Notes for

Ovid, Heroides VI


Aeetes:  King of Colchis and father of Medea.  The Golden Fleece was kept in his kingdom.

Aeson:  Father of Jason.  Aeson was ruler of Iolcus until his brother Pelias took the throne from him.

Alcimede:  Mother of Jason; husband of Aeson.

Argo:  The ship in which Jason and the Argonauts went in search of the Golden Fleece.

Argolis; Argolian:  Literally, the region or people of Argos, but here it probably means simply "Greek" as opposed to "foreign" or "barbarian."  The most famous Argos was in the Peloponnesus, well south of Jason's home in Thessaly; there was also a Pelasgic Argos in Thessaly itself.

Ariadne:  Daughter of King Minos of Crete and Pasiphae; mother of Thoas and grandmother of Hypsipyle.  Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and helped him find his way out of the Labyrinth of Crete (by giving him a thread to follow).  She then fled from Crete with Theseus.  Theseus abandoned her on the island of Naxos.  On Naxos, the god Bacchus (Dionysus) fell in love with her and married her.  Thoas, the ruler of Lemnos and father of Hypsipyle, was their son.  Ariadne later became a constellation in the sky.  Ariadne's account of her abandonment by Theseus on Naxos is given in Heroides X.  

Bacchus:  God of wine, song, and fertility; known in Greek as Dionysus.  His worship sometimes included wild revelry.  He married the human woman Ariadne, after she was abandoned by the human hero Theseus.  Hypsipyle was the daughter of Bacchus and Ariadne.  

Bacchus' wife:  Ariadne.

barbarian concubine:  Medea.

brother:  Medea killed her brother, Absyrtis, and scattered pieces of his body in the wake of the Argo.  The pursuing ships of Aeetes had to stop and gather up the pieces in order to give them proper burial, and so the Argo escaped.

bulls, oxen of Mars:  lines 10-14, 32-37, and 97-98 all refer to the tasks that Jason had to accomplish in order to obtain the Golden Fleece.  For details of these tasks, see the note on Jason..    

Colchis, Colchian:  Kingdom at the eastern end of the Black Sea, south of the Caucasus Mountains, in modern-day Georgia.  Colchis was Medea's home, and was ruled by her father, Aeetes.  It was an important center for trade, but its peoples were regarded as barbarians by the Greeks.

cruel stepmother:  Medea.

daughter-in-law:  Medea.

father:  Jason's father, Aeson.

Furies:  Goddesses of punishment and vengeance, who pursued and tormented their victims, often driving them insane.  They were terrifying in appearance and often carried smoking torches.

Golden Fleece; fleece of the golden ram:  The Golden Fleece; the treasure sought by Jason and the Argonauts. It originated in the following fashion. Phrixus and Helle were the children of Athamus and the goddess Nephele. When Athamus remarried, the children's stepmother, Ino, became jealous of them and plotted to get rid of them. She arranged to have seed-corn roasted so that it would not sprout. When the crop failed, messengers were sent to consult the oracle at Delphi, and Ino persuaded the messengers to say that that the oracle required the sacrifice of Phrixus to restore fertility to the fields. Before Phrixus could be sacrificed, however, Nephele sent a golden ram which carried both children off through the air. Helle fell into the Hellespont (which was named after her), but Phrixus arrived safely at Colchis, where he married the daughter of King Aeetes. Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Jove, and gave its pelt (the Golden Fleece) to Aeetes. Aeetes placed the fleece in an oak tree, where it remained until Jason arrived to claim it.

Haemonian:  Haemonia was another name for Thessaly, the region in which Iolcus, home of Jason, was located.  Haemon was the father of Thessalus, and names for the region were derived from both.

her father:  Medea betrayed her father, Aeetes, by helping Jason take the Golden Fleece.

hidden in your heavy womb:  Hypsipyle was pregnant with twins at the time of Jason's departure.

Hymen:  God of marriage.  Generally represented as a youthful, handsome man, carrying a marriage torch and blessing a wedding.

Hypsipyle:  Daughter of King Thoas of the island of Lemnos; granddaughter of the god Bacchus (or Dionysus) and the human woman Ariadne.  The women of Lemnos neglected the worship of Venus, and Venus cursed them with a foul smell, so that their men would not come near them; the men began consorting with Thracian concubines instead.  In revenge, the Lemnian women decided to kill all the men on the island.  They succeeded in killing all but one--Hypsipyle hid her father, Thoas, and saved him.  Hypsipyle then ruled the island.  When Jason and the crew of the Argo (the Argonauts) were on their quest for the Golden Fleece, they stopped at Lemnos.  The Lemnian women had sex with them, and Hypsipyle herself became pregnant by Jason.  Jason and the Argonauts then sailed on to Colchis, where the Golden Fleece was kept under heavy supernatural guard.  Medea, the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, agreed to help Jason acquire the Fleece in return for his promise to marry her.  Jason sailed away with the Golden Fleece, and took Medea with him as his wife, sailing back to his home in Iolcus.  Hypsipyle waited in vain for Jason's return to Lemnos, having in the meantime given birth to two sons by him.

Iolcus:  Town in Thessaly, on the eastern coast of Greece, near Mount Pelion.  Home of Jason, as well as of his father, Aeson, and his uncle, Pelias.

Jason:  Son of King Aeson of Iolcus.  When Aeson was overthrown by his brother, Pelias, he hid Jason and had him raised by the centaur, Chiron.  As a young man, he returned to Iolcus, but on the way there he lost one of his sandals.  Pelias, who now ruled Iolcus, knew of a prophecy that a man with one sandal would do him great harm.  To prevent this, he set Jason a seemingly impossible task:  retrieve the Golden Fleece from the faraway land of Colchis.  Jason then built a great ship, the Argo, recruited a crew of heroes for the quest, and sailed for Colchis.  During the voyage, in addition to other adventures, Jason and his crew of Argonauts became the first humans to pass through the Symplegades (the Clashing Rocks), and freed Phineus from the curse of the Harpies; they encountered the perils of Scylla and Charybdis and the isle of the Sirens, as well as Talos, the bronze guardian of Crete.  He also landed on the island of Lemnos.  There he married (or at least had sex with) Hypsipyle, the island's ruler.  He then sailed on for Colchis, promising to return to Hypsipyle, who was then pregnant.  When he arrived at Colchis, King Aeetes demanded that Jason accomplish a series of tasks to get the Golden Fleece: he must yoke a team of fierce, fire-breathing oxen and plow a field with them; then he must sow the teeth of a dragon in the field, and deal with the warlike armored men who sprouted from these "seeds"; finally, he must brave the sleepless dragon who guarded the Fleece.  He was only able to accomplish these tasks with the aid of the magical arts of Medea, King Aeetes' daughter, who offered her help on condition that Jason marry her and take her away with him.  Medea gave him magical protection from the fire of the bulls' nostrils, and instructed him to throw a boulder into the midst of the armed men; the men then fought each other for possession of the boulder and killed each other instead of attacking Jason.  Medea also prepared a potion which put the dragon to sleep, enabling Jason to reach the oak tree and get the Fleece.  Having obtained the Fleece, Jason fled with Medea, pursued by Aeetes' men.  He did not return to Lemnos, but instead returned with Medea to Iolcus.  For more on Jason's career after he returned to Ilocus, see the note on Medea.

Juno:  Goddess of marriage, childbirth, etc.  Wife of Jove.

Jupiter; Jove:  King of the gods; husband of Juno.

kingdoms I had promised you:  LemnosHypsipyle is saying that she had promised that Jason, as her husband, would rule her kingdom of Lemnos.

Lemnian women:  Women of the island of Lemnos, home of Hypsipyle.  The Lemnian women had killed the men who lived on the island.  For more details on this episode, see the note on Hypsipyle.

Lemnos:  The island ruled by Hypsipyle.  Lemnos is in the northeastern Aegean Sea, between modern Greece and Turkey.  In antiquity, it was a fertile source of wheat and other crops.  For further background on Lemnos, see the note on Hypsipyle.

Lucina:  Goddess who presides over childbirth.

the man:  Jason.

Mars:  The god of war, son of Jove and Juno.

Medea:  Daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, granddaughter of Helios, the sun god.  Medea was a devotee of the goddess Hecate, and one of the great sorceresses of the ancient world.  She used her magic to help Jason obtain the Golden Fleece, in return for his promise to marry her.  (For more details on this episode, see the note on Jason.)   When Jason and Medea fled from Colchis in the Argo, Medea took her younger brother, Absyrtis, with her.  King Aeetes pursued them. In order to delay the pursuit, Medea killed her brother and cut his body into pieces, scattering the parts behind the ship. The pursuers had to stop and collect Absyrtis' dismembered body in order to give it proper burial, and so Jason, Medea and the Argonauts escaped.  After the Argo returned safely to Iolcus, Jason's home, Medea continued using her sorcery. She restored the youth of Jason's aged father, Aeson, by cutting his throat and filling his body with a magical potion. She then offered to do the same for Pelias, the king of Iolcus who had usurped Aeson's throne. She tricked Pelias' daughters into killing him, but left the corpse without any youth-restoring potion.  After the murder of Pelias, Jason and Medea had to flee Iolcus; they settled next in Corinth. There Medea bore Jason two children before Jason forsook her in order to marry the daughter of Creon, the king of Corinth. Medea got revenge for Jason's desertion by killing the new bride with a poisoned robe and crown which burned the flesh from her body; King Creon died as well when he tried to embrace his dying daughter. Medea fled Corinth in a chariot, drawn by winged dragons, which belonged to her grandfather Helios. She took with her the bodies of her two children, whom she had murdered in order to give Jason further pain.  Medea then took refuge with Aegeus, the old king of Athens, having promised him that she would use her magic to enable him to have more children, but she was eventually forced to flee from his court as well.. 

Minyans:  A tribe or clan, one of whose branches inhabited the area around Iolcus in Thessaly.  Hence "Minyans" is simply a synonym for the people of Jason's homeland here.

Pelias:  King of Iolcus; brother of Aeson and uncle of Jason.  Pelias had taken over the kingdom from Aeson, and sent Jason on the seemingly impossible quest for the Golden Fleece as a way of getting rid of a potential claimant to the throne.

Phasis:  Main river of Colchis, Medea's home.  It flowed into the eastern end of the Black Sea, south of the Caucasus Mountains.  It was sometimes seen as the boundary between Europe and Asia in antiquity.

Phrixus:  Son of Athamus and the goddess Nephele.  For details of his involvement with the origin of the Golden Fleece, see the note on the Golden Fleece.

pine of Dodona:  The Argo, Jason's ship.  Dodona was associated with its construction.

poisoner:  Medea.

Scythia:  An area which is mostly in modern-day southern Russia.  It was ruled by a nomadic people, the Scythians, who herded livestock and were skilled metal-workers and fierce warriors.  They were regarded by the Greeks as barbarians, and their land was regarded as cold and inhospitable.

Tanais:  The river Don, in modern-day Russia, which flows into the Sea of Azov.

Thessaly; Thessalian:  A region of northern Greece; a person from that region.  Jason's home, Iolcus, was an important port city in Thessaly.

Thoas, Minoan Thoas:  Hypsipyle's father, former ruler of Lemnos.  Thoas was the son of Ariadne and the god Bacchus.  Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, the king of Crete--hence the description, "Minoan Thoas."

Tiphys:  The helmsman of the Argo, Jason's ship.

 

 

 

 

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Last updated 06/22/2013