The Argonauts—a Greek army captained by Jason—leave Greece and make their way to King Aeetes’s palace. They plan to capture the Golden Fleece—a golden ram guarded by a sleepless dragon. King Aeetes says that if the Argonauts win a dangerous combat with bulls, they can take the golden ram.
At this point in the Metamorphoses, armies travel freely from their homelands to engage other kingdoms in wars. Recall that after the first creation of the world, travelling and war were two of the corrupt actions that humanity adopted.
Meanwhile, Aeetes’s daughter Medea falls in love with Jason. She is unable to fight against her desire for him, and she believes that some god is fueling her passion. Even though she has just seen Jason, she fears for his life and doesn’t want him to die in her father’s games. She doesn’t know why she longs to marry a man who will take her away from her homeland, but she also thinks her father’s games are unjust.
Medea feels that her love for Jason is against her own will. She sees it as a force that is causing her to act against everything that she values and wishes for. She has no ill-will towards her father or her homeland, but suddenly she wants to abandon her kingdom to be with Jason. In this way, romantic love competes with and threatens familial love.
Medea wants to help Jason win the games, but she fears that he’ll leave her afterwards and marry someone else. However, she decides that Jason is too strong and heroic to forget the debt he owed her if she saved his life. Medea would be happy and fearless if she were Jason’s wife, but she is afraid she’s being a traitor. She ends her inner conflict by resisting her desire and deciding to be a virtuous daughter.
Medea feels that if she helps Jason win his competition against her father, she will be obligating him in a debt towards her. However, after deliberating for a long time over her passion, she finds the strength to resist it and decides to choose her familial loyalty over her passion for Jason.
After resolving to resist her passion, Medea goes to an altar to pray and runs into Jason. Jason looks more handsome than ever, and Medea’s desire is instantly rekindled. Jason grips Medea’s hand and begs her to help him survive against the bulls. He promises to marry her if she helps him. Medea believes Jason and hands him some magical herbs with instructions.
Jason makes a deal with Medea in which he promises only to marry her if she betrays her father and helps him win the games. When Jason is right in front of Medea’s eyes, she is unable to resist desiring him. All her reasonings against this transaction fall away.
The next day, Aeetes’s kingdom gathers to watch the games. The bulls come forward, bellowing and breathing fire. The Argonauts freeze with fear, but Jason approaches the bulls and strokes their backs, protected from their fire by the magic herbs. He subdues the bulls and forces them to plough a furrow. As the Argonauts cheer, Jason takes the golden teeth of the Theban dragon Cadmus had killed from a helmet and sprinkles them in the furrow. Bodies grow and burst out of the soil as armor-clad soldiers.
As part of the elaborate games that Jason has to participate in, he takes possession of the teeth of the same sacred dragon Cadmus had once killed and used to make a new army. Jason also sows the dragon’s teeth to make soldiers. In this way, Cadmus’s original sin of using a sacred dragon to create an army of humans is being perpetuated.
The new army points their spears at Jason. Medea shakes with fear, worried that the herbs she gave Jason won’t be strong enough to fend off the army. Jason throws a boulder into the midst of the army. The disruption causes them to start fighting among themselves, and they all die. Jason feeds the sleepless dragon the rest of the herbs, and it falls asleep. He then takes possession of the Golden Fleece, marries Medea, and returns with both to his homeland.
The army that sprouts from the dragon’s teeth quickly starts fighting amongst themselves, just as the army Cadmus had created had been engaged in a civil war. Jason finally wins the games by subduing the dragon, suggesting that the games are fashioned off of Cadmus’s original defeat of the dragon.