The mythical story of Perseus
by Emma M. Firth
The Myth of Perseus
In the sunny vale of Argos, King Acrisius ruled over a brave and warlike people. But he ruled not with justice and kindness; and he was therefore far from happy, in spite of his fertile fields, rich vineyards, and numerous flocks and herds. After many a bitter quarrel with his brother Proetus, he had given up to him the poorer half of the kingdom, and had kept the best for himself.
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.
Perseus, Pegasus and Athena
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.
Danae and Perseus
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.
Picture of Perseus with
the Graeae (Gray Witches)