In Greek mythology, Perseus was the heroic slayer of the Gorgon Medusa * . His mother was Danaë, daughter of King Acrisius of Argos. Before Perseus's birth, an oracle predicted that Danaë would bear a child who would one day kill his grandfather. Terrified by this prophecy, Acrisius imprisoned his daughter in a tower. However, Danaë received a visit in the tower from Zeus * , who had taken the form of a shower of gold, and she became pregnant.

After Danaë gave birth to Perseus, Acrisius had his daughter and her child locked in a box, which he threw into the sea. The box came ashore on the island of Seriphos and was found by Dictys, a fisherman. Dictys sheltered Danaë and Perseus in his home, and they remained with him for many years.

When Perseus had grown into a young man, King Polydectes of Seriphos fell in love with Danaë and tried to persuade her to marry him. Danaë refused, and Perseus protected his mother from the unwanted advances. Hoping to rid himself of Perseus, Polydectes set him a seemingly impossible task. Perseus was to obtain the head of Medusa * , a monster so hideous that anyone who even glanced at her face turned to stone.

Perseus received gifts from the gods to help him in his task: a pair of winged sandals, a sword, a helmet that made the wearer invisible, and a bronze shield from Athena * that was polished to shine like a mirror. Perseus then visted the Graeae, three old hags who were sisters of the Gorgons and who shared a single eye. Seizing their eye, he demanded to know where he could find the Gorgons. When they told him, Perseus threw the eye into a lake so that the Graeae could not warn their sisters.

With the winged sandals, Perseus flew to the home of the Gorgons. When he reached their cave, he advanced toward Medusa using Athena's shield as a mirror to avoid looking directly at the monster. Then he took the sword and cut off Medusa's head, which he placed in a bag. Drops of Medusa's blood that touched the ground changed into the winged horse Pegasus. Wearing the helmet that made him invisible, Perseus flew off on Pegasus.

Gorgon one of three ugly monsters who had snakes for hair, staring eyes, and huge wings

oracle priest or priestess or other creature through whom a god is believed to speak; also the location (such as a shrine) where such words are spoken

prophecy foretelling of what is to come; also something that is predicted

nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful

On his way home, Perseus came upon the giant Atlas * , who held up the sky. Atlas tried to stop Perseus, but the hero took out the head of Medusa and turned the giant to stone. Next Perseus saw a beautiful woman chained to a rock. This was Andromeda, left as a sacrifice to a sea monster after her mother, Cassiopea, had boasted of her beauty and offended the sea nymphs known as the Nereids. Perseus killed the sea monster, rescued Andromeda, and asked her to marry him.

Arriving back in Seriphos, Perseus found that his mother had taken refuge in the temple of Athena to avoid the advances of Polydectes. Furious, Perseus used Medusa's head to turn Polydectes and his soldiers to stone. Perseus returned the winged sandals, helmet, and shield to the gods and gave the head of Medusa to Athena, who placed it on her shield. He then took Andromeda to Argos, the kingdom of his grandfather Acrisius.

discus heavy, circular plate hurled over distance as a sport

Hearing that Perseus had arrived, Acrisius fled to Thessaly, mindful of the prophecy made years before. Later, however, Perseus took part in an athletic contest there and threw a discus that accidentally killed Acrisius. The prophecy was fulfilled.

See also Andromeda ; ATHENA ; Atlas ; Cassiopea ; DANA ; GORGONS ; HEROES ; Medusa ; Pegasus .

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