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Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini. Source: Dimitris Kamaras / CC BY 2.0

Perseus: The Powerful Demigod of Greek Mythology

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One of the most detailed stories within Greek mythology, the story of Perseus reads like an action-packed thriller. From being born of Zeus’ golden rain to slaying the fearsome Medusa, Perseus has been remembered as one of the most famous mythological heroes of all time.

Acrisius, the Prophecy and the Conception of Perseus

The story of Perseus is packed with adventure, as indeed befits a demigod. His grandfather was the King Acrisius of Argos, who with his wife, Eurydice, had a daughter named Danae. In the hope of having a son, Acrisius went to the Oracle of Delphi who told him that, not only would he have another child, but that child would be killed by the hand of a child born to his daughter.

To prevent this prophecy from coming true, King Acrisius built an underground chamber and covered the walls with steel plates, locking Danae in with her maid and surrounding them with guards to avoid her having contact with any man. Their only access to the outside world was through an overhead window. We should note here that in the Agora of Argos existed an underground chamber in which it was said the steel room of Danae had been built. According to Pausanias (150 AD), it was destroyed by the Argos tyrant Perilaus.

Having grown fond of her, Zeus visited Danae’s cell in the form of golden rain which entered her womb and impregnated her. This was a common practice for Jupiter, the name of the Roman equivalent to Zeus, changing forms so that he could copulate with female humans, and is a strange phenomenon found in many ancient mythologies and religions. Interesting enough, a recently discovered ancient Coptic text appears to suggest that Jesus also had the ability to shapeshift. Nevertheless, even if we accept that Jupiter had the ability to transform, we have to ask ourselves what made him wish to acquire offspring with humans?

Danaë and the shower of gold, said to have caused the conception of Perseus. Side A from a Boeotian red-figure bell-shaped crater housed at the Louvre. (Public domain)

Danaë and the shower of gold, said to have caused the conception of Perseus. Side A from a Boeotian red-figure bell-shaped crater housed at the Louvre. ( Public domain )

The Birth of Perseus and the Deceit of Pollux

The fruit of the union between Zeus and Danae was a son named Perseus who Danae managed to hide from her father for some time. When Acrisius found out about the birth, he ordered the maid to be killed and then had Danae and Perseus enclosed in a chest and thrown into the sea. Waves, calmed by Poseidon, led the chest to the coast of Serifos, which is where Perseus grew up to become a strong man. The trunk was found by Dictys. It is worth noting the similarity to Moses who, according to the Bible, was left in the Nile inside a box of papyrus.

Dictys was a fisherman and the brother of the king of the island, Polydeuces, or Pollux. He probably lived in the famous Cave of the Cyclop, as the chest could have washed up on the beach at the front of the cave. Dictys hosted Danae and Perseus in his home, and they became members of his family; but his brother, King Pollux, wished Danae to be his wife and denied Dictys this union with her.

Another obstacle to the king was Danae’s son, Perseus, who was an extremely protective son. In an attempt to get his way, Pollux proclaimed his marriage with Hippodamia and asked that each inhabitant of the island provide the wedding gift of a horse. Perseus, being a fisherman, had no horses but pledged to bring the king the head of Medusa, the Gorgon, instead. Pollux readily accepted this commitment, as no man had ever returned alive from an encounter with a Gorgon. Pollux decided to keep Danae in the palace until Perseus returned with Medusa’s head.

Danaë, the mother of Perseus, as depicted by Gustav Klimt. (Public domain)

Danaë, the mother of Perseus, as depicted by Gustav Klimt. ( Public domain )

Perseus and the Hunt for Medusa

Medusa was one of the three mermaids which, according to Hesiod, lived across the ocean at the edge of the earth near the Night. Unlike her sisters who were immortal,  Medusa was mortal. According to one version of the myth, she was thought to be beautiful and was raped by  Poseidon. An angry Athena then cursed her and turned her into a terrible monster, though early versions of the myth claimed she was already a scaly monster with snakes entwined in her copper locks, pig tusks, large mouths, and large eyes that shot lightning. All who met her terrible gaze were said to be turned to stone.

Perseus left Serifos on a ship in order to search for Medusa. On the way he met Athena and Hermes, who told him how to kill the Medusa and, along with the nymphs, gave him the following weapons:

  • The helmet of Hades to make him invisible as he approached his target.
  • A magic bag in which to put the terrible head.
  • Winged sandals to fly him to the rock in the middle of the sea where Medusa resided.
  • The glittering shield to look upon Medusa.
  • A sharp sword or scythe, which would cut through the hard neck of Medusa.

It was Athena who gave him the glittering shield and Hermes his winged sandals, though according to another source, the helmet, the winged sandals and the magic bag were given to him by the nymphs, and he received the sharp sword and the helmet when Athena led him to the land of the Hyperboreans (testimony derived from Pindar) where he offered a sacrifice.

Now Perseus needed to find where Medusa resided. Athena led him to the Graiae sisters, who were relatives of the Gorgons and the only ones who knew where they resided. The Graiae were three foul-faced crones, who in tragi-comic style shared just one eye and a tooth which they exchanged between themselves. Perseus approached them unseen and, taking advantage of the time of the exchange, grabbed the eye. Under the threat of losing it, the Graiae revealed the abode of Medusa to the hero.

The marriage of Perseus and Andromeda disturbed by Phineus by Hugues Taraval.  (Public domain)

The marriage of Perseus and Andromeda disturbed by Phineus by Hugues Taraval.  ( Public domain )

Perseus and the Head of Medusa

When the hero approached Medusa he was invisible. Looking at her via the reflection on his shield, he cut off her head and put it in his bag. From her neck sprang the giant Chrysaor armed with a gold sword, and from the blood that fell in the ocean sprang Pegasus, the winged horse. These two creatures are said to have resulted from her mating with Poseidon. Why would Poseidon want to be united with such a monster, if not to create these two?

To escape the persecution of Medusa's sisters, Perseus flew away using the winged sandals, or according to other sources rode away on Pegasus. On the way back to Serifos, Perseus passed Ethiopia where he unexpectedly witnessed a strange spectacle. On a rock on the beach was chained a very beautiful woman, and around her stood a large, dumbfounded crowd, as well as a man and a woman dressed in mourning clothes.

Everyone was waiting for something. The chained woman seemed exhausted from crying and did not budge. Perseus, who flew into the air with his winged sandals, suddenly saw a big swirl of waves from which emerged a large sea monster. When the beast saw the young woman, it started to swim towards her.

Perseus took from his sack the head of Medusa and, like a predator bird, swooped down upon the monster. The beast stopped, slowly numbed, and turned into a rock that would not devour anyone else. The rescued woman was none other than Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus, king of the drone, and of Cassiopis, or Cassiopeia, granddaughter of Aeolus from Iopi. According to the myth, Andromeda had provoked the wrath of Poseidon because she boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids. The sea dragon had been sent by Poseidon as punishment. One would expect Poseidon to be angry with Perseus and want to avenge him. He did not, however, perhaps because Perseus brought to light his children, Chrysaor and Pegasus?

Perseus fell in love with Andromeda, although she was already engaged to her uncle Phineus, who had not raised any objections when his compatriots tied Andromeda to the rock as a sacrifice to the sea dragon. After her rescue, Andromeda agreed to marry Perseus. At the wedding Phineas and his supporters quarreled with and chased away Perseus and Andromeda. The hero escaped by pulling Medusa's head from his bag and pointing it toward his pursuers, turning Phineus to petrified stone.

The eldest son of Perseus and Andromeda, who was born in Ethiopia and was named Persian, stayed there and became the ancestor of the people who are known as Persians. Does this mean that the Persians came from the mixing of Ethiopians and Greeks?

Perseus Freeing Andromeda, by Émile Bin. (Public domain)

Perseus Freeing Andromeda, by Émile Bin. ( Public domain )

Perseus and the Fulfillment of the Prophecy

While Perseus was away, Pollux tried to take Danae—by force—to be his wife, but she resisted. As a result, when Perseus returned to Serifos he found his mother and Dictys bound by Pollux and prepared for sacrifice in the temple of Athena. Pollux refused to accept Perseus’ accomplishment, provoking the hero to show him Medusa’s head. The hero warned his own people not to look, and pulled the head of Medusa out of his bag. Those who looked at it, including Pollux, were petrified at once, and so Serifos came to be full of stones that looked like humans.

Perseus then devoted Medusa’s head to Athena, who picked it up and pinned it to the front of her shield, then handed it over to Hermes. Perseus also offered them the helmet of Hades, the kynin, the winged sandals, and the bag.

Meanwhile, Dictys assumed leadership of the island and Perseus prepared to return to Argos with his mother and wife. Perseus wanted to reconcile with his grandfather Acrisius, who although feeling proud of his grandson, wanted to avoid the meeting and therefore resorted to Larissa in Thessaly, which was built next to the River Peneus.

On the way to meet his grandfather in Argos, Perseus learned of the games held in Larissa. He sent his mother on to Argos, near his grandmother Eurydice, while he went to take part in the games. It was there, while taking part in the discus throw as part of the pentathlon, that Perseus threw the disk with great power and killed a spectator—who was none other than his grandfather, Acrisius. In the end, the prophecy of the Oracle at Delphi came true.

The constellation of Persus. (Public domain)

The constellation of Persus. ( Public domain )

The Legacy of Perseus

Perseus heartily felt sorry for the unintentional death of his grandfather and refused to take the throne, instead agreeing with his cousin, Megapenthes, to give him the throne of Argos in return for the throne of Tirynth and Mycenae. Perseus then became king of Tirynth and founded the city of Mycenae, naming it after the end of the sheath of his sword, myces. He turned to the Cyclops for help building the city, which became famous for its Cyclopean walls, that are visible even today.

Perseus and Andromeda had six children: Alcaeus, Heleus, Sthenelus, Elios, Gorgophonis and Electryon. Alcaeus was the father of Amfitryon, whose wife, Alcmene, would later bring Hercules into the world. Thus by Perseus, son of Zeus, starts the famous generation of Hercules, also a son of Zeus.

When Perseus died, the gods did not send him to Hades but, together with Andromeda and her parents Cepheus and Cassiopeia, sent him to the stars. Hence, the constellations of Perseus, Andromeda (consisting of 86 stars), and Cassiopeia and Cepheus were created in the northern hemisphere toward the polar star, capturing their stories on the celestial dome. Over the constellation of Andromeda is the Andromeda nebula, which looks like a bright cloud during the star-filled moonless nights.

Perseus and Dionysus

Another tradition relates Perseus and Dionysus to a relationship similar to the rivalry of Pentheus in Boeotia. Dionysus had gone to Argolis, defying the sovereignty of the local hero. The battle between them was fierce. On one side were Dionysus, his wife Ariadne and the Maenads, and on the other side was Perseus, who with the support of Hera killed a Maenad and petrified Ariadne by showing her the head of Medusa. The intervention of Hera inspired the two men to make peace, and a joint celebration with dances was setup in their honor. According to another tradition, Perseus killed Dionysus and dropped his dead body in the waters of Lerna.

The story of Perseus is one of the most incredible and detailed Greek myths , full of marvelous and powerful creatures, unimaginable weapons (that we couldn’t build even today), the interference of gods, and the accomplishment of magnificent deeds.

Top image: Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini. Source: Dimitris Kamaras / CC BY 2.0

By Natasa Tale

References

Apollodorus (Trans. Hard, R.) 2008. The Library of Greek Mythology . Oxford World’s Classics.

Atsma. A. J. No date. Perseus. Theoi Project. Available at: https://www.theoi.com/Heros/Perseus.html

GreekMythology.com. No date. “Perseus: The Slayer of Medusa” in Greek Mythology. Available at: https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Heroes/Perseus/perseus.html

No name. No date. “Perseus & Andromeda” in greeka. Available at: https://www.greeka.com/greece-myths/perseus-andromeda/

Ogden, D. 2008. Perseus (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World) . Routledge.

Stefanidis, D. No date. “Perseus, son of Zeus and Danae” in Greek Mythology and Folktales from Greece . Available at: https://sigmapublications.com/txt_mth_en_en4.html

Comments

Hi all,

There's about 1-100 chances that there might be a similar story to the Greek one pertaining to Perseus. I Came across those 100 Odds.

The somehow the Germanic & Celtic stories has a princess locked in a tower by an angry grandfather fearing a prophecy that his grandson would kill him. There was a Golden Shower involved in the story that impregnated unfortunate imprisoned Princess.

Like Perseus grandfather the baby boy and his mother was tossed into a Chest floated out into the ocean in hopes of the King they'd die.

Didn't happen fishing village became their home. When Hero in the story grew older the monster he destroyed had only one Eye that shot fire frim it when it was opened unto it's enemies.

This demi-human power was such he could clear knock the Eye out of this monstrous Giant ancient god socket and kill him.

The giant monster had brother's and were constant rival's with another pantheon, they were often at War with each other hence why the Germanic Perseus was born to begin with.

That was exciting too find out about. Perhaps in addition too the Sea Monster Perseus killed a One Eyed monster capable of shooting Fire from its Eye which gave me pause and made me think if that's where the 3rd Eye concept originated.

Other than that it's funny Andromeda is Ethiopian Princess yet I don't see Ethiopia in the Painting probably why Joppa is preferred in other versions to Perseus story granted Bulfinch's mythical story of Perseus has Andromeda from Ethiopia as well.

In previous article right here at Ancient Origins, I do recall reading about Joppas name Jaffa. The origins of the name Joppa/Jaffa is associated with Noah's 3rd Son Japheth Father of All Clans, All Nation's, All tribe's, all language's and all Dynasties, & Kingdom's of Europe.

With Ethiopia coming up in Ancient Conversations possibly Japheth must have been married too an Ethiopian Woman of course they survived The Great Flood.

This tells me maybe Joppa aka Jaffa was named after Him before becoming known as Europe. I mean Gog, Magog, Gomer were said to be the name's of those who lived before The Flood.

Are so it was said. Since aspect's from The Bible; was brought up in this here article Genesis chapter 10 to 11, mentions Javan Japheth's great grandson exploring a place that had a Hot Spring's based on The Genesis Timeline it would have been after Great Flood & Tower of Babel.

Japheth would have settled in Jaffa I'm thinking via Italy once receiving from Noah The Land that would go too his Ancestors forever Aryans & Indo-Aryans in Europe. Although Indo-Aryans would travel too Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, other places these territories would be shared by Their Cousin's The Semites through Shem, Jaffa's brother.

Perhaps Javan who discovered the Hot Springs that will go to all of his Ancestors Jaffas great-grandson is Perseus.

Race of Giant's were still being seen by some populations of the Earth. Javan settled in Tarshish, Tarshish doesn't get mentioned again throughout The Bible till The Old Testament Prophet's such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, & Jonah.

Tarshish is Spain. Jaffa and his bloodline settled in Present Day Europe.

Two Actresses participated in Dr. Henry Louis Gates. Jr Finding your Root's the 1st Julianne Moore her ancestry is in Scotland.

The 2nd Actress Marissa Tomei her ancestry lies in Italy. Yet they are Blood cousins and Dr. Gates and his research team were left scratching their heads because they don't know how? They're related yet the science still proves that they are Blood Cousins to each other.

For me it's proof about Jaffa's bloodline in Europe. So hey Perseus might have walked the Earth but, his Bloodline might be extinct Now. Wild guess on my part but, Osthrogoths & The Heruli could be Great Candidates.

This is all I have to discuss about the Strange origins of Perseus.
Until next Discussion everyone, Goodbye!

Hi all,

There's about 1-100 chances that there might be a similar story to the Greek one pertaining to Perseus. I Came across those 100 Odds.

The somehow the Germanic & Celtic stories has a princess locked in a tower by an angry grandfather fearing a prophecy that his grandson would kill him. There was a Golden Shower involved in the story that impregnated unfortunate imprisoned Princess.

Like Perseus grandfather the baby boy and his mother was tossed into a Chest floated out into the ocean in hopes of the King they'd die.

Didn't happen fishing village became their home. When Hero in the story grew older the monster he destroyed had only one Eye that shot fire frim it when it was opened unto it's enemies.

This demi-human power was such he could clear knock the Eye out of this monstrous Giant ancient god socket and kill him.

The giant monster had brother's and were constant rival's with another pantheon, they were often at War with each other hence why the Germanic Perseus was born to begin with.

That was exciting too find out about. Perhaps in addition too the Sea Monster Perseus killed a One Eyed monster capable of shooting Fire from its Eye which gave me pause and made me think if that's where the 3rd Eye concept originated.

Other than that it's funny Andromeda is Ethiopian Princess yet I don't see Ethiopia in the Painting probably why Joppa is preferred in other versions to Perseus story granted Bulfinch's mythical story of Perseus has Andromeda from Ethiopia as well.

In previous article right here at Ancient Origins, I do recall reading about Joppas name Jaffa. The origins of the name Joppa/Jaffa is associated with Noah's 3rd Son Japheth Father of All Clans, All Nation's, All tribe's, all language's and all Dynasties, & Kingdom's of Europe.

With Ethiopia coming up in Ancient Conversations possibly Japheth must have been married too an Ethiopian Woman of course they survived The Great Flood.

This tells me maybe Joppa aka Jaffa was named after Him before becoming known as Europe. I mean Gog, Magog, Gomer were said to be the name's of those who lived before The Flood.

Are so it was said. Since aspect's from The Bible; was brought up in this here article Genesis chapter 10 to 11, mentions Javan Japheth's great grandson exploring a place that had a Hot Spring's based on The Genesis Timeline it would have been after Great Flood & Tower of Babel.

Japheth would have settled in Jaffa I'm thinking via Italy once receiving from Noah The Land that would go too his Ancestors forever Aryans & Indo-Aryans in Europe. Although Indo-Aryans would travel too Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, other places these territories would be shared by Their Cousin's The Semites through Shem, Jaffa's brother.

Perhaps Javan who discovered the Hot Springs that will go to all of his Ancestors Jaffas great-grandson is Perseus.

Race of Giant's were still being seen by some populations of the Earth. Javan settled in Tarshish, Tarshish doesn't get mentioned again throughout The Bible till The Old Testament Prophet's such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, & Jonah.

Tarshish is Spain. Jaffa and his bloodline settled in Present Day Europe.

Two Actresses participated in Dr. Henry Louis Gates. Jr Finding your Root's the 1st Julianne Moore her ancestry is in Scotland.

The 2nd Actress Marissa Tomei her ancestry lies in Italy. Yet they are Blood cousins and Dr. Gates and his research team were left scratching their heads because they don't know how? They're related yet the science still proves that they are Blood Cousins to each other.

For me it's proof about Jaffa's bloodline in Europe. So hey Perseus might have walked the Earth but, his Bloodline might be extinct Now. Wild guess on my part but, Osthrogoths & The Heruli could be Great Candidates.

This is all I have to discuss about the Strange origins of Perseus.
Until next Discussion everyone, Goodbye!

Radzø's picture

_deeds of the forefathers civilizations .. interesting story with a plenty of cues, thx .

Got a question to Our community. In the ancient pharmacopeias and in other medical records you are struck by the number of allusions to mixtures for bringing the organism into a transcendental state. Do we have info about it and this mixtures. If you have, give some clues, please.

Ø

Pete Wagner's picture

Intricate legends are probably later devious additions.

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

I remember the writer John day finding a connection between the Perseus myth and the biblical book of Jonah. I always wondered where he found such a connection

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