Orpheus and the Golden Fleece – 2013

In this version of the story of Jason and the Argonauts, Orpheus is the one who charms the huge serpent guarding the Golden Fleece. Medea’s not involved — and therefore everyone lives happily ever after.

This scene shows Jason and another of the heroes of Ancient Greece, disembarked from Jason’s ship, the Argo, in the sacred grove in Kolkhis. They are eying the Golden Fleece–the hide of a wondrous ram whose wool was of pure gold–hanging in an oak. Jason is ordering his archer to hold his fire for the time being, as they plan how to evade the terrible serpent guarding the fleece.

Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, described the serpent as having a crest, a stinging triple tongue, and huge wings. Here is my interpretation of that creature, growing heavy-lidded as it listens to Orpheus’s lyre.

As he confronts the serpent, Orpheus enjoys the watchful protection of the goddess Athena, shown here in full armor. She holds her owl — the symbol of her wisdom

This serpent stands between Jason and the completion of his quest to bring the Golden Fleece back to his father’s kingdom in Thrace. The creature, called the Colchian Dragon, is too powerful to overcome while awake, and never sleeps. Orpheus, though, the greatest musician who ever lived, plays and sings so beautifully that the beast is lulled to sleep for the first time in its life. This sleep gives Jason and his fellow Argonauts their chance to snatch the fleece from the sacred oak tree, and flee in the Argo.