This article examines Elias Ashmole’s alchemical reading of John Gower’s tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece in the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652). I argue that this tale can be read as alchemical and connects to the Renaissance humanist tradition of reading classical stories as alchemical as well as Book IV of the Confessio Amantis, in which Gower depicts alchemy as the ideal form of human labour. Jason, representing the aspiring adept in this reading, is aided by his lover Medea, who represents a master alchemist with her supernatural powers, and through his intensive labours he is successful as an alchemist, achieving the Golden Fleece as well as bearing witness to the rejuvenation of his father Aeson. While Gower’s exemplum is intended to illustrate perjury, Ashmole uses Gower’s content to enhance the reputation of English alchemy and its literature.


I would like to thank the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, The Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. for granting permission with their image reproduction. I am indebted to the following scholars and funding bodies for their generous support and encouragement: Elizabeth Archibald, Matthias Bauer, Angelika Zirker, Chad Gunnoe, Bob Yeager, Teach@Tübingen, Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS), Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). I would also like to thank the anonymous peer reviewer for their invaluable feedback.