This is the story of the mythic voyage of Jason and the Argonauts. In summary, the myth tells how Jason assembled a crew of Greek heroes and sailed the ship Argo to Colchis where he seized the Golden Fleece from King Aeetes and eloped with his daughter, the princess Medea. Most readers can readily understand Menelaus wanting to recover his abducted wife Helen from Troy, but what exactly was the Fleece and why would anyone want it? This book provides the answers. There are many versions of the myth, but with his unparalled knowledge of the classical world Robert Graves (widely recognized for I, Claudius) produced an outstanding, comprehensive and readable version. He synthesizes different primary sources into one whole. An alternative to consider is a translation of the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, which is one of the sources used by Graves.
Readers will learn the nature and history of the Golden Fleece. The book begins with events that took place long before the voyage of the Argo and concludes with a summary of what became of the major characters. The cultural milieu within which conflicts between Greek city states arose is described in detail.
In his version Graves deconstructs most of the mythic elements. Thus, the sons of various gods become children born to temple prostitutes of the appropriate deities. Hercules is a big, garrulous drunkard with a large club. This may seem unappealing, but the characters in Greek myth are morally ambiguous anyway and Graves' Hercules grows on one as an unstoppable force of nature, no less impressive than in the traditional version. When he is sober his arrows never miss and he is indomitable in battle. Conflicts between the gods are explained as conflicts between different forms of worship. They are thus transformed into the machinations of this or that priest against a rival at a different shrine. This seems reasonable. What I find fascinating about Graves' writing is his use of his own idiosyncratic elements within an otherwise familiar story. In The Golden Fleece he introduces the background theme of religious conflict between an older matriarchal form of worship of the Triple Goddess (a sort of Earth Mother like that of many primitive religions) and a new patriarchal worship of Olympians headed by Zeus, imported by the conquerors of mainland Greece in the pre-historic times shortly before the voyage of the Argo. In this telling nymphs are female acolytes of the Goddess to whom marriage and submission to a male are anathema, but who promiscuously `company' with available men as it suits them. This is anthropologically dubious but could represent an ancient Greek male fantasy/fear that manifested as stories of Amazons, etc.
The book is a little long-winded at times, but it is comprehensive and educational. Readers will learn everything they want to know about Jason, the Golden Fleece, the Argonauts and the voyage of the Argo.