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In Greek legend a band of 50 heroes who undertook a sea expedition to bring back the Golden Fleece from Colchis on the farther shore of the Euxine (Black) Sea. It was led by Jason, who had the task imposed upon him by his uncle Pelias and sailed in the Greek equivalent of a longship called the Argo, which in the legend was built by Argos, the son of Phrixus. She was constructed of pine cut from Mount Pelion which was supposed to have the property of never rotting, and was pierced for 50 oars, one for each of the 50 heroes who manned her. It was recorded that her construction was supervised by the goddess Athene, who inserted a piece of the holy oak from Dodona into the prow so that she would never lose her way. Her bows were painted vermilion, and she was said to be the largest ship in the world.

The voyage of the Argonauts is one of the best known and oldest of mythological tales, but as a voyage to open up the Euxine Sea to Greek trade and colonization it may well have an element of truth about it. Certainly there were Greek settlements on the southern shores of the Euxine Sea as early as the 6th century bc. The legend of the Golden Fleece may also possibly have a basis in fact because of the practice of the inhabitants of Colchis of pegging down the skins of sheep in the rivers to catch in the wool the particles of gold washed down by the force of the streams.

Among the more notable of the Argonauts under Jason's command were Asclepius (Aesculapius), son of Apollo and doctor to the crew, Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Zeus (Jupiter), their brother Heracles (Hercules), Orpheus, to charm the crew with his lute, and Tiphys, the pilot. Another member of the crew was Atalanta, daughter of Schoeneus, disguised in a man's dress.

Subjects: Classical Studies — Maritime History.

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