The Golden Fleece
(also titled Hercules my Shipmate)

by Robert Graves

Reviewed by David Maclaine

The Golden Fleece is another fruit of Robert Graves' efforts as revisionist historian and folklorist which culminated in his nonfiction work The White Goddess. The novel is written as though by a classical-age scholar who still had access to the original details of Jason's quest for the Fleece. After an amusing first chapter, the story bogs down for a while, because Graves is so thorough in providing background. His syntax is ornate and old-fashioned, giving the flavor of the old Greek style, and a far cry from the lean descriptive technique of most contemporary novels. Still, readers with an interest in Greek mythology and the ancient worship rituals described in Fraser’s The Golden Bough will find enough to hold their interest until the story begins in earnest.

Once the Argo is ready to set sail on its famous quest, The Golden Fleece offers pleasures much like those found in such eighteenth century novelists as Smollett and Fielding. Here too a stately, long-sentenced style, apparently somber and sincere, is used to tell a story full of sly humor and bawdy detail, in this case with a bit more casual slaughter and mass copulation. The chapters including the Argonauts’ sometime companion Hercules are pure slapstick, but the comedy continues even after that blustering hero with his penchant for incidental homicide has been left behind. Another recurrent comic figure is the fanatical beekeeper Butes, who critically appraises the honey they taste at every stop and becomes the accidental cause of tragedy. The Golden Fleece is perhaps as much a specialized taste as one of the rarer honey blends Butes admires, but it’s hard to imagine any other writer serving up such rich blend of avid scholarship and an engaging comic voice. (1945, most editions 400-465 page)

More about The Golden Fleece at or The Book Depository

The Golden Fleece appears on the list of The 36 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Greek History

Other novels based on ancient Greek myths and legends:

The King Must Die by Mary Renault (1958), based on the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Alcestis by Katharine Beutner (2010), based on the legend of Alcestis, who agrees to die in place of her husband, King Admetus. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Medea by Christa Wolf (1996), based on the legend of the sorceress Medea, who helped Jason win the Golden Fleece. More info

Nonfiction about and retellings of ancient Greek myths:

The White Goddess by Robert Graves (1948). More info

The Golden Bough by James Frazer (1890 in two volumes, 1906-15 in twelve volumes). More info

Mythology by Edith Hamilton (1942). More info


Jason and the Argonauts at, In Search of Myths and Heroes

Back to Novels of Ancient History

Back to Directory of Book Reviews