Friday, December 26, 2014

A Disturbing New Discovery About The Story Of Jason & The Argonauts

I'll cover this more or less chronologically, filling in the background info about Jason & the Argonauts for the lay members of my audience, which means that the disturbing new discovery will come last.

Jason is a figure of Greek mythology from the Heroic Age. Stories began to be told about him probably before 800 BC -- told, not written, because by 800 BC written Greek had not yet become very widespread or sophisticated -- and possibly before 1200 BC or even earlier, we don't know, this is semi-prehistoric Greece we're talking about.

In the 5th century BC Jason appears as the husband of the title figure of Euripides' Medea in a marriage which ends rather badly:

In the 3rd century BC comes the first known written version of the full story of Jason & the Argonauts, written by Apollonius of Rhodes. When Jason is a small boy, his parents, a king and queen at war to save their kingdom, send him away, because the war is going very badly and they want to save his life. When he's a young man Jason comes back to claim the kingdom which is rightfully his, and though he is dressed like a beggar and an eccentric one at that, a goddess warns the usurper to get rid of him, so the usurper sez, Hey, I hear that golden fleece in a faraway land is pretty cool. I wonder if an adventurous young hero could go and steal it? And the fleece has great powers and bla bla bla, but all of that is pretty much just an excuse for the journey of the Argo, Jason's ship, and he even eventually actually does steal the golden fleece, with the help of the aforementioned Medea, daughter of the man Jason steals the fleece from. Yeah, Jason and Medea's relationship was kinda messed up right from the start: first thing he did when he met her was turn her against her father, with whom she hadn't been having problems til then.

Jason's ship is called Argo, which, as Alan Arkin memorably explained in the movie Argo,

means "Arr, go fuck yourself!" But it's also named Argo after the guy who built it, Argus. There's also a monster in Greek mythology with many eyes who's called Argus -- he's sometimes called "the thousand-eyed Argus" -- and Odysseus' faithful dog was also named Argus, but this guy who built the ship was a different Argus. And he was also an Argonaut, because Jason and all the other guys who set sail on the Argo were the Argonauts, and they were all heroes, and the most famous hero among them was Hercules, and no, this Hercules wasn't one of several different Herculeses, he was the one and only Hercules, great big and full of muscles, the accomplisher of mighty Labours. And the story of the Argonauts sailing on their way toward the golden fleece is the really interesting part of the story because the Argonauts met and fought all sorts of cool monsters and gods and were like, totally heroic.

In the first century AD, Valerius Flaccus wrote a Latin version of the story of Jason & the Argonauts, based on Apollonoius' version to be sure, but more than just a translation. Flaccus gave his own flavor to the story.

There have been quite a few movie versions of Jason & the Argonauts. Like I said, it's a really cool story, with bitchin battles against huge cool monsters and statues a hundred feet tall that walk around and crush people and whatnot.

You may remember the Saturday-morning cartoon series from the 1960's, Hercules. I remember it well : "Hercules!/ Da-dada-daaa-da, da, da/ Hercules!/ With the strength of TENNNNN/ Or-dinary MENNNNN/ Hercules!" and so forth. Well, in one episode of that series Jason appeared, and he was voiced by none other than William Shatner.

And several overrated mediocre 20-century novels were written about Jason & the Argonauts, overrated because their authors had passed themselves off as experts in Classical literature.

And finally we come to this disturbing new discovery about the story. Brace yourselves. If you've got to go to the bathroom, trust me, go first, before you read any further. Remove all small children from hearing distance of your anguished wails. Ladies, clutch them pearls: the renowned expert in ancient history and literature Michael Paulkovich has studied Valerius Falccus' version of the tale, written some time AFTER AD 70 and perhaps as late as AD 90 or even later -- Paulkovich has carefully studied this work, and determined that no-where in it is there one single reference to Jesus of Nazareth!

Well. I don't think I have to tell you that the field of New Testament studies is reeling, that Christianity itself has been badly shaken, and that mythicism has a new hero -- our own shining Argofuckyourselfnaut, as it were -- of whom we call all be very proud.

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