The Greek Hero Perseus

Perseus With the Head of Medusa
Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini. CC storem at

Perseus is a major hero from Greek mythology best known for his clever decapitation of Medusa, whose head turned people to stone. He also rescued Andromeda from the sea monster. Like most of the mythological heroes, the genealogy of Perseus makes him the son of a god and a mortal. Perseus is the legendary founder of the Peloponnesian city of Mycenae, home of Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War, and the father of the legendary ancestor of the Persians.

Family of Perseus

The mother of Perseus was Danae, whose father was Acrisius of Argos. Danae conceived Perseus when Zeus impregnated her in the form of a golden shower.

Electryon is one of Perseus' son. Electryon's daughter was Alcmena, Hercules' mother. The other sons of Perseus and Andromeda are Perses (legendary ancestor of the Persians), Alcaeus, Heleus, Mestor, and Sthenelus. They had one daughter, Gorgophone.

Infancy of Perseus

An oracle told Acrisius that a child of his daughter Danae would kill him, so Acrisius did what he could to keep Danae from men, but he couldn't keep out Zeus in the form of a golden shower. After Danae gave birth, Acrisius sent her and her son away, by locking them in a chest and putting it to sea. The chest washed up on the island of Seriphus which was ruled by Polydectes.

The Trials of Perseus

Polydectes, who was trying to woo Danae, thought Perseus a nuisance, so he sent Perseus on an impossible quest: to bring back the head of Medusa.

With the help of Athena and Hermes, a polished shield for a mirror, and some other useful items the one-shared-eyed Graeae helped him locate, Perseus was able to cut the head off, without being turned to stone, and enclose it in a sack or wallet.

Perseus and Andromeda

On his travels, Perseus fell in love with a maiden named Andromeda who was paying for the boasts of her family (like Psyche in Apuleius' Golden Ass) by being exposed to a sea monster.

Perseus agreed to kill the monster if he could marry Andromeda, with almost predictable obstacles to overcome.

Perseus Returns Home

When Perseus came home he found King Polydectes behaving badly, so he showed the king the very prize he had asked Perseus to fetch, the lithifying head of Medusa. Inevitably, Polydectes turned to stone.

The End of the Medusa Head

The Medusa head was a powerful weapon, but Perseus was willing to give it up to Athena, who placed it in the center of her shield.

Perseus Fulfills the Oracle

Perseus then went to Argos and Larissa to compete in athletic events. There he accidentally killed Grandfather Acrisius when a wind swept away a discus he was holding. Perseus then went to Argos to claim his inheritance.

Local Hero

Since Perseus had killed his grandfather, he felt badly about reigning in his stead, so he went to the Tiryns where he found the ruler, Megapenthes, willing to exchange kingdoms. Megapenthes took Argos, and Perseus, Tiryns. Later Perseus founded the nearby city of Mycenae, which is in the Argolis, in the Peloponnese.

Death of Perseus

Another Megapenthes killed Perseus. This Megapenthes was a son of Proteus and a half-brother of Perseus. After his death, Perseus was made immortal and put among the stars.

Today, Perseus is still the name of a constellation in the northern sky.

Perseus and His Descendants

The Perseids, a term referring to the descendants of Perseus and Andromeda's son Perses, are also a summer meteor shower that comes from the constellation of Perseus. Among the human Perseids, the most famous is Hercules (Heracles).

Main Source: Carlos Parada Perseus

Ancient Sources on Perseus:

Apollodorus, Library
Homer, Iliad
Ovid, Metamorphoses
Hyginus, Fabulae
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica.