Traveling Classroom Foundation
Monday October 2nd 2023

Return of the Argonauts

Once again, the fabled Argo has sailed from the port of Volos (called Iolkos in ancient times). It is a replica of the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece (a golden ram’s hide with magical powers). This event interested us because we visited Volos years ago – and even stayed at the Hotel Iason (Jason in Greek) on the waterfront. After more than 3,000 years, the Argonauts are not forgotten by the people of Volos.

Argo monument on the Volos waterfront near Hotel Iason

The original Argo sailed from Iolkos to the faraway kingdom of Colchis (in what is now Georgia) on the easternmost shore of the Euxine (Black Sea). It was here that Jason faced a series of challenges set by the local king, and ultimately stole the Golden Fleece with the help of Medea, the king’s daughter (and also a witch). Medea gave a sleeping potion to a monster snake that guarded the fleece, allowing Jason an opportunity to snatch the prize and run away.

Medea diverts the guardian serpent, feeding it a sleeping potion, while Jason steals the Golden Fleece from nearby branch (4th century BCE)

The modern Argo is a 93.5-foot (28.5-meter) reconstruction of an ancient Greek penteconter, a wooden ship with 50 oarsmen. It was built in the ancient manner, with whole trees positioned in the hull, and more than 5,000 wooden pegs and wedges used to hold the ship’s frame and planks in place. A big difference from the original ship: the replica was built wider to accommodate modern rowers – who are much larger than ancient Greek heroes.

Modern Argonauts prepare the Argo for its departure from Volos

The modern Argonauts (representing the 27 countries of the European Union) were preparing the Argo for its voyage when they ran into a serious problem. Turkey (which is not a member of the EU) said the Argo would not be allowed into the congested shipping lanes of the Bosporus. Since this is the only route from the Aegean into the Black Sea, changes had to be made.

Argonauts planned to row through the Bosporus, the only sea route from the Aegean to the Black Sea, but Turkish officials banned their ship

According to one version of the legend, while fleeing from the king of Colchis (who wanted to recover the Golden Fleece), Jason and the Argonauts sailed from the Black Sea up the Danube river and then (by some mysterious route) across the Balkan Peninsula to the Adriatic and Aegean seas.

Fans on the dock cheer as Argo departs for the long voyage

The organizers of the modern Argo expedition decided to take the return route, except in reverse – rowing and sailing from the Aegean to the Adriatic Sea, and anchoring at 23 cities, many of which are in modern-day Albania, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. There will be 50 oarsmen and 22 on standby, rowing an exhausting 10 to 15 hours each day. The modern Argonauts will need all the rest they can get at the ports they visit along the way.

Argonauts row into a new adventure (photo by Mikis Rio)

After traveling a total of 2,000 nautical miles during its voyage, the Argo will arrive at the port of Venice on August 11.

To read about the mythical adventure of Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, go to MythWeb.



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