Perseus A Fairy Tale Hero
Perseus’ Birth Danae’s father locked her in an underground tomb to keep her from having children, since a prophecy had said his grandson would kill him. But Zeus entered in a shower of gold and impregnated her. She kept Perseus’ birth a secret until the sound of his playing gave them away. Her father locked them in a box and set them afloat. They were found by a fisherman, Dictys (“Net”) on the island of Seriphos. The king, Polydectes, fell in love with Danae when Perseus was a young man.
The Quest Polydectes wanted to get Perseus out of the way. Once he invited Perseus to a feast, the price for admission was to bring the king a horse. Perseus said he could just as easily bring him the Gorgon’s head (meaning he was way too poor). Polydectes said “Do it, then,” and sent him on the quest. Both Hermes and Athena took pity on Perseus. They told him how to proceed, bringing him to the Graeae, old women who shared only one eye and one tooth among them. Perseus maneuvered them into helping him. They gave him a cap of invisibility, winged sandals, and a magic bag.
The Gorgons • Three Gorgons lived on an island way out in the ocean. There are different versions of their nature: • They were beautiful maidens • They were hideous figures with snakes for hair • But sources agree that • The Gorgons were dangerous, flying women • Medusa was loved by Poseidon • Medusa was the only one who was vulnerable • One look at Medusa would turn the looker into stone Perseus received a scimitar from Hermes, and Athena advised him to polish up his shield.
The Quest • All of Perseus’ gifts came in handy. • he flew there and away with the winged sandals • he looked in the polished shield so as not to be turned into stone while he cut off the Gorgon’s head with the scimitar • he popped the head right into the magic bag • and he got away with it because he was invisible.
Pegasus • As Medusa died, her two sons by Poseidon sprang out: • Chrysaor (golden-sword), later father of Geryon, and • Pegasus, the winged horse • From the drops of the gorgon’s blood as Perseus flew across Libya came all the poisonous snakes of the world.
Andromeda On his way back, Persus stopped to save the maiden Andromeda, who was tied to a rock, waiting to be eaten by a sea serpent. He killed the monster and rescued the maiden, who became his wife. When he returned home, he found that Polydectes was trying to force himself on Danae. He revealed the Gorgon’s head, turning the evil king and his supporters to stone.
Acrisius Acrisius, as is always the case, could not escape fate. He attended an athletic competition where Perseus was throwing the discus. The discus flew into the crowd and killed him Good riddance. Persus and Andromeda were, however, tainted with miasma. So they left their newly inherited kingdom of Argos and exchanged kingdoms with the king of Tiryns. In Tiryns in historical times, young (7-9 year old) boys underwent an age-group initiation in which the Perseus story figured.
Perseus and Folktale • The Perseus story reads more like a folktale than most heroic sagas with such elements as: • Danae and Perseus floating in a box, miraculously rescued • The vengeful king and quest meant to kill Perseus • The scary Gorgons • help by Hermes, Athena and the Graeae – through magic talismans • Rescuing the princess • Revenge on the evil king