The mythical Bronze Age hero Hercules once sailed far, far up north. This adventure is told in the book Argonautica, which got its name from the ship Argo.

In the myth, Jason, who was leader of the voyage, got a difficult task from his uncle – to take the Golden Fleece from chieftain Aeëtes. The Golden Fleece is said to have been a fleece from a ram with golden wool and was thus a very treasurable object. Hercules decided to join Jason’s expedition and became one of the many adventurers, or Argonauts, who traveled to the land of Aeëtes, who was the son of the Sun-god.

There are two versions of Argonautica; one older Greek version, written by Apollonios of Rhodes, and a later version by the Roman Valerius Flaccus. Flaccus version ofArgonauticais more a less a copy of Apollonios’s text, but he also had access to other material, such as the Sibylline books. Parts of Flaccus text therefore differ from Apollonios’s writing and speak to us of a very remote and strange past.

Flaccus writes about the Sun-god and how he chose a suitable land for his son Aeëtes. The Sun-god did not choose a prosperous land of fertile fields. No, he chose a savage, remote and frigid region, where rivers freeze to ice:

I chose for him no prosperous island like Teucer’s Cyprus,
no fertile Peloponnese, but a distant, frigid region
where rivers are bound in ice at the end of the earth. From there
still would the son of the Sun have retreated, but dense miasmas
beyond were too opaque for light to penetrate. Savage,
cold, and remote, that region cannot have given offense
or in any way provoked the Greeks to adventure there.
What complaint have the Minyae who, neither invited nor welcome,
Venture toward the Phasis’ forbidding banks?[1]

Photo by the author

How can it be that the Sun-god himself chooses such a remote, cold and dark place for his own son?

But anyone who has been north of the Polar Circle knows that there, the cold, ice and darkness only reign half of the year. In the summer rules the midnight sun, a sun that never sets but travels around in a circle in the sky, day and night. Could there be a more suitable land for the son of the Sun-god than a land where the sun never sets? It is in this land, the land of the midnight sun, far up north on the Scandinavian Peninsula or in Russia, where Hercules goes, together with Jason and the Argonauts, to fetch the Golden Fleece.

And maybe the Golden Fleece is not so much a fleece but a description of the golden sky at night during summer in the farthest north? Much later the Vikings became known for the use of kennings – giving other names, descriptions and words to phenomena and gods. Do we see here an early use of a kenning, where the beautiful golden-red midsummer sky is likened to a golden fleece, spanning the horizon?

Read more about Hercules voyage to the far north with Jason and other adventures in Heracles – A Psychopath’s Tale. You can also read this article: The 12 Labors of Hercules – the Dawn of Civilization

[1][1]Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica,I, translated by David R. Slavitt