The son of Zeus and Io, Epaphus, had a son, Bell, and he had two sons, Aegyptus and Danaus. Aegyptus ruled the whole country, which the blessed Nile irrigated; in his name this country was also called Aegyptus. Danaus ruled in Libya. The gods gave Aegyptus fifty sons and Danaus fifty beautiful daughters. The Danaids captivated the Aegyptus’ sons with their beauty and they wanted to marry the beautiful girls, but Danaus and the Danaids refused. The sons of Aegyptus gathered a large army and went to war against Danaus. Danaus was defeated by his nephews and had to leave his kingdom and flee. With the help of the goddess Athena Paladas, Danaus built the first ship with fifty oars and embarked on it with his daughters in the boundless, ever-roaring sea.

Danaus’ ship sailed on the waves for a long time and finally reached the island of Rhodes. Here Danaus stopped; he went ashore with his daughters, erected a sanctuary to his patron goddess Athena, and offered rich sacrifices to her. Danaus did not stay on Rhodes. He was afraid of being persecuted by the sons of Aegyptus, so he sailed with his daughters to the shores of Greece for Argolida, the birthplace of his great-grandmother Io. Zeus himself guarded the ship during the dangerous voyage on the boundless sea. After a long voyage, the ship reached the fertile shores of Argolida. Danaus and the Danaids hoped to find protection here and escape the hated marriage to the sons of Aegyptus.

Danaids kill their husbands (1496 – 1498)

Asking for protection, with olive branches in their hands, the Danaids came ashore. No one was there. Finally, a cloud of dust set in the distance. He was fast approaching. Shining shields, helmets, and spears could already be seen in the dust cloud. The clatter of chariot wheels could be heard. The army of the Argolid king Pelasg, son of Palechton, was approaching. Warned of the ship’s arrival, Pelasg appeared on the beach with his army. But it was not an enemy he met there, but the old man Danaus and his fifty beautiful daughters. They greeted him with twigs in their hands, begging him for protection. Reaching out to him, their eyes filled with tears, they ask the beautiful daughters of Dan to help them, protecting them from the proud sons of Aegyptus. In the name of Zeus, the powerful protector of the worshipers, the Danaids swear not to betray Pelasg because they are not foreigners in Argolida, the homeland of their great-grandmother Io.

Pelasg is still hesitant – he is afraid of war with the powerful rulers of Aegyptus. What should he do? But he fears the wrath of Zeus even more if he violates his laws and repels those who beg him in the name of the Thunderer for protection. Finally, Pelasg advised Danaus to go to Argos himself and place olive branches in front of the altars of the gods as a sign of a request for protection. And he himself decided to convene the people and ask for advice from them. Pelasg promises the Danaids to make every effort to persuade the citizens of Argos to give them protection.

Pelasg is leaving. The Danaids are anxiously awaiting the decision of the people. They know how indomitable the sons of Aegyptus are, how terrible they are in battle; they know what threatens them if the Aegyptus’ ships reach the shores of Argolida. What will they do, defenseless virgins, if the people of Argos do not give them shelter and help? The misfortune is near. A messenger from the sons of Aegyptus has already arrived. He threatens to take the Danaids to the ship by force, takes one of Danaus’ daughters by the hand, and orders his slaves to capture the others. But at that moment, King Pelasg appeared again. He took the Danaids under his protection, and he was not afraid of the messenger of the sons of Aegyptus threatening him with war.

The decision of Pelasg and the inhabitants of Argolida to protect Danaus and his daughters proved disastrous for them. Defeated in a bloody battle, Pelasg was forced to flee to the northernmost part of his vast estates. True, Danaus was chosen to be king of Argos, but in order to buy peace from the sons of Aegyptus, he still had to give them his beautiful daughters as wives.

The sons of Aegyptus solemnly celebrated their wedding to the Danaids. They did not know the fate of this marriage. The noisy wedding feast is over; the wedding songs fell silent; the torches were extinguished; the darkness of the night enveloped Argos. There was a deep silence in the sleepy city. Suddenly there was a heavy moan in the silence; here is another, then a third, a fourth… The Danaids committed a terrible crime under the veil of night. With daggers given to them by their father Danai, they pierced their husbands as soon as sleep closed their eyes. Thus the sons of Aegyptus died a horrible death. Only one of them survived, the beautiful Linkey. Danae’s young daughter Hypermnestra took pity on him. She was unable to pierce her husband’s chest with a dagger. She woke him up and secretly led him out of the palace.

Fury gripped Danaus when he learned that Hypermnestra had disobeyed his orders. Danaus chained his daughter and threw her into prison. A court of elders was convened in Argos to try Hypermnestra for disobeying her father. Danaus wanted to punish his daughter with death. But the goddess of love herself, the golden Aphrodite, appeared in court. She defended Hypermnestra and saved her from cruel punishment. Danaus’ compassionate loving daughter became Linke’s wife. The gods blessed this marriage with numerous offspring of great heroes. Heracles himself, the immortal hero of Greece, belonged to the Linke family.

Zeus did not want the other Danaids to perish either. By his order, Athena and Hermes cleansed the Danaids of bloodshed. King Danaus organized large games in honor of the Olympian gods. The winners of these games received Danaus’ daughters as a prize for women.

But the Danaids still did not escape punishment for the crime. They serve this punishment after their death in the dark realm of Hades. Danaids must fill a huge, bottomless vessel with water. They carry water forever, scooping it from the underground river, and pouring it into the vessel. Here, it seems to them that the vessel is already full, but the water flows out of it and it is empty again. The Danaids work again, carry water again and pour it into the bottomless vessel. And their fruitless work goes on indefinitely.

Exposed mainly according to Aeschylus’ tragedy “The Petitioners”, A. Kuhn