Who is Perseus?



Turning from Cadmus and his descendant, Oedipus, a fourth great hero of the old Aegean was Perseus. He was a son of Jupiter by a daughter of the kings of Argos, the city which, you will remember, had been chief in Greece in the early Cretan days. Perseus, like Oedipus, was doomed to destroy an ancestor, his grandfather, the king of Argos. So Perseus was also exposed at birth and rescued by the charity of strangers. His adventures are, however, more mythical than those of Oedipus. As one of the very earliest of heroes he combats, as did Prometheus and Cadmus, not with men, but with gods and super-human monsters.

Perseus was sent to slay the terrible Gorgon, Medusa. There were three of these Gorgons, members of the ancient race of gods. Medusa had been beautiful, but she offended Minerva, who turned the Gorgon's hair to living snakes, twined about her head. She went mad and ravaged the world. So terrible was her frenzied stare, her beauty surrounded by the hissing serpents, that a mere glance at her turned men into stone.

To slay her Perseus borrowed the shield of Minerva and the winged sandals of Mercury. Then he visited the Graeae, three withered old crones, also of the god race, who dwelt at the edge of the underworld. They had but one eye among them, and passed it to each in turn. Perseus stole the eye and only returned it when they gave him the helmet of Pluto, god of Hades, which was in their charge and which made its wearer invisible.

With the helmet to hide him, with the winged sandals to enable him to fly through air at the speed of thought, and with the shield of Minerva to guard him, Perseus approached the Gorgon. He dared not look at her; but with head turned away he saw her in his shield, which served as a mirror. Thus he cut off her terrible head and carried it away with him.

Perseus then rescued the maid, Andromeda, from a sea-monster, and fought against her countrymen. Wherever men opposed him, he had but to hold up before them the Gorgon's head, and immediately they turned to stone. One exploit which he thus accomplished was against the giant Atlas, who was fabled to hold the heavens and all the stars upon his shoulders. Medusa's head turned Atlas into the huge mountain of that name in northern Africa, which continued with its passive bulk to uphold the sky just as the living Atlas had. Having conquered all his enemies, and killed his grandfather, Perseus became king of Argos; and his great grandson was Hercules, the most celebrated of all the ancient heroes, the great typical figure of Aegean Greece.






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Read about Who is Perseus? in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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