He had been very cruel to his beautiful daughter, Danae, who, with her little baby Perseus, had been shut up in a room with brass walls: and all because of a solemn prophecy. One day a white-haired old man came to Acrisius and told him that he would lose his life at the hands of Perseus. This made the king feel very bitter toward Danae and the innocent little child, his grandson. Danae" s son was called the Child of the Bright Morning.
He was so fair and bright, though a tiny baby, that the people declared that he was a child of the gods. His sunny smile and winning ways brought no smiles of joy to the face of stern Acrisius, who planned in his heart to send Danae and her child away where he should never see them again. He dare not kill them, for he feared the terrible Erinnyes, who, with scorpions and vipers, scourged those who had offended the gods. So Acrisius placed Danae and her child in a large chest, and set it afloat on the restless waves of the sea. Poor Danae was as helpless as the child asleep on her bosom. She watched the shore until it became a dark line against the horizon, and then, through her tears, she saw only the blue sea and the bluer sky.
She closed her eyes, and Morpheus sent her the sweet forgetfulness of sleep. All night, under a starlit sky, the chest floated gently. The waves rocked it to and fro. It was the pleasant halcyon days, and the winds were still; for in that peaceful season no storms ruffle the bosom of the deep: In the morning the chest grated against the shores of the island of Seriphos. Danae awoke with a heart full of fear. She knew not whether kindness or cruelty awaited them beyond the rushed rocks.
It happened that a brave fisherman, Dictys, had come down to the seashore to cast his net. When he saw the strange boat and its helpless occupants, he hastened to help them out, and to assure Danae that he meant to be kind. "Fear not, lady," he said; " naught shall harm thee on this peaceful island. But what fate drove thee to the bosom of the deep in this frail boat? Did some one send thee thus at the mercy of the waters? He is worthy the darkest shades of Tartarus who thus cruelly treats a noble lady. For I perceive that thou art noble, perchance the daughter of a king." "I am Danae, the daughter of King Acrisius, who has thus unjustly sent us from his lands.
Good sir, I pray thee let me come into thy house. I will serve thee with diligence, for never yet has Danae eaten the bread of idleness." "We are old, and apt service will be sweet to old age; but as a daughter, and not as a servant, shall ye come," said good Dictys. So Danae went to the home of Dictys; and full gladly she took up the spinning and weaving which the wife of the good fisherman had put aside because of her failing sight. And the little Perseus brought sunshine and gladness to all. Dictvs was the brother of Polydectes, the king of the island.
When the king saw the fair Danae, he desired her to come and live in the palace as his wife. But Danae did not love the king, arid she knew full well that Perseus would be safer in the humble home of Dictys, so she refused to become the wife of Polydectes. This made him angry, and he began to dislike them both; but they were not harmed by his hatred until Perseus had grown to be a strong and handsome youth.
When he had grown up, Perseus won in all of the games, and far exceeded the young men of the island in the doing of brave deeds. In those days of the long, long ago the bravest youths of Hellas were sent into far countries to prove their courage and endurance. There were strange and terrible monsters to kill, and there were rich and precious gifts of the gods, which were won only by the bravest. So the young men all desired most to be strong; and daring. It was cowardly not to be able to win in feats of strength.
One of the great deeds which all of the young men longed to do was the killing of the Gorgon, Medusa. She lived far away from the peaceful island; but she was the dread of all sailors and fishermen; for oftentimes they were driven by adverse winds into her icy regions, and were frozen into stone by the gaze of her cruel eves. Polydectes planned a way to get rid of Perseus. He taunted him with cowardice, in spite of the daring deeds which he had done, until Perseus declared that he would prove himself worthy by killing the Gorgon. Polydectes was glad, for he was sure that Perseus would never get back.
One night Perseus dreamed a strange dream. He saw a tall and stately lady with a shining face, and a helmet upon her head. In her hands she held a glittering aegis, or shield. " Perseus," she said, "You desire to do a more daring deed than any Hellen has yet attempted. Is your heart brave enough, and your courage great enough, that you dare to face a creature like this?" As she spoke, Athena held up the shield, on which was a face so terrible that Perseus turned pale. The locks of hair were writhing serpents, and out of the eyes glared such a look of hatred and misery that Perseus could scarcely believe that this was a picture of the once beautiful mortal, Medusa, who, because she had dared to compare her beauty and wisdom with that of Athena, had been doomed by the angry goddess to live in a far-away country with two dreadful Gorgons for companions.
"Will you dare to meet Medusa, Perseus?" asked Athena. " Try me, noble lady. I would rather die in a heroic act than remain like a horse bound by a halter' Then Athena gave him her shield, saying, "You must not look at the Medusa when you find her, else you will be turned to stone. But this is the shield of an immortal, and you can look into it without harm. Hold it thus, and you can. see the reflection of all that is below. "
In the land of the Graeae you will find out where the Gorgons live. Fear not these aged sisters, but be wise and watchful. They only can tell thee. They have but one eye, and their voices are hollow, and their forms unlovely; but be not alarmed by aught which they may say." "I will be brave," said Perseus. " But, I pray thee, noble lady, how am I to cross the seas without a ship? I cannot build one, for Polydectes would not give me the smallest tree upon his hillsides. Nor will this beautiful aegis be of use. unless there be somewhere a sword which shall match it in excellence." "Thou art far-sighted, as well as brave, Perseus, and dost deserve the best gifts of the gods."
Then Perseus saw standing beside Athena a young man of noble countenance. In one hand he held a pair of winged sandals, and in the other, a shining sword. "Behold what Hermes has brought. These sandals will take you wherever you wish to go, and this sword can pierce even the metal scales of Medusa. Fear not, out depart," When Perseus awoke, he found that the dream was not all a dream, for there were the sandals, harp, and aegis. Perseus lost no time in putting the precious sandals upon his feet; and taking the harp, he started at once.
He felt a strange lightness of body. He started to run, but found that he could float as easily as a bird. Faster and faster he sped over land and sea, until the sunny hills of Hellas were far behind, and the dull, dark mountains of the north country rose before him. At the foot of one of these mountains he found an ice-bound cave. Within he heard the only sounds which broke the silence, the weird songs of the Gray Sisters. There they sat rocking to and fro, and crooning a sad, sad song, while they passed the eye from one to the other. At first Perseus felt sad; but when he heard their words of hatred towards the race of men, he snatched the eye, and bade them tell him where the Gorgon lived. They were eager enough to get back their eye, so they told Perseus that the Nymphs of the Garden of Hesperides, in the far-away land of Atlas, would tell him what he wished to know.
Perseus started at once for the land of Atlas, the Cyclops. It was guarded by a mighty mountain which rose far above the clouds. On the top was the unhappy giant whom Zeus had placed there to hold up the pillars of Heaven. This was so great a task that Atlas had long since grown weary of it. When he found that Perseus was in quest of the Medusa, he begged him to return with it, that he might gaze into its eyes, and be turned into stone. Perseus promised to do what Atlas desired.
He went down the mountain and into the beautiful dreamy garden of the Hesperides. Here he found a wonderful tree upon which hung golden apples. Beneath its richly laden boughs were three of the fairest maidens Perseus had ever seen. Abashed at their beauty, but charmed by their sweet songs, Perseus drew near. Then he saw something which filled him with horror; for, twined round and round the nymphs, and caressing them with its shining folds, was a mighty serpent. Its scales glistened in the sunlight with beautiful colors. Each scale had a pearly lustre, and the serpent's eyes sparkled like diamonds. Honey was dripping into its mouth from a dish held by one of the nymphs.
When the maidens saw Perseus, they put the serpent to sleep by a magical spell, and came forth to meet him: " Who are you. and for what have you dared to come into the garden of the Hesperides? Are you Heracles, in quest of the golden apples?" "I come not for your apples of gold, fair maidens. I am searching for the Medusa. Tell me, I pray you, when I can find her?" The nymphs sought to keep Perseus in the garden. "Stay with us," they cried. " Here winter never comes, and the power of Medusa is only a dream that has been half forgotten." When they found that Perseus would not give up his great purpose, they wept and pleaded again in vain. They led him to a high cliff, and pointed to the northward; and they gave him a cap which had the power of making its wearer invisible.
Perseus bade them farewell, and sped on his journey to the heart of the far country where Medusa dwelt. Near the dreary shores, he put on his invisible cap, and rising high in the air, he held the shield so that he could look into it. Far away he saw the terrible creature tossing, restless, to and fro. Beside her, locked in deep slumber, were the two sister Gorgons. Perseus could not but feel sorry for the unhappy Medusa; but he wisely thought that so terrible an existence should end. He drew near, and struck boldly with the sword which Hermes had given him. Looking into his shield, he saw that the serpents had ceased to writhe, and he knew that Medusa was dead.
He threw a goatskin over its head, put it into a bag, and flew toward Seriphos. Onward he rushed faster than ever. Stopping at the mountain of Atlas, he held up the Medusa and Atlas gazed, and became a mighty mountain of stone. Seriphos was still far away; and on and on sped Perseus over land and sea, past cloud-capped mountains and over the dreary desert wastes of Libya.
One day looking down on a dark cliff, he saw a white image. ' Perchance 'tis a god whom the barbarians worship! 1 will go and see," he thought. Perseus found that it was not a god, but a beautiful maiden, whose fair hair streamed in the breeze. She stood upon a rock just above the waves. Her face was full of agony, and her white arms, lifted above her head, were chained to the rock. Perseus was filled with pity and indignation. He flashed down beside her; and when she saw the noble youth, she begged him to loose her bonds. "Fear not, noble maiden. Perseus will gladly help to free you from these chains which some monster has forced upon tender wrists.
But who are you, and why are you here?" "I am Andromeda," she replied. "Unhappy that I am! My mother, Cassiopeia, boasted of my beauty, and to punish her, Thetis sent dreadful floods, which laid waste our fields. I am chained thus to appease the sea-gods, and they will send a sea-monster to devour me. Look! even now it comes!" Perseus looked from the fair face of Andromeda to the restless water. Her fear was not in vain; for there, coming rapidly towards them, was a great sea-serpent, from whose wide jaws the water rushed in long lines of foam. Andromeda closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she saw only a long reef over which the waves were dashing angrily. Then Perseus cut the chains which bound Andromeda, and led her back to her parents, who were filled with joy, and readily consented when Perseus asked that he might take Andromeda back with him to his own country.
It was a glad home-coming; to Perseus and to Danae and the good fisherman. Polydectes had treated Danae unkindly during Perseus' absence. He had made her work like a servant in the palace, hoping thus to make her humble. Perseus rushed to the palace where Polydectes had bidden guests to a great feast. Standing in the doorway, he heard Polydectes tell with many a jeer how Perseus had gone forth years ago to slay the Gorgon, and had never returned. "Ha! wretched king, thou art mistaken! Wouldst thou, then, see the Gorgon? Behold! here it is!" Polydectes threw himself upon his knees, and besought Perseus to spare him; but even while he was speaking, his body became rigid and cold. So Polydectes and his guests became a ring of stones which are pointed out to this day on one of the faraway islands of Greece.
The Legend and Myth about Perseus
The Myth of Perseus
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