The poet Homer referred to Perseus as the “most renowned of all men” — and with good reason. Perseus was kind, faithful to his wife, and loyal to his mother and his family. He was also a fearsome slayer of monsters. Perseus was a model man and the epitome of a hero.
Perseus was born to Danae and Zeus. When Danae was still a virgin, her father heard a prophecy that Danae's son would one day kill him, so he imprisoned his daughter in a tower to keep her away from men. But Zeus managed to get to her and their union produced Perseus. Danae's father locked Danae and her son in a chest and cast them out to sea, but they were saved by a kind fisherman.
Later, King Polydectes wanted a sexual relationship with Danae, but she wanted nothing to do with him. He was relentless in his pursuit, however, and Perseus defended his mother. Polydectes knew that he was no match for Perseus, so he devised a plan to get the young man out of the way. He pretended he was going to marry another woman and demanded lavish wedding gifts from his subjects. Perseus couldn't afford such a gift, but he offered to get the king anything he wanted. Polydectes told Perseus to bring him Medusa's head. This Gorgon was such a formidable monster that Polydectes was sure that Perseus's quest would kill him.
However, Perseus was favored by the gods; he had both Athena and Hermes on his side, and they helped him to overcome and kill Medusa. (Chapter 11 gives the details of how Perseus accomplished his task.) When Perseus returned home, he found that Polydectes was still persecuting Danae, forcing her to work as a slave in his palace. Perseus showed Polydectes the head of Medusa and turned the king to stone.
A Damsel in Distress
Perseus met his bride in the true fashion of a hero — he rescued her. Andromeda was a beautiful young woman, daughter of the king of Joppa. Her mother Cassiopeia was proud of her daughter's beauty, but she went too far and declared that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids. The offended sea nymphs complained to Poseidon, who sent Cetus, a sea monster, to attack the coast.
In great distress, the king consulted an oracle and learned that the only way to stop Cetus was to offer his daughter as a sacrifice to the monster. The king reluctantly complied and ordered that Andromeda be chained to the foot of a cliff by the sea. As Cetus approached Andromeda to devour her, Perseus flew in on winged sandals and used Hermes' sword to kill the monster.
Andromeda and Perseus stayed together even after their deaths. Athena placed Andromeda in the sky as a constellation, along with Perseus, her parents, and Cetus.
Andromeda and Perseus were married and lived happily together. Unlike most husbands in mythology, Perseus was faithful to his wife for as long as he lived. Together they had a son, Perses.
A Prophecy Not Forgotten
Perseus, a family man through and through, went to Argos to visit his grandfather, Acrisius. Even though his grandfather had tried to have him and his mother killed, Perseus had no hard feelings. Acrisius, on the other hand, hearing about his grandson's journey to Argos and remembering the prophecy that Danae's son would kill him, fled in fear.
Perseus followed Acrisius to Larissa, a city in Thessaly. Upon his arrival, he learned that the local king's father had died and funeral games were being held in his honor. Perseus joined in the funeral games, entering the discus-throwing competition. During the games, Perseus threw a discus that struck Acrisius, accidentally killing him. The old prophecy had been fulfilled.
With the death of Acrisius, Perseus gained the throne of Argos. He was so ashamed of the fact that he'd killed his own grandfather, however, that he wanted nothing to do with Argos. He traded kingdoms and became king of Tiryns instead.