Sirens, dragons, treasure and epic battles – the Golden Fleece has it all …
62 stunning treasures have been specially picked from Vassil Bojkov’s extensive collection of over 3000, and they are part of the National Gallery of Arts in Sofia presenting an astounding exhibition named ‘The Golden Fleece. The Quest of the Argonauts’ from the 16th of March to the 10th of June 2018. This exhibition proudly displays various aspects of religion and ritual practices from the Thracians; for 16 of the artefacts, it is the very first time they are able to be seen by the public.
Some of the unseen treasures include a few types of silver kantharos, silver rhytons, a silver kylix and many more. One silver kantharos depicts the golden ram’s sacrifice which transferred Helle and Phrixus to Colchis, which is the centre of the exhibition. Another kantharos beautifully illustrates Theseus, the king and founder of Athens, in Crete which is dated from 440-435 BC. A gorgeous silver rhyton depicting Silenus, who was a satyr and tutor to Dionysus, dates from late 3rd-early 2nd century BC. Finally, the silver kilyx shows Theseus with the Marathonian Bull in astounding detail which is dated from 445-440 BC. These few intriguing examples barely scratch the surface of what’s shown in the exhibition.
Delphi, Samothrace, Thracian Kingdoms, Amazon lands, Colchis and Crete- There are few places missed from this famous story of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece. Anyone who goes to see this exhibition will be whisked away into almost tangible worlds from the intricate designs and history of these artefacts. With everything the Golden Fleece represents- fertility, kingship, sacrifice- anybody who knows a lot or a little can’t help but to get lost in the rich story and intriguing history of the myth itself, let alone the amazing treasures that come along with it. The sacrificial representation itself is placed in the centre of this display of timeless artefacts, which magnifies the pure extent to which this mythology has affected people, stories and culture even to this day.
The story of the Golden Fleece itself is intriguing- A man named Jason wants to take the throne back from his uncle Pelias, who stole it from Jason’s father; Pelias tells Jason that for him to give up the throne, Jason will have to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis. He gets a boat named the Argo (made by a person named Argus) and assembles all the heroes and demigods of Ancient Greece, including Heracles who was the strongest of the warriors.
The first island was Lemnos, which was entirely populated by women; unbeknownst to the crew, they had slaughtered all men on that island. Many variations state that all the men but Heracles helped ‘repopulate’ the island before they left. After sailing through the Hellespont, they reach an island named the Diolones where they meet and befriend King Cyzucis. When they leave, a storm directs them back to this island and both sides mistake each other for enemies- nobody realised until the King was dead. His wife kills herself and the Argonauts hold a funeral for them. On the island of Cius, Hylas (the squire and possible lover of Heracles) drowns and Heracles refuses to leave the island, so he has to be left behind. At Bebrysis, the King Amicus challenges Polydeuces to a boxing match and loses. At Bosporus, the prophet and King Phineus- who is blind and punished for oversharing information by harpies eating all the island’s food- tells the Argonauts how to get through the Clashing Rocks after they defeat the harpies. After getting through the Clashing Rocks and going through a few other strange places, the Argonauts rescue people off of a sinking ship. These people turned out to be the sons of Phrixus(who brought the golden ram to Colchis) and the crew finds out that there is a dragon guarding the fleece.
Finally, they arrive in Colchis. They meet King Aetes, who tells Jason he has to complete three tasks in order to get the fleece. Firstly, to till a field using oxen that breathe fire. Secondly, to plant dragon teeth in the soil and defeat the warriors that grow out of it. Thirdly, to defeat the dragon that guards the fleece. The goddess Hera sees this and convinces Eros (Cupid) to make Medea, the daughter or Aeetes and a skilled sorceress, fall in love with Jason. For the first task, Medea gives Jason an ointment that protects him from the oxen fire. For the second task, she tells him that the warriors aren’t very smart, so he throws a rock amidst them and they fight each other to the death. For the third task, Medea gives Jason a sleeping potion which he uses on the dragon.
On the way back, King Aeetes gets angry and tries to follow them, but Medea lures her brother Apsyrtus aboard and, when Aeetes catches up, Jason cuts him up into small pieces, so the King must stop and give Apsyrtus a proper burial. Zeus didn’t like this and sent a storm to blow Argo off course; they had to stop for a sorceress to cleanse Medea of this deed. After making their way past sirens, they encounter Talos and defeat him by pulling a nail from his ankle, which turned out to be his weak spot. The Argonauts return, and Jason takes the throne back from Pelias.
This inspiring exhibition can be easily compared to some of the leading expositions in the world – such as the ones in the Metropolitan Museum, The Hermitage in Moscow or even the Louvre” – says Prof. Atanasios Sideris, archeologist and Head Curator of the Vasil Bojkov Collection.