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PERSEUS.

Perseus, one of the most renowned of the legendary heroes of antiquity, was the son of Zeus and Danaë, daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos.

An oracle having foretold to Acrisius that a son of Danaë would be the cause of his death, he imprisoned her in a tower of brass in order to keep her secluded from the world. Zeus, however, descended through the roof of the tower in the form of a shower of gold, and the lovely Danaë became his bride.

For four years Acrisius remained in ignorance of this union, but one evening as he chanced to pass by the brazen chamber, he heard the cry of a young child proceeding from within, which led to the discovery of his daughter's marriage with Zeus. Enraged at finding all his precautions unavailing, Acrisius commanded the mother and child to be placed in a chest and thrown into the sea.

But it was not the will of Zeus that they should perish. He directed Poseidon to calm the troubled waters, and caused the chest to float safely to the island of Seriphus. Dictys, brother of Polydectes, king of the island, was fishing on the sea-shore when he saw the chest stranded on the beach; and pitying the helpless condition of its unhappy occupants, he conducted them to the palace of the king, where they were treated with the greatest kindness.

Polydectes eventually became united to Danaë, and {206} bestowed upon Perseus an education befitting a hero. When he saw his stepson develop into a noble and manly youth he endeavoured to instil into his mind a desire to signalize himself by the achievement of some great and heroic deed, and after mature deliberation it was decided that the slaying of the Gorgon, Medusa, would bring him the greatest renown.

For the successful accomplishment of his object it was necessary for him to be provided with a pair of winged sandals, a magic wallet, and the helmet of Aïdes, which rendered the wearer invisible, all of which were in the keeping of the Nymphs, the place of whose abode was known only to the Grææ. Perseus started on his expedition, and, guided by Hermes and Pallas-Athene, arrived, after a long journey, in the far-off region, on the borders of Oceanus, where dwelt the Grææ, daughters of Phorcys and Ceto. He at once applied to them for the necessary information, and on their refusing to grant it he deprived them of their single eye and tooth, which he only restored to them when they gave him full directions with regard to his route. He then proceeded to the abode of the Nymphs, from whom he obtained the objects indispensable for his purpose.

Equipped with the magic helmet and wallet, and armed with a sickle, the gift of Hermes, he attached to his feet the winged sandals, and flew to the abode of the Gorgons, whom he found fast asleep. Now as Perseus had been warned by his celestial guides that whoever looked upon these weird sisters would be transformed into stone, he stood with averted face before the sleepers, and caught on his bright metal shield their triple image. Then, guided by Pallas-Athene, he cut off the head of the Medusa, which he placed in his wallet. No sooner had he done so than from the headless trunk there sprang forth the winged steed Pegasus, and Chrysaor, the father of the winged giant Geryon. He now hastened to elude the pursuit of the two surviving sisters, who, aroused from their slumbers, eagerly rushed to avenge the death of their sister.

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His invisible helmet and winged sandals here stood him in good stead; for the former concealed him from the view of the Gorgons, whilst the latter bore him swiftly over land and sea, far beyond the reach of pursuit. In passing over the burning plains of Libya the drops of blood from the head of the Medusa oozed through the wallet, and falling on the hot sands below produced a brood of many-coloured snakes, which spread all over the country.

Perseus continued his flight until he reached the kingdom of Atlas, of whom he begged rest and shelter. But as this king possessed a valuable orchard, in which every tree bore golden fruit, he was fearful lest the slayer of the Medusa might destroy the dragon which guarded it, and then rob him of his treasures. He therefore refused to grant the hospitality which the hero demanded, whereupon Perseus, exasperated at the churlish repulse, produced from his wallet the head of the Medusa, and holding it towards the king, transformed him into a stony mountain. Beard and hair erected themselves into forests; shoulders, hands, and limbs became huge rocks, and the head grew up into a craggy peak which reached into the clouds.

Perseus then resumed his travels. His winged sandals bore him over deserts and mountains, until he arrived at Æthiopia, the kingdom of King Cepheus. Here he found the country inundated with disastrous floods, towns and villages destroyed, and everywhere signs of desolation and ruin. On a projecting cliff close to the shore he beheld a lovely maiden chained to a rock. This was Andromeda, the king's daughter. Her mother Cassiopea, having boasted that her beauty surpassed that of the Nereides, the angry sea-nymphs appealed to Poseidon to avenge their wrongs, whereupon the sea-god devastated the country with a terrible inundation, which brought with it a huge monster who devoured all that came in his way.

In their distress the unfortunate Æthiopians applied to the oracle of Jupiter-Ammon, in the Libyan desert, {208} and obtained the response, that only by the sacrifice of the king's daughter to the monster could the country and people be saved.

Cepheus, who was tenderly attached to his child, at first refused to listen to this dreadful proposal; but overcome at length by the prayers and solicitations of his unhappy subjects, the heart-broken father gave up his child for the welfare of his country. Andromeda was accordingly chained to a rock on the sea-shore to serve as a prey to the monster, whilst her unhappy parents bewailed her sad fate on the beach below.

On being informed of the meaning of this tragic scene, Perseus proposed to Cepheus to slay the dragon, on condition that the lovely victim should become his bride. Overjoyed at the prospect of Andromeda's release, the king gladly acceded to the stipulation, and Perseus hastened to the rock, to breathe words of hope and comfort to the trembling maiden. Then assuming once more the helmet of Aïdes, he mounted into the air, and awaited the approach of the monster.

Presently the sea opened, and the shark's head of the gigantic beast of the deep raised itself above the waves. Lashing his tail furiously from side to side, he leaped forward to seize his victim; but the gallant hero, watching his opportunity, suddenly darted down, and producing the head of the Medusa from his wallet, held it before the eyes of the dragon, whose hideous body became gradually transformed into a huge black rock, which remained for ever a silent witness of the miraculous deliverance of Andromeda. Perseus then led the maiden to her now happy parents, who, anxious to evince their gratitude to her deliverer ordered immediate preparations to be made for the nuptial feast. But the young hero was not to bear away his lovely bride uncontested; for in the midst of the banquet, Phineus, the king's brother, to whom Andromeda had previously been betrothed, returned to claim his bride. Followed by a band of armed warriors he forced his way into the hall, and a desperate encounter took place between the rivals, {209} which might have terminated fatally for Perseus, had he not suddenly bethought himself of the Medusa's head. Calling to his friends to avert their faces, he drew it from his wallet, and held it before Phineus and his formidable body-guard, whereupon they all stiffened into stone.

[Illustration]

Perseus now took leave of the Æthiopian king, and, accompanied by his beautiful bride, returned to Seriphus, where a joyful meeting took place between Danaë and her son. He then sent a messenger to his grandfather, informing him that he intended returning to Argos; but Acrisius, fearing the fulfilment of the oracular prediction, fled for protection to his friend Teutemias, king of Larissa. Anxious to induce the aged monarch to return to Argos, Perseus followed him thither. But here a strange fatality occurred. Whilst taking part in some funereal games, celebrated in honour of the king's father, Perseus, by an unfortunate throw of the discus, accidentally struck his grandfather, and thereby was the innocent cause of his death.

After celebrating the funereal rites of Acrisius with due solemnity, Perseus returned to Argos; but feeling loath to occupy the throne of one whose death he had caused, he exchanged kingdoms with Megapenthes, king of Tiryns, and in course of time founded the cities of Mycenæ and Midea.

The head of the Medusa he presented to his divine patroness, Pallas-Athene, who placed it in the centre of her shield.

Many great heroes were descended from Perseus and Andromeda, foremost among whom was Heracles, whose mother, Alcmene, was their granddaughter.

Heroic honours were paid to Perseus, not only {210} throughout Argos, but also at Athens and in the island of Seriphus.



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