Colchis and the Interplay of Similarity and Difference
The farther east the Argonauts progress along the south coast of the Black Sea, the more tenuous becomes the poem’s ability to define space in Greek terms. In Colchis, the goal of their journey, they confront a space that a different culture has produced, over which they have no control. The story of Medea falling in love with Jason and helping him win the Golden Fleece is set within this alien space. It could be read as the triumph of Greek skill over uncultured “barbarians,” but many elements in the poem go against this. The Colchians have their own culture, which is both like that of the Greeks and radically different. Aietes is portrayed as both civilized and savage; these two sides of his character are reflected in the arrangement of Colchian space. Medea herself is both vulnerable girl who prizes the Greek values of female shame and dangerous witch. According to Herodotus the Colchians were descended from Egyptians, and the Argonauts’ experience among them may parallel Greeks’ experience of cultural contact in Egypt. The Colchian narrative is also analyzed in regard to the significance of various places and the way this is established by movements into and out of them in a way characteristic of human spatial production.
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