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Pelias, the son of Neptune, was warned by an oracle, that his death would approach, when one barefooted should come to him as he was sacrificing: it happened that, as he was engaged in the celebration of some annual sacred rites, Jason the son of Aeson, having left his shoe in the mud of the river Anaurus, and hastening to be present at the sacrifice, met him. Pelias, mindful of the oracle, endeavoured to persuade Jason to undertake an expedition to Colchis, in order to make himself master of the golden fleece, hoping he would never return, because he had heard it was a work beyond human power to accomplish. Jason, a youth of great courage and magnanimity, readily engaged in the attempt; and, having associated with him a great number of gallant adventurers, set sail in the ship Argo from Thessaly, and soon after arrived at the isle of Lemnos. Not long before this, the women had with common consent murdered, in one night, all the men in the island, except one. Hypsipyle, the daughter of Thoas, had saved her father by the pretence of having killed him, and was at this time queen of the Lemnians. She, conceiving a passion for Jason, admitted him both to her house and bed. After continuing here two years, his companions urged him to proceed on the promised expedition; he left Hypsipyle pregnant, and set sail for Colchis. Medea, the king's daughter, having an amorous regard for him, by her magic art lulled asleep the vigilant dragon, and tamed the brazen-footed bulls; by which means he obtained the golden fleece; and, leaving Colchis, carried off Medea also, who desired to follow him. Hypsipyle, enraged that Medea was preferred to her, sends this letter, congratulating Jason on his safe return. Afterwards exposing the cruelty and enchantments of Medea, she endeavours to bring her into contempt, and make him sensible of her own superior merit. Lastly, she loads both him and Medea with imprecations.

The story of Jason's quest appears in Pindar's Pythian 4 and in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes. The episode of the Lemnian Women is summarized in Apollodorus 1.9.17.

[2] Auratae vellre ovis. The story of the golden fleece is well known. It was guarded by a watchful dragon, and brazen-footed bulls; but Jason surmounted all difficulties by the help of Medea.

[3] Quantum sinis. For Jason had preferred Medea to her; and therefore she had reason to fear that her congratulation would not be well received.

[7] Signetur. Some critics remark, that the third person is used here with design, and that the poet makes Hypsipyle out of indignation avoid to name Jason. Sostrata acts the same part in Terence, and chides one, though present, in the third person. Literally: 'Let the wind be as contrary as it will; one's name is quickly set to the bottom of a letter.'

[10] Isse sacros Marti; the brazen-footed bulls, sacred to Mars, an account of their fierceness. Jason was instructed by Medea how to tamethem; without which the golden fleece could not have bean gained.

[11] Seminibus iactis. She means the teeth of the dragon, which Jason, having killed that monster, was next obliged to sow; whence sprang up two armies.

[12] Noneguisse. Jason (by the advice of Medea) throwing some stones amongst them, they turned their arms against and slew each other. Apollodorus, however, tells us that, falling into dissension among themselves, they were all slain by Jason.

[13] Pervigilem draconem. Beside the brazen-footed bails above mentioned, there was a diagon of enormous bulk that watched over this golden fleece, and slept neither by day nor by night.

[19] Vinefion; Medea. whom she here calls a soreeress. Her history is well known. Whatever served to pervert or disturh the mind, was by the ancients called venenum.

[23] Haemoniis oris; from the Thessalian coasts. Thessaly was called Haemouia, from mount Hiemus, or from a king named Haemon.

25 aesonidos; Jason the son of aeson.

[30] Vis mihi, teste Deo; that is, 'Though the stranger by an oath called the Gods to witness the truth of what he said.' She means by this to make him sensible of her anxiety and concern, that could not be satisfied about his welfare without many strong proofs.

[36] Fata diurna; because they were cut off the same day in which they sprang to life.

[45] Erinnys; one of the Furies, who were three in number; called also Dirae and Eumenides.

[47] Minyis. The Argonauts were so called from the Minyae, a people of Iolcos in Thessaly.

who followed Jason in that expedition. They were originally of Orchomenos, a town in Boeotia.

Tritonide pinu; that is, the ship Argo, so called from Pallas, who advised and assisted in the building of it. Pallas is often mentioned by the ancients under the name of Tritonia, from the marsh Triton in Africa, near which she was horn.

[48] Tiphy. Tiphys was the pilot of Jason's ship. The poet, by making her thus exclaim against things both animate and inanimate, admirably expresses her inward disorder at the fatal effects of that expedition.

[50] aeelae. He was the son of Phoebus, and father of Medea. He reigned in Colchis, when Jason went in quest of the golden fleece. These complaints are very natural and beautiful. When any disaster happens to us, we are apt to reflect upon the train of circumstances that contributed to it, and murmur at the course of events.

Lemnos; an island of the aegean sea, situated towards the north, where Hypsipyle reigned when Jason touched upon it in his passage to Colchis.

[53] Lemniadesque viros. Venus being taken in adultery with Mars, in the isle of Lemnos, the women, in sacrificing to the god and goddesses, neglected her, for which she infected them with a disease that rendered them loathsome to their husbands, who, to avoid them, went to the wars in Thrace. This the wives greatly resenting, formed a conspiracy to destroy them and other males at their return; which they actually put in execution. Hypsipyle, however, spared secretly her father Thoas; and he was carried by Bacchus into the island Thoas. She in the mean time, pretending that her father was dead, raised a funeral pile in her palace, as if to celebrate his obsequies, placing another person upon it in his stead.

[54] Vita tuenda fuit. By vita, we are to understand the pleasure and tranquillity of life, in which sense to word is often taken by Terence. For Hypsipyle does not mean, that she should have destroyed him and his companions, but that she should have driven him from the island, and thus have prevented all those inquietudes and miseries, which were consequent to the kind reception she gave him.

[65] Sacram conscendis in Argo; sacred, because it was under the protection of Pallas, by whose instruction it was built.

[67] Suhducitur. When a ship driven, by the force of care and a brisk gale, sails swiftly, not only the land, but even the waves themselves, seem to fly and be drawn from under it.

[75] Vota ego persolvam. These words flow from a just indignation of her wrongs, which she very pathetically sums up.

[80] Argolica urbe; 'from some Thessalian city;' for, in Thessaly, there was a city called Pelasgie Argos, the seat of a small kingdom. It may also extend to all Greece, which latitude we have rather chosen to give it in the version.

[84] Cantata falce. Of the herbs used in these magic arts, some were to be plucked up by the roots, and others to be cut with a knife or scythe. We learn from Virgil of the latter, that they were cut with a brazen knife in moonlight.

[97] Scilicet ut tauros. Let us here admire the artifice and ingenuity of the poet, what different shapes he assumes, and how artfully he makes every thing serve his purpose. Hypsipyle endeavours here to withdraw Jason's affection from Medea. For this purpose she represents her in such a light as may create horror; she alarms his fears, and would persuade him that he cannot safely trust himself with her. Lastly, under an appearance of weakening her own arguments, she adds double strength to them. She insinuates that his case was desperate, and that he was a mere slave unable to shake off the yoke. She knew his generous heroic temper, and hoped that, to clear himself from such an imputation, he would endeavour to subdue that hated passion.

[100] Se favet. Hypsipyle still goes on with her attempt against Medea. Here she endeavours to raise his jealousy, and work upon his passion for glory. 'Medea,' says she, 'boasts to have had the chief hand in your exploits, and carries away all the honour. The partisans of Pelias take advantage of this; and the ill-natured world is too apt to join them.'

[103] Phasias aeetine; Medea of Colchis. For Medea was the daughter of aeetes, and Phasis was a river of Colchis.

[104] Phryxeae. So called from Phryxus, the son of Athamas and Nephele. He with his sister Helle, flying from the cruelty of his step-mother, came to the Hellespont, and ventured to swim over it on the ram which had the golden fleece. Helle was drowned; whence these streights took the name of Hellespont, that is, Pontus Helles, the sea of Helle. He himself arrived safely in Colchis; sacrificed the ram to Mars; and hung up his spoil in the temple, where it continued till Jason fetched it back into Greece.

[106] Gelido axe; that is, from Colchis, which is a cold climate in respect of Greece, as being situated farther to the north. We are also to consider this as proceeding from contempt and disdain, intimating that he had made choice of a barbarian. She therefore beightens and exaggerates the reflection, and reproaches him with taking a wife from the icy pole, although Colchis was far enough distant from it.

[107] Tauais; a river of Scythia, that divides Europe from Asia. It runs from north to south, and empties itself into the Palus Maeotis, called now the Sea of Asof.

Scythiaeque. Scythia was a great northern region, one part of which belonged to Europe, the other to Asia. This is spoken with indignation against Medea, whom she represents as a mora suitable wife for a barbarian than for a Greek.

[114] Minoo Thoante. For Thoas, the father of Hypsipyle, was the son of Ariadne, who was the daughter of Minos.

[115] Bacchus avus. For Bacchus married Ariadne, by whom be had Thoas. This we have noticed, more fully, in our remarks upon the Epistle of Phyllis to Demopho├Ân. The poet here suits him-elf admirably to the female temper, in making Hypsipyle thus aim at glory to herself from every incident.

[123] Cognosccris illis. She thus hopes to excite his compassion, and at the same time insinuates her own chastity and fidelity.

[129] Spargere. Medea, when she fled with Jason from Colehis, fearing that she might be overtaken by her father, cut her brother Absyrtus in pieces, and scattered his limbs upon the road, that aeetes, employed in gathering them, might he stouped in the pursuit, and she hersch in the mean time escape.

[135] Prodidit illa patrem; because she assisted Jason in his project of carrying off the golden fleece. He was afterwards slain by Meleager, in a skirmish that happened between him and the Argonauts upon the shore.

Rapui de caede Thoanta. When the Lemnian women had formed a conspiracy against all the men, she by an artifice saved her father, as we have already seen. Hypsipyle omits no opportunity of discrediting her rival, and making herself appear to advantage. The opposition of character is affecting and strongly marked.

[138] Crimine dotata est. Medea was chiefly recommended to Jason by her infamous treachery in deserting and betraying her own father. This was a circumstance too favorable for Hypsipyle, to be passed over in silence.

[140] Quamlibet iralis ipse dat arma dolor. This is the most approved reading, though others think that we ought to have quaelibet instead of quamlibet. Dolor, in this verse, signifies indignation, or a resentment of wrongs: for the Lemnian wives had been slighted by their husbands, who, going to the wars of Thrace, brought home with them, at their return, women from that country.

[144] Hiscere, &c. The meaning is, 'You must have been so overwhelmed with shame and a consciousness of your own treachery, as to wish that the earth might swallow you up, father than encounter my looks.'

[154] Sanciat. 'As Medea thought it no crime to disturb the marriage-tie, and entice the husband of another, may she herself meet with the same usage!'

[156] Da totidem. This happened afterwards to be her very case. For Jason, attracted by the charms of Creusa, the daughter of Creon king of Corinth, deserted Medea, who cruelly murdered the two children she had by him. She also sent wild-fire in a cabinet to Creusa, who opening it, the fire burst forth and consumed her and the whole palace. Hyginus tells us, that Jason perished also in this conflagration. But others assure us to the contrary, and that he intended to have killed Medea for this outrage; but that she, for farther revenge, then, and not before, slew both his children in his sight, and fled to Athens, where she married old aegeus, and had by him a son called Medus. At last she raised clouds and winds, by which she was carried through the air, with her son, into that part of Asia which from him was called Media.

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hide References (2 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (2):
    • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library, 1.9.17
    • Pindar, Pythian, 4
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