The Man with One Sandal

The legend of Jason and the Argonauts contains a number of elements that suggest it may preserve information about early beliefs, rituals and social organisation. Quite possibly some aspects of the story date back to the Bronze Age, to Mycenaean Greece and Minoan Crete. One such element relates to the Oracle at Dodona and its Doves, which I have discussed earlier. There is also the generally egalitarian feeling of the story, with all the members of the Argo’s crew being important to the success of the voyage. The crew even included a woman, Atalanta the huntress.

Another point of interest is the relationship between Jason and Hera. Unlike most Greek Heroes Jason is not usually claimed to be the son of a God. He father was Aeson, a King of Iolcus in Thessaly, whose throne had been usurped by his half-brother. The name of Jason’s mother, however, is variously given as Perimede (‘very cunning’), Alcimede (‘mighty cunning’), Polymede (‘many cunnings’) , Polypheme (‘famous’), Amphinome (‘grazing all about’), Polymele (‘many songs’) Scarphe (‘black hellebore’) or Arne (‘ewe-lamb’). Many of these names sound like epithets or titles of the Mother Goddess and, while that doesn’t prevent them also being personal names, their very multiplicity suggests to me a cover up. In the original story was Jason considered a son or foster-son of the Mother Goddess, Hera herself?

Jason carries Hera across the river Public Domain Image

Jason carries Hera across the river
Public Domain Image

The myth certainly, and unusually, shows Jason as favoured by Hera. He is smuggled out of the palace at Iolcus as a child, for fear of his wicked uncle, and raised by the centaur Cheiron. He returns home as a young man to reclaim his birthright but on the way has to ford a river. An old woman waits on the bank, begging to be helped across, but is ignored by all the travellers until Jason arrives. He courteously offers to carry the crone across on his back and, arriving the other side, she reveals that she is the Goddess Hera in disguise and blesses him and promises him good fortune. However in crossing the river Jason has lost a sandal and so limps on to Iolcus wearing only one.

When his uncle Pelias sees Jason arrive he is struck with horror because of an oracle which had told him to ‘beware of the man with one sandal‘. However he hides his concern and, when Jason reveals his identity and claims the throne as the son of Aeson, pretends to be quite willing to retire in his old age and let Jason rule the kingdom. Provided, that is, that Jason proves his worthiness by fetching the Golden Fleece from the land of Colchis.

Now the detail of the man with one sandal seems a small thing to hang a story on. People must have lost sandals all the time, but surely most of them would have walked barefoot rather than wear just one? It begins to gain more significance however when we remember that the priestesses of Dodona were never permitted to to wear sandals. It was considered necessary to their powers that their feet remain in contact with Mother Earth at all times. By wearing one sandal was Jason both affirming a connection with Dodona and invoking the aid of Hera as Mother Earth?

Thus if, as I suggested before, the Oracle at Dodona was connected with a religious guild or cult of sea-farers, the secret sign by which one claimed access to the information network or aid  from other members, may well have been the wearing of one sandal. The comparison with the Freemasons and the rolled-up trouser leg is obvious. I would even suggest that the initiation into the guild may have involved a ceremonial ‘fording of the river with Hera’.

In other words the original story may have gone something like this.

“Pelias of Iolcus, was an enemy of Jason’s, but Jason had forded the river with Hera and was a initiate of the Sea-farer’s cult. Thus he was able to show the Sign of One Sandal and claim the protection of Hera and the Oracle of Dodona. Pelias was therefore obliged to aid him in preparing for his voyage to fetch the Golden Fleece.”

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