Argo, now there is a ship that is 'yar'. I am Koraki, and I was thrill to be asked
to write an article on the ship of the ages, The Argo; which means swift sailing.
Of course, I am a bit partial about it since I am the 'speaking timber" used
by Athena from the Dodona oak. I was incorporated into the Argo to help guide
Jason and the Argonauts on their many adventures and journey's. When I was picked
out of all the trees in the forest of Mount Pelion, I was thrilled, and I must
say many family members were a bit jealous. What an honor for me to be a part
of something so great, and what an adventure and challenge for a talking oak to
navigate the world. I was not just navigating the world, but I was taking part
in an historic journey of the ages.
Jason was a favorite of Athena's and she was more than willing to lend a hand in the building of the Argo. Navigation at this the time was sketchy at best, most of the good sailors knew only the world around from which they came. The best sailors of the time were the Phoenicians; the Greeks didn't have much experience at navigating the high seas. It was for this reason that the goddess Athena thought it was important for the Argonauts to have me used in their ship to keep them on course. Along with a prophetic star to guide them on their way there was no way to get lost, or have to stop and ask for directions.
Argus (Feder 48), a famous master shipbuilder, built the Argo. It was commissioned by Jason for the journey to get the Golden Fleece along with many other adventures that would happen along the way. Argus was not especially keen on the idea of building 'the long boat' as the Argo is referred to. It was a gigantic feat just to make his dream come true. Argus had the power to make the dream come true by building the fastest ship on the water. Up until this time most of the seafaring transportation was small boats (Berkeley) or canoes hollowed out of big trees. The ships of Greece were used mainly as fishing vessels and occasionally for trading; anything as long as you didn't have to stray to far away from the coastline. The few ships that were somewhat bigger than hollowed out trees were merchant ships that primarily used sails to get from place to place. The smaller boats used oars to power them through the water. These smaller boats were powered only by 8-10 men and did not have the strength to withstand the open sea as the Argo did. It was the Phoenicians who were the masters of the sea both in merchant ships and in fighting at this time. It was the Phoenicians, until the Argo and the Argonauts set sail.
The building of Argo was an important step for the Greeks and quite an honor for Argus. Argus took many things from the Phoenicians in building the long boat. Let me walk you through some of the shipbuilding properties that were being used and how they played a part to the creation of the Argo. The style of ship used was galley. The galley(Anderson 36) was the most familiar style. It could be used in fighting, or a bit smaller with sails could be a merchant chip in trading. The galley style was a big step up from the hollowed out logs that were previously used, and much safer. A galley ship meant it was very long with the bow and stern out of the water. The one major difference with the Argo was the use of a low draught or shallow bottom and one end was not as bowed. The Argonauts could sail the ship onto a sand coast, empty it of the oars (Hellenk), the falangia (round logs), the mast, the ropes, and anything else that could be carried, they carried. They would pick the ship up and literally move it with the help of the logs, across any expanse of the land. Once at water again, they simply picked the boat up, put it back into the water, loaded the oars and logs back in and took off. This is also helpful when sailing into cities; it meant that the Argo didn't need a port, but just a beach to sail onto. This is a feature that no one else had come up with or used. If you couple the speed and crew of the Argo, there are none better
There was a sail on the ship. It had a single rope that ran from the bow to the top of the mast. The rope joined three other ropes running up from the stern through three rings, when the sail was down in full strength it looked like a small ellipse. 'As god gives a breeze to sailors who long for it, when they labour driving the sea with well-planned oars, and their limbs are paralyzed with weariness' seems apt from the Hymn of Dionysus for the breeze that would rest the weary arms of many a sailor. All sailors that is except for the Argonauts, these men could row for days and not break a sweat, it was truly a site to see. I remember once the Argonauts decided to race the wind to see who was the fastest. It was amazing to see those fifty-four men rowing in unison. We went so fast that the front third of the ship came out of the water and those who were rowing in those positions were rowing literally in thin air, it was just like flying. I can tell you that none of my ancestors had every gone that fast before. To this day, I say that the Argo and the Argonauts won, but I must press on. Platforms, or gangways were built in the fore and aft of most ships, but not on the Argo. On fighting ships, most gangways ran along the edges from fore to aft so fighting could be easier facilitated. The Argo did away with any gangways and there for made it a faster ship with amazing abilities to accomplish the feats ahead. If you look at the crew that the Argo carried, why would anyone bother with a gangway, it had men who were descendants of the gods aboard, who knew how to fight and win. They were not in need of a gangway.
A ram was built onto the bow of the Argo. This ram did exactly what its name says, it rammed the other ships. The ram, started by the Greeks and by the Argo, was such a success in naval battles that the ram was used for centuries to come. 'For the Phaeacians take no interest in the bow and the quiver, only in masts and ships, in which they take delight as they cross the grey sea.' (Homer, Odyssey 6, 270-2) the ram was another distinct difference Argus made in the building of the Argo, and what a difference it became, but more on that later.
You may be wondering how the ships floated. Well, there were two main methods for fastening planks (Tryckare 7) to the wooden hull of the vessel. One is the clinker method; the clinker method is fastening the planks by overlapping them and then spreading black tar on the outside. The second method, and one used on the Argo, is carvel. The carvel method is laying the planks edge to edge and fitting them together, then applying the tar on the outside for a waterproof seal. By laying the planks edge to edge, Argus was able to create a flatter bottom ship that ultimately made the Argo more mobile-even in carrying it across land. The way the ship was made was what made it so light, of course Athena must have her due in all of this. Athena's hand in placing the planks together and mixing the tar is what made my ship 'yar'. This lightness was another reason that sails were not used very often. The ship was so light that a taller mast would have snapped the ship into two pieces.
To steer such a ship two large steering oars are used at the stern of the ship. The steering oars were massive and it took a strong man, or men, to steer a ship. On the Argo it was Tiphys who steered the ship. That man was huge. I remember the timber would creak and groan at his massive weight as he walked onto the ship and get into place. I can guarantee you that you would not want another man in his place. To steer the Argo as if it were nothing more that a slingshot being aimed at its target was exactly how Tiphys worked. He and I became good friends and he often confided in me on different matters at hand. No one ever questioned Tiphys about directions or if they were heading in the correct direction. Not only did he have the prophetic star, and me, but he could argue the bark off of a tree!
Now I would like to talk about the decorating of the ship. Not on the inside, but on the outside. Although on the horizon all you could see would be a long dark silhouette, one that was swift, capacious, and black coming toward you. When that silhouette reached you it was the painting on the outside that would strike fear in the heart of sailors around the world. The bough of the Argo has a similarity to Zeus. Two eyes(Morrison 34) were placed on either side of the boat, now if you couple that with the ram and you have a monstrous vision. On other ships, certain designs meant what country or port they hailed from. On fighting ships, it was the more ferocious the better. I must tell you that nothing could be more ferocious than the face of Zeus on the front of a ship moving at lighting speed.
The many places we traveled are to numerous to mention. However there are a few interesting parts I would like to regal you with. When the Argo stopped in Bithynia, Heracles broke his oar (Grant 44) and went a shore to make a new one. The youth Hylas went to draw water and was pulled into the water-by-water nymphs. Heracles was distraught at the loss of this young man and roamed the woods calling for him. The Argo sailed away without him. I understand he eventually returned to Greece to continue the labours he was requested to do. My saddest moment was when Tiphys died of a sickness. I could hardly believe it when I was told, how could such a robust man become so sick, but he did on an island. The most exciting time came when we sailed into the Clashing Rocks. These were rock islands that moved with the throws of the sea. One of the crewmen released a dove and as it flew through the rocks they crashed together only catching the tail of the dove. The Argonauts continued forward to pass through the rocks, but a huge wave kept them from continuing on. Athena was watching and gave the ship a mighty heave and we made it through with one small problem. The rocks caught a tip of the stern oar. The good news is that the rocks remained open after that and never troubled sailors again.
Before I finish my tale, I am positive you are wondering how the Argo managed to sail so many places and not encounter any major storms. We had Orphis on board with us. Orphis did not row, all he did was to play his liar to calm the seas and please Poseidon. Making Poseidon happy and having Athena and Apollo as protects helped make the voyage a bit safer and go somewhat smoother; but one really thinks, how safe can you be with a group of men, all descendants of gods, out on an adventure.
By now you are wondering how I am spending my days. Well, the end of the journey came when the Golden Fleece was captured and the Argonauts-minus a few- returned home. I know there are many accounts about how we came back, but we primarily came back the way we came, having established the friendships along the way. It made the going easier. Once home, I was beached while Jason and Medea went about their business. I only heard bits and pieces of it and that was only from the passers-by who happen to be speaking of them. It was a lonely existence for me after having shared so much with so many and now to be beached when the sea was my calling. Oh how I yearned for the open sea with the mist, monsters, and challenges. Finally it was decided that I should be dedicated to Poseidon at the Isthmus. After many years of wasting away, Jason came to see me and talk to me. While resting under me in the shade of the ship, a piece broke off, crushing his head and killing him (Platzner 294). I wept for him, and to this day I swear there was a divine hand in it all, although I could not see anyone else.
Someone remembered old Koraki of the Argo and the great adventures we had, and rescued me from the decaying wood around me. I now live safely in a temperature controlled room, on display for all to see. The rest of the ship was raised up into the sky and turned into a constellation. The best part is many who come by ask me questions about the times I spent with Jason and the Argonauts. The 'glory days' are what I call them. As I seem to remember one of Homer's lines referring to the voyage as "all men's concern"(Morford 399) meaning the it was a man's duty to go. The days of men being men, of adventure, danger, bonding and seeking new places and worlds to explore and conquer a new world as you travel for the ultimate quest. I especially like the children who are so fascinated with the idea of a galley styled ship holding fifty-four men and sailing the world in search of the Golden Fleece. There are many happy times for me to speak of; unfortunately, there are many more sad times for me to remember. I have managed to find a replica of the Argo, now it isn't perfect but if you look below it will give you an idea of what we sailed the high seas in. I hope you have enjoyed the rendition of the how the ship was made and some exciting times. I have enjoyed my life and am very happy to share parts of it with you. Good Sailing.
Feder, Lilian; Crowell's Handbook of Classical Literture; Crowell Company; New York; 1964
Harris, Stephen and Gloria Platzner; Classical Mythology Images & Insights; Mayfield Publishing Co.; Mountain View CA; 2001
Grant, Michael and John Hazel; Who's Who Classical Mythology; Oxford University Press; New York; 1993
Morford, Mark and Robert Lenardon; Classical Mythology; David McKay Co.; New York; 1977
Homer; Odyssey 6, 270-2
Tryckare, Tre; The book of Ships; Tre Tryckare, Cagner & Co.; Gothenburg Sweden; 1968
Anderson, Ronda & RC; The Sailing Ship; Benjamin Blom INC. New York; 1971
Morrison, JS and RT Williams; Greek Oared Ships; Cambridge University Press; Cambridge MA; 1968
Berkeley Digital Library; http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Arg
HELLENK Electronic Center; http://greece.org