Perseus was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman named Danae. Danae’s father, King Acrisius, learned after consulting an oracle that he would have not sons. Danae was his only daughter. He also learned that Danae’s unborn son would kill him. He tried to escape his fate by locking Danae in a tower (or an underground bronze chamber, depending on the version of the story). While locked up, Danae was visited by Zeus and from their union came their son Perseus. When Acrisius became aware of the baby, he had both mother and child placed in a wooden chest and put out to sea.
They were saved by a fisherman named Dictys, the brother of King Polydectes. Polydectes fell in love with Danae, who did not return the feelings. Polydectes devised a plan to get rid of Perseus so he could have Danae. The king levied a tax of a horse from every man on the island. Perseus, being raised by a poor fisherman, did not have any money for a horse. He offered the king any request and he would fulfill it. Wanting to be rid of Perseus, the king asked for the head of Medusa. Medusa was a Gorgon whose look could turn a person to stone. Medusa lived with her two sisters. All of them had golden wings, claws of brass, and serpents for hair.
Perseus received help from two of the gods, Athena and Hermes. They provided him with winged sandals to get in and out of the cave quickly and quietly. They also gave Perseus the cap of darkness, which made the wearer invisible, a sword and a pouch to put Medusa’s head in.
Perseus traveled to a cave where three witches lived. They had only one eye and a tooth between them. Perseus needed them to tell him the secret location of Medusa’s cave. Perseus waited until one of them took out the eye to hand it to another, and grabbed it. While holding the eye hostage, Perseus forced them to tell him the location of Medusa and her two sisters. After getting the location of Medusa’s cave, Perseus threw the eye into a nearby lake.
Using the cap of darkness, he entered Medusa’s cave. He used a polished bronze shield to watch the three gorgons so not to look at them directly and turn to stone. He waited for them to fall asleep. Once asleep, he took out his sword and used the shield to guide his swing. He chopped off Medusa’s head, stuffing it quickly into his pouch. He used the winged sandals to get out of the cave before Medusa’s sisters were able to locate him.
Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Antonio Canova Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
Major Gods and Goddesses
Introduction | Creation Story | Olympians VS. Titans | Creation of Man | Revolt of Giants
Abduction of Persephone | The Underworld | Visitors to Underworld | Amzon Warriors
Ares vs. Athena | Daedalus and Icarus | Echo and Narcissus | Judgement of Paris
Perseus and Andromeda | Trojan War
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