Masterpieces of Greek Literature (1902)/Fourth Pythian Ode



Part of the description of the expedition of the Argonauts to Colchis for the Golden Fleece, which was in the possession of King Aietes, son of Helios, and father of Medea, who was skilled in sorcery. The Golden Fleece was the skin of the wonderful ram which had borne Phrixus from danger in Greece, and had been sacrificed by him in Asia.

And with breezes of the South they came wafted to the mouth of the Axine [1] sea; there they founded a shrine and sacred close of Poseidon, god of seas, where was a red herd of Thracian bulls, and a new-built altar of stone with hollow top.

Then as they set forth toward an exceeding peril they prayed the lord of ships that they might shun the terrible shock of the jarring rocks:[2] for they were twain that had life, and plunged along more swiftly than the legions of the bellowing winds; but that travel of the seed of gods made end of them at last.

After that they came to the Phasis; there they fought with dark-faced Colchians even in the presence of Aietes. And there the queen of keenest darts, the Cyprus-born,[3] first brought to men from Olympus the frenzied bird, the speckled wry-neck, binding it to a four-spoked wheel without deliverance, and taught the son of Aison [4] to be wise in prayers and charms, that he might make Medea take no thought to honor her parents, and longing for Hellas might drive her by persuasion's lash, her heart afire with love.

Then speedily she showed him the accomplishment of the tasks her father set, and mixing drugs with oil gave him for his anointment antidotes of cruel pain, and they vowed to be joined together in sweet wedlock.

But when Aietes had set in the midst a plough of adamant, and oxen that from tawny jaws breathed flame of blazing fire, and with bronze hoofs smote the earth in alternate steps, and had led them and yoked them single-handed, he marked out in a line straight furrows, and for a fathom's length clave the back of the loamy earth; then he spake thus: "This work let your king, whosoever he be that hath command of the ship, accomplish me, and then let him bear away with him the imperishable coverlet, the fleece glittering with tufts of gold."

He said, and Jason flung off from him his saffron mantle, and putting his trust in God betook himself to the work; and the fire made him not to shrink, for that he had had heed to the bidding of the stranger maiden skilled in all pharmacy. So he drew to him the plough and made fast by force the bulls' necks in the harness, and plunged the wounding goad into the bulk of their huge sides, and with manful strain fulfilled the measure of his work. And a cry without speech came from Aietes in his agony, at the marvel of the power he beheld.

Then to the strong man his comrades stretched forth their hands, and crowned him with green wreaths, and greeted him with gracious words. And thereupon the wondrous son of Helios told him in what place the knife of Phrixos had stretched the shining fell; yet he trusted that this labor at least should never be accomplished by him. For it lay in a thick wood and grasped by a terrible dragon's jaws, and he in length and thickness was larger than their ship of fifty oars, which the iron's blows had welded.

Translated by Ernest Myers.


  1. Axine is inhospitable,—the early name of the Black Sea, which was later called Euxine, or hospitable.
  2. The "justling rocks," which lay at the mouth of the Black Sea, were thought to clash together until the Argo passed through safely.
  3. Aphrodite, the Roman Venus.
  4. Jason, leader of the Argonauts.