Jason was the son of Aeson (who was a king in Thessaly, in northern Greece), but Aeson’s kingdom (Iolcus) was taken from him by his half-brother Pelias. When he grew to manhood, Jason came to ask for the kingdom back, and Pelias agreed to restore it, if Jason would get for him the Golden Fleece. This was the fleece of a mythical golden ram, which belonged to a fierce oriental king (Aeetes, who lived in remote Colchis, at the east end of the Black Sea), and which was guarded by a huge, unsleeping serpent. Jason sailed off on that very dangerous quest on the ship Argo with fifty heroes as companions (called the Argonauts). On the way they stopped off at the island of Lemnos. There the women had killed their husbands, who had rejected them (in one version because they neglected Aphrodite, who made their bodies smell by way of punishment) and had taken up with some female captives taken from nearby Thrace instead. The Lemnian women killed the captives and all the males on the island, except for the unmarried Hypsipyle, who secretly saved her father’s life and smuggled him away to safety. He was king Thoas, and as his daughter she had been made queen. The women of Lemnos had been without men for a while now and needed to ensure their survival by means of children, so they gave the Argonauts a warm welcome. According to Ovid, Hypsipyle married Jason and became pregnant by him. After a lengthy stay he had to sail off on his quest, before she gave birth to twin boys. Once the Argonauts reached Colchis, Aeetes agreed to let Jason have the Fleece if he performed some tasks – yoking the bronze-footed, fire-breathing bulls of Mars, ploughing a field with them and sowing some dragon’s teeth (from which ferocious armed men would grow). This too was meant to be the end of Jason, but Aeetes’ daughter (the beautiful and powerful witch Medea) fell in love with him and was persuaded by him to help him, thereby betraying her father. Her help was vital. She gave him a magic drug (so the bulls’ fiery breath could not harm him) and told him how to deal with the armed men (he threw a rock among them and they killed each other fighting over it). Even though Jason had performed 67the tasks, Aeetes wouldn’t give him the Fleece. So Medea used her magic to put the guardian snake to sleep and Jason grabbed the Fleece. He sailed back to Thessaly with it, taking Medea with him and marrying her on the way. She did him another important service on the journey back. She had her brother Apsyrtus with her, and when Aeetes pursued them, she killed the boy, hacked him to pieces and scattered them around, so Aeetes would stop to pick them up and they could escape. Jason and Medea got back to Thessaly safely (avoiding Lemnos), and it is when Hypsipyle hears news of all this that she writes this letter to Jason.