Argonautika: The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts

Argonautika: The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts


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As in her Tony Award–winning Metamorphoses, Mary Zimmerman transforms Greek mythology—here the story of Jason and the Argonauts—into a mesmerizing piece of theater. Encountering an array of daunting challenges in their “first voyage of the world,” Jason and his crew illus­trate the essence of all such journeys to follow—their un­predictability, their inspiring and overwhelming breadth of emotion, their lessons in the inevitability of failure and loss. Bursts of humor and fantastical creatures enrich a story whose characters reveal remarkable complexity. Medea is profoundly sympathetic even as the seeds are sown for the monstrous life ahead of her, and the brute strength of Hercules leaves him no less vulnerable to the vicissitudes of love. Zimmerman brings to Argonautika her trademark ability to encompass the full range of human experience in a work as entertaining as it is enlightening.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780810126060
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication date: 04/30/2013
Edition description: 1
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 486,256
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Mary Zimmerman's credits as an adapter and a director include Metamor­phoses, The Arabian Nights, The Odyssey, Journey to the West (all published by North­western) and The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Her work has been produced at the Lookingglass Theatre and Goodman Theatre of Chicago; on Broadway at Circle in the Square; in New York at Second Stage, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Manhattan Theatre Club; and at many other major regional theaters around the country and abroad. She has also directed at the Metropolitan Opera. Zimmerman is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and won a Tony Award for her direction of Metamorphoses. She is a professor of performance studies at Northwestern University.

Read an Excerpt


The Voyage of Jason and the Argonauts


Copyright © 2013 Mary Zimmerman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-2606-0

Chapter One



[The company enters and the actors take up various positions on the stage while the houselights are still up. As they settle, the houselights go down.]


Sing in us, Muse, the story of Jason and his Argonauts, how he was sent away on the first voyage of the world to bring back the Golden Fleece, remnant of the flying ram that carried away the little children Phrixus and Helle when their father was about to murder them. The golden ram flew over the ocean no one had ever sailed to far-off, stony Colchis, all unknown. And Jason was sent to bring its remnants back. What was it like when the world was so young? Let us see the stars in the night sky above our heads, let us feel the swell of the waves under our feet, let us hear the snap of the sail in our ears. Let us and those who hear us be generous.

Let us be good. Let us please. Let us. Please.


[Thunder. JASON is midstream; the black water of the river ripples around him. HERA, disguised as an old woman in a shabby raincoat, holding an umbrella, is on the shore behind him.]

HERA: Young man?

[JASON turns back to look.]

Take pity on a poor old woman; carry me across the river. If I try myself, I will surely drown. You're fine and strong—will you help me?

JASON: The gods grant me power, I will.

[He returns for her.]

HERA: Why thank you, thank you, kind sir. Now, how shall we ... Shall we—?

[They struggle to get her on his shoulders.]

Oh. Oh my. Ah, there we are.

JASON: You are secure, madame?

HERA: Oh yes. Quite secure.

JASON: Here we go. Hold fast.

[They begin to cross. ATHENA enters behind them, with her long spear. She follows their slow progress.]

HERA: I am so grateful, kind sir. I've never seen the river run so fast. Never in all my days. What is your name that I might remember you and bless you?

JASON: Jason.


HERA: And where are you headed, Jason?

JASON: To Iolcos.

HERA: Why are you headed there?

JASON: It is my uncle's birthday.

HERA: What a coincidence! It is King Pelias's birthday as well.

JASON: King Pelias is my uncle.

HERA: Oh! Why lucky you.

JASON: Some might say.

HERA: Some? Not all?

JASON: Some say it was my father should be king. Some say a great injustice was done when—

[ATHENA catches the heel of JASON's sandal with the tip of her long spear and holds it down in the riverbed.]


HERA: What's the matter?

JASON: My sandal is caught in the riverbed.

HERA [pressing herself down with all her weight]: I am too heavy. I have made you sink. Oh dear—

JASON: No, no, madame—

HERA: What shall we do—?

JASON [trying to reach back to the loose sandal]: It's just, it's just ...

HERA: Why don't you leave it?

JASON: No, I think I can reach ... if I just ...

HERA: Just leave it.

JASON: No, I think I can—

HERA [striking him with her umbrella]: Leave it!

JASON: Perhaps you are right.

[He pulls his foot from the sandal, and ATHENA exits with it hanging from her spear. For the rest of the play JASON will wear only one sandal.]

HERA: Well.


You were saying ... about your father?

JASON: It doesn't bear repeating.

HERA: Won't you tell me?

JASON: Some still say my father is the rightful king, unjustly deposed by his own brother, Pelias.

HERA: Don't despair. You know those gods—they work in strange ways.

JASON: That's true.

HERA: One never knows what they're up to or when they might turn up. Oh, here we are. Safe and sound except for your poor sandal.

JASON [setting her down]: Yes, madame. There you go.

HERA: Thank you, Jason. Here we part ways.

JASON: Farewell, madame.

HERA: Only Jason ... let me tell you one more thing ...

[She drops her umbrella and slips out of her raincoat, revealing her splendid goddess self. Her voice changes as well.]

I will always love you.

[She rises and begins to fly off in a shower of gold.]

JASON: Oh Goddess!

HERA: Remember me, Jason. In all your troubles Hera is by your side.

[She exits as ATHENA appears behind JASON.]

ATHENA: And Athena, your reason, will guide you.


[Drums. The palace of KING PELIAS. Two servants, CEPHEUS and ASTERION, enter. They are followed by KING PELIAS—ancient, with a long white beard to the floor, a cane, and a spiderweb in the crooked thorns of his crown. Somewhere a clock is ticking wearily.]


PELIAS: Cepheus!

CEPHEUS: My gracious king?

PELIAS: Get me the blue pills and the black powder. And the green ointment and the purple herbs. And bring both the yellow potion and the clear one.

[CEPHEUS goes.]

ASTERION: Are you not well, most noble and fantastic king?

PELIAS: My back is sore, my eyes itch; I can neither stand up straight nor sit down. I can no longer taste or smell the food I eat, and all of it makes me retch. My skin is a scratchy, moldy hide that drives me mad. My life is a howling misery. And on top of that, I am continually plagued by one great dread.

ASTERION: What is that, wise and omnipotent leader?

PELIAS: That I might die.

ASTERION: The gods forbid it.

PELIAS: I dreamt again last night of a man with one sandal. You know what that means?

ASTERION: No, my most handsome and adorable king.

PELIAS: The prophecy, man! The prophecy! I'll meet my death by the hand of a one-sandaled man.

ASTERION: It will never happen.

PELIAS: Of course it won't! You think I can't outwit whoever comes my way? As long as I can see him coming he won't get near. Today is ... What is it, today? You know—what is it? It's something! Tell me!

ASTERION: It is your honorable birthday.

PELIAS: That's it.

ASTERION: The people are coming from far and wide to celebrate.

PELIAS: I hate them.

ASTERION: Rightly so.

[CEPHEUS reenters with medicines.]

CEPHEUS: Gracious and lovely—

PELIAS: Bring those here. What is it? What's the matter?

CEPHEUS: You have a visitor.

PELIAS: Oh? Who is it, man? Speak up.

CEPHEUS: Your nephew Jason.

PELIAS: Jason? Jason has come? Is he armed? Alone? Or with a company of men?

CEPHEUS: He is alone and unarmed. He says he's come to wish you a happy birthday.

PELIAS: Ha! That may be true, or it may be some trick.

CEPHEUS: Sire, there's something else ...

PELIAS: Well? Don't be mysterious!

CEPHEUS: He is wearing only one sandal.

[Loud thunder.]

ASTERION: I'll kill him now.

PELIAS: No, no, man! We can't do that! So this is what the gods do to amuse themselves: my brother's son and the one-sandaled man that has been prophesied are the same!

ASTERION: Just as I say—we must kill him now.

PELIAS: No, you fool! There's the wretched people to think of. They have their ideas! They might rise up against me! Some still favor his father ...

ASTERION: But you must be rid of him.

PELIAS: Of course I must, and I will.

CEPHEUS: Let me ram him through.

PELIAS: What did you say?

CEPHEUS: Let me kill him.

PELIAS: No. What did you say? Exactly. What did you say?


PELIAS: No, no ... go on.


PELIAS: Go on ... go on ...


PELIAS: That's it. That's it. [Gleefully] Oh, I have the answer. I know just what to do. Send him in, send him in.

[CEPHEUS goes.]

ASTERION: May I ask, what has your incomparable mind conceived?

PELIAS: Never you mind. Watch and learn, young man, watch and learn.

[CEPHEUS and JASON enter. HERA enters above and watches.]

JASON: Honored uncle. I've come to wish you cheer on this your birthday.

PELIAS [adopting an enfeebled air]: Most welcome, Jason, most welcome. What has it been, sir, twenty years?

[PELIAS seems almost to have a heart attack and falls into JASON's arms.]

JASON: Are you ailing, sir?

PELIAS: My nephew, beloved, you've come just in time, just in time. You see how aged I am, how frail. It is providence you've come: it is a sign, surely.

JASON: A sign?

PELIAS: It is time, my nephew, time for your old uncle to surrender the throne. This morning, this birthday of mine, I woke up knowing in my bones that it was so. And suddenly, here you are.

JASON [stunned]: My lord.

PELIAS: Jason, son of my brother: would you accept the crown?

JASON [kneeling]: With all humility, if you and the gods decree—

PELIAS: We do, beloved nephew, we do. It is only right. Ah, what a blessing it is, to finally rid myself of this burden that has lain so heavy on me for so many years.

[He removes his crown and seems to offer it to JASON.]

Only one thing:

[He takes it back.]

The devotion of my people is so very great, they may refuse this passing of the crown—take up arms against you—the gods forbid. Therefore to prove your worthiness to all, do me this one service I ask—or I should say I offer: a valiant undertaking.

JASON: An ... undertaking?

[Music. During the following a second pair of servants enter. One carries a little box with two small figurines in it, Phrixus and Helle, as well as some white, powdery dust. The other carries a slender vertical pole, crowned by the golden ram. They gently illustrate the various events of PELIAS's story as it unfolds.]

PELIAS: You know the old tale of our kinsman little Phrixus and his sister Helle? How they were hated and abused by their cruel stepmother, so long ago?


PELIAS: She so befuddled their father that he believed his own little children cursed, the crops destroyed, turned to dust by them, when it was her doing all along. She bribed the oracles to command him to kill Phrixus and Helle.

JASON: Unimaginable.

PELIAS: Indeed, but just as he was dragging them to the sacrificial site and drawing his knife, a shadow passed overhead.

JASON: The ram.

PELIAS: Yes, the marvelous golden ram with wings. Sent by the heavens in their mercy. It alit, each of its delicate hooves raising a little cloud of dust. Those children understood and climbed aboard while everyone stood stony with wonder. And it carried them up through the sky like a second sun.

JASON: I know it well.

PELIAS: For seven days and nights they rode eastward, far beyond where any Greek has traveled to this day. Phrixus held the horns, and poor Helle held him, until, giddy at the height, exhausted, she lost her hold and fell into the sea.

As for Phrixus, he landed in Colchis, and there the savage King Aeëtes slew him, a crime to make the Sun avert his face, then slew the ram itself and keeps its Fleece on display, a reminder to all of his arrogance and power.

[One of the servants detaches the golden ram from its pole and fastens it to a cord that draws it up high above the action, where it will linger for the rest of the act. The second pair of servants exits.]

JASON: I know the tale.

PELIAS: It's no mere story to me, Nephew. Every night when I close my eyes, I see our kinsman slaughtered by that man, Aeëtes. But I am old, and my only remaining son is far too young for sea voyaging. I turn to you, my nephew. Go there! Bring back the Golden Fleece.

[Music ends. Pause.]

JASON: How could I refuse?

PELIAS [suddenly steely]: Indeed, how could you? Since your king commands you. [Friendly again and rapid] Gather a crew from far and wide, all the heroes and strong men you like. Think of it, Jason—to sail so far beyond where anyone has ever sailed, the open water, the unknown sea. And when you return, covered in glory, this kingdom shall be yours.

JASON: I thank you for this privilege and shall endeavor to do my best.

PELIAS: Farewell, beloved nephew. May all the gods bless you and guide you.

JASON: Farewell.

[JASON leaves. PELIAS instantly drops his affected weakness.]

PELIAS [gleeful, vicious]: He's dead. If the sea doesn't get him or the monsters of the sea, then King Aeëtes will stick a knife in him the moment he lands.

CEPHEUS: But what about the Fleece? How will you get it if Jason dies?

PELIAS: Who gives a fuck about the Fleece? Are you serious? Some stinking piece of wool that's been rotting in the rain for twenty years? Thanks for the idea, by the way. Bring me those pills!


[Drums. JASON is striding through the hallway of Pelias's palace followed by ATHENA. HERA is above.]

HERA: Jason was no idiot. His reason told him—

ATHENA: Pelias is out to kill you. He expects this expedition to end in ruin.

JASON: But what can I do? Stir up the people, begin a rebellion? If I'd wanted to do that I could have tried it long ago.

ATHENA: Will you attempt the expedition?

JASON: What other choice remains?

[PELIAS'S SON enters bouncing a ball. He is an arrogant little boy. He cannot see or hear ATHENA.]

PELIAS'S SON: Who are you?

JASON: I am Jason, son of Aeson. And you?

PELIAS'S SON: King Pelias is my father. That makes you my cousin.

ATHENA [urgently, to JASON]: Make use of this.

PELIAS'S SON: What did he want with you?

ATHENA: Think how this could help protect you and the crew.

JASON: Well, he's sending me off on a great voyage.


ATHENA: Careful now—use your cunning.

JASON: One that may bring honor to us all.


PELIAS'S SON [wildly excited]: To who? Who is going? Who? Who gets to go?

JASON: All sorts of heroes. As soon as word gets out, it will be the greatest company ever assembled: demigods and warriors from across the land. Who would miss the chance to sail out into the unknown world, across the open sea, to find new lands, treasure, and glory, to make a name for himself forever?

PELIAS'S SON: I want to come!


PELIAS'S SON: Let me ask my father.


JASON: Oh no, don't do that. He'd never let you go. He'd lock you up if you were even to mention your desire.


JASON: Don't mention it. Be reconciled. You're just a little, little boy. Be content to watch us from your walls tomorrow as we set sail. At dawn. From the eastern dock.

ATHENA: Now turn your back.

JASON: Farewell.

[JASON begins to leave.]

ATHENA: Don't look back.

PELIAS'S SON: Farewell.

ATHENA: Don't look back, don't look back, don't look back.

[JASON and PELIAS'S SON are both gone. ATHENA is triumphant, excited; hera, more irritated.]

HERA: Daughter of Zeus! Did you notice how that old raccoon failed to mention the dangers of the trip? The monsters and the clashing rocks and all the rest of it?

ATHENA: Indeed.

HERA: Not even a passing reference to the dragon who guards the Golden Fleece, the dragon who never sleeps.

ATHENA: We'll take it as it comes. I'm off to King Argos.

[ATHENA rises in the air.]

I'll command him to build a ship for our Jason such as no one's ever seen—a ship worthy of the open sea! And you, spread the news of the adventure throughout Achaea and Macedon, so that worthy men may join him. I'm off!

[ATHENA flies off.]

HERA: All was done as the goddesses proclaimed. Athena herself helped build the ship, and from far and wide, down to the shore they came: heroes and demigods. The crowds cheered and rejoiced to hear each one declare his name and desire to sail with the Argo.


[The audience hears the approach of drums, of men shouting excitedly. The company fills the stage, chanting and clapping. Many play various percussive instruments. They chant a nonsense phrase, such as "Sha-boo-ya! Ya! Ya! Sha-boo-ya, roll call!" until the first Argonaut steps forward to introduce himself. The drumming and rhythmic clapping continues throughout. At the end of each phrase of a given Argonaut's boast—except for TIPHYS's third phrase—the entire company shouts, "Yeah!" or "Roll call!" as indicated in italics below. The whole thing should be riotous, aggressive, and fast.]

ALL: Sha-boo-ya! Ya! Ya! Sha-boo-ya, roll call! Sha-boo-ya! Ya! Ya! Sha-boo-ya, roll call!

IDMON: My name is Idmon. Yeah! I see the future, Yeah! but don't forget that Yeah! I could also hurt you. Roll call! I may be blind, Yeah! but I speak prophecy. Yeah! And furthermore Yeah! I can row the open sea. Roll call!

ALL: Sha-boo-ya! Ya! Ya! Sha-boo-ya, roll call! Sha-boo-ya! Ya! Ya! Sha-boo-ya, roll call!

MELEAGER: Don't mispronounce it, Yeah! my name's Meleager. Yeah! When I see that Fleece, Yeah! I'll go and seize her. Roll call! When it comes to battle, Yeah! no one's more eager. Yeah! When you're in trouble, Yeah! just shout, "Meleager!" Roll call!

ALL: Sha-boo-ya! Ya! Ya! Sha-boo-ya, roll call! Sha-boo-ya! Ya! Ya! Sha-boo-ya, roll call!

CASTOR: We are Castor Yeah!

POLLUX: and Pollux too. Yeah!

CASTOR AND POLLUX: Our mom had a swan Yeah! and had us two. Roll call!

CASTOR: Our father's Zeus. Yeah!

POLLUX: We can fly in the sky. Yeah!

CASTOR: We want adventure, Yeah!


Excerpted from Argonautika by MARY ZIMMERMAN Copyright © 2013 by Mary Zimmerman. Excerpted by permission of NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Production History ix

A Note on the Production Design xi

Argonautika 1

act i 3

act ii 89

A Note on the Casting 149

Appendix: Additional Notes on

the Staging of Argonautika 151

Photographs 157

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