Monday, 12 November 2012

The Argo by Grand Manner

The Argo with stern piece attached

This is the first resin piece by Grand Manner that I have ordered through the post and ! was nervous about it arriving in one piece.  It was beautifully packed, however, and the five parts (hull, steering oar, stern piece mast and boom) were all in great condition with just some sanding and minimal filling needed.  I have attached the stern piece, using a pin for extra strength, and have filled most of the small holes and joins. I have just  a few bits left to do with Citadel's excellent liquid Greenstuff to cover some slight indentations.

Looking at the picture on their website I thought it might be a bit small for my Argonauts but at slightly more than 14 inches long it works out at around seventy feet, scale size.  Given that this was about the size of most of Colombus's fleet it is quite capable of sailing around the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea.

2000 Argo

It is a lovely model, designed by Tony Harwood (you can see his work on Dampf's modelling page), and is more reminiscent of the Argo from the 2000 Hallmark TV mini-series (actually built for their version of The Odyssey (1997)) than the one from the classic 1963 Ray Harryhausen film, which was more like a classical Greek galley.  This is a good thing as it has a more appropriately archaic look I think.   

It also looks a lot like this painting.  I think I am going to base the paint job on the Harryhausen one, though. More on the Argo as I start to paint it.

1963 Argo

Friday, 5 October 2012

A new book on Jason and the Argonauts...from Osprey!

I haven’t forgotten about Jason and the Argonauts and, indeed, only this week I bought the magnificent book: Ray Harryhausen  Master of the Majicks Volume 3: The British Films on special offer (reduced from £200 to a comparatively bargain £125). The book, which is one of the most beautiful I have ever bought, has a long (nearly sixty large format pages) chapter inside on the making of the Jason and the Argonauts film which is full of useful picture reference. 

The pages are too large for my scanner!

Volume 2 featured his earlier, American,  mainly SF, films and is now selling for up to $1200 a copy so £125 doesn’t seem too bad for a book with such spectacular pictures. Apparently when Harryhausen was shown the book even he hadn’t seen many of the behind the scenes photos. 

More Jason news is that Osprey, of all people, are launching a range of books looking at myths and legends and the first one, due out in March 2013, is on Jason and the Argonauts.  From the point of view of this blog another one in the series will look at Hercules.  The other four titles announced will be on dragonslayers, King Arthur, the war of Horus and Set and Thor.  

I am painting a 24 figure unit of Prussians at present and am looking for a small unit to paint before my next big one, so something relating to the Argonauts could well be on the cards, as I have a number of figures under way.  It’s probably a toss-up between some more Argonauts and some Amazons. 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bronze Bull

The flash makes him look shinier than he is but the light is so bad today that I can't use daylight

This bronze bull is from the new Foundry Tribes of Legend range and is obviously meant to be one of the Khalkotauroi.  These were a pair of fire-breathing bulls made by Hephaistos as a gift for king Aeetes of Colchis.  Some accounts say that Hephaistos merely gave the bulls to Aeetes rather than having made them.  The bulls had bronze hoofs and a bronze mouth but in Apollonius’ account they appear to be automatons rather than living creatures.

In the 2000 TV version of Jason and the Argonauts they interpret this as a mechanical bull and the Foundry version is very strongly based on the one from the mini-series.  It appeared to be much larger, proportionately to the size of Jason, than the Foundry model, however.

ln this production there was only one bull and I suspect that I won’t bother to get another.  It was, however, one of the models that I found very attractive in the initial Foundry range, although not so much that I would pay £12 for it plus £8 postage!  Luckily I managed to get it on eBay for rather less than this.  I painted it yesterday afternoon and having just given it a metallic finish using Vallejo’s excellent bronze paint I decided it looked too shiny so added some patches of verdigris and some brown and black washes to tone it down a bit. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Wargames Foundry Amazons

Taking advantage of their free postage deal over Easter I have taken delivery of three packs of Foundry's new Amazons for Tribes of Legend.

I have to say that my expectations were quite low but I was surprised at how much I like these figures.  Size wise they work perfectly with the older Foundry Argonauts and the proportions are nice as well.  Above all they have attractive faces, which an awful lot of manufacturers (Games Workshop, Pulp Figures) have trouble with on female figures.

Oddly, they have all come packed with GW-style round slotta bases, although the bases of the figures don't have the relevant shape to fit them.  I mount my skirmish figures on washers and the metal bases of a couple were so small I had to add some tomato puree tube metal for them to stand on.

These figures are to represent the women of Lemnos and their Thracian look (given the proximity of the Thracian coast to the island) works perfectly for this.  I got a pack of Peltasts (above), a pack of slingers and some women with javelins.

Very pleased with these and they will be fast-tracked.

Friday, 2 March 2012


Here is our hero Jason. This is the Wargames Foundry version, of course

Jason was the son of King Aeson of Iolcus (which was, historically, the northernmost Mycenaean city) whose half brother Pelias seized his throne as part of his plan to rule all of Thessaly.  Jason's mother was either Polymede (the daughter of Autolycus who was the grandfather of Odysseus) or more usually, and according to Apollonius, Alcimede.  In most versions of the story Pelias spares Aeson and his wife, although in the 1999 Hallmark version of Jason and the Argonauts Pelias (a scenery chewing Dennis Hopper) kills Aeson (Ciaran Hinds) and marries his wife, called Polymele in this version.

Ciaran Hinds as King Aeson

Alcimede/Polymede had an infant son, Jason, at the time when Pelias seized the throne, and she arranged for Jason to be whisked away to the countryside to be brought up by Chiron the centaur as she thought that Pelias would kill the rightful heir to Iolcus.

Jason and Chiron -half horse, half Klingon

In some versions of the story it is Aeson himself who leaves Jason with Chiron.  Some people (including Robert Graves) claim that Jason's original name was Diomedes and that it was Chiron who named him Jason, meaning "the healer".  The name Diomedes wasn't attached to Jason until the sixteenth century AD, however.  This seems to have come from a mis-translation of the Greek word for "crafty" dolomedes.

Jason carries a disguised Hera across the River Anauros

Pelias was worried that despite the apparent disappearance of Jason he would one day be overthrown and so consulted an oracle who confirmed that a man wearing one sandal would take his thrown. Years later an older Jason would leave Chiron and his mountain hideaway  and return to Iolcus. About to cross the river Anauros he spotted an old woman and carried her across the river. Losing one sandal in the process.  The old woman was really the Goddess Hera in disguise who gave him her blessing.

Dennis Hopper as Pelias

As a man wearing one sandal he was immediately brought before Pelias (or sought him out, in a typically impetuous way). Pelias either agreed to give up his throne in exchange for the Golden Fleece (more about which another time) or tricked Jason into getting him to volunteer to fetch it. Either way Pelias thought that Jason, like others who had sought it, would never return.

The Foundry figures have rather splendid ram's head shields

Jason was the James T Kirk of the Argo (and how much did Star Trek owe to the Argonautika anyway -with planets replacing islands?) a man who preferred action to words ("we come in peace, shoot to kill"), and certainly tended to speak first and think later (especially in the Robert Graves version, The Golden Fleece).  He was also irresistible to women!

Todd Armstrong as Jason

The Foundry figure gives him the long (golden) locks of Robert Grave's Jason rather than the short hair of Todd Armstrong in the Harryhausen classic.  Interestingly in the computer game Rise of the Argonauts they follow the Todd Armstrong look as well.  

An Armstrong lookalike from Rise of the Argonauts

Armstrong's Jason is too old, however, given that Jason's journey is a coming of age saga.  The Foundry Jason looks much more appropriately young.

Jason London as Jason

Jason London, in the 1999 Hallmark production of Jason and the Argonauts, sports a rather tragic mullet but is more the right age.

So now we have our Jason he will have to start to recruit his Argonauts!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A word about sources...

The advantages of  a fantasy wargame setting are that no historical research is, of course, needed.  The tale of Jason, however, shares with more recent fantasy stories like the Lord of the Rings, a literary source and, of course, cinematic interpretations.  Where the Argonauts story is different is that there are different versions of the story which do not necessarily share the same elements.  This is because the ultimate source of the legend of the Golden Fleece is based on an older oral tradition not one definitive text.  It is also likely, over time that some of the leements of the Argonauts quest have been brought in from other, either earlier or later stories.  

In his fascinating look at the history of eighth century Greek sailors' voyages around the Mediterranean, Travelling Heroes, Robin Lane Fox reports that Homer included in his Odyssey elements that other authors attribute to the voyage of Jason (which as Homer said, was an old story at the time he was writing).  The two great trans-Mediterranean quest myths of Ancient Greece may well have been elided in places, therefore.  For this reason I feel quite happy in having my Argonauts come across the great Cyclops, Polyphemus.

So, in the case of the Quest for the Golden fleece we can pick and choose any of those elements that take our fancy.  Research is needed (and is a large part of what I find interesting about wargaming anyway) but the research just leads to a series of options not a set path.

The sources I am going to use for my quest are a mixture of old and new, not just in their origin, but in my knowledge of them.

The main source for the story is, of course, the Argonautika of Appolonius of Rhodes, who wrote his story in the third century BC, well after Homer.  It is a dense and difficult poem in the original Greek (it is the only extant example of Greek epic poetry that survives from the time between Homer and late antiquity) and prose translations inevitably miss much of the context of the original.  My Ancient Greek is even more limited than my Latin (which used to be better than it now is) so we will stick to the fine translation by Richard Hunter published in 1993.  Both Catullus and Virgil were influenced by the Argonautika and, given the comments about the Odyssey above, sections of the Aeneid show clear parallels with the earlier work: for example the characters of Dido and Medea.

Outside childrens' literature, not nearly as many adaptions of the story of Jason have been made as that of the Trojan War.  The very best of these is Robert Graves' 1943 novel The Golden Fleece (sometimes known as Hercules, My Shipmate in the US).  Graves treats the voyage of Jason as if it were a true piece of history, like the siege of Troy.  His approach has several singular elements that make it controversial but don't damage it as a fine re-telling of the story.  His is an early Greece on the crux of the change from the Bronze to the Iron Age.  It should be remembered that the entirely artificial delineation of ancient history into stone, bronze and iron ages is comparatively recent.  It is not something that Greek, Roman or even Renaissance scholars would have understood.  The classification was invented by Christian Thomsen in 1816 when he set to work cataloguing pre-historic relics for the planned Danish National Museum which opened in 1819 and, for the first time, divided up historical artefacts into those three periods.

We will return to Graves' novel another time but it posits a Greece where the bronze age original inhabitants have been conquered by iron-equipped invaders from the north who gradually replace the locals' triple goddess matriarchal pantheon with one headed up by a male god, Zeus.  The gods are ever present in the novel as motivators and causes of incidents but, critically, they only exist in the minds of men; which doesn't diminish their effect on the action, however.  Creatures such as Centaurs are just men who have domesticated horses for riding and nymphs are ordinary women who reject marriage in favour of free love tribes (there is quite a lot of free love in Graves' ancient Greece).  In fact, tribal and religious affiliation, often in the form of animal totems are important in this society.  The major criticisms of Graves' approach from historians is that he puts forward these ideas as historical fact, rather than just an interpretation of how the myths could have been explained by the more mundane (such as the centaurs).

My third "literary" source is the fine cartoon strip which appeared in Look & Learn magazine in early 1970. Illustrated in spare but elegant style by Franco Caprioli it featured pretty authentic bronze age dress, an excellent rendering of the Argo and seductive nymphs (for a childrens' magazine).

The Jason Voyage by Tim Severin (whose Viking novels I really enoyed) describes his attempt to recreate the Argo and then track the Argonaut's course through the Mediterranean and beyond.

The quest for the Golden Fleece is just one of four myths dealt with in this book but it is an interesting look at the peoples of the regions Jason and his crew would have visited and provides an explanation for some parts of the myth.

Last, but by no means least, are the two screen versions of the legend.  Firstly, of course is Don Chaffey's (who later went on to direct One Million Years BC) Jason and the Argonauts (1963) which I first saw on my uncle's colour TV in the late sixties or early seventies one Christmas (I think).  Ray Harryhausen's skeleton fight remains one of the best remembered action sequences from any fantasy film, quite rightly.  Filmed in Southern Italy rather than Greece, due to the better technical back up from the Italian film industry, it still feels gorgeously sunny and authentic.  Some of the acting is wooden but a (dubbed) Nancy Kovack flashes fire and (also dubbed) Todd Armstrong looks appropriately heroic, if too old for Jason.  A pre-Goldfinger Honor Blackman as Hera steals every scene.

Last, but by no means least, is the Hallmark Entertainment version of Jason and the Argonauts (2000).  Not nearly as bad as many reviewers make out, it has some great neo-Bronze Age production design.  It misses some elements of the story appearing in the Harryhausen production (such as Talos) but includes others (such as Hypsipyle and the women of Lemnos).

Anyway, these are quite enough alternative versions to generate some scenarios!  Now I need to get some more  figures painted!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Voyage begins...

The story of Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece has been told many times and, indeed, even the ancient sources conflict with one another; meaning that there is no definitive version.  Although much of what will follow will have been inspired by Charles H Schneer's film Jason and the Argonauts (1963), in fact I first came across the story in a book by Roger Lancelyn Green which I had as a child .  I had several of his books about greek myths and remember one in particular, Tales of the Greeks and Trojans, as it had some striking illustrations; particularly for the stories about Troy where Achilles led his turquoise-crested Myrmidons.  I still have a desire to paint any Myrmidon figures I might do turquoise as a result!

Lancelyn Green was one of the "inklings" at Oxford with JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis, who was his tutor at Merton College.  Indeed, it was Lancelyn Green who came up with the title: The Chronicles of Narnia, for Lewis' novels.

It was, however, a viewing of the Ray Harryhausen film on my uncle's colour television (at a time when hardly anyone had them) that got me really involved with the story.  I subsequently played out the scenes using Lego; including a Lego Argo and clashing rocks.  The Argonauts were Airfix Romans and Poseidon was played by Action Man.

A few years ago I bought the Hallmark TV miniseries which is not as bad as many of the reviews would have you believe (the art direction is particularly effective).  Next, I bought all the Foundry Argonaut figures but there were no suitable rules, although I did track down a variant based on Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings rules.  Now, however, Wargames Foundy have come out with their Tribes of Legend rules and some new Greek mythological figures so, given that I am looking for a skirmish project this year which doesn't involve too much painting, we shall see the Argo launched on its journey to seek out new life and new civilisations across the known and into the unknown world.

I have actually painted four Argonaut figures now and have two more well on the way.  The first two, Herakles and Atalanta I did some time ago but we shall look at each of the Argonauts in more detail in other posts.

I won't just be looking at the Jason quest as, for example, The Tribes of Legend rules have a section on how to recreate the labours of Herakles and I think I will want to pit Perseus against the Gorgons too!