The Ram

Aries Constellation

The Brighter Stars of Aries

The Story

Jason and the Golden Fleece

Aries is connected with one of the great epics of Greek myth, the story of Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece. The story begins with the unhappy children of a broken family.

The Wicked Stepmother

The boy Phrixus and his sister Helle were the children of King Athamas of Boeotia and his wife Nephele. But the unhappy marriage of Athamas and Nephele was dissolved by the death of Nephele and Athamas took as his second wife the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes, a woman named Ino. And of course, Ino couldn't stand the children. She developed a complex plot to get rid of them.

The Plot to Kill the Children

The first thing that she did was to spread disease among the crops in the land of Boeotia so that the crops would fail and there would be no harvest. When the king sent to the great oracle at Delphi to ask of the gods the reason for the failure, Ino bribed the messengers to bring back the answer that the children should be sacrificed to save the crops. Thanks to Ino's bribery, when the king hesitated to make the sacrifice, the local priests insisted that the children must be sacrificed.

Saved by a Ram

Athamas took the children to the top of a nearby mountain to make the sacrifice, but their mother, Nephele, was watching from heaven. She bade the gods to send down a golden ram from heaven to carry the children to safety. This is the ram of Aries.

Poor Little Girl!

At last moment before the sacrifice, the ram arrived. Phrixus and Helle sprang onto its back, as the ram carried them high into the air and carried them off towards Asia. As the ram flew towards the Black Sea, Helle lost her grip and fell off into the channel connecting the Black and Mediterranean Seas. This channel, known as the Dardanelles was named the Hellespont by the Greeks, in honor of the young Hellen. Aries, the Ram

The Fabulous Fleece

Phrixus held on and was carried into land of Colchis among the Caucausus Mountains, which is an area now occupied by the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The grateful Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Zeus and presented the golden fleece to the ruler of the land, the much-feared King Aeetes of Colchis, who in return conferred upon Phrixus the hand of his daughter in marriage. King Aeetes hung the golden fleece on an oak tree in the middle of a sacred wood. Thereafter the fleece was guarded by a huge dragon or serpent, which encircled the tree and never slept.

Jason Gets Into the Story

Jason, who led the Argonauts to Asia in the quest for the golden fleece, was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Iolcus in Thessaly. But his throne was usurped by Pelias, the cousin of Phrixus.

Getting Rid of an Inconvenient Jason

Pelias had the throne and the power, but he knew that Jason was the legitimate king. Jason did not have the power to overthrow Pelias, but Pelias could never be safe while Jason was around. Nor did Pelias have a good excuse to kill Jason. So Pelias challenged Jason with an apparently impossible task; he promised Jason that he would yield the throne, if Jason brought back the golden fleece from Colchis in Asia.

The Good Ship Argo

And so began the voyage of Jason and the fifty Argonauts. Not only the Ram itself, but also Jason's ship, the Argo, is in the sky. In ancient times, the ship was seen as a sincle immense constellation in the southern hemisphere known as Argo Navis, the Ship Argo. In modern times, this constellation has been broken up into three separate southern hemisphere constellations, Carina - the Keel, Puppis - the Stern, and Vela - the Sail. In addition, some of the stars in the region of Argo Navis have been collected to form the modern constellation of Columba, the Dove.
The story sounds almost like a quest description found in online RPG games but that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, as many game designers borrow heavily from myths, legends and other cultural stories to create their worlds.

Copyright © 1998 - 2010 by Arnold V. Lesikar,
Professor Emeritus
Dept. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science,
St. Cloud State University,St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498

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