People - Ancient Greece: Perseus
A hero of Greek mythology and was known as the legendary founder
of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty.
Perseus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
（Περσεύς). Son of Zeus and Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius. A sketch of his fabulous history has already been given under a previous article (see Danaë); and it remains here but to relate the particulars of his enterprise against the Gorgons. When Perseus had made his rash promise to Polydectes, by which he bound himself to bring the latter the Gorgon 's head, he retired full of grief to the extremity of the island of Scyros, where Hermes came to him, promising that he and Athené would be his guides. Hermes brought him first to the Graiae (see Phorcydes), whose eye and tooth he stole and would not restore until they had furnished him with directions to the abode of the nymphs who were possessed of the winged shoes, the magic wallet, and the helmet of Pluto which made the wearer invisible. Having obtained from the Graiae the requisite information, he came to the nymphs, who gave him their precious possessions: he then flung the wallet over his shoulder, placed the helmet on his head, and fitted the shoes to his feet. Thus equipped, and grasping the short curved sword (ἅρπη) which Hermes gave him, he mounted into the air, accompanied by the gods, and flew to the ocean, where he found the three Gorgons asleep. (See Gorgones.) Fearing to gaze on their faces, which changed the beholder to stone, he looked on the head of Medusa as it was reflected on his shield, and, Athené guiding his hand, he severed it from her body. The blood gushed forth, and with it the winged steed Pegasus and Chrysaor, the father of Geryon, for Medusa was at that time pregnant by Poseidon. Perseus took up the head, put it into his wallet, and set out on his return. The two sisters awoke, and pursued the fugitive; but, protected by the helmet of Pluto, he eluded their vision, and they were obliged to give over the bootless chase (Scut. 220-230; Pausan. v. 18, 1). Perseus pursued his aërial route, and after having, in the course of his journey, punished the inhospitality of Atlas (q.v.) by changing him into a rocky mountain (Ovid, Met. iv. 626 foll.), he came to the country of the Ethiopians. Here he liberated Andromeda (see Andromeda), whom he married. He is also said to have come to the Hyperboreans, by whom he was hospitably received. On his return to Seriphos, he found his mother with Dictys in a temple, whither they had fled from the violence of Polydectes. Perseus then went to the palace of Polydectes, and metamorphosed him and all his guests, and, some say, the whole island, into stone (Pyth. xii. 10). He then presented the kingdom to Dictys. He gave the winged sandals and the helmet to Hermes, who restored them to the nymphs and to Pluto, and the head of Gorgon to Athené, who placed it in the middle of her shield or breast-plate. Perseus then went to Argos, accompanied by
Danaë and Andromeda. Acrisius, remembering the oracle, escaped to Larissa, in the country of the Pelasgians; but Perseus followed him, in order to persuade him to return. Some writers state that Perseus, on his return to Argos, found Proetus, who had expelled his brother Acrisius, in possession of the kingdom; and that Perseus slew Proetus, and was afterwards killed by Megapenthes, the son of Proetus. The more common tradition, however, relates that when Teutamidas, king of Larissa, celebrated games in honour of his guest Acrisius, Perseus, who took part in them, accidentally hit the foot of Acrisius with the discus, and thus killed him. Acrisius was buried outside the city of Larissa, and Perseus, leaving the kingdom of Argos to Megapenthes, the son of Proetus, received from him in exchange the government of Tiryns. According to others, Perseus remained in Argos, and successfully opposed the introduction of the Bacchic orgies. Perseus is said to have founded the towns of Midea and Mycenae. By Andromeda he became the father of Perses, Aïcaeus, Sthenelus, Heleus, Mestor, Electryon, Gorgophoné, and Autochthé. Perseus was worshipped as a hero in several places in Greece and even in Egypt (Herod.ii. 91).
Perseus in Wikipedia
Perseus (Greek: Περσεύς),[note 1] the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty there, was the first of the mythic heroes of Greek mythology whose exploits in defeating various archaic monsters provided the founding myths of the Twelve Olympians. Perseus was the Greek hero who killed the Gorgon Medusa, and claimed Andromeda, having rescued her from a sea monster sent by Poseidon in retribution for Queen Cassiopeia declaring herself more beautiful than the sea nymphs.
Origin at Argos
Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danaë, who by her very name, was the archetype of all the Danaans. She was the only child of Acrisius, King of Argos. Disappointed by his lack of luck in having a son, Acrisius consulted the oracle at Delphi, who warned him that he would one day be killed by his daughter's son. Danaë was childless and to keep her so, he imprisoned her in a bronze chamber open to the sky in the courtyard of his palace: This mytheme is also connected to Ares, Oenopion, Eurystheus, etc. Zeus came to her in the form of a shower of gold, and impregnated her. Soon after was born their child Perseus— "Perseus Eurymedon, for his mother gave him this name as well" (Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica IV).
Fearful for his future but unwilling to provoke the wrath of the gods by killing Zeus's offspring and his own daughter, Acrisius cast the two into the sea in a wooden boat that had no sail or oars. Danaë's fearful prayer made while afloat in the darkness has been expressed by the poet Simonides of Ceos. Mother and child washed ashore on the island of Seriphos, where they were taken in by the fisherman Dictys ("fishing net"), who raised the boy to manhood. The brother of Dictys was Polydectes ("he who receives/welcomes many"), the king of the island.
Overcoming the Gorgon
After some time, Polydectes fell in love with Danaë, yet Perseus, who knew that Polydectes had grim intentions, constantly protected his mother from him. Polydectes desired to remove Perseus from the island so he could have Danaë, so he therefore hatched a plot to send him away in disgrace. Polydectes announced a large banquet where each guest was expected to bring a gift.[note 2] Polydectes requested that the guests bring horses, under the pretense that he was collecting contributions for the hand of Hippodamia, "tamer of horses". The fisherman's protegé had no horse to give, so asked Polydectes to name the gift, for he would not refuse it. Polydectes held Perseus to his rash promise, demanding the head of the only mortal Gorgon, Medusa, whose very expression turned people to stone. Ovid's anecdotal embroidery of Medusa's mortality tells that she had once been a woman, vain of her beautiful hair, who lay with Poseidon in the Temple of Athena. In punishment for the desecration of her temple, Athena changed Medusa's hair into hideous snakes "that she may alarm her surprised foes with terror".
Athena instructed Perseus to find the Hesperides, who were entrusted with weapons needed to defeat the Gorgon. Following Athena's guidance, Perseus sought out the Graeae, sisters of the Gorgons, to demand the whereabouts of the Hesperides, the nymphs tending Hera's orchard. The Graeae were three perpetually old women, who had to share one eye and one tooth among them. As the women passed the eye from one to the other, Perseus snatched it from them, holding it ransom in return for the location of the nymphs. When the sisters led him to the Hesperides, he returned what he had taken.
From the Hesperides he received a knapsack kibisis to safely contain Medusa's head. Zeus gave him an adamantine sword and Hades' helm of invisibility to hide. Hermes loaned Perseus winged sandals to fly, while Athena gave him a polished shield. Perseus then proceeded to the Gorgons' cave.
In the cave he came upon the sleeping Stheno, Euryale and Medusa. By viewing Medusa's reflection in his polished shield, he safely approached and cut off her head. From her neck sprang Pegasus ("he who sprang") and Chrysaor ("bow of gold"), the result of Poseidon and Medusa's meeting. The other two Gorgons pursued Perseus, but under his helmet of invisibility he escaped.
Marriage to Andromeda
On the way back to Seriphos Island, Perseus stopped in the kingdom of Ethiopia. This mythical Ethiopia was ruled by King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia, having boasted herself equal in beauty to the Nereids, drew down the vengeance of Poseidon, who sent an inundation on the land and a sea serpent, Cetus, which destroyed man and beast. The oracle of Ammon announced that no relief would be found until the king exposed his daughter Andromeda to the monster, and so she was fastened to a rock on the shore. Perseus slew the monster and, setting her free, claimed her in marriage.
In the classical myth, he flew using the flying sandals. Renaissance Europe and modern imagery has generated the idea that Perseus flew mounted on Pegasus (though not in the great paintings by Piero di Cosimo and Titian).[note 3]
Perseus married Andromeda in spite of Phineus, to whom she had before been promised. At the wedding a quarrel took place between the rivals, and Phineus was turned to stone by the sight of the Gorgon's head. Andromeda ("queen of men") followed her husband to Tiryns in Argos, and became the ancestress of the family of the Perseidae who ruled at Tiryns through her son with Perseus, Perses. After her death she was placed by Athena amongst the constellations in the northern sky, near Perseus and Cassiopeia.[note 4] Sophocles and Euripides (and in more modern times Pierre Corneille) made the episode of Perseus and Andromeda the subject of tragedies, and its incidents were represented in many ancient works of art.
As Perseus was flying in his return above the sands of Libya, according to Apollonius of Rhodes, the falling drops of Medusa's blood created a race of toxic serpents, one of whom was to kill the Argonaut Mopsus. On returning to Seriphos and discovering that his mother had to take refuge from the violent advances of Polydectes, Perseus killed him with Medusa's head, and made his brother Dictys, consort of Danaë, king.
The oracle fulfilled
Perseus then returned his magical loans and gave Medusa's head as a votive gift to Athena, who set it on Zeus' shield (which she carried), as the Gorgoneion (see also: Aegis).
The fulfillment of the oracle[note 5] was told several ways, each incorporating the mythic theme of exile. In Pausanias he did not return to Argos, but went instead to Larissa, where athletic games were being held.
He had just invented the quoit and was making a public display of them when Acrisius, who happened to be visiting, stepped into the trajectory of the quoit and was killed: thus the oracle was fulfilled. This is an unusual variant on the story of such a prophecy, as Acrisius's actions did not, in this variant, cause his death.
In Apollodorus' version, the inevitable occurred by another route: Perseus did return to Argos, but when he learned of the oracle, went into voluntary exile in Pelasgiotis (Thessaly). There Teutamides, king of Larissa, was holding funeral games for his father. Competing in the discus throw Perseus' throw veered and struck Acrisius, killing him instantly.
In a third tradition, Acrisius had been driven into exile by his brother, Proetus. Perseus turned the brother into stone with the Gorgon's head and restored Acrisius to the throne. Having killed Acrisius, Perseus, who was next in line for the throne, gave the kingdom to Megapenthes ("great mourning") son of Proetus and took over Megapenthes' kingdom of Tiryns. The story is related in Pausanias, which gives as motivation for the swap that Perseus was ashamed to become king of Argos by inflicting death.
In any case, early Greek literature reiterates that manslaughter, even involuntary, requires the exile of the slaughterer, expiation and ritual purification. The exchange might well have been a creative solution to a difficult problem; however, Megapenthes would have been required to avenge his father, which, in legend, he did, but only at the end of Perseus' long and successful reign.
King of Mycenae
The two main sources regarding the legendary life of Perseus—for he was an authentic historical figure to the Greeks— are Pausanias and Apollodorus, but from them we obtain mainly folk-etymology concerning the founding of Mycenae. Pausanias asserts that the Greeks believed Perseus founded Mycenae. He mentions the shrine to Perseus that stood on the left-hand side of the road from Mycenae to Argos, and also a sacred fountain at Mycenae called Persea. Located outside the walls, this was perhaps the spring that filled the citadel's underground cistern. He states also that Atreus stored his treasures in an underground chamber there, which is why Heinrich Schliemann named the largest tholos tomb the Treasury of Atreus.
Apart from these more historical references, we have only folk-etymology: Perseus dropped his cap or found a mushroom (both named myces) at Mycenae, or perhaps the place was named from the lady Mycene, daughter of Inachus, mentioned in a now-missing poem, the great Eoeae. For whatever reasons, perhaps as outposts, Perseus fortified Mycenae according to Apollodorus along with Midea, an action that implies that they both previously existed. It is unlikely, however, that Apollodorus knew who walled in Mycenae; he was only conjecturing. In any case, Perseus took up official residence in Mycenae with Andromeda.
Descendants of Perseus
Perseus and Andromeda had seven sons: Perses, Alcaeus, Heleus, Mestor, Sthenelus, Electryon, and Cynurus, and two daughters, Gorgophone, and Autochthoe. Perses was left in Aethiopia and became an ancestor of the emperors of Persia. The other descendants ruled Mycenae from Electryon down to Eurystheus, after whom Atreus got the kingdom. However, the Perseids included the great hero, Heracles, stepson of Amphitryon, son of Alcaeus. The Heraclides, or descendants of Heracles, successfully contested the rule of the Atreids.
A statement by the Athenian orator, Isocrates helps to date Perseus roughly. He said that Heracles was four generations later than Perseus, which corresponds to the legendary succession: Perseus, Electryon, Alcmena, and Heracles, who was a contemporary of Eurystheus. Atreus was one generation later, a total of five generations.
Because of the obscurity of the name Perseus and the legendary character of its bearer, most etymologists pass it by, on the presumption that it might be pre-Greek. However, the name of Perseus’s native city was Greek and so were the names of his wife and relatives. There is some prospect that it descended into Greek from the Proto-Indo-European language. In that regard Robert Graves has espoused the only Greek derivation available. Perseus might be from the ancient Greek verb, "πέρθειν" (perthein), “to waste, ravage, sack, destroy”, some form of which appears in Homeric epithets. According to Carl Darling Buck (Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin), the –eus suffix is typically used to form an agent noun, in this case from the aorist stem, pers-. Pers-eus therefore is a sacker of cities; that is, a soldier by occupation, a fitting name for the first Mycenaean warrior.
The origin of perth- is more obscure. J. B. Hofmann lists the possible root as *bher-, from which Latin ferio, "strike". This corresponds to Julius Pokorny’s *bher-(3), “scrape, cut.” Ordinarily *bh- descends to Greek as ph-. This difficulty can be overcome by presuming a dissimilation from the –th– in perthein; that is, the Greeks preferred not to say *pherthein. Graves carries the meaning still further, to the perse- in Persephone, goddess of death. John Chadwick in the second edition of Documents in Mycenaean Greek speculates as follows about the goddess pe-re-*82 of Pylos tablet Tn 316, tentatively reconstructed as *Preswa:
”It is tempting to see...the classical Perse...daughter of Oceanus...; whether it may be further identified with the first element of Persephone is only speculative.”
A Greek folk etymology connected the name of the Persian (Pars) people, whom they called the Persai. The native name, however has always had an -a- in Persian. Herodotus recounts this story, devising a foreign son, Perses, from whom the Persians took the name. Apparently the Persians themselves knew the story, as Xerxes tried to use it to suborn the Argives during his invasion of Greece, but ultimately failed to do so.
Perseus on Pegasus
The replacement of Bellerophon as the tamer and rider of Pegasus by the more familiar culture hero Perseus was not simply an error of painters and poets of the Renaissance. The transition was a development of Classical times which became the standard image during the Middle Ages and has been adopted by the European poets of the Renaissance and later: Giovanni Boccaccio's Genealogia deorum gentilium libri (10.27) identifies Pegasus as the steed of Perseus, and Pierre Corneille places Perseus upon Pegasus in Andromède. Modern representations of this image include sculptor Émile Louis Picault's 1888 sculpture, Pegasus.
Modern uses of the theme
In Hermann Melville's Moby-Dick, the narrator asserts that Perseus was the first whaleman, when he killed Cetus to save Andromeda. Operatic treatments of the subject include Persée by Lully (1682) and Persée et Andromède by Ibert (1921).
Chimera, the 1972 National Book Award-winning novel by John Barth, includes a novella called Perseid that is an inventive, postmodern retelling of the myth of Perseus.
In Rick Riordan's fantasy series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the protagonist Percy Jackson, a son of Poseidon, is named after and similar to Perseus.
The 1981 fantasy/adventure film Clash of the Titans, later remade in 2010, loosely follows the myth of Perseus.
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