew women were named as Argonauts. Tell us more!

    (And BTW- I definitely think you should keep the money).

    1. For one, Atalanta is named by Apollodorus, and of course an argument could be made for Medea falling under that label, even if she didn't set out with them from the start. Not that any of it means anything definitive, because the myth is so convoluted as to be impossible :P

  2. Pfft, whatever, you just write it like The Expendables but with Greek heroes instead. All of them. Shove them in there like clowns in a Volkswagen.

  3. If X Men First Class can have Alex Summers as being the same age (ish) as Professor X, then damn it, Herakles can sail with the argonauts! I reckon the best thing about myth is that because there is so much inconsistency you are free to reinvent and tell your version of the story - much room for artistic license!

    And I love Medea. I love her BIG TIME. She could kick the butt of any Argonaut you'd care to throw at her. And then chop them up and stick them in a cauldron. Pesky Jason is the sideshow.

    1. I agree. But I like to have external consistency as well as internal consistency -- if I'm going to write Jason and the Argonauts, I want to be able to fit it into Helen and Theseus' world, and reconcile it with everything else I've "discovered" about the bronze age. And it's just too big of a mess to make it work. For me. For other people? more power to you!!

      I'm glad someone loves Medea :)

  4. I am writing a novel (currently) titled: "Theseus the King." My chapter 20 titled, The Memories of Medea; deals with Medea and her relationship with Jason.

    Medea was a powerful sorceress who chopped up the body of her dead brother while fleeing her father. She killed Jason's new wife with poison then slew her own sons and dismembered them too. She will even try to get King Aegeus to kill his own son Theseus, the hero of my novel.

    But hey, we all have our faults... I fell in love with Medea as I wrote this chapter and I understand why it is that she is one of the few that made it in to the highest realms of Greek heaven.

    1. Theseus is one of my absolute most favorite heroes in the world. He hijacked my Helen of Troy novel and I have never been happier to have a character take over in my life. He's got quite a few posts on the blog :)

      I can't say that I ever had any strong feelings toward Medea, though. I mean, she always felt like the typical witch-of-a-wife stereotype. The Greeks couldn't include a woman in any myth without making her some kind of evil or at the very least, troubled.

  5. There might have been more than one voyage of the Argo to the Black Sea; the myth probably commemorates Bronze Age voyages of trade and exploration to that region. Jason would have led the first expedition; anyone who went after would have claimed to have been one of the original Argonauts.

    1. Oh, absolutely it's an amalgam of stories, and I can just see how in the telling, more and more heroes got their names thrown in. I can totally picture one hero elbowing another and going "don't worry, I'v got you covered," then shouting about how he voyaged with Jason for the Golden Fleece, and the other guy backing him up, "yeah, he was totally with us!" And of course Theseus got his name added to EVERYTHING (including the Argonauts) because Athens wanted their hero to be as awesome as Heracles. That's what oral histories do! Kind of like how you have all those side stories about smaller heroes in the Iliad.


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