Since this chapter turned out longer than expected, and I’ll be off in November for NaNoWriMo, I decided I’d post this portion early, and post the conclusion as the regularly scheduled Thursday post.
Once more, we pick up the story where we left it last week, with Perseus on his way home — with the head of Medusa in a bag on his belt — flying through the air with the winged sandals of Hermes, and invisible to mortal eyes because he’s wearing the cap of Hades.
Perseus was above the Phoenician coast when he heard the sound of a woman weeping. Slowing down so he could get a better look, he saw several armed men tying a beautiful maiden between two posts that had been erected on a bit of coast that projected into the sea. Many people were standing on a nearby cliff, watching this spectacle, including an older couple who sat enthroned upon a litter, weeping.
Curious as to what was going on, Perseus landed beside the girl as the soldiers withdrew from the coast.
“Why have you been left in such a terrible position?” he asked.
The girl gasped, and looked around. “Who is it?” she exclaimed. “Who’s there?!”
Perseus reached for the cap of Hades to remove it, but then stopped. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly, “I forgot I was still invisible. But I don’t think now is a good time to reveal myself.”
“Are you one of the gods?” the girl asked, her voice trembling with hope.
“Alas, I’m only a mortal like you,” he said, assuming that she was, in fact, a mortal. “But I’ve been loaned several gifts by the gods, and that’s how I can be invisible. But tell me who you are, and why you’re tied up in such a place, while that crowd looks on.”
Weeping, the girl explained that her name was Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus and Cassiepeia, the king and queen. “We’ve always been peaceful and happy people,” she told him, “but my mother has vanity issues…”
“Surely she isn’t having you put to death because you’re more beautiful than she is!” Perseus exclaimed, horrified.
Andromeda smiled, though she continued to weep. “No, my mother loves me, and would never hurt me if she had any choice. But…the men of the court have been slower to call her beautiful of late, and so she has been forced to say it for them. With every repetition, her self-praise has grown. Then…one day…she said her beauty outshone the Nereids themselves.” Andromeda’s body shook, and Perseus longed to take her in his arms and console her. “From that moment on, the seas grew angry, and waves began to pound against our cities, drowning people in the streets, and causing flood, famine and disease. And when our people tried to flee the city, the sea monster causing the waves emerged from the water and gobbled them up. Everyone had to remain in the city to die, or die trying to flee, but dying was the only option.”
“Why? Were the Nereids taking vengeance for the slight?” Perseus asked. He had never heard of them being that vicious, but he didn’t see what other reason there could be.
Andromeda sighed. “According to the soothsayer, it was Poseidon who was punishing us for insulting the Nereids, though they couldn’t say why that had upset him so.”
“Maybe his wife is a Nereid,” Perseus suggested. In truth, Amphrite was an Oceanid, and — though no one knew it — Poseidon was so enraged because he was sorely in love with the most beautiful of all the Nereids, Thetis, though she continually rebuffed his advances, just as she did those of his brother Zeus.
“Whatever his reason, we were told the only way to stop his anger was for my parents to offer me up in sacrifice,” Andromeda sobbed. “When the sea monster has eaten me, his rage will subside, and the city will be saved.”
At the thought of a sea monster eating Andromeda, Perseus’ heart seized up in his chest. “I won’t let it happen!” he assured her. “You wait right here — ”
“Where else would I go?” Andromeda moaned.
” — and I’ll be back to deal with that monster before it can harm you. I promise!”
Feeling bold since he couldn’t be seen, Perseus leaned in and planted a kiss on her cheek before he dashed up to the top of the cliff. Hiding behind a boulder so no one would see him become visible, he removed the cap of Hades from his head, and walked over to speak to the king and queen.
“I am Perseus, son of Danae, daughter of Acrisios, king of Argos,” he told them, reciting the pedigree his mother had taught him, “and I’ve come to save your daughter from the sea monster.”
The king and queen looked impressed at his father’s title — and their faces brightened up immensely at his assurance that he could save Andromeda from being eaten — but a richly dressed man standing beside the king scowled at him. “I’ve heard that Acrisios drowned his daughter for bearing a bastard,” he informed the king. “This lad, whoever he is, cannot be a child drowned in infancy. He’s just trying to take advantage of you.”
“That’s a very serious accusation, Phineus!” Cepheus exclaimed.
“I’m sure that’s what the rumors said,” Perseus agreed, “but it isn’t entirely true. It is true, I have to admit, that my mother did not marry my father. But as my father was already married to the goddess Hera, marrying him was not possible.” Cepheus and Cassiepeia looked very impressed that he was the son of Zeus, but Phineus only scoffed. “My grandfather did deposit my mother and I in a chest and set it out to sea, but we landed safely on the island of Seriphos, where we have been living all this time, awaiting the day when I will be able to reclaim my birthright in Argos.”
“Can you really save my daughter?” Cassiepeia asked. “Will your father hurl a thunderbolt at the monster?”
“I don’t think I’ll need him to do that,” Perseus told her. “He has already provided me with several gifts that should suffice to let me kill the beast. But if I do, I want a very special reward.”
“Here we go,” Phineus muttered, shaking his head.
“Name it,” Cepheus exclaimed, “and it will be yours!”
“I want to marry Andromeda,” Perseus informed them. “If I save her, let me make her my wife.”
“A random vagrant, marry my Andromeda?!” Phineus exclaimed, outraged. “Never!”
“Yours, sir?” Perseus asked, looking at him in confusion. “I thought this man was her father. What is she to you?”
“She is my bride-to-be,” Phineus said, his voice tight with hate.
“Now, Phineus, be reasonable,” Cepheus said. “You certainly won’t be marrying her if he doesn’t save her, will you? And I’m sure Andromeda would prefer this handsome youth as a husband.”
“What woman wouldn’t?” Cassiepeia agreed, smiling at Perseus in a way that he was not entirely comfortable with.
“I will never agree to this!” Phineus exclaimed, before stalking away in a huff.
“Forgive my brother’s temper,” Cepheus said, smiling at Perseus. “He’ll calm down in time and see that he’s wrong. In any event, you certainly have my blessing! If you can save my daughter, I’ll be delighted to let you marry her. What man would be fool enough to refuse to have a son of Zeus as a son-in-law?”
Perseus smiled, thanked the king and queen, and then flew back down to Andromeda’s side — much to the astonishment of the court assembled up on the top of the cliff!
The girl looked at Perseus in confusion. “How did you…?” she asked, her eyes wide.
“I’ll tell you all about it later,” he promised. “We’ll have all the time in the world to talk.”
“Oh, it’s you! The voice who said he could save me!” Andromeda smiled widely. “Where did you go?”
“I had to talk to your father and get his permission to — ” Perseus started, but he had to stop quickly, as Andromeda let out an instinctive shriek at the sight of the sea monster.
Turning, Perseus saw that it was a large beast, with massive fangs, and it was crawling up on shore with tiny appendages, halfway between flippers and legs. The thing was headed straight for Andromeda, uninterested in anything else, not Perseus’ presence, nor the wails of the people on top of the cliff.
Unsure if it was right to kill a beast sent by Poseidon, Perseus flew over to a different nearby promontory, and threw rocks at the beast to get its attention. Once it finally noticed him, it began to move towards him very quickly.
“I’ll give you one chance to flee,” Perseus told it. “Run away and never bother this place again, if you value your life!”
The monster kept coming.
Discouraged, Perseus drew his sword, and awaited the beast’s arrival. Once it was there, he began to stab it over and over again, but even his divinely crafted blade didn’t want to pierce its thick hide. Finally, Perseus realized there was only one way to make an end of the beast.
He flew up into the air between the cliff and the sea monster, and carefully pulled Medusa’s head out of the bag, making sure not to look at it himself.
Once the sea monster saw the head, it turned to stone, and sank beneath the waves.
After replacing the head in the bag, Perseus flew back down to the beach and quickly cut the bonds holding Andromeda in place. Then he picked her up in his arms and flew up to the top of the cliff with her, where her parents lavished hugs and kisses upon her.
Together with the whole court, Perseus returned to the city, eager to hold his own wedding quickly, so he could get home in time to stop his mother’s.
But Phineus was not so quick to accept this young interloper — even if he really was the offspring of foreign gods, not that Phineus believed such a thing was possible — as the new husband of his betrothed. Not only was the girl radiantly beautiful, but she was also his ticket onto the throne, and there was no way he was going to let this young stranger take that away from him! Phineus went to see her in her chamber, even as the girl’s parents were preparing for her wedding to Perseus.
“Did you need something, uncle?” Andromeda asked him. Normally, she might object to a man being in her chamber, but since he was her uncle, and would soon be her husband, she allowed him in any time he wanted, so long as her servants were with her.
“Are you really going to stand for it?” Phineus asked.
“Stand for what?”
“Your parents have decided to break faith with me, and marry you off to a strange foreigner, who will take you away from Phoenicia, never to see your family again.”
“What?” Andromeda exclaimed. “How could they do that to me? Are they sorry I’ve been saved? Don’t they want me around anymore?”
“Evidently not,” Phineus said, shaking his head. “It is most disturbing to see parents so abuse a daughter’s trust like this. You should refuse to go through with it.”
“I certainly will!” Andromeda exclaimed, then thanked her uncle, and sent him away, even as she sent one of her servants to inform her parents that she would never agree to marry anyone but her original betrothed.
Perseus was devastated when he heard the news, and might have given up, if Cassiepeia hadn’t been so determined to convince him that he shouldn’t abandon hope so easily, that it couldn’t be that her daughter didn’t approve of him. “At least speak to her,” she urged. “I’m sure no girl could refuse you face to face.”
Reluctantly, Perseus agreed, and was shown the way to Andromeda’s chamber. But when he knocked on the door, the girl shouted that she was admitting no one, and demanded that he go away.
He was perplexed how to proceed from there, then decided that he would put his father’s gifts to work. He flew around the outside of the palace until he could find a window into Andromeda’s chamber. Perseus entered through the window cautiously, lest Andromeda be changing, and get the wrong idea.
But she wasn’t changing; she was sitting at a loom, using a little knife to cut apart the cloth that had been woven upon it, destroying it thread by thread in a very vicious manner.
“Wasn’t that a lot of work?” Perseus asked, after silently watching this for some time. “You shouldn’t wreck it up like that.”
Andromeda leapt to her feet in shock, brandishing the little knife at him. “Oh! It’s you!” she exclaimed, dropping the knife again. “I didn’t think anyone could get in here with the door blocked off.” She gestured to the door, which she had blocked with several pieces of furniture.
“I flew in the window,” he explained. “But why did you lock yourself in like this?”
“My parents are forcing me to marry,” Andromeda sighed, sitting down again. “Why? Don’t they love me?”
“You don’t want to marry?”
“It’s my duty to marry,” Andromeda answered, shaking her head, “but what good will I do my kingdom if I marry a foreigner and he takes me away? Where did they even meet a foreigner, anyway?”
Perseus smiled, despite himself, and knelt in front of her, taking her hand. “I’m sorry, this is all my fault,” he apologized. “The monster attacked before I could explain, and then there wasn’t time afterwards.”
“Explain what?” Andromeda asked, looking at him uncertainly.
“I asked for your hand in marriage if I saved your life,” he explained.
“Am I nothing but a prize to be won?” Andromeda asked. “Would you have married any pretty girl who needed saving from a terrible beast?”
“You’re so beautiful that I couldn’t help but fall in love with you,” Perseus assured her. “I don’t think any other mortal woman in the world could have this effect on me.”
Part of Andromeda was definitely swayed by his kind words and his handsome face. But she was still furious at being treated like a thing instead of a person! “I can’t believe you’d take advantage of my father like that, forcing him to give up his only heir. Or do you plan to sit on his throne when he’s gone?”
Perseus smiled and shook his head. “I have a throne of my own waiting for me in Argos,” he told her, since his mother had always insisted that Perseus alone had the right to inherit the throne of Acrisios. “But if you’re worried about your father’s heirs, once we have a son, we can send him here to inherit your father’s throne.”
Andromeda smiled, just a little bit, and Perseus took advantage of her smile to give her another little kiss. She pushed him away immediately, but couldn’t bring herself to rebuke him as fully as she knew she ought. “You aren’t my husband yet,” she told him, “so you mustn’t do such things. Besides, I’m still not convinced I’m willing to marry you yet!”
“What do I need to do to win your approval?” Perseus asked.
“Well…” Andromeda paused for a moment, unsure. She didn’t know what to ask him to do. After all, she had accepted her previous fiance simply because she’d been told she was to marry him. And her mother had accepted her father simply because she’d been told to. “Tell me all about yourself, your whole life story. Once I know that, then I’ll tell you what you need to do.”
Perseus was more than a little perplexed by the request, but it wasn’t a hard one — especially since most of his life had been quite dull! — so he cooperated gladly, and was soon recounting his whole life, from the tales his mother had told him of his birth and their exile from Argos, all the way up to the death of Medusa, and the homeward journey that had brought him to the right place at the right time to save Andromeda from the sea monster.
Once he was finished, Perseus took her hand again. “Now, tell me what I must do to win your heart!” he exclaimed.
With a shy smile, Andromeda shook her head. “You don’t have to do anything,” she told him, “except to unblock my door.”
That was a request he was most glad to complete, and soon Perseus and Andromeda were making their way through the palace to their wedding feast. Andromeda’s parents were overjoyed that the girl had come to her senses (for who would hold out to marry their creepy uncle when they could marry a handsome young demi-god?) but Phineus was enraged that his plan had failed.
Feeling sure that the youth would have left his weapons behind and not been so rude as too take them to the wedding feast, Phineus gathered together all his strongest supporters in the royal guard into one small room, and then sent a messenger to summon Perseus there.
Unsuspecting, the young man obeyed the summons, and soon found himself being confronted by Phineus and his men. “I’ll give you one chance to save your life,” Phineus told him, glad to note that Perseus had indeed left his sword behind. “Go back to your own lands and leave Andromeda to me, her rightful husband. Say not a word to anyone as to why you’re leaving, or you’ll die.”
“You won’t kill me,” Perseus assured him.
“You’re unarmed, boy!” one of the soldiers growled. “Do you really think you can defeat all of us grown men in combat?”
“I don’t have to,” Perseus answered, shaking his head. “I can kill you without fighting you, but I’d rather not have to. I’m going to go back to my wedding feast now, and as long as you don’t bring this up again, I’ll be glad to pretend it never happened.”
“If you won’t listen to reason, you’ll have to die,” Phineus said, shaking his head. He gestured to his men, and they all drew their swords, preparing to attack Perseus.
Sadly, Perseus reached into his bag, and shut his eyes as he withdrew the head of Medusa. The other men in the chamber all stared at the head in confusion, and were quickly petrified by it. After waiting a moment or two for the sounds of further life, and hearing nothing, Perseus returned the head to the bag, and fastened it tightly shut.
Opening his eyes again, Perseus was saddened by the loss of life, but he had warned them, and they had been trying to kill him. Hopefully Cepheus would understand…
Upon his return to the feast, Perseus called his father-in-law aside and explained what had happened. Cepheus was hurt that his brother would have tried something so cruel, but he agreed that Perseus had had no choice in the matter, and the festivities continued unabated.
After Perseus had spent a few days in married bliss, he decided he couldn’t spare any more time, and had to get home to save his mother. He explained the situation to Andromeda and her parents, and promised to return for his bride as soon as his mother was safe, then set off running through the sky again, headed back home to Seriphos.
Okay, there are a lot of problems here. One big one is the fact that they seem to be worshiping the Greek gods, but they’re Phoenicians. Maybe Cassiepeia is Greek, even though her husband is Phoenician. (Her husband, in fact, may be a brother of Cadmus…in which case I’ve really got to re-organize the Myths Retold page; this will need to be moved much further back in time…which it probably needs to be anyway, considering Perseus is Heracles’ grandfather or great-grandfather…yeah, I need to re-organize the page. Definitely. At some point. (Like late December.))
And then there’s the whole Phineus thing. All the extant texts with any detail are lost, so all we have is summaries in scholia and mythographers. So in those Phineus is Andromeda’s uncle and fiance, and he causes trouble for Perseus, because he doesn’t want to lose his fiancee to the handsome young interloper. But we don’t know how he causes trouble. And I found myself embellishing it, trying to make it a real story. Probably in a very non-Greek way. But…at least I’m practicing a little for NaNo, right?
And, of course, it’s wildly anachronistic to give Andromeda enough gumption to express her rights as a human being and refuse to be married off like so much chattel. Well, actually, it would be anachronistic in classical Greece; women in Mycenaean Greece may have had more rights (at least among the nobility), but since she’s Phoenician, it’s still anachronistic. (Probably. Or not. Actually, I know sod-all about the real Phoenicians; I only know the ones in the myths. In fact, I think it’s anachronistic just for there to be Phoenicians in this period at all…) I just couldn’t help injecting a bit too much modernity there, I suppose. (Besides, Perseus is the rare “nice guy” in these myths, so it only seemed fair to remove the one aspect of the tale that’s a stain by modern standards, right? Okay, not “remove.” He still asks her father for her hand in marriage without knowing a thing about her other than that she’s pretty, but at least by subsequently gaining her permission as well it lessens the stain. That’s something, anyway.)
Another problem is that this turned out to be way too long, and now I have to leave the saving of Danae for another day…
…which is more of a problem than usual, since this is the last week before I take a month off for NaNo. Hence the reason that I’m posting this part today instead of on Thursday.
Oh, and normally Perseus just takes Andromeda with him as he goes flying back to Seriphos, but since there’s also a version (which I was setting up) where they leave their first-born son, Perses, behind with Cepheus to be his heir (and eventually the namesake of the Persians), I thought it was best to do it this way, so they can spend a relaxed year there after Danae is safe, instead of Perseus taking at least nine or ten months off before heading home to save his mother from imminent (and intimate) peril. Leaving his mother in distress for nearly a year just ’cause he’s horny doesn’t really fit Perseus’ otherwise “nice guy” image.