Perseus, a hero* of Greek mythology, was the son of Zeus. The best- known myth about Perseus recounts how he killed the snakehaired Gorgon* Medusa, and then claimed Andromeda for his bride after rescuing her from a sea monster.

Perseus’s grandfather, Acrisius, had been warned by an oracle* that one day his own grandson would kill him. So, he had his daughter Danae shut away in a bronze chamber so that no man could touch her. Zeus, however, was able to reach Danae by changing himself into a shower of golden rain, which fell into her lap and impregnated her. After Perseus was born, Acrisius cast the baby and his mother out to sea. But Zeus protected them, and eventually they came safely ashore on the island of Seriphos. They lived happily on the island until Perseus was a young man. The king of Seriphos fell in love with Perseus’s mother, and he attempted to remove Perseus from the scene by sending him to retrieve the head of Medusa. This was believed to be an exceedingly difficult task, because anyone who looked directly at the face of Medusa was instantly turned to stone.

The goddess Athena, who hated Medusa, came to Perseus’s aid. She gave him a bronze shield with which to slay the monster and instructions on how to proceed. First, he had to visit the Graiae, three old hags who lived in the mountains of Africa and shared one eye and one tooth, which they passed around among them. They were sisters of the Gorgons and knew the mountain path that would lead to Medusa. Perseus outwitted the Graiae by seizing their eye and refusing to give it up until they told him where Medusa lived. Then, after he obtained the information, Perseus flung the eye into a lake, so that the Graiae could not warn Medusa that he was approaching. Next, some nymphs* gave Perseus gifts to aid him in his task—a bag in which to put Medusa’s head and a cap which would make him invisible. The god Hermes provided him with a curved sword and a pair of winged sandals.

* hero in mythology, a person of great strength or ability, often descended from a god

* Gorgon any of the three snake-haired sisters in Greek mythology whose direct gaze turned an onlooker to stone

* oracle priest or priestess through whom a god is believed to speak' also the location (such as a shrine) where such utterances are made

* nymph in classical mythology, one of the lesser goddesses of nature

Thus armed, Perseus flew across the ocean to the shore where Medusa lived. As the monster lay sleeping, Perseus beheaded her with the sword, while safely watching her reflection in the bronze shield. Stuffing Medusa’s head in the bag, Perseus put on the cap that rendered him invisible and escaped back across the ocean to Seriphos. According to one version of the myth, Perseus returned to Greece by way of the territory of the Titan* god Atlas, who, hearing that he was Zeus’s son, tried to turn Perseus away by force. Perseus, in anger, held Medusa’s head before him, and Atlas was turned into a vast mountain.

On his journey home, Perseus spotted Andromeda, who was tied to a rock and about to be devoured by a sea monster. Perseus killed the monster with his sword and saved Andromeda, who then became his wife. Perseus and Andromeda returned to Greece, where the old prophecy that Perseus would kill his grandfather eventually was fulfilled. In taking part in the games in Thessaly, Perseus threw a discus, accidentally hitting and killing Acrisius. At the end of their lives, Athena turned Perseus and Andromeda into constellations and placed them in the sky. (See also Myths, Greek.)

* Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth before the Olympian gods

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