Friday, May 11, 2012

Mythical Monarchial Figures: Prince Perseus

With all the trouble Greece is going through at the moment, I thought we might take a look back at some of the great mythological heroes of the ancient Greeks, all of them princes or kings of some variety, and we will start with one who is possibly the best known Greek hero in the wider world: Perseus. Why is he the best known? I don’t think most schools teach Greek mythology anymore (they did when I was there) but most probably know about him because he’s been in the movies. Yes, there were a few, the best known being one pretty good one featuring Sir Laurence Olivier and the guy from L.A. Law and more recently a really terrible one starring lots of CGI. The problem with that is that now a whole lot of people have a really warped view of the whole Perseus story because all they know is what they’ve seen in the movies. Let me state for the record that in the actual story there was no clockwork owl, no detour to hell and, most importantly, no Kraken! I will say this once and only once: the Kraken was a Viking sea monster best as I recall, had nothing to do with the Greeks or any Caribbean pirates with lots of eye-shadow. Why he came to be the generic, all-purpose sea monster for movies, I don’t know, but he had nothing to do with Perseus. He was probably in the North Sea trying to chat up the Mitgard serpent at the time.

So, there was Perseus, who was the son of Zeus (Jupiter), the big man on campus where the gods hung out, and Danae who was the daughter of King Acrisius of Argos. The King had been told by a fortuneteller (maybe he called Miss Cleo for his free reading) that Danae would have a son who would kill him, so he wanted to make darn sure she never got pregnant. So, he locked her up in a full-body chastity belt but Zeus turned himself into a shower of gold (sounds a bit perverted), seeped in and had his way with her and nine months later she gave birth to a healthy baby man-god named Perseus. King Acrisius was pretty freaked out about this but he didn’t want to kill the son of a god, or a god’s ‘friend with benefits’ so he sealed them in a box and tossed them out to sea. A fisherman found them and took them in and the fisherman happened to be the brother of King Polydectes, ruler of the island. Well, when you’re pretty enough to turn the head of a married god, even after being locked in a box at sea Danae was still gorgeous enough to throw a craving on old Polydectes. Perseus, who was growing up fast, didn’t like that and told the King to go take a cold shower so the King decided that Perseus had to go.

The King threw himself a party but when Perseus arrived he forgot to bring the King a present. Oops! I’m sure Polydectes was saying, “What? No present? I save your life, the life of your mother, I take you both in and you can’t even bring me a blender? A necktie, cufflinks, nothing? Ungrateful little snot!” Not wanting to appear rude, Perseus promised to get the King any gift at all that he desired. Aha! Opportunity knocks! Polydectes therefore asks Perseus to bring him the head of the Gorgon Medusa. As most probably know, Medusa was a gorgeous woman with lovely long hair who made the sea god Poseidon mad with lust and the two got freaky in the Temple of Athena. Well, the goddess caught them in the act and was thoroughly outraged and turned Medusa into a horrible monster with snakes for hair who would cause any living thing to turn to stone simply by looking at her. So, important safety tip for anyone going to Greece: don’t do the nasty in a temple -it’s not a good idea. But, Perseus has to kill this woman-monster thing, because he promised and he’ll look really bad if he doesn’t keep his word. But, he knows he will need help to do it and he doesn’t even know where to find Medusa. However, Athena was still nursing her grudge and she gives Perseus a little hint, telling him where to find some of the other sisters of the Gorgon sisters who can tell him where to find her and where to get help.

These were the Grey Sisters; Dread, Horror and Alarm who were really, really old (AARP members) and who had to share one tooth and one eye between them. So, Perseus goes to see them, snatches their eye while they are passing it around and thus forces them to answer his questions. They tell him where to find the nymphs who can give him the tools he needs to kill Medusa and where to find the rather reclusive reptile-woman herself. So, he goes to the nymphs who give him a magic bag to hold Medusa’s head and the other gods pitch in as well since, after all, it wouldn’t look for good for a half-god to be done in on an epic quest now would it? Zeus gives his illegitimate son a magic sword that can cut through anything, Hades gives him a magic helmet that allows him to disappear into the darkness, Athena gave him a really shiny, well polished shield and Hermes lent him his flying sandals. Quite a haul, thanks Pop! So, with all his supernatural accoutrements Perseus heads out to the cave where the Gorgons live.

He found them and there was an epic battle of the ages, man against monster … well, not really. Actually, Perseus slipped in while the three were asleep, looked at Medusa’s reflection in his shield so he wouldn’t turn to stone and cut her head off before anyone knew he was there. Her two sisters woke up, quite outraged (they were immortal so their ugly sister didn’t turn them to stone) took after Perseus to kill him but he slapped on his trusty “Helmet of Darkness” and slipped away. It was from the neck of the dead Medusa that the flying horse Pegasus sprang but, although he features prominently in all the movies, Pegasus really didn’t have much to do with this story. Who needs to worry about taking care of a horse when you have magic flying sandals? Perseus puts Medusa’s head in his magic bag and is flying back home when he happens to pass by the Kingdom of Ethiopia (not the one in Africa, this was before that) and he sees a devastatingly gorgeous girl chained to a rock about to be eaten by a giant sea monster. What? What’s that? Does someone require a dashing hero to save the pretty, helpless, damsel in distress? Perseus to the rescue! In most modern tellings of this tale, saving this down-on-her-luck babe is the whole point of killing Medusa but, in fact, it was all purely coincidental. Perseus just happened to be flying by at the right place at the right time.

Here’s what happened. The girl was Princess Andromeda, daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Queen Cassiopeia was rather haughty, rather vain and probably starred in the reality show “Real Housewives of Ethiopia”. She thought she was the most gorgeous thing ever and that probably would have been okay until she said, really loudly, that she was prettier than the sea god Poseidon’s current sea-nymph girlfriend was and then there was this whole big cat fight. We can imagine the sea nymph running up to Poseidon, “Did you hear what she said? You’re not going to let her say that are you? She’s nowhere near as pretty as me! If you really thought I was prettiest you would do something horrible to that woman. Or do you agree with her? You think I’m ugly don’t you!” (stomps out at slams the door -really loudly for added effect). So, to get some peace, Poseidon has to smite the Ethiopians. He goes to Italy and releases the monstrous beast called Mussolini who goes …. No, no, sorry, I’m getting mixed up here, sorry, different country. No, Poseidon sends a big sea monster to terrorize Ethiopia. The Oracle of Apollo informs them that Princess Andromeda must be sacrificed to the monster to make it go away.

Perseus swoops down and saves the vivacious victim by turning the sea monster to stone using the head of Medusa. The sea monster, who was not the Kraken who was not a Titan didn’t even really have a name. The story says “Cetus” but that was a name for pretty much anything big and scary that lived in the sea. Anyway, Cetus became Ethiopia’s biggest seaside statue and Perseus decides he wants to marry Princess Andromeda. She probably looked really hot chained to that stone with her pouty lips and tear-filled eyes. Problem is she’s already engaged. Awkward! What is a princess to do? Marry the man she’d already promised to or marry the half-god man who saved her from the sea monster? It hardly seems fair but, Perseus makes it easy by whipping out his trusty head of Medusa and turning her old flame to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Perseus flies back home, turns Polydectes to stone and frees his mother to marry her true love Dictys (wonder how he got that name) though while flying over Libya he spilled some of Medusa’s blood on the sand and created a race of monstrous serpents. Oops! But eventually they died, became petroleum and supported a notorious dictator for several decades. Perseus takes Andromeda back to Argos to claim his original throne and they live happily ever after, making babies who eventually became the Persians. Or something like that. It had to be a pretty happy marriage. I bet Andromeda never nagged her husband. “What’s that dear? You don’t feel like doing the dishes? Well, it’s a good thing I ‘DID feel like it’ when you were chained to that rock by your psycho mother about to be eaten alive by a giant sea snake…Yeah, that’s what I thought. And bring me a beer!”

And so, there you have it, the story of the mythological Greek hero Perseus according to The Mythically Mad Monarchist.


  1. Nice retelling. You are the Ovid of the electric fireplace.

    (I had already seen "Jason and the Argonauts" and all the "Hercules" movies, so I knew the stories before they were taught in 4th grade... except, they weren't exactly as Edith Hamilton told them. Well, obviously, Mrs. Hamilton was wrong, because Hollywood wouldn't change a story, would it? No way!)

    1. Never! Well unless its the Sam Worthington version. The real Myth has a robot Owl named Bebo...

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I can only imagine what it is like to be wearing flying sandals...presumably it would be very comical!

  4. Brilliant! Thanks for this. Mythology is always a must-read for me.


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