Perseus And The Gorgon Medusa

In Greek mythology, the hero Perseus killed the gorgon Medusa, whose visage was so terrible that all who looked on her were turned to stone.

The oracle of Apollo at Delphi warned King Acrisius of Argos that his daughter Danae would bear a son who would one day kill Acrisius. To avoid this fate, Acrisius imprisoned Danae in a tower, but Zeus, the king of the gods, came to her there in the form of a shower of golden rain, which Danae caught in her lap. After nine months had passed, she gave birth to a son, whom she named Perseus.

One day while walking near the tower, Acrisius heard the cry of an infant. When he discovered that his daughter had a newborn son, he put them both into a wooden chest, locked it, and had it thrown into the Aegean Sea. That night, in the midst of a storm, a wave smashed open the lock on the chest. The next day the sea was calm, and the chest drifted until it reached the shore of the island of Seriphos. There a group of fishermen, led by a man named Dictys, came upon the wooden chest, and wondered whether it might be a gift from Poseidon, the god of the sea. When they opened it, however, they found the frightened young woman and her squalling infant. Dictys offered her his hand, to help her out of the chest, but at first she was too frightened to take it. He told her that although he might look like a rough fisherman, in fact he was the brother of Polydectes, the king of the island, and he promised she would be treated well.

Dictys and his wife welcomed Danae and Perseus to their cottage, and over time the girl and her son became like family to the childless couple. By the time he reached adulthood, Perseus had grown so strong and handsome that he had drawn the attention of King Polydectes, who had also become enamored of Danae. Polydectes wanted to force Danae to marry him, but he knew he could never have his way as long as her son protected her, so he devised a plan for getting Perseus out of the way.

Polydectes ordered Perseus to bring him the head of the gorgon Medusa. The gorgons were three sisters who lived at the end of the world, beyond the ocean, in the kingdom of Night. Two of the sisters were immortal, like the gods, but Medusa was as mortal as any human.

Originally the sisters had been beautiful maidens, but when Poseidon had courted Medusa, her pride in her beauty was so great that she had scornfully rejected the god's advances. In his fury, he had cursed Medusa and her sisters, so that they became monstrous creatures, with live snakes in place of their hair, and hideously deformed bodies. But Medusa's face remained beautiful. Somehow, the combination of the lovely face of the maiden and the writhing horror of the live snakes that covered her head was more terrible than any ordinary monster could be. Anyone who looked directly on the face of Medusa was immediately turned to stone.

Perseus spent the night in the temple praying to the goddess Athena, who was, after all, the daughter of Zeus and therefore his half-sister. She appeared to him and offered him her polished shield, so that he could see the gorgon's reflection in the shield when he cut off her head, and not be turned to stone by looking directly on her face. To enable Perseus to get to the end of the world where the gorgons lived, the god Hermes lent him his winged sandals.

Athena told Perseus to visit the fountain nymphs and they would provide him with three gifts that he would need to accomplish his task. Perseus did so, and the nymphs gave him a cap of darkness, to render him invisible, a sword with a diamond edge, for the gorgon's hide was too tough for an ordinary sword to penetrate, and a bag to carry the head in once he had cut it off.

To find the way to the gorgons' lair, Perseus had to approach the three Gray Sisters. These old sisters had only one eye that they passed around among themselves, so that they could take turns seeing. Wearing his cap of darkness, Perseus came close to the sisters and asked where he could find the Gorgons. The sisters were not feeling cooperative that day, especially not towards a stranger that they couldn't see. They demanded to know where he was, and he said he was hidden in a place where only the tallest of the sisters would be able to spot him. The eye was passed to the tallest of the Gray Sisters, but as she reached for it, he snatched it away. Then he threatened the hags. If they would not tell him where to find the gorgons, he would throw their only eye into the sea, and they would all be blind forever. Desperate to retrieve their eye, the sisters all answered at once. As soon as he had his answer, Perseus carelessly tossed the eye toward the three Gray Sisters, allowing it to drop into the dirt at their feet. As he flew away, the sisters were on their hands and knees, blindly scrabbling in the dirt to find their eye.

At last Perseus found the three gorgons asleep in their lair among the rocks at the end of the world. Looking at Medusa's reflection in the polished shield, and with Athena guiding his hand, he used the diamond-edged sword to cut off her head. He caught the head by its snaky locks, and stuffed it quickly into the bag. From the pool of Medusa's blood there suddenly appeared a magnificent winged horse named Pegasus, who flew away immediately to make his home among the muses on Mt. Helicon.



Having accomplished his task, Perseus flew away on the winged sandals that Hermes had lent him. Medusa's sisters awoke to find Medusa's headless body in a pool of blood and immediately set out in pursuit of Perseus, but they could not catch him, for Hermes' sandals flew faster than the gorgons ever could.

On the way back to Seriphos, Perseus came upon a beautiful maiden chained to a rocky cliff overlooking the sea. She explained that she was Andromeda, and that her mother, Queen Cassiopeia, had been so proud of her beauty that she had bragged that her daughter was more lovely than the Nereids, Neptune's daughters. Angered at the human's pride, Poseidon had flooded the cities and sent a sea monster to devour the people. The only way to appease the angry god was to offer Andromeda as a sacrifice to the sea monster, and so her father, King Cepheus, had ordered her chained to the cliff for the sea monster to take. Although Andromeda was engaged to her uncle Phineus, he was too cowardly to try to save her, so Perseus went to King Cepheus and said that he would kill the sea monster, but that having saved Andromeda, he would claim her as his bride.

The king and queen agreed, and Perseus returned to the cliff by the sea. Soon the sea monster appeared and raced toward shore to devour his prize, but Perseus, made invisible by the cap of darkness, used Hermes' winged sandals to flit about the monster's head, darting in every few seconds to stab or cut it with the diamond-edged sword. After a long and fierce struggle, the monster was dead, and Perseus used the sword to cut through the chains that held Andromeda to the cliff. Now that his daughter and his people were safe, King Cepheus was having second thoughts about marrying his beautiful daughter to this stranger, but Perseus refused to release him from his promise.

At the wedding feast, however, the massive front gates were left open, and Phineas and hundreds of his supporters poured in through the gates to challenge Perseus and to claim Andromeda as Phineas's bride. Perseus soon realized that although Cepheus pretended to be horrified at the attack, in reality he was allowing more and more of Phineus's men to come in through the gates and making no effort to have the gates closed. Obviously Cepheus had arranged the treachery beforehand with his cowardly brother.

After a long and bloody fight, Perseus finally shouted to his supporters to turn their heads away, and then he pulled out Medusa's hideous head. Two hundred of Phineus's supporters were turned to stone. Phineus realized he had no hope of defeating Perseus, so he fell to his knees and begged for mercy. But Perseus was not in a forgiving mood, so he used the gorgon's head to turn Phineus into a stone statue as well.

When he returned to the island of Seriphos, with his new bride beside him, Perseus found Dictys's cottage destroyed. Dictys and his wife were imprisoned, and Danae was hiding in the temple, where she had sought sanctuary from Polydectes who was still trying to force her to marry him.

Perseus presented himself at court and announced to the king that he had completed his quest and had brought him the head of the gorgon Medusa. King Polydectes was certain this had to be a hoax, and said so to the bold young man. In a single moment, Perseus turned his own face away, yanked the gorgon's head out of the bag, and held it before Polydectes' face. The king and all his court were immediately turned to stone.

Perseus then returned to tell Danae that she could safely leave the temple. He freed Dictys and his wife, and made them king and queen of Seriphos.

Many years later, Perseus, Danae, and Andromeda traveled to Argos, where Acrisius was still king, though he was a lonely, pathetic old man. On the way, they stopped so that Perseus could compete in the games at Larissa. If he won, as he felt certain he would, Perseus intended to take the prizes to his grandfather, in a gesture of reconciliation and forgiveness. But Acrisius, hearing that his daughter and her son were on their way to see him, was terrified that Perseus had come to fulfill the prophecy by killing him. Considering how Acrisius had treated his daughter and grandson, this was not an unreasonable assumption on his part, though it was nevertheless a wrong one.

Acrisius went to the games at Larissa, hoping that if Perseus did not find him at court in Argos, he would give up looking for him. The crowds at the games seemed a good place for an old man to hide.

When Perseus competed in the discus throw, the discus was caught by a gust of wind and carried with great force into the watching crowd, where it struck the foot of an old man. Perseus ran to the old man and lifted him in his arms, but he was already dying from the shock of the blow. With his last breath, the dying man said one word, "Danae." Perseus realized that the man he held was Acrisius, and that he had died grieving over the daughter he had treated so cruelly.

Perseus assumed the throne of Argos, and he and Andromeda ruled there for many years.

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