Perseus (Greek: Περσεύς; Latin: Perseus) – a hero of ancient Greek / Hellenistic mythology. Son of the goddess Danae and the Thunderer Zeus. Perseus is one of the great heroes of the ancient Greek epic, and his most famous exploits include defeating the gorgon Medusa and rescuing Andromeda from the sea monster sent by Poseidon. The monster is the sent punishment of Queen Cassiopeia, who provokes the wrath of the gods by saying that she is more beautiful than her sisters – the Nereids.

The Birth of Perseus

The Argonian king Acrisius. Linke’s grandson had a daughter, Danaya, who was famous for her unearthly beauty. Acrisius was foretold by the oracle that he would die at the hands of Danaeus’ son. To avoid such a fate, Acrisius built wide rooms of bronze and stone deep underground and locked his daughter Danaya there so that no one would see her.

But the great Thunderer Zeus fell in love with her, penetrated the underground Danaya’s rooms like a golden rain, and Acrisius’ daughter became his wife. From this marriage Danaya gave birth to a lovely boy. His mother called him Perseus.

Little Perseus did not live long with his mother in the dungeons. Once Acrisius heard the voice and the merry laughter of little Perseus. He went down to his daughter to find out why children’s laughter could be heard in her rooms. Acrisius was astonished to see the lovely little boy. How frightened he was to learn that he was the son of Danaya and Zeus. He immediately remembered the oracle’s prediction. He still had to think about how to avoid his fate. Finally, Acrisius ordered a large wooden chest to be made; he imprisoned Danaya and Perseus, nailed the chest, and ordered it thrown into the sea.

For a long time the chest floated on the stormy waves of the salt sea. Doom threatened Danaya and her son. The waves tossed the chest from side to side; now they raised it high on their ridges, now they lowered it into the abyss of the sea. Finally, the ever-roaring waves pushed the chest to Serif Island. At that time, the fisherman Dictis was fishing on the shore. He had just thrown his nets into the sea. The chest became entangled in the nets, and Dictis dragged it ashore with them. He opened the chest and was surprised to see an amazingly beautiful woman and a lovely little boy. Dictis took them to his brother Polydectes, the king of Serif.

Perseus grew up at the court of King Polydectes and became a strong, slender young man. He shone like a star among Serif’s youth with his divine beauty – no one could compare to him in beauty, strength, dexterity, or manhood.

Perseus kills Medusa

Polydectus planned to marry the beautiful Danaya by force, but she hated the cruel king Polydectus. Perseus stood up for his mother. Polydectes was angry and since then thought of only one thing – how to destroy Perseus. In the end, the cruel Polydectes decided to send Perseus to cut off the head of the gorgon Medusa. He called Perseus and said to him:

“If you really are the son of the thunderer Zeus, you will not give up a great feat. Your heart will not tremble in the face of any danger. Prove to me that Zeus is your father, and bring me the head of the gorgon Medusa. Oh, I believe that Zeus will help his son!”
Perseus looked proudly at Polydectes and said calmly:
“All right, I’ll get you Medusa’s head.”

And he set out on a long journey. He was to reach the western end of the earth, the land where the goddess Night (Myth about Goddess Night/Nukta) and the god of death Thanatos reigned. Terrible gorgonians also lived in this country. Their whole bodies were covered with shiny and strong steel scales. No sword could cut these scales except the curved sword of Hermes. The Gorgons had huge copper hands with sharp steel claws. Instead of hair, venomous snakes hissed on their heads. The faces of the gorgons, with their dagger-sharp teeth, their lips red with blood, and their eyes blazing with rage, expressed such malice that they were so horrible that anyone who looked at the gorgons turned to stone. The gorgons flew quickly through the air on wings with golden, gleaming feathers. Woe to the man who meets them! The Gorgons will tore him to pieces with their copper hands and drank his hot blood.

Perseus was to perform a difficult feat, beyond the reach of man. But the gods of Olympus could not allow him to die, the son of Zeus. He was helped by the thoughtful messenger of the gods Hermes and the beloved daughter of Zeus, the warrior Athena. Athena gave Perseus a shield of copper, so shining that it reflected everything like a mirror; Hermes gave Perseus his sharp sword, which he cut like soft wax and the hardest steel. The messenger of the gods explained to the young hero how to find the gorgons.

Perseus had a long way to go. He passed through many countries, he saw many nations. He finally arrived in the dark country where the old grays (forkids) lived. The three of them together had only one eye and one tooth. They served with them in turn. While the eye was in one of the grays, the other two were blind, and the seeing grail led her blind, helpless sisters. And at the moment, after taking out her eye, the noise passed it to the next one in a row, all three sisters were blind. It was these grays who guarded the road to the gorgonians; only they knew it. Perseus crept quietly into the darkness beside them, and on Hermes’s advice, snatched the beautiful eye from one of the grays just as she passed it on to her sister. The Gray cried out in terror. Now all three of them were blind. What to do blind and helpless? They began to beg Perseus, to swear to all the gods to return their eyes. They were ready to do anything for the hero just to give them back their treasure. Perseus then asked them to show him the way to the gorgons against the return of the eye. The Grays hesitated for a long time, but if they wanted to regain their sight, they had to point this way. Thus Perseus learned how to go to the island of the Gorgons and quickly passed on.

During his further journey, Perseus came to the nymphs. From them he received three gifts: the helmet of the ruler of the underworld Hades, who made invisible anyone who put it on his head, the winged sandals with which he could fly quickly through the air, and a magic bag: this bag is here it expanded, then shrank according to the size of what was put into it. Perseus put on his winged sandals, put on Hades‘ helmet, slung the wondrous bag over his shoulder, and hurried through the air to the island of the Gorgons.

Perseus soared high in the sky. Beneath it stretched the land with green valleys, along which rivers meandered like silver ribbons. Below, cities could be seen, the temples of the gods gleaming brightly with their white marble. In the distance rose mountains covered with green forests, and their snow-capped peaks shone in the sun like diamonds. Perseus drifted like a whirlwind farther and farther away. He flew as high as even eagles do not fly with their powerful wings. Here the sea shone in the distance like molten gold. Now Perseus is flying over the sea, and the sound of the sea waves reaches him like a faint rustle. The earth is no longer visible. In all directions, as far as Perseus could see, the water surface spread beneath him. Finally, in the blue distance of the sea, an island appeared as a black stripe. Here he is getting closer to him. This is the island of the gorgonians. Something shines in the sun there with an unbearable glow. Perseus descended lower. Like an eagle he circles over the island and sees: on a rock sleep the three terrible gorgons. They stretched out their copper hands in a dream, their steel scales and their golden wings shining like the fire of the sun. The snakes on their heads barely move in their sleep. Perseus hurried to look away from the gorgonians. He is afraid to look at their ugly faces: just to see them, and he will turn to stone. Perseus took the shield of Athena Paladas – it reflected the gorgons like a mirror. But which one is Medusa? Gorgons look like two drops of water. Of the three gorgons, only Medusa is mortal, only she can be killed. Perseus was puzzled. Now the quick Hermes helped him. He pointed to Perseus Medusa and whispered softly in his ear.

“Faster, Perseus! Go down bolder. She is the final one to the sea is Medusa. Cut off her head. Remember, don’t look at her! Just one look and you’re dead. Hurry until the gorgonians wake up!”

Perseus and the beheaded Medusa, a Roman fresco from Stabiae

As the eagle shoots from the sky at the intended victim, so Perseus attacked the sleeping Medusa. He stares at the shiny shield to strike more securely. The snakes on Medusa’s head sensed the enemy. They rose with a terrible hiss. Medusa moved in her sleep. She already half-opened her eyes. At that moment the sharp sword flashed like lightning. With one blow, Perseus cut off Medusa’s head. Her dark blood gushed like a stream on the rock, and with the blood out of her body came the winged horse Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor and flew into the sky. Perseus quickly grabbed Medusa’s head and put it in the wonderful bag. Medusa’s body, writhing in the convulsions of death, fell off a cliff into the sea. Medusa’s sisters, Steino and Evriala, awoke to the sound of his fall. Waving their powerful wings, they rise above the island and look around with flaming eyes. The gorgons are noisy in the air, but the killer of their sister Medusa has disappeared without a trace. A living soul is not seen either on the island or far out to sea. And Perseus, invisible with the helmet of Hades, quickly flew over the roaring sea. It is already flying over the Libyan sands. Blood seeps from Medusa’s head through the bag and falls in heavy drops on the sand. From these drops of blood the sands gave birth to venomous snakes. All living things fled from them; because of the snakes, Libya has become a desert.

Exposed according to Ovid’s poem “Metamorphoses”, A. Kuhn