Ancient Greek Myths occur for the most part in real landscapes. In Volos (ancient Iolcus) and the Pelion peninsula, the myths take place around the port and the mountain itself. They do not only deal with heroic deeds, unlawful usurpation of power and mortality versus immortality, but also education, wisdom, persistence, etc. The most widely known myths pertain to the Centaurs, Jason and the Argonauts, and the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis. There are links and elements that connect one myth to the others and thus, we hear, for example, about Jason being educated by the Centaur Chiron and Peleus joining Jason on the crew of the Argonauts.
The Wedding of Thetis and Peleus
Pelion Mountain is named after Peleus, husband of the sea-goddess Thetis and father of famous Achilles. Thetis’ son was destined to be mightier than his father. For this reason, Zeus avoided a union with her and she was given instead to the mortal Peleus. Hardly a match for a goddess, Peleus wooed Thetis for quite some time before he finally married her.
The wedding feast was celebrated outside the cave of the Centaur Chiron on Mt Pelion and all the gods came as guests. An uninvited guest, Eris, came along bringing the apple that led to Paris’ Judgment and the Trojan War.
Soon after the birth of their son, Thetis abandoned her husband (and baby Achilles) because he interrupted her while she was making Achilles immortal. Once Thetis left Peleus and returned to live in the sea, Achilles was brought by his father to the Centaur Chiron for his education. Prophecy said that Achilles would have either a long but dull life, or a glorious but brief one. He became the greatest of the Greek warriors in the Trojan War and died young as he was destined.
The scene of Peleus bringing small Achilles to Chiron to be educated has been a favorite theme among ancient Greek vase painters and evokes feelings of fatherhood and trust between teacher and pupil.
The Centaurs lived in the caves of Mount Pelion and were violent and impulsive creatures with a head, arms, and torso of a human and the body of a horse. They hunted wild animals and armed themselves with tree branches and rocks. The most celebrated among the Centaurs was wise Chiron, son of Cronus and the nymph Philyra. Chiron became a renowned teacher who mentored many of the greatest Greek heroes including Jason, Achilles, Theseus and the god Asclepius. In ancient Greek art, Chiron is depicted with human front legs, an indication of his unique lineage (son of Cronus) and his more civilized nature compared to the other Centaurs. Chiron’s name derives from the Greek word for hand (χείρ) and meant "skilled with the hands." According to the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, Chiron was the first to discover the therapeutic properties of herbs and the art of medicine and healing.
The Centaurs are also known for their fight with the Lapiths, a Thessalian legendary tribe whose home was near Mount Pelion. The battle between the Centaurs and Lapiths is depicted on the metopes of the Parthenon. According to the story, the Centaurs were invited to the wedding of Pirithous, king of the Lapiths. During the wedding feast the Centaurs got drunk and attempted to carry off the bride Ippodameia and other female guests. What followed is known as the Centauromachy, a clash between the two tribes. In this fight, most of the Centaurs were killed and those who survived took refuge on Mount Pindus in Western Greece. Chiron wounded accidentally by Hercules gave up his immortality in a bargain with Zeus for the release of Prometheus.
Jason and the Argonauts
Iolcus was a prosperous palatial town near the port of modern Volos. One day, the king of Iolcus Aeson was overthrown by his brother Pelias. Aeson, fearing for the life of his young son Jason, sent him to Mount Pelion to be raised and educated by the Centaur Chiron. Many years later, Jason returned to claim the throne of his father. On his way to Iolcus he lost his sandal in the river Anavros. Interestingly, an oracle had warned Pelias to beware of a man wearing one sandal. Confronting Jason, Pelias agreed to hand over the throne, if Jason travelled to Colchis on the Black Sea and brought back the Golden Fleece. This was a virtually impossible task since the Golden Fleece was guarded by a never sleeping dragon and defended by bulls with hoofs of brass and breath of fire. Jason, however, accepted the challenge and asked Argus the shipwright to build the best ship for the long journey. The fifty-oar ship named Argo after the man who constructed her, was built of wood from the trees of Mount Pelion but also contained one piece of timber from the sacred oak at Dodona that could speak and foresee the future.
For the journey, Jason gathered a ''dream team'' of Greek heroes, collectively named the Argonauts. The Argo sailed from the port of Iolcus and the Argonauts reached their destination after overcoming several misfortunes along the way. After performing a series of terrible tasks thrust upon him by the local king, Jason finally managed to retrieve the Golden Fleece with the help of the king’s daughter Medea. She was a skilled witch, who fell in love with Jason and decided to come to Iolcus with him. The return journey during which they got married was also adventurous taking them to the west coast of Italy, the Danube, Crete, etc. Back at Iolcus, Pelias refused to honor his word and Medea caused his death. After teaching the local women the art of magic, she and Jason left for Corinth. Later, their son Thessalos return to Iolcus and gave his name to the local people (Thessalians).
The story of Jason and the Argonauts remind us of the extreme difficulties faced by ancient travelers and seafarers as well as the wealth they obtained through trade (gold).