PERSEUS


PERSEUS AND HIS MOTHER

Once upon a time there were two Princes who were twins. They lived in a pleasant vale far away in Hellas. They had fruitful meadows and vineyards, sheep and oxen, great herds of horses, and all that men could need to make them blest. And yet they were wretched, because they were jealous of each other.

From the moment they were born they began to quarrel, and when they grew up, each tried to take away the other's share of the kingdom and keep all for himself.

And there came a prophet to one of the hard-hearted Princes and said, "Because you have risen up against your own family, your own family shall rise up against you. Because you have sinned against your kindred, by your kindred shall you be punished. Your daughter Danæ shall bear a son, and by that son's hands you shall die. So the gods have said, and it shall surely come to pass."

At that the hard-hearted Prince was very much afraid, but he did not mend his ways. For when he became King, he shut up his fair daughter Danæ in a cavern underground, lined with brass, that no one might come near her. So he fancied himself more cunning than the gods.

Now it came to pass that in time Danæ bore a son, so beautiful a babe that any but the King would have had pity on it. But he had no pity, for he took Danæ and her babe down to the seashore, and put them into a great chest and thrust them out to sea, that the winds and the waves might carry them whithersoever they would.

And away and out to sea before the northwest wind floated the mother and her babe, while all who watched them wept, save that cruel King.

So they floated on and on, and the chest danced up and down upon the billows, and the babe slept in its mother's arms. But the poor mother could not sleep, but watched and wept, and she sang to her babe as they floated.

Now they are past the last blue headland and in the open sea. There is nothing round them but waves, and the sky and the wind. But the waves are gentle and the sky is clear, and the breeze is tender and low.

Danae and DictysSo a night passed and a day, and a long day it was to Danæ, and another night and day beside, till Danæ was faint with hunger and weeping, and yet no land appeared.

And all the while the babe slept quietly, and at last poor Danæ drooped her head and fell asleep likewise, with her cheek against her babe's.

After a while she was awakened suddenly, for the chest was jarring and grinding, and the air was full of sound. She looked up, and over her head were mighty cliffs, and around her rocks and breakers and flying flakes of foam.

She clasped her hands together and shrieked aloud for help. And when she cried, help met her, for now there came over the rocks a tall and stately man, and looked down wondering upon poor Danæ, tossing about in the chest among the waves.

He wore a rough cloak, and on his head a broad hat to shade his face, and in his hand he carried a trident, which is a three-pronged fork for spearing fish, and over his shoulder was a casting net.

But Danæ could see that he was no common man by his height and his walk, and his flowing golden hair and beard, and by the two servants who came behind him carrying baskets for his fish.

She had hardly time to look at him, before he had laid aside his trident and leapt down the rocks, and thrown his casting net so surely over Danæ and the chest, that he drew it and her and the babe safe upon a ledge of rock.

Then the fisherman took Danæ by the hand and lifted her out of the chest and said, "O beautiful damsel, what strange chance has brought you to this island in so frail a ship? Who are you, and whence? Surely you are some king's daughter, and this boy belongs to the gods." And as he spoke he pointed to the babe, for its face shone like the morning star.

But Danæ only held down her head and sobbed out, "Tell me to what land I have come, and among what men I have fallen."

And he said, "Polydectes is King of this isle, and he is my brother. Men call me Dictys the Netter, because I catch the fish of the shore."

Then Danæ fell down at his feet and embraced his knees and cried, "O Sir, have pity upon a stranger, whom cruel doom has driven to your land, and let me live in your house as a servant. But treat me honorably, for I was once a king's daughter, and this my boy is of no common race. I will not be a charge to you, or eat the bread of idleness, for I am more skilful in weaving and embroidery than all the maidens of my land."

And she was going on, but Dictys stopped her and raised her up and said, "My daughter, I am old, and my hairs are growing gray, while I have no children to make my home cheerful. Come with me, then, and you shall be a daughter to me and to my wife, and this babe shall be our grandchild."

So Danæ was comforted and went home with Dictys, the good fisherman, and was a daughter to him and to his wife, till fifteen years were past.


HOW PERSEUS VOWED A RASH VOW

Fifteen years were past and gone, and the babe was now grown to be a tall lad and a sailor.

His mother called him Perseus, but all the people in the isle called him the King of the Immortals.

For though he was but fifteen, Perseus was taller by a head than any man in the island. And he was brave and truthful, and gentle and courteous, for good old Dictys had trained him well, and well it was for Perseus that he had done so. For now Danæ and her son fell into great danger, and Perseus had need of all his strength to defend his mother and himself.

Polydectes, the King of the island, was not a good man like his brother Dictys, but he was greedy and cunning and cruel.

And when he saw fair Danæ, he wanted to marry her. But she would not, for she did not love him, and cared for no one but her boy.

At last Polydectes became furious, and while Perseus was away at sea, he took poor Danæ away from Dictys, saying, "If you will not be my wife, you shall be my slave."

So Danæ was made a slave, and had to fetch water from the well, and grind in the mill.

But Perseus was far away over the seas, little thinking that his mother was in great grief and sorrow.

Now one day, while the ship was lading, Perseus wandered into a pleasant wood to get out of the sun, and sat down on the turf and fell asleep. And as he slept a strange dream came to him, the strangest dream he had ever had in his life.

There came a lady to him through the wood, taller than he, or any mortal man, but beautiful exceedingly, with great gray eyes, clear and piercing, but strangely soft and mild. On her head was a helmet, and in her hand a spear. And over her shoulder, above her long blue robes, hung a goat-skin, which bore up a mighty shield of brass, polished like a mirror.

She stood and looked at him with her clear gray eyes. And Perseus dropped his eyes, trembling and blushing, as the wonderful lady spoke. "Perseus, you must do an errand for me."

"Who are you, lady? And how do you know my name?"

Then the strange lady, whose name was Athene, laughed, and held up her brazen shield, and cried, "See here, Perseus, dare you face such a monster as this and slay it, that I may place its head upon this shield?"

And in the mirror of the shield there appeared a face, and as Perseus looked on it his blood ran cold. It was the face of a beautiful woman, but her cheeks were pale, and her lips were thin. Instead of hair, vipers wreathed about her temples and shot out their forked tongues, and she had claws of brass.

Perseus looked awhile and then said, "If there is anything so fierce and ugly on earth, it were a noble deed to kill it.

Where can I find the monster?"

Then the strange lady smiled again and said, "You are too young, for this is Medusa the Gorgon. Return to your home, and when you have done the work that awaits you there, you may be worthy to go in search of the monster."

Perseus would have spoken, but the strange lady vanished, and he awoke, and behold it was a dream.

So he returned home, and the first thing he heard was that his mother was a slave in the house of Polydectes.

Grinding his teeth with rage, he went out, and away to the King's palace, and through the men's rooms and the women's rooms, and so through all the house, till he found his mother sitting on the floor turning the stone hand-mill, and weeping as she turned it.

And he lifted her up and kissed her, and bade her follow him forth. But before they could pass out of the room Polydectes came in.

When Perseus saw the King, he flew upon him and cried, "Tyrant! is this thy mercy to strangers and widows? Thou shalt die."

And because he had no sword he caught up the stone hand-mill, and lifted it to dash out Polydectes's brains.

But his mother clung to him, shrieking, and good Dictys too entreated him to remember that the cruel King was his brother.

Then Perseus lowered his hand, and Polydectes, who had been trembling all this while like a coward, let Perseus and his mother pass.

So Perseus took his mother to the temple of Athené, and there the priestess made her one of the temple sweepers. And there they knew that she would be safe, for not even Polydectes would dare to drag her out of the temple. And there Perseus and the good Dictys and his wife came to visit her every day.

As for Polydectes, not being able to get Danæ by force, he cast about how he might get her by cunning. He was sure he could never get back Danæ as long as Perseus was in the island, so he made a plot to get rid of him. First he pretended to have forgiven Perseus, and to have forgotten Danæ, so that for a while all went smoothly. Next he proclaimed a great feast and invited to it all the chiefs and the young men of the island, and among them Perseus, that they might all do him homage as their King, and eat of his banquet in his hall.

On the appointed day they all came, and as the custom was then, each guest brought with him a present for the King. One brought a horse, another a shawl, or a ring, or a sword, and some brought baskets of grapes, but Perseus brought nothing, for he had nothing to bring, being only a poor sailor lad.

He was ashamed, however, to go into the King's presence without a gift. So he stood at the door, sorrowfully watching the rich men go in, and his face grew very red as they pointed at him and smiled and whispered, "And what has Perseus to give?"

Perseus blushed and stammered, while all the proud men round laughed and mocked, till the lad grew mad with shame, and hardly knowing what he said, cried out:

"A present! See if I do not bring a nobler one than all of yours together!"

"Hear the boaster! What is the present to be?" cried they all, laughing louder than ever.

Then Perseus remembered his strange dream, and he cried aloud, "The head of Medusa the Gorgon!"

He was half afraid after he had said the words, for all laughed louder than ever, and Polydectes loudest of all, while he said:

"You have promised to bring me the Gorgon's head. Then never appear again in this island without it. Go!"

Perseus saw that he had fallen into a trap, but he went out without a word.

Down to the cliffs he went, and looked across the broad blue sea, and wondered if his dream were true.

"Athene, was my dream true? Shall I slay the Gorgon?" he prayed. "Rashly and angrily I promised, but wisely and patiently will I perform."

But there was no answer nor sign, not even a cloud in the sky.

Three times Perseus called, weeping, "Rashly and angrily I promised, but wisely and patiently will I perform."

Then he saw afar off a small white cloud, as bright as silver. And as it touched the cliffs, it broke and parted, and within it appeared Athene, and beside her a young man, whose eyes were like sparks of fire.

And they came swiftly towards Perseus, and he fell down and worshiped, for he knew they were more than mortal.

But Athene spoke gently to him and bade him have no fear. "Perseus," she said, "you have braved Polydectes, and done manfully. Dare you brave Medusa the Gorgon?"

Perseus answered, "Try me, for since you spoke to me, new courage has come into my soul."

And Athene said, "Perseus, this deed requires a seven years' journey, in which you cannot turn back nor escape. If your heart fails, you must die, and no man will ever find your bones."

And Perseus said, "Tell me, O fair and wise Athene, how I can do but this one thing, and then, if need be, die."

Then Athene smiled and said, "Be patient and listen. You must go northward till you find the Three Gray Sisters, who have but one eye and one tooth amongst them. Ask them the way to the daughters of the Evening Star, for they will tell you the way to the Gorgon, that you may slay her. But beware! for her eyes are so terrible that whosoever looks on them is turned to stone."

"How am I to escape her eyes?" said Perseus; "will she not freeze me too?"

"You shall take this polished shield," said Athene, "and look, not at her herself, but at her image in the shield, so you may strike her safely. And when you have struck off her head, wrap it, with your face turned away, in the folds of the goat-skin on which the shield hangs. So you bring it safely back to me and win yourself renown and a place among heroes."

Then said Perseus, "I will go, though I die in going. But how shall I cross the seas without a ship? And who will show me the way? And how shall I slay her, if her scales be iron and brass?"

But the young man who was with Athene spoke, "These sandals of mine will bear you across the seas, and over hill and dale like a bird, as they bear me all day long. The sandals themselves will guide you on the road, for they are divine and cannot stray, and this sword itself will kill her, for it is divine and needs no second stroke. Arise and gird them on, and go forth."

So Perseus arose, and girded on the sandals and the sword.

And Athene cried, "Now leap from the cliff and be gone!"

Then Perseus looked down the cliff and shuddered, but he was ashamed to show his dread, and he leaped into the empty air.

And behold! instead of falling, he floated, and stood, and ran along the sky.


HOW PERSEUS SLEW THE GORGON

So Perseus started on his journey, going dryshod over land and sea, and his heart was high and joyful, for the sandals bore him each day a seven days' journey.

And at last by the shore of a freezing sea, beneath the cold winter moon, he found the Three Gray Sisters. There was no living thing around them, not a fly, not a moss upon the rocks.

They passed their one eye each to the other, but for all that they could not see, and they passed the one tooth from one to the other, but for all that they could not eat, and they sat in the full glare of the moon, but they were none the warmer for her beams.

And Perseus said, "Tell me, O Venerable Mothers, the path to the daughters of the Evening Star."

They heard his voice, and then one cried, "Give me the eye that I may see him," and another, "Give me the tooth that I may bite him," but they had no answer for his question.

Then Perseus stepped close to them, and watched as they passed the eye from hand to hand. And as they groped about, he held out his own hand gently, till one of them put the eye into it, fancying that it was the hand of her sister.

At that Perseus sprang back and laughed and cried, "Cruel old women, I have your eye, and I will throw it into the sea, unless you tell me the path to the daughters of the Evening Star and swear to me that you tell me right."

Then they wept and chattered and scolded, but all in vain. They were forced to tell the truth, though when they told it, Perseus could hardly make out the way. But he gave them back the eye and leaped away to the southward, leaving the snow and ice behind.

At last he heard sweet voices singing, and he guessed that he was come to the garden of the daughters of the Evening Star.

When they saw him they trembled and said, "Are you come to rob our garden and carry off our golden fruit?"

But Perseus answered, "I want none of your golden fruit. Tell me the way which leads to the Gorgon that I may go on my way and slay her."

"Not yet, not yet, fair boy," they answered, "come dance with us around the trees in the garden."

"I cannot dance with you, fair maidens, so tell me the way to the Gorgon, lest I wander and perish in the waves."

Then they sighed and wept, and answered, "The Gorgon! She will freeze you into stone."

But Perseus said, "The gods have lent me weapons, and will give me wisdom to use them."

Then the fair maidens told him that the Gorgon lived on an island far away, but that whoever went near the island must wear the hat of darkness, so that he could not himself be seen. And one of the fair maidens held in her hand the magic hat.

While all the maidens kissed Perseus and wept over him, he was only impatient to be gone. So at last they put the magic hat upon his head, and he vanished out of their sight.

And Perseus went on boldly, past many an ugly sight, till he heard the rustle of the Gorgons' wings and saw the glitter of their brazen claws. Then he knew that it was time to halt, lest Medusa should freeze him into stone.

He thought awhile with himself and remembered Athene's words. Then he rose into the air, and held the shield above his head and looked up into it, that he might see all that was below him.

And he saw three Gorgons sleeping, as huge as elephants. He knew that they could not see him, because the hat of darkness hid him, and yet he trembled as he sank down near them, so terrible were those brazen claws.

Medusa tossed to and fro restlessly in her sleep. Her long neck gleamed so white in the mirror that Perseus had not the heart to strike. But as he looked, from among her tresses the vipers' heads awoke and peeped up, with their bright dry eyes, and showed their fangs and hissed. And Medusa as she tossed showed her brazen claws, and Perseus saw that for all her beauty she was as ugly as the others.

Then he came down and stepped to her boldly, and looked steadfastly on his mirror, and struck with his sword stoutly once, and he did not need to strike again.

He wrapped the head in the goat-skin, turning away his eyes, and sprang into the air aloft, faster than he ever sprang before.

And well his brave sandals bore him through cloud and sunshine across the shoreless sea, till he came again to the gardens of the fair maidens.

Then he asked them, "By what road shall I go homeward again?"

And they wept and cried, "Go home no more, but stay and play with us, the lonely maidens."

But Perseus refused and leapt down the mountain, and went on like a sea-gull, away and out to sea.

HOW PERSEUS MET ANDROMEDA

So Perseus flitted onward to the north-east, over many a league of sea, till he came to the rolling sandhills of the desert.

Over the sands he went, he never knew how far nor how long, hoping all day to see the blue sparkling Mediterranean, that he might fly across it to his home.

But now came down a mighty wind, and swept him back southward toward the desert. All day long he strove against it, but even the sandals could not prevail. And when morning came there was nothing to be seen, save the same old hateful waste of sand.

At last the gale fell, and he tried to go northward again, but again down came the sandstorms and swept him back into the desert; and then all was calm and cloudless as before.

Then he cried to Athene, "Shall I never see my mother more, and the blue ripple of the sea and the sunny hills of Hellas?"

So he prayed, and after he had prayed there was a great silence.

And Perseus stood still awhile and waited, and said, "Surely I am not here but by the will of the gods, for Athené will not lie. Were not these sandals to lead me in the right road?"

Then suddenly his ears were opened and he heard the sound of running water. And Perseus laughed for joy, and leapt down the cliff and drank of the cool water, and ate of the dates, and slept on the turf, and leapt up and went forward again, but not toward the north this time.

For he said, "Surely Athene hath sent me hither, and will not have me go homeward yet. What if there be another noble deed to be done before I see the sunny hills of Hellas?"

So Perseus flew along the shore above the sea, and at the dawn of a day he looked towards the cliffs. At the water's edge, under a black rock, he saw a white image stand.

"This," thought he, "must surely be the statue of some sea-god. I will go near and see."

And he came near, but when he came it was no statue he found, but a maiden of flesh and blood, for he could see her tresses streaming in the breeze. And as he came closer still, he could see how she shrank and shivered when the waves sprinkled her with cold salt spray.

Her arms were spread above her head and fastened to the rock with chains of brass, and her head drooped either with sleep or weariness or grief. But now and then she looked up and wailed, and called her mother.

Yet she did not see Perseus, for the cap of darkness was on his head.

In his heart pity and indignation, Perseus drew near and looked upon the maid. Her cheeks were darker than his, and her hair was blue-black like a hyacinth.

Perseus thought, "I have never seen so beautiful a maiden, no, not in all our isles. Surely she is a king's daughter. She is too fair, at least, to have done any wrong. I will speak to her," and, lifting the magic hat from his head, he flashed into her sight. She shrieked with terror, but Perseus cried, "Do not fear me, fair one. What cruel men have bound you? But first I will set you free."

And he tore at the fetters, but they were too strong for him, while the maiden cried, "Touch me not. I am a victim for the sea-gods. They will slay you if you dare to set me free."

"Let them try," said Perseus, and drawing his sword he cut through the brass as if it had been flax.

"Now," he said, "you belong to me, and not to these sea-gods, whosoever they may be."

But she only called the more on her mother. Then he clasped her in his arms, and cried, "Where are these sea-gods, cruel and unjust, who doom fair maids to death? Let them measure their strength against mine. But tell me, maiden, who you are, and what dark fate brought you here."

And she answered, weeping, "I am the daughter of a King, and my mother is the Queen with the beautiful tresses, and they call me Andromeda. I stand here to atone for my mother's sin, for she boasted of me once that I was fairer than the Queen of the Fishes. So she in her wrath sent the sea-floods and wasted all the land. And now I must be devoured by a sea-monster to atone for a sin which I never committed."

But Perseus laughed and said, "A sea-monster! I have fought with worse than he."

Andromeda looked up at him, and new hope was kindled in her heart, so proud and fair did he stand, with one hand round her, and in the other the glittering sword.

But still she sighed and said, "Why will you die, young as you are? Go you your way, I must go mine."

Perseus cried, "Not so: I slew the Gorgon by the help of the gods, and not without them do I come hither to slay this monster, with that same Gorgon's head. Yet hide your eyes when I leave you, lest the sight of it freeze you too to stone."

But the maiden answered nothing, for she could not believe his words.

Then suddenly looking up, she pointed to the sea and shrieked, "There he comes with the sunrise as they said. I must die now. Oh go!" And she tried to thrust him away.

And Perseus said, "I go, yet promise me one thing ere I go,—that if I slay this beast you will be my wife and come back with me to my kingdom, for I am a King's son. Promise me, and seal it with a kiss."

Then she lifted up her face and kissed him, and Perseus laughed for joy and flew upward, while Andromeda crouched trembling on the rock.

On came the great sea-monster, lazily breasting the ripple and stopping at times by creek or headland. His great sides were fringed with clustering shells and seaweeds, and the water gurgled in and out of his wide jaws as he rolled along. At last he saw Andromeda and shot forward to take his prey.

Then down from the height of the air fell Perseus like a shooting star, down to the crests of the waves, while Andromeda hid her face as he shouted, and then there was silence for a while.

When at last she looked up trembling, Andromeda saw Perseus springing towards her, and instead of the monster, a long black rock, with the sea rippling quietly round it.

Who then so proud as Perseus, as he leapt back to the rock and lifted his fair Andromeda in his arms and flew with her to the cliff-top, as a falcon carries a dove! Who so proud as Perseus, and who so joyful as the people of the land!

And the King and the Queen came, and all the people came with songs and dances to receive Andromeda back again, as one alive from the dead.

Then the King said to Perseus, "Hero of the Hellens, stay here with me and be my son-in-law, and I will give you the half of my kingdom."

"I will be your son-in-law," said Perseus, "but of your kingdom will I have none, for I long after the pleasant land of Greece, and my mother who waits for me at home."

Then said the King, "You must not take my daughter away at once, for she is to us as one alive from the dead. Stay with us here a year, and after that you shall return with honor."

And Perseus consented, but before he went to the palace he bade the people bring stones and wood and build an altar to Athené, and there he offered bullocks and rams. Then they made a great wedding feast, which lasted seven whole days.

But on the eighth night Perseus dreamed a dream. He saw standing beside him Athené as he had seen her seven long years before, and she stood and called him by name, and said, "Perseus, you have played the man, and see, you have your reward. Now give me the sword and the sandals, and the hat of darkness, that I may give them back to those to whom they belong. But the Gorgon's head you shall keep a while, for you will need it in your land of Hellas."

And Perseus rose to give her the sword, and the cap, and the sandals, but he woke and his dream vanished away. Yet it was not altogether a dream, for the goat-skin with the head was in its place, but the sword and the cap and the sandals were gone, and Perseus never saw them more.


HOW PERSEUS CAME HOME AGAIN

When a year was ended, Perseus rowed away in a noble galley, and in it he put Andromeda and all her dowry of jewels and rich shawls and spices from the East, and great was the weeping when they rowed away.

And when Perseus reached the land, of Hellas he left his galley on the beach, and went up as of old. He embraced his mother and Dictys, and they wept over each other, for it was seven years and more since they had parted.

Then Perseus went out and up to the hall of Polydectes, and underneath the goat-skin he bore the Gorgon's head.

When he came to the hall, Polydectes sat at the table, and all his nobles on either side, feasting on fish and goats' flesh, and drinking blood-red wine.

Perseus stood upon the threshold and called to the King by name. But none of the guests knew the stranger, for he was changed by his long journey. He had gone out a boy, and he was come home a hero.

But Polydectes the Wicked, knew him, and scornfully he called, "Ah, foundling! have you found it more easy to promise than to fulfil?"

"Those whom the gods help fulfil their promises," said Perseus, as he drew back the goat-skin and held aloft the Gorgon's head, saying, "Behold!"

Pale grew Polydectes and his guests as they looked upon that dreadful face. They tried to rise from their seats, but from their seats they never rose, but stiffened, each man where he sat, into a ring of cold gray stones.

Then Perseus turned and left them, and went down to his galley in the bay. He gave the kingdom to good Dictys, and sailed away with his mother and his bride. And Perseus rowed westward till he came to his old home, and there he found that his grandfather had fled.

The heart of Perseus yearned after his grandfather, and he said, "Surely he will love me now that I am come home with honor. I will go and find him and bring him back, and we will reign together in peace."

So Perseus sailed away, and at last he came to the land where his grandfather dwelt, and all the people were in the fields, and there was feasting and all kinds of games.

Then Perseus did not tell his name, but went up to the games unknown, for he said, "If I carry away the prize in the games, my grandfather's heart will be softened towards me."

And when the games began, Perseus was the best of all at running and leaping, and wrestling and throwing. And he won four crowns and took them.

Then he said to himself, "There is a fifth crown to be won. I will win that also, and lay them all upon the knees of my grandfather."

So he took the stones and hurled them five fathoms beyond all the rest. And the people shouted, "There has never been such a hurler in this land!"

Again Perseus put out all his strength and hurled. But a gust of wind came from the sea and carried the quoit aside, far beyond all the rest. And it fell on the foot of his grandfather, and he swooned away with the pain.

Perseus shrieked and ran up to him, but when they lifted the old man up, he was dead. Then Perseus rent his clothes and cast dust on his head, and wept a long while for his grandfather.

At last he rose and called to all people aloud and said, "The gods are true: what they have ordained must be; I am Perseus the grandson of this dead man." Then he told them how a prophet had said that he should kill his grandfather.

So they made great mourning for the old King, and burnt him on a right rich pile.

And Perseus went to the temple and was purified from the guilt of his death, because he had done it unknowingly.

Then he went home and reigned well with Andromeda, and they had four sons and three daughters.

And when they died, the ancients say that Athené took them up to the sky. All night long Perseus and Andromeda shine as a beacon for wandering sailors, but all day long they feast with the gods, on the still blue peaks in the home of the Immortals.




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