PERSEUS: PART 2
So with the shoes of flight and the cap of darkness and the magic pouch, Perseus went to seek the Gorgons. The sickle-sword that Hermes gave him was at his side, and on his arm he held the bronze shield that was now well polished.
He went through the air, taking a route that the nymphs had shown him. He came to Oceanus that was the rim around the world. He saw forms that were of living creatures all in stone, and he knew that he was near the place where the Gorgons had their lair.
Then, looking on the surface of his polished shield, he saw the Gorgons below him. Two were covered with hard serpent scales. They had tusks that were long like the tusks of boars, and they had hands of gleaming brass and wings of shining gold. Still looking upon the shining surface of his shield Perseus went down and down. He saw the third sister—the one who was not immortal. She had a woman’s face and form, and was beautiful, although there was something deadly in her appearance. The two scaled and winged sisters were asleep, but the third, Medusa, was awake, and she was tearing with her hands a lizard that had come near her.
A tangle of hissing serpents was on her head all with heads raised. Still looking into the mirror of his shield Perseus came down and over Medusa. He turned his head away from her. Then, with a sweep of the sickle-sword he took her head off. There was no scream from the Gorgon, but the serpents on her head hissed loudly.
Still with his face turned from it he lifted up the head by its tangle of serpents and put it into the magic pouch. He rose up into the air. But now the Gorgon sisters were awake. They had heard the hiss of Medusa’s serpents, and saw her headless body. They rose up on their golden wings, and their bronze hands were stretched out to tear apart whoever had slain Medusa. As they flew after him they screamed aloud.
Although he flew like the wind the Gorgon sisters would have overtaken him if they could have seen him. But the dog skin cap of Hades saved him, for the Gorgon sisters did not know whether he was above or below them, behind or in front of them. Perseus flew toward where Atlas stood. He flew over this place, over Libya. Drops of blood from Medusa’s head fell down on the desert. They were changed and became the deadly serpents that are on these sands and around these rocks. On and on Perseus flew toward Atlas and toward the hidden valley where the nymphs who guarded the magic treasures lived. But before he came to the nymphs Perseus had another adventure.
In Ethiopia, which is at the other side of Libya, was a king whose name was Cepheus. This king had permitted his queen to boast that she was more beautiful than the nymphs of the sea. In punishment for the queen’s arrogance and for the king’s foolishness Poseidon sent a monster out of the sea to destroy that country. Every year the monster came, destroying more and more of the country of Ethiopia. Then the king asked of an oracle what he should do to save his land and his people. The oracle spoke of a dreadful thing that he would have to do—he would have to sacrifice his daughter, the beautiful Princess Andromeda.
The king was forced by his savage people to take the maiden Andromeda and chain her to a rock on the seashore, leaving her there for the monster to devour her, satisfying himself with that poor girl.
Perseus, flying near, heard the maiden’s cries. He saw her lovely body tied with chains to the rock. He approached her, taking the cap of darkness off his head. She saw him, and she bent her head in shame, for she thought that he would think that it was for some dreadful fault of her own that she had been left chained in that place.
Her father had stayed near. Perseus saw him, and called to him, and asked him to tell why the maiden was chained to the rock. The king told Perseus of the sacrifice that he had been forced to make. Then Perseus up to the maiden, and saw how she looked at him with pleading eyes.
Then Perseus made her father promise that he would give Andromeda to him for his wife if he should kill the sea monster. Cepheus gladly promised this. Then Perseus once again drew his sickle-sword; He waited for sight of the sea monster by the rock to which Andromeda was still chained.
It came rolling in from the open sea, a shapeless and unsightly thing. With the shoes of flight on his feet Perseus rose above it. The monster saw his shadow on the water, and it went to attack the shadow savagely. Perseus swooped like an eagle and with his sickle-sword he attacked it, and he struck the hook through the monster’s shoulder. Terribly it reared up from the sea. Perseus rose over it, escaping its wide-open mouth with its triple rows of fangs. Again he swooped and struck at it. Its hide was covered all over with hard scales and with the sea shells, but Perseus’s sword struck through it. It reared up again, blood gushing out. Perseus alighted on a rock near the rock that Andromeda was chained to. The monster, seeing him, bellowed and rushed swiftly through the water to attack him. As it reared up he plunged the sword again and again into its body. The monster sank down into the water.
Then Andromeda was released from her chains. Perseus, the conqueror, lifted up the fainting maiden and carried her back to the king’s palace. Cepheus again promised to give her in marriage to Perseus.
Perseus went on his way. He came to the hidden valley where the nymphs lived, and he gave them the three magic treasures that they had given him—the cap of darkness, the shoes of flight, and the magic pouch. These treasures are still there, and the hero who can make his way to the nymphs may have them as Perseus had them.
He returned again to the place where he had found Andromeda chained. With his face turned away he took the Gorgon’s head from where he had hidden it between the rocks. He made a bag for it out of the scaly skin of the monster he had killed. Then, carrying the bag, he went to the palace of King Cepheus to claim his bride.
Now before her father had thought of sacrificing her to the sea monster he had offered Andromeda in marriage to a prince of Ethiopia—to a prince whose name was Phineus. Phineus did not attempt to save Andromeda. But, hearing that she had been saved from the monster, he came to take her for his wife .He arrived at Cepheus’s palace with a thousand armed men.
The palace of Cepheus was filled with armed men when Perseus entered. He saw Andromeda and when she saw him she cried out with joy.
Cepheus, the cowardly king, was going to let the prince who had come with the armed men take the maiden. Perseus stood next to Andromeda and made his claim. Phineus spoke rudely to him, and then he ordered one of his captains to cut Perseus down. Many sprang forward to attack him but Perseus took Medusa’s head out of the bag. He held it before those who were attacking. They were turned to stone. One of Cepheus’s men wished to defend Perseus so he struck at the captain. His sword made a clanging sound as it struck him.
Perseus left the land of Ethiopia taking fair Andromeda with him. They went into Greece, for he had thought of going to Argos, to the country that his grandfather ruled over. At this very time Acrisius had news of Danae, and her son, and he knew that they had not died at sea. Fearful of the prophecy that told he would be killed by his grandson and fearing that he would come to Argos to find him, Acrisius fled from his country.
He reached Thessaly where Perseus and Andromeda were. Now, one day the old king was brought to games that were being celebrated in honor of a dead hero. He was leaning on his staff, watching a youth throw a metal disk, when something in that youth’s appearance made him want to watch him more closely.
He moved so that he might come nearer to the disk-thrower. But as he left where he had been standing he came into the line of the thrown disk. It struck the old man on the head. He fell down dead, and as he fell the people cried out his name—”Acrisius, King Acrisius!” Then Perseus knew who he had killed with the disk.
Because he had killed the king by accident Perseus would not go to Argos or take over the kingdom that his grandfather had reigned over. With Andromeda he went to Seriphus where his mother was. Polydectes, who had given him the terrible task of winning the Gorgon’s head, was still there.
He reached Seriphus and he left Andromeda in the hut of Dictys the shepherd. No one recognized him but he heard his name spoken of as that of a youth who had gone on a foolish quest and who would never be heard of again. He came to the temple where his mother was a priestess. Guards were placed all around it. He heard his mother’s voice and it cried, “Imprisoned here and starving I shall be forced to go to Polydectes’s house and become his wife. Oh you gods, do you have no pity for Danae, the mother of Perseus?”
Perseus cried aloud, and his mother heard his voice and her crying ceased. He turned around and he went to the palace of Polydectes, the king.
The king mocked him. “I will let you stay in Seriphus for a day,” he said, “because I want you at a marriage feast. I have vowed that Danae, taken from the temple where she is now, will be my wife by sunset tomorrow.”
Polydectes said this, and the lords and princes who were around him mocked Perseus and flattered the king. Perseus left them then. The next day he came back to the palace but in his hands now there was a dreadful thing—the bag made from the hide of the sea monster that contained the Gorgon’s head.
He saw his mother. She was brought in white and fainting, thinking that she would now have to marry the harsh and overbearing king. Then she saw her son, and hope came into her face.
The king seeing Perseus, said, “Step forward, young man, and see your mother married to a mighty man. Step forward to witness a marriage, and then depart, for it is not right that a youth that makes promises and does not keep them should stay in a land that I rule over. Step forward now, you with the empty hands.”
However, Perseus did not step forward with empty hands. He shouted out, “I have brought something for you at last,—a present for you and your mocking friends. But you my mother, and you my friends, turn your faces away from what I have brought.” Saying this Perseus drew out the Gorgon’s head. He stood before them holding it by the snaky locks. His mother and his friends turned their faces away but Polydectes and his insolent friends looked at what Perseus showed. “This youth wants to frighten us with some conjuror’s trick,” they said. They said no more, for they turned to stone, and as stone images they still stand in that hall in Seriphus.
He went to the shepherd’s hut, and he brought back Dictys and Andromeda. He made Dictys king in Polydectes’s place. Then with Danae and Andromeda, his mother and his wife, he left Seriphus.
He did not go to Argos, the country that his grandfather had ruled over, although the people there wanted Perseus to come to them, and be king over them. He took the kingdom of Tiryns in exchange for that of Argos, and there he lived with Andromeda, his lovely wife from Ethiopia. They had a son named Perses who became the father of the Persian people.
The sickle-sword that had killed the Gorgon was returned to Hermes, and Hermes took Medusa’s head also. Hermes’s divine sister Pallas Athene set that head on her shield. Oh may Pallas Athene guard us all, and bring us out of this land of sands and stone where there are the deadly serpents that have come from the drops of blood that fell from the Gorgon’s head!
They turned away from the Garden of the Daughters of the Evening Land. The Argonauts turned from where the giant shape of Atlas stood against the sky and they went toward the Tritonian Lake. But not all of them reached the Argo. On his way back to the ship, Nauplius, the helmsman, met his death.
A serpent was in his way. Nauplius trod on it, and the serpent lifted its head up and bit his foot. They raised him on their shoulders and they hurried back with him. But his limbs became numb, and when they laid him down on the shore of the lake he died. They dug a grave for Nauplius beside the lake, and in that desert land they set up his helmsman’s oar in the middle of his tomb of heaped stones.
Then like a snake that goes writhing this way and that way and that cannot find the crack in the rock that leads to its lair, the Argo went here and there trying to find an outlet from that lake. They could find no outlet and the way home seemed lost to them again. Then Orpheus prayed to the son of Nereus, to Triton, who the lake was named after, to help them.
Then Triton appeared. He stretched out his hand and showed them the outlet to the sea. Triton spoke in a friendly manner to the heroes, telling them go on their way in joy. “As for labor,” he said, “do not complain about that, for limbs that have youthful vigor should still work.”
They took up the oars and they pulled toward the sea, and Triton, the friendly immortal, helped them on. He took hold of Argo’s keel and he guided her through the water. The Argonauts saw him beneath the water. His body, from his head down to his waist, was fair and great and like the body of the other immortals but below his body was like a great fish’s. He moved with fins that were like the horns of the new moon. Triton helped Argo along until they came into the open sea. Then he plunged down into the abyss. The heroes shouted their thanks to him. Then they looked at each other and embraced each other with joy, for the sea that touched upon the land of Greece was open before them.