Polydectes and Danae

Published October 29, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

We’ll be picking up where we left off last time when Perseus catches up to us, but first we’ll be going back in time a little.


As soon as Polydectes heard that Perseus had left Seriphos on his impossible quest, he wanted to head to his brother’s home immediately to claim Danae as his rightful bride.  But the same advisor who had given him the plan in the first place kept urging him to wait.  “If you don’t give Perseus long enough to fail, then everyone will know that you never intended for him to succeed.  They’ll say that the word of Polydectes is worthless.  Is that what you want your subjects to think?  They might call for someone else to rise up and take your place.”

Polydectes didn’t want to deal with any possible usurpers — he wasn’t a military man, after all — so he grudgingly accepted the man’s advice, and waited.  But the longer he waited, the more irritated he became with all that waiting, and the more determined to make Danae his without another moment’s hesitation!

But every day, that same advisor kept telling him to have patience.  Wait for a sign that Perseus had failed.

Eventually, after about a week of mounting irritation, one of Polydectes’ troops brought him a fine horse that the soldier had found wandering in the fields.  Polydectes recognized it as the same horse he had given to Danae, Gorgeiecephale, “the head of the Gorgon.”  Surely this was the sign that Perseus had met his gruesome end, if his horse was now roaming free!  (None of his more timid advisors could bring themselves to point out that surely Perseus must have taken ship for the mainland, since there were certainly no Gorgons on Seriphos, and his fate could therefore have nothing to do with the horse roaming free.)  Since that one pernicious advisor seemed to have vanished, Polydectes saw nothing to stop him from going to claim his bride.

So he dressed himself in his finest garments, and headed to his brother’s home, making sure that Gorgeiecephale was one of the horses pulling his chariot, with a dozen of his soldiers marching behind the chariot in their shiniest bronze armor.

Danae recognized the horse, but knew full well that her son had departed flying through the air without it, so she put no stock in Polydectes’ repeated assertions that Perseus was dead, and that she must now submit herself to becoming Polydectes’ bride.

“But you asked my son for a horse, and you’ve received one,” Danae pointed out, “so surely now you have no reason to demand further payment.”

“He promised to deliver me the head of the Gorgon, and to allow you to become my queen if he failed to do so,” Polydectes countered.

“But you have the head of the Gorgon,” Danae replied, indicating the horse.

“Why are you so averse to marrying a king?” Polydectes demanded.

“Having lain with the king of the gods, am I supposed to be excited by a mere king of men?” Danae laughed.  “And the powerless king of a puny island, at that?”

Enraged, Polydectes ordered his men to place Danae in his chariot, no matter how she might struggle, and then drove off with her, ignoring her protests.

Once they were at Polydectes’ palace, Danae tried everything she could to delay the wedding feast.

First, she exclaimed that she couldn’t possibly marry without first weaving the finest gown any man had seen; how could she, a lover of Zeus, marry in anything less than the finest?  But Polydectes had already had his servants make a shimmering gown, decorated with gold and silver, and even Danae had to admit that it was the finest she had ever seen.  (Though she found it disturbing that Polydectes had known so precisely what size gown he should have made.)

Next, she insisted that she couldn’t marry without her father’s permission, and demanded that Polydectes send heralds to Argos to fetch her father.  But Polydectes had contacted Acrisios as soon as Dictys had told him the tale of Danae’s arrival, and Acrisios had insisted that he had no daughter, and never had had one.  (The assertion made Danae weep at her father’s continuing heartlessness.)

Finally, Danae said that she would not marry any man without Zeus himself blessing the event.

And for several days, the wedding plans were halted, though Polydectes would not allow Danae to return to her safe haven in his brother’s home.

But then one morning Polydectes arose and announced to his entire court that Zeus had appeared to him in a dream, and greeted him as Danae’s chosen husband.  Danae, of course, said that if he had such a dream, it was indeed a false dream, but the court accepted Polydectes’ word — he was their king, after all — and the wedding plans resumed.

Thus it was that when Perseus returned to Seriphos, he found the palace decorated and festive, for it was the day of Polydectes’ wedding feast.

The young man barged into the great hall, where the feast was already laid out, causing quite a stir.  Danae leapt to her feet and ran over to embrace her son, overjoyed that he had not been harmed by his terrible trial.  But Polydectes glared at Perseus, and berated him for returning without having achieved his objective.

“I have the head of the Gorgon right here,” Perseus assured him, setting his hand on the tassled bag Hermes had given him.  “So you have no claim on my mother.”

“Zeus himself said I was to marry her,” Polydectes replied, with a cruel smirk.

“My father would never allow such a man as you to marry his beloved,” Perseus said, shaking his head.  “Mother, go home,” he whispered, looking down at his still-weeping mother.  “This may get unpleasant, and I don’t want you to see it.”

“All right, but be careful!” Danae insisted.  “And make sure he suffers before you kill him,” she added, before hurrying out of the hall.

Perseus was so alarmed by the vicious side he never knew his mother had that by the time he recovered, Polydectes had crossed the hall and was nearly upon him.

“What have you really got in that bag, boy?” Polydectes asked.  “You didn’t kill my horse, did you?”

“Certainly not, and I thought it was my mother’s horse,” Perseus replied.

“What belongs to my wife belongs to me,” Polydectes laughed.  “Or perhaps a bastard doesn’t understand how marriage works?”

“I know very well how marriage works,” Perseus said, smiling tightly, “since I myself got married only a few days ago.”

“Instead of going out to do as you were told, you were off getting married?!” Polydectes shouted.  “At your age?!  You’re much too young! I suppose what’s in this bag is only a gift from your in-laws, then!” he added, reaching for the bag.

Perseus stepped away, keeping the bag out of Polydectes’ grasp.  “Not so fast!  You’ll not have this until I have your word that you’ll never pester my mother again.”

Polydectes fumed at him in silence for a moment, then turned to the court.  “Is this to be permitted?!” he shouted.  “This flippant boy — a fatherless bastard! — promises to obtain the unobtainable for me, then expects promises from me in exchange for nothing, an empty sack?!  Shall I suffer this irreverent lout to live?!”

Loudly, and in nearly one voice, the court shouted “No!”

Perseus grimaced.  This was not going as he had hoped…

Polydectes wheeled back to look at Perseus, a self-satisfied smirk covering his features.  “Now, will you hand over that bag, or shall I send for the guards?”

Sighing, Perseus reached for the flap on the bag.  “This bag belongs to the gods, so it is not mine to give you, but I will hand over the Gorgon’s head if you really think you want it.  But I warn you:  it’s dangerous.”  He knew there was no chance of Polydectes heeding his warning, but perhaps some of the people of the court would…

“You won’t scare me into letting you get out of this,” Polydectes growled.  “What you carry is mine, and I want it!”

Perseus shrugged lightly.  “Very well,” he answered, opening the flap and reaching inside the bag, “but don’t look at it if you value your life.”

So saying, he shut his eyes, removed Medusa’s head from the bag, and held it aloft.  Half a shriek of terror passed through someone’s lips, then the room fell into a deadly silence.  Carefully, Perseus replaced the head in the tasseled bag, and looked around the room.

Polydectes had been turned to stone, reaching out towards Perseus, his face eternally frozen in a look of hate and greed.  The rest of the court, too, was petrified; not one had looked away, despite Perseus’ warning.  But they had all been willing accomplices to Polydectes’ attempt to marry the unwilling Danae, so Perseus told himself that they had it coming.

Still…it was probably not going to be wise to remain on Seriphos any longer.

Perseus left the palace, retrieved his mother’s horse from the stables, and rode back to Dictys’ house.  The old fisherman was delighted to see Perseus again, and not terribly saddened by the tale of his brother’s death.

“Since Polydectes didn’t have any children, you should inherit the throne,” Perseus told Dictys.  “Your kindness and wisdom will be a welcome relief after his cruelty and greed.”

You should rule,” Dictys replied, shaking his head.  “Surely you were born to be a king.”

“He was born to be king of Argos,” Danae countered, “no matter what my father says about the matter.”

“I certainly can’t stay here, in any case, not after I’ve killed so many people.  Their kin will be looking for revenge, and I’ll need to be purified of the blood guilt, too.”

“Then let’s go back to Argos, and my father can — ” Danae started.

“No, we have to go back to Phoenicia,” Perseus told her.  “I want you to meet my wife, Andromeda.”

“Your wife?!” Danae exclaimed.  “When did you get married?”

“About three days ago,” Perseus replied, then told them both the whole story, from start to finish.

“I’m sure she’s a lovely girl, and I’ll be happy to meet her, but it seems to me you could have come and saved me before your wedding, instead of afterwards,” Danae told him, with perhaps a touch of bitterness.

“I’m sorry, Mother.  It just…I’m sorry.”

“It all worked out in the end, so I suppose that’s all that matters,” Danae sighed.  “But how shall we get to Phoenicia?”

“Well, since Hermes hasn’t come for his sandals yet, we’ll fly,” Perseus replied, grinning.

“I’m not so sure I like that idea,” Danae answered uncomfortably.  “What about our belongings?”

“I’ll send them to you by ship,” Dictys promised, “horse and all.  But I’m sure the young man doesn’t want to keep his bride waiting and lonely so soon after their wedding!” he laughed.

“I suspect it’s not her loneliness that weighs on his mind,” Danae moaned, shaking her head.  “But I suppose it would be cruel of me to keep young lovers apart.  Very well, we’ll fly.”

Thrilled, Perseus carefully lifted his mother in his arms, and then took off running into the sky.  In no time at all, they were approaching the Phoenician coast.  But not far outside the city, Perseus saw the chariot of Athene, with the goddess herself at the reins, and her brother Hermes standing impatiently beside her.  Uncomfortably, Perseus came to a landing beside them, and set his mother down on the ground beside him.  Danae quickly crumpled to her knees, moaning and clutching her stomach, made ill by the speed at which they had been traveling.

“Don’t you have something to say now?” Hermes demanded of Perseus, distracting him from his mother’s airsickness.

Perseus smiled at him, deeply embarrassed, and nodded.  “Yes, of course.  Thank you both so much for all your help.  I’ll return everything now.”  He quickly removed the sandals of Hermes from his feet, and pulled the cap of Hades out of his belt, and handed them both over to Hermes.  “What about Medusa’s head?” Perseus asked, setting his hand on the tasseled bag.  “It seems too dangerous to be allowed to exist, or at least too dangerous to be in mortal hands…”

“What would you wish done with it?” Athene asked.

“I think, if it isn’t impertinent of me, I’d ask you to take it and do with it as you please,” Perseus replied.  “I already accidentally killed a lot of people with it.  I’d rather not risk harming anyone I care about.”

Athene smiled, and nodded her head.  “I’ll be glad to accept it.  And I’ll put it to good use.”

Perseus quickly removed the bag from his sword belt, and gave it to Athene, who set it in the chariot beside her.  Though Perseus didn’t know it, she was going to take it and her father’s aegis to Hephaistos, to have him affix the Gorgon’s head to the aegis, to inflict fear and terror on all who looked upon Athene while she wore the aegis.

Soon the gods returned to Mt. Olympos, and Perseus helped his mother back to her feet, and the two of them walked the rest of the way into the city, despite that Perseus was now barefoot.  Soon, they reached the palace of Cepheus, where Andromeda was waiting anxiously for her husband’s return.  Before he would allow her to embrace him, however, he explained what had happened in Seriphos to her and her parents, and Cepheus gladly purified him of the killings.

Then Perseus and Andromeda settled into a happy married life at the Phoenician court.


Bah.  So much for “the conclusion.”  It took me so long there wasn’t time to deal with Acrisios.  All right, so the real conclusion will come tomorrow.

Ugh.  Why does everything I write take so long?  (Especially considering I don’t really describe anything…)

 

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