The Hero

Perseus Constellation

The Brighter Stars of Perseus

The Story

The King Wants No Grandkids!

Pereus was a son of Zeus by Danae, the daughter of King Acrisius of Argos. The king locked poor Danae away in a dungeon where no man could see her, because an oracle had foretold that King Acrisius would die by the hand of his grandson. What better way to forestall the prophecy than by ensuring that his daughter had no children at all? But the king's precautions were defeated by the actions of the gods.

The Shower of Gold

Zeus looked down from Olympus and saw Danae languishing in her dungeon and desired her. He approached her in the form of a shower of golden rain that fell through the bars of the dungeon into Danae's lap. She became pregnant and bore Zeus' son Perseus.

A Fisherman Receives a Gift from the Sea

Acrisius was furious and locked both the boy and the mother into a chest which he had tossed into the sea. After a few days the chest washed ashore in a different land, where it was discovered by a fisherman named Dictys, who broke open the chest to discover the mother and child. Dictys adopted the boy and raised him as his own child.

Perseus Gets in the Way

As it happened, Dictys was the brother of the king of that land, King Polydectes. After many years, Polydectes met Danae and desired her, but Perseus, now grown, stood in the way of the king. The frustrated king invented a plot to get rid of Perseus.

An Impossible Task

It was announced that the king was to marry Hippodameia, the daughter of King Oenomaus of Elis. The subjects of King Polydectes were asked to contribute to the collection of a herd of horses, to be presented as a wedding present. Polydectes knew that Perseus had neither horse nor money to give. That was the point. The King insisted that Perseus make another contribution; he was sent to fetch the head of the Gorgon Medusa. Polydectes was certain that the young Perseus would never return and the way would be open to have the mother Danae.

Introducing the Gorgons

The Gorgons were three sisters of such unbelievable ugliness that anyone who dared to look directly at one of them, was immediately turned into stone. Two of the sisters, Euryale and Stheno, were immortal, but the third, Medusa, could be slain. She had been in fact at one time a mortal woman of great beauty. She had been particularly vain of her hair. Poiseidon seduced her inside a Temple of Athena, outraging the goddess Athena. So Athena caused Medusa to be changed into the ugly form of the other Gorgons, and Medusa's hair was changed into a mass of squirming snakes.

Turning Enemies to Stone

Polydectes the king could not imagine that Perseus would survive the encounter with Medusa, but if Perseus succeeded, the head of Medusa would be a powerful weapon. Anyone who gazed on the head would be turned to stone.

Help From the Gods

Perseus had powerful allies among the gods. Hades, the God of the Underworld, offered Perseus a magic helmet that made the wearer invisible. Hermes the Messenger God offered winged sandals that allowed the wearer to fly through the air with great speed. Hephaestus the God of Fire and the Forge created a sword made of diamond, and Athena offered a highly polished bronze shield, with the advice that Perseus should look at the Gorgon only in the metal of the shield. The metal of the shield would reduce the power of the Gorgon's visage, so that Perseus could safely view the image of the Gorgon without being turned to stone.

Defeating the Gorgon

Perseus fought the Gorgon and secured her head. From the body of the Gorgon emerged the Flying Horse Pegasus and the warrior Chrysaor bearing a golden sword. After the battle Perseus flew through the air across Africa carrying the Gorgon's head. Where blood from the head fell on the sands of Libya, serpents emerged from the ground. When Perseus halted for a rest in the kingdom of Atlas, the king received him with hostility. So Perseus showed the king the severed head of Medusa. Atlas the king was turned to stone. This is the origin of the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.

Finding a Wife

Perseus in his flight saw Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, chained to her rock on the Mediterranean coast. King Cepheus had been forced to chain her there as a sacrifice to appease the anger of the Sea God Poseidon at the vanity and overweening pride of Queen Cassiopeia. Perseus slew the approaching sea monster that was to devour Andromeda. Then he carried Andromeda back to her home in Ethiopia and claimed her hand in marriage.

The Court of Stone

When Perseus got back to King Polydectes, who had sent him on his mission, the king did not receive him well. Perseus revealed the head of Medusa so that Polydectes and his court were turned to stone.

A Prophecy Fulfilled

After all of Perseus' adventures the prophecy made to King Acrisius ultimately proved true. The king happened to be present at an athletic contest in which Perseus was taking part. A discus hurled by Perseus went astray, soaring into a crowd of spectators. It struck King Acrisius in the head, and he died as a result of the injury.  

Copyright © 1998 - 2010 by Arnold V. Lesikar,
Professor Emeritus
Dept. of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering Science,
St. Cloud State University,St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498

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