Classical Mythology: Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

With his trophy securely in hand, Perseus flew back toward Seriphus on his winged sandals. Yet the journey back from the lair of the Gorgons was a long one. He would need to make several stops before he returned home. These layovers were by no means uneventful. As Perseus soon discovered, he had several more adventures in store for him before he reached Seriphus.

The Mountain Man: Atlas

Mythed by a Mile

None but Ovid give any weight to this account of the encounter between Perseus and Atlas. One of the famed labors of Heracles—another heroic son of Zeus— required him to bring back three of the Golden Apples. Yet if Atlas were already a mountain, Heracles could not have tricked the Titan, stolen the apples, and thus made the prophecy of Themis come true (see The Labors of Heracles). Since virtually all storytellers include this as one of the labors of Heracles, they generally discount Ovid's account.

According to Ovid alone, Perseus first stopped in the land of the Hesperides. He announced himself as a son of Zeus and asked the Titan Atlas, who ruled the Hesperides, if he could rest there for a while.

Yet Atlas recalled the prophecy of the Titaness Themis, who had warned him that a son of Zeus would one day steal the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. So the Titan, who fiercely guarded these apples, insulted Perseus, denied his parentage, and rudely attempted to expel him from the land.

Perseus could not hope to match the strength of Atlas. Yet his cleverness far outshone that of the dim-witted Titan. Perseus knew that the head of Medusa, even after her death, had not lost its power to turn anyone who looked upon it to stone. So before he left, Perseus offered to show Atlas what he had in his bag. Turning his own head away, Perseus lifted the head out of the bag and turned the Titan into a mountain, known afterward as Mount Atlas.

A Damsel in Distress: The Rescue of Andromeda

As Perseus flew on winged sandals over the coast of Ethiopia on his way home, he saw the figure of a beautiful woman chained to a rock below. The radiance of this figure stunned him so that at first Perseus thought her carved of marble. But when he descended for a better look, he saw that this maiden was crying.

At first the girl seemed frightened of Perseus and reluctant to speak about her predicament. But using gentle persuasion, Perseus overcame this virginal beauty's shyness, and she shared with him her tragic tale. Her name was Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus (depending on the source, the king of either Ethiopia or Joppa, a city on the Levantine seacoast) and Cassiopeia. Her mother had angered Poseidon by boasting that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, the sea nymphs who served as the sea god's attendants. To punish Cassiopeia's vanity, Poseidon had flooded the kingdom and sent a sea monster to ravage Ethiopia. Following the advice of an oracle, King Cepheus had chained the naked Andromeda to a rocky cliff as a sacrificial offering to appease Poseidon and save his kingdom.

As he listened to her tale, Perseus fell in love with Andromeda. She begged him to save her from being devoured by the sea monster and take her away from that spot as a wife or a slave. Perseus promised he would, but first secured a promise from Cepheus to reward him with Andromeda's hand in marriage and a kingdom if he rescued her. Welcoming the opportunity to save both his kingdom and his daughter, the king eagerly accepted Perseus's demands.

When the sea monster surfaced, Perseus dived on top of the beast and—following a raging battle that stained the sea red with blood—killed it. (According to the people of Joppa, the spring where Perseus washed his hands after this battle ran red from that moment onward.)

Perseus then freed Andromeda from her chains and brought the girl to her parents. Having saved their daughter, Perseus now demanded that Cepheus honor his promises.

The Marrying Kind

Unfortunately, Andromeda had already been promised to Cepheus's brother Phineus (called Agenor by some)—a detail that Cepheus had neglected to mention in his eagerness to see his daughter rescued.

Though Phineus had not lifted a hand to save his bride, he still refused to step aside for her savior. The grateful Cepheus, however, kept his promise to Perseus by arranging for a quick wedding.

With an army behind him, however, Phineus interrupted the wedding of Perseus and Andromeda to assert his prior claim on her. Though greatly outnumbered, Perseus emerged victorious from the battle for Andromeda's hand by using Medusa's head to turn his rival and all of Phineus's allies to stone.

With Phineus out of the way, Perseus married Andromeda and—unlike most of the gods and heroes of classical mythology—remained faithful to her throughout his life. The couple remained with her parents for almost a year after their marriage, Andromeda giving birth to their first son, Perses.

When Perseus finally resumed his journey back to Seriphus, he and Andromeda left the infant Perses with his grandparents. Since his grandfather Cepheus had no other heirs, Perses would inherit his kingdom. (The boy's descendants would travel east and rule Persia, the land that was named after Perses.)

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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