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In Search Of Myths And Heroes: Jason And The Golden Fleece

Airs Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Scenic photo of the island of Samothrace, Greece. The Greek origins of the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece touch on the island of Samothrace, the Greek sanctuary of the Great Gods.

In this series, Michael Wood goes in search of four of the world's most famous myths. These gripping adventures take the viewer to some of the most extraordinary places on earth, exploring stories that have captivated the world for thousands of years.

The tale of Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece is one of the oldest stories in all of Greek myth. In this episode, Michael Wood traces the route of Jason and his famous boat, the Argo, along its route from Greece to Turkey and Georgia.

Michael Wood's treacherous journey in pursuit of the Jason myth took him to the Svaneti Valley (pictured), running up to the Caucausus Mountains on the border with Ossetia.
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Above: Michael Wood's treacherous journey in pursuit of the Jason myth took him to the Svaneti Valley (pictured), running up to the Caucausus Mountains on the border with Ossetia.

The story of Jason can be traced back to the town of Volos in modern day Greece. The probable site of ancient Iolkos, it was here that King Pelias feared Jason a contender to this throne and so sent him on an impossible mission to finish him off. The mission was to travel to the far away kingdom of Colchis — in the Black Sea — to retrieve the magical Golden Fleece that had been taken there. But Jason proved courageous and strong and set out on an epic route.

Wood similarly travels by boat from Greek island to Greek island, stopping off to explore the history behind certain nodes in the story. From Greece, he journeys on to Turkey and struggles up the massive currents of Istanbul's River Bosphorous. Once out into Turkish countryside, Wood discovers whole communities of Pontic Greek — still living and speaking Greek in modern day Turkey. Are they the hangover from hordes of ancient Greeks pushing east and exploring the Black Sea? Is the whole Jason myth an explanation of that exploration?

In Georgia, Wood travels to Vani, an archaeological dig that has revealed an Iron Age kingdom rich in gold. Finally in the remote north west region called Svaneti, Wood finds the true source of the myth. Here tribesmen have for centuries panned for gold in the river using sheep's fleece.