The three constellations CARINA, PUPPIS and VELA
originally formed part of the much larger constellation
known as Argo Navis (The Ship). In 1763, Nicolas de Lacaille separated
this into Carina (The Keel), Puppis (The Stern) and Vela (The Sails).
Argo Navis had been associated from earliest times with great ships which
saved mankind - Noah's Ark for example - but to the Greeks it represented
the vessel used by Jason and the Argonauts in their quest to capture the
magical Golden Fleece.
Jason, the son of King Aeson of Iolcus, was brought up by the kind,
wise centaur Chiron, to whom his mother fled for help when her husband's
throne was usurped by his half-brother, Pelias. As he grew, Jason was
determined to regain the throne. The cunning Pelias agreed his claim,
with the proviso that Jason first brought back the Golden Fleece from
Colchis, since he believed that (a) it was highly unlikely that Jason
would be able to accomplish such a feat and would probably perish in the
attempt and (b) that should he miraculously manage to return with the
Fleece, he would at the same time bring back the soul of his cousin,
Phrixus, who some years earlier had been saved by the ram and taken to
Colchis (see Legend of Aries). Phrixus had never been truly content in
exile and an oracle had issued dire warnings as to what would befall his
homeland should his soul never be brought back there to rest.
Accordingly, Jason had a magnificent ship constructed, named the Argo.
The goddess Athene brought a board cut from Zeus's sacred oak and placed
it in the prow. It was a huge vessel, with fifty oars manned by fifty
great heroes of Greece, including Heracles, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux.
The Argonauts set sail, but as they approached the Bosphorous they saw
the ancient seer Phineus being attacked by Harpies (animals with the
body of a bird and the face of a witch). Earlier, Phineus had
unwittingly made known some of Zeus's many affairs, and the angry god
sent these Harpies to contaminate anything he tried to eat. The
Argonauts saved the old man and, in gratitude, he advised them on
the best way to navigate the Clashing Rocks which guarded the entrance
to the Black Sea. First a dove was released, and when this negotiated
the gap successfully with only its tail feathers clipped, Jason urged on
his men to their utmost effort and the Argo sailed safely through.
When Jason finally arrived in Colchis, King Aeetes would not immediately
give him the Golden Fleece, but insisted that he first undertook several
almost impossible tasks, including yoking wild bulls and ploughing a field
with them, and then sowing dragons' teeth from which sprang armed warriors
all eager to kill him. Fortunately, he was assisted by Medea, the daughter
of Aeetes, who gave him a magic potion. This enabled him to successfully
complete all his assigned tasks, and to steal the Golden Fleece and return
with it to his homeland.
See Legend of Aries