All posts tagged Perseus

Acrisios and Perseus

Published October 30, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I noticed, in looking back on the previous part of this story, that I forgot something supremely important!  So if you read that one already and it didn’t have Hermes and Athene in it, then go back and read the new bit (near the very end), please.  It’s important, and it really doesn’t work if I stick it at the  beginning of this one.

Okay, anyway, now that that’s cleared up, we can start the final (and this time I really mean it!) chapter in the story of Perseus.

After living in Phoenicia for a year, Perseus was quite happy.  He was always at the side of his beautiful wife, Andromeda, and they now had a little baby boy, named Perses.  But one day his mother, Danae, came to speak to him, with tears in her eyes.

“I want to go home,” she told him.  “I don’t want to live out my final years in a foreign land where they worship strange gods.  I want to go home to Argos.  And I want to see you on the throne, where you belong!”

Perseus frowned.  He would, truly, have been quite content to remain in Phoenicia for the rest of his days.  But he couldn’t ask that of his mother; after all she had suffered because of him, it wouldn’t be fair to demand that she suffer further on his account.  Besides, there was the issue of his promise…

Unhappily, he went to talk to Andromeda about it.  But when he had explained what his mother had said, Andromeda just looked at him in confusion.  “Well, why can’t you just put her on a ship bound for Argos?  Our traders go to all the ports of the sea.”

“I promised her long ago that someday we would return to Argos together, and claim my inheritance from my grandfather,” Perseus explained.  “We can’t stay here.”

“Would you leave my father with no heir, condemning our kingdom to civil strife upon his death?” Andromeda asked.  “Surely if he cast you both aside, your grandfather must have no lack of heirs to take over his kingdom.”

Perseus shook his head.  “My grandfather has a brother, and his brother has sons, but my mother has no siblings.  But my grandfather’s brother was exiled before I was born, so I am really his only proper heir.  Your father need not be left without heirs, though; we can leave Perses with him.”

“He’s only an infant!” Andromeda exclaimed.  “You would leave our baby behind?!”

“Don’t you trust your parents to raise him?”

“That is not the issue, Perseus,” Andromeda said coldly.  “I don’t want to be parted from my baby so soon after his birth.”

Perseus rubbed his chin for a moment.  This was all becoming so terribly complicated.  “Well…then I suppose I could go with my mother and send for you when my inheritance is settled?” he suggested.  “Then you could have more time with the baby before having to be parted from him.”

“My only choices are being parted from my son and being parted from my husband?” Andromeda asked, her eyes narrow and her voice flat.

“What do you want of me?!” Perseus exclaimed.  “I promised my mother that she and I would go to Argos together to claim my inheritance, but I promised your father that he wouldn’t be left without an heir!  How am I supposed to settle both promises without you being parted from someone?!”

Andromeda sighed sadly.  “That was terribly thoughtless of you.  But I won’t ask you to break your word.  Very well, you go to Argos with your mother, and send for us when you’ve settled things.”

“Us?  We have to leave the — ”

“He can come back here when he’s a man, or when my father seems near death,” Andromeda said, cutting him off.  “There’s no reason for him to be raised here.”

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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…)



Published October 27, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

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…”

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Published October 22, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

LOL, this is the second post I’ve put up today called “Medusa“!

We’re picking up right where we left off last week.

When Perseus arrived home, he was surprised to see a stranger waiting for him.  The man wore a traveler’s cloak, and a wide-brimmed traveler’s hat.  So far as Perseus could tell, the man looked to be fairly young, but it was hard to make out any details in the shadow of that huge hat.

“Did you want something here, stranger?” Perseus asked, as he dismounted his horse.  “Our family is poor, but you’re welcome to share what little we have.”

The traveler shook his head.  “My father sent me here to help you,” he replied.

“Your father?”

“Maybe I should say our father,” the man chuckled.  “He wanted me to give you some advice.  To help with that,” he added, pointing at Perseus’ beautiful horse.

“You know where I can find a Gorgon?” Perseus asked.  “Where?”

“No, I don’t know where you can find one, but I know where you can find someone who does,” the stranger told him.  “You’ll have to ask the Graiai…though I don’t know how an ordinary mortal like you can reach them in time to save your mother from being forcibly married off.”

Perseus felt more than a little annoyed by that statement, but he bit his tongue.  If this man was telling the truth, and if Perseus’ mother was telling the truth, then this man was either a god or a demi-god, and based on his appearance, surely if he was a god, then he had to be Hermes.  But if Zeus was looking after his former lover’s safety by sending Hermes to help Perseus, then why couldn’t Zeus just interfere directly to protect Danae from Polydectes?!  However, it would be rude to ask such things of a god, so Perseus held back.  “Where are these Graiai, then?” Perseus asked.  “And just what is a Gorgon, anyway?”

“To start with the easy question, the Gorgons are three daughters of Phorcys and Ceto.  They’re monstrous females, with snakes for hair, massive fangs and lolling tongues, and wings upon their backs; any man who looks on them will die.”  The man shook his head.  “You have to be careful to find Medusa, not Stheno or Euryale, though they’re all ageless, only Medusa can be killed; any attack on Stheno or Euryale will fail, and you’ll simply die.”

“How am I supposed to cut off the head of something I can’t look at?” Perseus asked.  “Or do you mean that they’ll kill any man they see?”

The traveler chuckled.  “They will most certainly kill any man they see,” he replied, “which is why Father asked me to give you this.”  So saying, he held out a black cap of finely woven cloth.

It felt unearthly cold when Perseus accepted it, far more chill than even a gust of winter air.  “What is it?” Perseus asked.  No matter how cold, no matter how well-made, it still just looked like a simple cap, like any shepherd might wear.

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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!)

The Birth of Perseus

Published October 9, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Sorry the myth is a day late; I had a paper due on Thursday, so I couldn’t work on it ahead of time, and then on Thursday after class I had to stay at the library and do some stuff, and by the time I got home it was so late that I didn’t have time even to think about working on the myth.

Anyway, I wanted to tell some Halloween appropriate myths this month, which would have to mean monster-centric, but the only monsters I could think of off-hand that I hadn’t already told the tales of were either part of the life of Heracles and/or the voyage of the Argo, both of which were going to take too long to get there, or Typhon and Echidna, but I still haven’t figured out how to handle Typhon, because of all the disparate versions, so…anyway, all that was left that I could realistically get to was Medusa.  Kind of rote, and well known thanks to Ray Harryhousen, but…yeah, what else was I gonna do?

I guess, theoretically, I could have written about Apollo slaying Python, but I already covered that as a prophecy in the story of Apollo’s birth, so it hardly seems necessary, since there’s not really much to the tale.

Acrisios, the king of Argos, had never really gotten along with his brother Proitos.  Their mother used to say that they had quarreled even in the womb.  As the elder brother, Acrisios had gained the throne on their father’s death, but he always suspected that Proitos was going to usurp the throne at the earliest opportunity.

When it came time for him to take a wife, Acrisios married Eurydice, the daughter of Lacedaemon, who had founded a very strong city (which he had arrogantly named after himself) and would surely prove a useful father-in-law if Acrisios ever needed an army to beat off his brother’s ambitions.

Acrisios was in a hurry to get a son, and thus was very pleased when his wife became pregnant, but horribly disappointed when the child turned out to be a girl.  They named her Danae, and Eurydice doted on her considerably, but Acrisios resented the fact that she hadn’t been a son.  He tried over and over again to father a son on Eurydice, but she never again brought a child to term.

When Danae was of a marriageable age, Acrisios began to worry about the fact that his wife still hadn’t given him a son, so he made the journey to Delphi to beg Apollo for his aid in getting a son…or at least to ask the oracle if he would ever have such a son.  The Pythia told him that no matter what he did, he would never have a son, but that his daughter would have a son…and that son was destined to kill Acrisios.

For the entire trip back to Argos, Acrisios was consumed with worry.  What would happen to his throne if he couldn’t have a son?  He couldn’t simply marry off his daughter and let her husband inherit the throne the way his father-in-law had gained control of Laconia, because if he ever had a grandson, that grandson would kill him.  No, clearly Danae must never be married at all!

By the time he arrived home, Acrisios had come to the conlcusion that the only recourse he had was to sadly accept the death of his bloodline, and simply adopt a son who would carry on his wishes faithfully, unlike his traitorous brother.  As to Danae…perhaps she could be convinced to dedicate herself as a priestess to Athene or Artemis, thereby ensuring that she would remain chaste — and, more importantly, childless! — forever.

But when he entered his palace, he heard a commotion among the servants and slaves, but the commotion was quickly hushed, and none seemed willing to open their mouths to speak to him, though they glanced often and nervously in the direction of Proitos’ chambers.  Worried about what his brother might be up to, Acrisios hurried off to see for himself.

Once he got there, he wished he had never seen that sight.  For Proitos had seduced Danae, and now had a sickening look of self-satisfaction on his face, clearly convinced that Acrisios would arrange a marriage with due haste.  Well, Acrisios wasn’t going to stand for that!  If Proitos thought that he was going to get the throne of Argos by such an underhanded means — and kill off Acrisios in the process! — then he was about to learn just how wrong he was!

Acrisios banished Proitos from Argos, without even letting him put his clothes back on, and he had built a special chamber for Danae.  It was sunk deeply into the ground well outside the city walls, and lined on all sides with bronze.  There was a door in the top, through which Danae and an attendant nurse were lowered inside, and a smaller opening beside it through which air could enter the room, and food and drink could be lowered to the prisoners.  But there was no way out apart from the door in the ceiling, far too high for Danae and her nurse to reach, and the door was kept locked, and only Acrisios could open it.

Convinced that he had saved himself from the terrible fate Delphi had predicted — as the nurse assured Acrisios that Danae had not become pregnant with Proitos’ child — Acrisios went about his business as king, keeping an eye out for any worthy young man who might make a good heir, but mostly trying to hold onto his life as long as he possibly could.

Acrisios was a fool, though; he had not reckoned on the lengths that some suitors would go to in order to obtain the woman they wanted.

Divine suitors, especially, were not to be stopped by something so simple as imprisonement.

Zeus himself had noticed the furor as Acrisios dragged his screaming and crying daughter to the hole in the ground that was to be her new home, and he had been charmed by her beauty, and outraged by the way her father was treating her.  He watched Danae from Mt. Olympos for some time, and the more he saw of her, especially as she tried to maintain her cheerful spirits despite her dark imprisonment, the more he knew he just had to have her.

As king of the gods, Zeus could easily have torn open the prison and removed Danae to any location he wanted.  But he knew what the Pythia had predicted, and he didn’t want to deprive Acrisios of his well-deserved death!

So Zeus turned himself into a shower of gold, and poured down through the opening in the ceiling onto Danae’s lap as her nurse was sleeping.

What followed his return to a more human form had to be kept very quiet, lest they wake the nurse.

In due time, Danae gave birth to a fine, strong son, who she named Perseus.  Her nurse was very perplexed to see the child — she was quite sure that he didn’t belong to Proitos, and yet she didn’t see how anyone could have gotten into their prison! — but agreed to help keep him quiet when the guards came round with food, because she was fearful of what Acrisios would do to his infant grandson.

By the time Perseus was three or four years old — it was difficult to judge time in that hole in the ground — it began to be nearly impossible to keep him quiet.  They did all they could, but eventually the guards reported to the king that they heard shouts and cries from within the hole that didn’t sound like they came from Danae or her nurse; they sounded like a child.

Horrified at the idea, Acrisios hurried to Danae’s prison to check.  Since it wasn’t feeding time, Danae and her nurse weren’t even trying to keep Perseus quiet, and he could be heard shouting quite loudly.  “Mama, look!  Look what I can do!  Look, Mama, look!”  There could be no doubt in Acrisios’ mind; Danae had given birth to his brother’s son after all!

Enraged, Acrisios unlocked the door to the prison, and ordered his guards to fetch out all three of the prisoners.

The nurse was brought up first, and Acrisios slew her without a moment’s hesitation, he was so angry.  Once Danae and her son were brought up together, Acrisios aimed his bloody sword at them, ready to stop the prophecy for good.  But Danae glared at him and told him that the Furies would never rest hunting him down if he dared turn his blade on his daughter and grandson.  Zeus himself would drive them on to destroy Acrisios, body and soul!

Acrisios hesitated, then put his sword away.  He didn’t want to tangle with the Furies.

Instead, he dragged Danae to the temple of Zeus, and thrust her against the altar, where he was sure any lies would be violently punished by the Thunderer.  “Tell me who fathered that child!” he demanded.

“Zeus himself,” Danae assured him, pointing at the statue of her lover that overlooked the altar.

“How dare you utter such blasphemy at this most holy altar!?” her father roared back at her.  “Who really fathered that child?!”

“He said he was Zeus himself,” Danae repeated, shaking her head.  “He came to me in a shower of gold!  If he wasn’t Zeus, he could only be Apollo, but I can’t imagine Apollo bothering to lie that he was his own father.”

Acrisios was livid.  He was sure that her tale of a divine lover was nonsense, and that the boy really belonged to his brother.

And yet…

…he didn’t quite have the nerve to outright execute her or the child.  After all, what if she was telling the truth?

Instead, he had a chest built, and thrust both mother and child inside.  It was large enough to hold them comfortably, and it had been constructed to be water-tight.  Acrisios had the chest carried to the sea, and set adrift with his daughter and grandson inside.  If she had truly been united with a god, then that god would surely keep her from drowning.  But since she surely hadn’t, she would eventually sink below the waves and take her son with her, and then Acrisios would be safe from his murderous blade.

He had no choice!

It had to be done!

But Acrisios was a fool, because Danae had — as we know — been telling him the truth.  Zeus asked his brother Poseidon to guide the chest safely across the waves to a land far from Argos, where Danae and Perseus would be safe.

And Poseidon — unlike Proitos — was a good brother, so he did as his brother had asked.  The chest soon enough was caught in the nets of a fisherman from the island of Seriphos.  The fisherman, a kindly man named Dictys, felt deep pity for the beautiful girl and her charming little son, so he brought them to his home — which was very nice for a fisherman’s home, as his half-brother was quite wealthy and important — and told the local villagers that Danae was his cousin, so that she could stay at his home without any suspicions.

And for many years, they lived there happily, and the growing Perseus looked on Dictys almost as a father, even though his mother had often told him that Zeus was his father.

Not the best ending, but I’ve spent too long on this already, so it’s gonna have to do.

Oh, btw, Proitos is the same guy whose wife was coming on to Bellerophon.  So I may need to re-write Bellerophon’s myth a bit, because it had Proitos in Argos, not in Tiryns, which he is supposed to have founded.  (Which would make Tiryns older than Mycenae!)  But maybe by Bellerophon’s time, Perseus has already killed his grandfather and Proitos took the throne of Argos when Perseus refused it?  Hmm.  I’ll need to look into that…whenever I have time again. 😦

I calculated this week’s reading, and it comes to 746 pages.  That’s 106 pages a day, roughly.  And I’m only taking two classes!  Ugh.

Now I must depart and immerse myself in Sallust and the life of Simon Bolivar.  (Yeah, that’s a weird combination.  But better than later days this week, when Sallust will give over to…ugh…Cicero.  Bolivar will give over to San Martin and to more general analyses of the early portion of war for independence in the Spanish Americas, but that’s not such a big change.  (Especially since the biographies of Bolivar and San Martin are written by the same historian.))

And keep in mind that both of these classes end with massive research papers, so in addition to all the assigned reading, I should, really, be reading at least 50-60 pages a day of personal research for each class.

Ugh.  I had no idea just how badly adjusted I was too graduate level work, if I’m feeling this badly overworked by only two courses.



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