The Argo Navis was an ancient constellation which has since been disband. It was a huge constellation, the largest in existence. In 1752, the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille subdivided it into Carina (the keel of the ship), Puppis (the stern), and Vela (the sails). Back in ancient Hellas, it was still one, large, constellation and it represented the ship on which one of Hellas' greatest heroic journeys was undertaken: Iásōn's (Ἰάσων, Jason) quest for the Golden Fleece.
The Argo (Ἀργώ), meaning 'swift', was built by the shipwright Argus. He was a member of the Argive royal house, and his fmily was favored by Hera. Becasue of this, anyone who sailed on the Argo, would have Her aid. Argus was aided in the planning and construction of the Argo by Athena, and possessed in its prow, a magical piece of wood from the sacred forest of Dodona, which could speak and render prophecies.
The tale of the Argonautai is long, and complicated. As so many kings in ancient Hellas, Pelias (Πελίας) unrightfully laid claim to his half-brother's throne. He became the king of Iolkos in Thessaly, and fell in disfavor of the Theoi because of his actions. It was prophesied that a member of the rightfully royal bloodline would one day punish him, and he was likewise warned to watch out for a man with only one sandal.
Pelias didn't believe in half measures and murdered every prominent descendant of Aeolus he could, but spared his mother Tyro's youngest son, Aeson. Instead, he imprisoned him and forced him to renounce his claim to the throne. Aeson complied, and eventually was set free. He married Alcimede, who bore him a son named Diomedes. Alcimede successfully saved her son from certain death by having her nursemaids keen as if the boy had been stillborn. She secretly packed him off to Mount Pelion, where he was raised by the kéntauros Kheiron (Χείρων), who changed the boy's name to Iásōn.
From Kheiron, Iásōn learned the arts of combat, sports, medicine and music. When he reached adulthood, he was send back to Iolkos with proof of his royal birth. On the way there, he had to cross a river and found an old woman on the bank of it, who begged everyone who passed by to carry her through the water. All but Iásōn ignored her. He took her onto his back and he helped her across, although he found the journey tougher than he had ever thought possible. He also lost one of his sandals in the mud. As he put down the old woman, she turned into the magnificent Hera, of whom he would continue to receive support now he had passed her test.
As soon as Pelias laid eyes on the youth with one sandal, he knew what would happen now. And thus, he devised a plot to get rid of Iásōn. As Iásōn presented him with an offer to keep some farms and cattle, while Iásōn claimed his rightful place on the throne, Pelias happily accepted, but warned Iásōn that one task had to be completed first: the proper burial of king Phrixos.
Phrixos, thus told Pelias, Iásōn, had been saved from being sacrificed to the Theoi by a ram with golden wool. The Theoi had not demanded this sacrifice, but his step-mother Ino had paid off messengers from the oracle of Delphi to demand so of her husband out of hatred for the boy. The ram had carried him off to Helios' palace, where he was accepted into the household. The ram was sacrificed to Zeus, and the fleece was hung from a tree in a sacred grove of Ares, guarded night and day by a dragon that never slept. Pelias was haunted by Phrixos, and swore to Iásōn Phrixos would not rest until his ghost was taken back to Iokos, along with the Golden Fleece. If Iásōn did this, he swore by Zeus, to relinquish his throne to him.
Iásōn jumped at the chance. Kheiron had taught him well, and a chance to prove himself was all he desired. And so, he hired Argus to build him a ship, and send out messages to the various royal families to send them their young heroes for this voyage. Many jumped at the chance, although it's unclear how many, exactly. Argus may have undertaken the journey himself, as did Atalanta, Bellerophon, Kastor and Polideukes, Hēraklēs, Nestor, Orpheus, Perseus and Theseus. The number of Argonautai lay somewhere between forty and fifty.
The journey would take the brave Argonautai to many dangerous places. The first was Lemnos, where the women had been struck with madness by Aphrodite for failing to properly honor her. they had killed all men on the island, and all slave women as well. When the Argonautai reached the island, Aphrodite enchanted the women to seduce them, and thus halt their journey. Hēraklēs was the only one who did not go off of the ship, so he was able to convince the others to ship out after a long, long wait.
The next challenge came in the form of the Gegeines; Earthborn giants with six arms. The Argo sailed to Doliones where king Cyzicus ruled. In search of supplies, he allowed then to look for supplies on Bear Mountain, but failed to warn the crew of its inhabitants. When most of the crew left for the mountains, the Gegeines attempted to raid the ship, but Hēraklēs, along with a few others, held them off long enough for Iásōn and his men to return. They set sail int he dead of night but got turned about. They ended up on the same shore where the Argonautai and the people of king Cyzicus failed to recognize each other and many of them were killed, the king amongst them. When morning came, the Argonautai were shocked and ashamed, and organized a burial for the dead king. Hēraklēs took his leave here, as his tasks were not yet completed.
For twelve, long, days, the weather was so bad that the Argo could not set sail. The crew waited and grew hungry and thirsty. Mopsos, a bird auger, eventually deduced that the men should sacrifice to Rhea, mother of the Theoi. They did, and food and drink came to them by way of animals and low hanging fruit. The wind also died down, and the expedition was saved.
Next, they reached Bebryken, where they were challenged to a fist fight by king Amykos. He was so strong, he killed every opponent with one hit, and tossed those who refused to fight into the sea to die there. It was Pollux, son of Zeus, who accepted the challenge. He managed to win his fight gloriously, but the followers of the king were furious and wanted revenge. They fought the Argonautai, but were no match.
Soon they reached the court of Phineus of Salmydessus in Thrace. The king had been blessed with the gift of prophecy, but had shared too much of Zeus' secrets. For that, Zeus send Harpies to his door every day to take his food. The starving king begged the Argonautai for help, and received it. The Harpies were killed (or, in some versions of the myth, chased off) and the expedition continued.
The only way to reach their destination was to sail through the Symplegades, or Clashing Rocks. These huge rock cliffs came together and crushed anything that traveled between them. Phineas told the crew to release a dove when they approached these islands, and if the dove made it through, to row with all their might. If the dove was crushed, he was doomed to fail. Iásōn released the dove as advised, which made it through, losing only a few tail feathers. They went for it and, with the aid of Athena, made it through with only minor damage to the stern of the Argo. The clashing rocks were forever joined, leaving the way free for others to travel.
Before reaching Kolchis, their destination, the Argonautai would halt twice more. Once in the land of the Mariandyn, where they lost their navigator to illness, and Hera just barely saved the expedition by making Ankaios speak winged words of confidence that he could steer the ship. And he did. The second wait came in the form of a terrible storm for which the Argo needed to be protected. When the storm died down, they found the shipwrecked nephews of Iásōn, who had been on their way back from Kolchis, and were accepted into the Argonautai right away.
Once the Argonautai reached Kolchis, their struggle wasn't over. King Aeetes was unwilling to part with the Fleece, as it had brought great prosperity to his lands. He devised three tasks for Iásōn: to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen, to sow the teeth of a dragon into the field, and to overcome the sleepless dragon guarding the Fleece. Aided by Mēdeia (Μήδεια)--who was made to fall in love with Iásōn by Athena and Hera, who convinced Aphrodite to convince Eros to shoot his arrow--Iásōn completed his tasks and fled with Mēdeia and her younger brother Absyrtus, aboard the Argus.
As king Aeetes' war fleet hunted them down, Mēdeia did the unthinkable: she killed her brother and, in some versions of the myth, dismembered him, throwing his body parts into the sea one by one. His father made sure all parts were recovered and the Argo was able to get away. In all versions of the myth, Iásōn is shocked by this act, as well as the magick she implored to aide him in his other quests, but in some, he takes Mēdeia onto dry land to allowed her to cleanse herself of the miasma incurred by the murder she had committed.
After this, the Argo makes it home safely, after first passing by the Sirens who are so well known from the Odysseia--harmless because of Orpheus' louder and more beautiful music--and the boulder throwing Taltos, a bronze man with one blood vessel which ran from his neck to his toe. The blood vessel was held closed by a single nail. Mēdeia practiced her magick again, and put the giant to sleep. Then, she removed the nail, and Taltos bled to death.
Again, it was Mēdeia who saved the expedition, as Pelias refused to give in. Yet, he had become an old man in the time Jason had been gone, and when Mēdeia offered to make him young again, his daughters jumped at the chance. Mēdeia told the women that they should kill and cut up their father and put them in her cooking pot. This way, she would be able to perform her magick and the king would be reborn in his prime. The girls did as told but Mēdeia did not add the magickal herbs needed to complete the spell, and Pelias remained quite dead. Iásōn and Mēdeia were exiled for their crime by Pelias' son.
Yet the story of the Argo is not quite over. According to playwright Euripides, Iásōn betrayed Mēdeia, and wedded Kreousa (Κρέουσα), daughter of king Kreon of Korinth, instead of her. Mēdeia recounted all the help she had given him, and reminded him of his vow to marry her, but he told her that she should not be angry at him, but at Aphrodite, who had made her fall in love with him. Angered and ashamed, Mēdeia enchanted the dress Kreousa would wear for her wedding, and it caught fire as soon as she put it on. The fire killed both her and her father. Out of fear for retaliation, or out of a desire to hurt Iásōn even further, Mēdeia killed the two sons she had with Iásōn and fled.
Iásōn was punished for his treachery: Hera abandoned him and the mast of the Argo squashed him as he lay sleeping on the Argo one night late into his lonely and tortured life. The Argo was consecrated to Poseidon in the Isthmus, and was later placed into the sky and turned into the constellation of Argo Navis. The constellation has fallen apart over the years. Carina is visible at latitudes between +20° and −90°. It is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of March. Puppis is visible at latitudes between +40° and −90°, and is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of February. Vela is visible at latitudes between +30° and −90° and is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of March.