The Plot of Polydectes

Published October 15, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, we’re picking up, well, pretty far after the last one ended, actually, and yet from a narrative perspective…uh, yeah, I’ll just get on with it.

Now, Dictys had a half-brother, whose father had been much more important than Dictys’ father.  In fact, Dicty’s half-brother, Polydectes, was the king of Seriphos!  Naturally, Polydectes was not terribly proud of his fisherman half-brother, and rarely came ’round to visit.

But it chanced one day that Polydectes heard rumors about the beautiful woman staying with Dictys, and her handsome young son, who had only just reached manhood.  To Polydectes’ surprise, the woman was described as being Dictys’ cousin, but he knew very well that she couldn’t be, since Dicty’s family was his own family!

So Polydectes went to visit Dictys, pretending it was just a social call between brothers, because he wanted to meet this mysterious pair.  As soon as he met Danae, Polydectes fell deeply in love with her, and was soon begging her to marry him.  Danae politely refused, but Polydectes would not take no for an answer until Perseus stepped in between them.  “If my mother says she doesn’t want to marry you, she means it.  So you’ll not have her to wife,” he insisted boldly, half tempted to add in his mother’s claim of being a lover of Zeus.

Polydectes was not a strong man, so he was intimidated by the muscular youth — Perseus had spent many years in childhood helping Dictys with heavy nets filled with fish, and it had made him quite strong indeed! — and pretended to acquiesce, apologizing to Danae for his rudeness.  After the mother and son had left the room, Polydectes asked Dictys who they were, and Dictys told him the whole story.

Returning to his palace, Polydectes decided that there was no way some fatherless bastard was going to keep him from the woman of his choice.  But how could he obtain her?  He would have to get the son out of the way…

He asked all his wisest advisors, and most of them told him to give it up, because it was a terrible thing to try to marry a woman without the permission of her kin, especially considering that the woman in question was of unknown parentage and had already birthed an illegitimate child!  But Polydectes would not be dissuaded, and so one of his advisors finally relented and told him a way to win the woman.  “Send the boy on a quest that is sure to claim his life,” the advisor said.  “Once the boy is dead, then there will be nothing to stand in the way of your marrying his mother.”

Polydectes took the advice to heart, but even so it was not going to be a simple matter.  Why would Perseus agree to go on such a quest, leaving his mother unprotected?  It would have to be carefully and craftily done.  At his wits’ end, he went back to the advisor who had given him the idea, and the man laid out a plan so clever that Polydectes would never have been able to think of it, even if he had a thousand lives to live!

According to plan, Polydectes sent a gift to Danae, a fine horse named Gorgeiecephale, which means “the head of the Gorgon”.  He knew that his brother had a couple of rather sad horses of his own — he used them to pull the wagon that took his fish to market — but nothing like this horse.  That alone should have made it enough for his plan to work, but for good measure he also sent some agents to injure Dictys’ horses.

A few days after sending the horse to Danae, and the day after his agents injured the other two horses, Polydectes sent messengers to all the most important households on the island, and to Perseus.  The messengers were calling everyone to a fine gathering at Polydectes’ palace the following night.  Perseus was a little suspicious of being invited to a feast at the king’s palace, especially so soon after the king attempted to forcibly marry his mother, but he could hardly say “no.”  Besides, perhaps this was part of the king’s apology, in addition to the lovely horse.

So, unwitting of the malice that Polydectes held for him, Perseus duly attended the feast.  But after the food had been eaten, Polydectes informed everyone that he was in need of their assistance.  One of his fellow kings was marrying off his daughter Hippodameia, and Polydectes needed a fine present to send, but he needed everyone to chip in.  Each man there went up to the king in turn and was told what he needed to contribute.  When it was Perseus’ turn, Polydectes remained surprisingly quiet, forcing Perseus to ask what he needed to bring.

“A horse,” Polydectes told him.

Perseus paused at the request.  How odd!  Polydectes had only just given them a horse!  And he had to know that his half-brother didn’t keep any horses worthy of being given to a king.  Even if the other horses had been good enough, since they were injured, Perseus couldn’t very well bring them.  Perseus sighed, and looked at the king uneasily.  “You want me to bring you the head of the Gorgon?” he asked, finding it absurd that he should return a present so soon after receiving it.

“Yes, that will do quite nicely,” the king agreed, nodding and smiling.

Perseus didn’t understand it in the least, but he was a dutiful youth, and so the next day he reported to the palace with the horse.  But the king frowned at him.  “You said you would bring me the head of the Gorgon,” he said sternly.

“But…you didn’t mean the horse?” Perseus asked, baffled.  What else could he mean?

“You made the counter-offer, and you must keep to it, or I will take something else from you instead,” the king told him sternly.

“Like what?” Perseus asked.  He didn’t even have anything to take!

“Well, in light of your poverty…I suppose I’ll have to take your mother, won’t I?” the king retorted, brimming with self-satisfaction.

Perseus scowled.  So that had been his game!  “Very well,” he said, mounting the horse.  “I’ll find this Gorgon, whatever it is, and bring you its head!”

With that, he rode home again, feeling both furious and a little helpless.  How was he supposed to behead something if he didn’t know where or even what it was?

While the bit with a horse named “the head of the Gorgon” was not part of the description in Early Greek Myth, the meeting where Polydectes demands gifts to give to a friend for his daughter’s wedding, asks Perseus for a horse, and Perseus replies “The head of the Gorgon,” was part of it.  I figured the only way it made sense was if that was the name of his horse. 😛  The transliterated Greek version of the name looks horribly clunky, but I got it straight from the Perseus Project‘s English-to-Greek look-up feature.  Here‘s the entry, if you don’t believe me:

Γόργειος , α, ον,

A.of or belonging to the Gorgon, “Γοργείη κεφαλήIl.5.741, Od.11.634; Γόργειον, τό, a Tragic mask,EM238.46, Poll.10.167, etc.
Okay, I realize this was an abrupt ending, but…I don’t have enough time in my schedule to make it any longer right now.  (Tons of work pressing down on me!  I haven’t read half the stuff I should have in researching my papers!  Ugh…)
Anyway, next week Perseus will learn what a Gorgon is and where to find it (yes, it’s perhaps a little absurd that he didn’t already know what a Gorgon is), and will at least go on the first half of the voyage.  The question is, since this is building up to Halloween, would you rather have Medusa be the creature-of-the-week for Halloween week, or would you rather it be the sea monster Perseus saves Andromeda from?  (In absence of votes, it will be the sea monster, and Medusa will be finished off next week.  So if you’d rather see Medusa be the Halloween week monster, you’d better speak up!)
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