a king of Argos
who had but one child, and that child was a girl. If he had had a son,
he would have trained him up to be a brave man and great king; but he
not know what to do with this fair-haired daughter. When he saw her
up to be tall and slender and wise, he wondered if, after all, he would
have to die some time and leave his lands and his gold and his kingdom
to her. So he sent to Delphi and asked the Pythia about it. The Pythia
told him that he would not only have to die some time, but that the son
of his daughter would cause his death.
frightened the king
very much, and he tried to think of some plan by which he could keep
Pythia's words from coming true. At last he made up his mind that he
build a prison for his daughter and keep her in it all her life. So he
called his workmen and had them dig a deep round hole in the ground,
in this hole they built a house of brass which had but one room and no
door at all, but only a small window at the top. When it was finished,
the king put the maiden, whose name was Danaë, into it; and with
he put her nurse and her toys and her pretty dresses and everything
he thought she would need to make her happy.
shall see that the
Pythia does not always tell the truth," he said.
Danaë was kept shut
up in the prison of brass. She had no one to talk to but her old nurse;
and she never saw the land or the sea, but only the blue sky above the
open window and now and then a white cloud sailing across. Day after
she sat under the window and wondered why her father kept her in that
place, and whether he would ever come and take her out. I do not know
many years passed by, but Danaë grew fairer every day, and by and
by she was no longer a child, but a tall and beautiful woman; and
amid the clouds looked down and saw her and loved her.
One day it
seemed to her
that the sky opened and a shower of gold fell through the window into
room; and when the blinding shower had ceased, a noble young man stood
smiling before her. She did not know-nor do I-that it was mighty
who had thus come down in the rain; but she thought that he was a brave
prince who had come from over the sea to take her out of her
he came often,
but always as a tall and handsome youth; and by and by they were
with only the nurse at the wedding feast, and Danaë was so happy
she was no longer lonesome even when he was away. But one day when he
out through the narrow window there was a great flash of light, and she
never saw him again.
afterwards a babe
was born to Danaë, a smiling boy whom she named Perseus. For four
years she and the nurse kept him hidden, and not even the women who
their food to the window knew about him. But one day the king chanced
be passing by and heard the child's prattle. When he learned the truth,
he was very much alarmed, for he thought that now, in spite of all that
he had done, the words of the Pythia might come true.
sure way to save
himself would be to put the child to death before he was old enough to
do any harm. But when he had taken the little Perseus and his mother
of the prison and had seen how helpless the child was, he could not
the thought of having him killed outright. For the king, although a
coward, was really a kind-hearted man and did not like to see anything
suffer pain. Yet something must be done.
So he bade
his servants make
a wooden chest that was roomy and watertight and strong; and when it
done, he put Danaë and the child into it and had it taken far out
to sea and left there to be tossed about by the waves. He thought that
in this way he would rid himself of both daughter and grandson without
seeing them die; for surely the chest would sink after a while, or else
the winds would cause it to drift to some strange shore so far away
they could never come back to Argos again.
All day and
all night and
then another day, fair Danaë and her child drifted over the sea.
waves rippled and played before and around the floating chest, the west
wind whistled cheerily, and the sea birds circled in the air above; and
the child was not afraid, but dipped his hands in the curling waves and
laughed at the merry breeze and shouted back at the screaming birds.
But on the
second night all
was changed. A storm arose, the sky was black, the billows were
high, the winds roared fearfully; yet through it all the child slept
in his mother's arms. And Danaë sang over him this song:
sleep, dear child,
and take your rest
For you can
in soft robes
and warmly sleeping,
You do not
hear your mother
You do not see
the mad waves
Nor heed the
are hid, the night
The waves beat
storm is here;
But you can
sleep, my darling
naught of the uproar
At last the
morning of the
third day came, and the chest was tossed upon the sandy shore of a
island where there were green fields and, beyond them, a little town. A
man who happened to be walking near the shore saw it and dragged it far
up on the beach. Then he looked inside, and there he saw the beautiful
lady and the little boy. He helped them out and led them just as they
to his own house, where he cared for them very kindly. And when
had told him her story, he bade her feel no more fear; for they might
a home with him as long as they should choose to stay, and he would be
a true friend to them both.
II. THE MAGIC SLIPPERS
Danaë and her son
stayed in the house of the kind man who had saved them from the sea.
passed by, and Perseus grew up to be a tall young man, handsome, and
and strong. The king of the island, when he saw Danaë, was so
with her beauty that he wanted her to become his wife. But he was a
cruel man, and she did not like him at all; so she told him that she
not marry him. The king thought that Perseus was to blame for this, and
that if he could find some excuse to send the young man on a far
he might force Danaë to have him whether she wished or not.
One day he
called all the
young men of his country together and told them that he was soon to be
wedded to the queen of a certain land beyond the sea. Would not each of
them bring him a present to be given to her father? For in those times
it was the rule, that when any man was about to be married, he must
costly gifts to the father of the bride.
of presents do
you want?" said the young men.
he answered; for
he knew that Perseus had no horse.
you ask for something
worth the having?" said Perseus; for he was vexed at the way in which
king was treating him. "Why don't you ask for Medusa's head, for
head it shall be!"
cried the king. "These young men may give me horses, but you shall
bring it," said Perseus;
and he went away in anger, while his young friends laughed at him
of his foolish words.
this Medusa's head
which he had so rashly promised to bring? His mother had often told him
about Medusa. Far, far away, on the very edge of the world, there lived
three strange monsters, sisters, called Gorgons. They had the bodies
faces of women, but they had wings of gold, and terrible claws of
and hair that was full of living serpents. They were so awful to look
that no man could bear the sight of them, but whoever saw their faces
turned to stone. Two of these monsters had charmed lives, and no weapon
could ever do them harm; but the youngest, whose name was Medusa, might
be killed, if indeed anybody could find her and could give the fatal
Perseus went away from
the king's palace, he began to feel sorry that he had spoken so rashly.
For how should he ever make good his promise and do the king's bidding?
He did not know which way to go to find the Gorgons, and he had no
with which to slay the terrible Medusa. But at any rate he would never
show his face to the king again, unless he could bring the head of
with him. He went down to the shore and stood looking out over the sea
towards Argos, his native land; and while he looked, the sun went down,
and the moon arose, and a soft wind came blowing from the west. Then,
at once, two persons, a man and a woman, stood before him. Both were
and noble. The man looked like a prince; and there were wings on his
and on his feet, and he carried a winged staff, around which two golden
serpents were twined.
Perseus what was
the matter; and the young man told him how the king had treated him,
all about the rash words which he had spoken. Then the lady spoke to
very kindly; and he noticed that, although she was not beautiful, she
most wonderful gray eyes, and a stern but lovable face and a queenly
And she told him not to fear, but to go out boldly in quest of the
for she would help him obtain the terrible head of Medusa.
"But I have
no ship, and
how shall I go?" said Perseus.
don my winged
slippers," said the strange prince, "and they will bear you over sea
"Shall I go
north, or south,
or east, or west?" asked Perseus.
tell you," said the
tall lady. "You must go first to the three Gray Sisters, who live
the frozen sea in the far, far north. They have a secret which nobody
and you must force them to tell it to you. Ask them where you shall
the three Maidens who guard the golden apples of the West; and when
shall have told you, turn about and go straight thither. The Maidens
give you three things, without which you can never obtain the terrible
head; and they will show you how to wing your way across the western
to the edge of the world where lies the home of the Gorgons."
man took off his
winged slippers, and put them on the feet of Perseus; and the woman
to him to be off at once, and to fear nothing, but be bold and true.
Perseus knew that she was none other than Athena, the queen of the air,
and that her companion was Mercury, the lord of the summer clouds. But
before he could thank them for their kindness, they had vanished in the
leaped into the air
to try the Magic Slippers.
III. THE GRAY SISTERS
than an eagle, Perseus
flew up towards the sky. Then he turned, and the Magic Slippers bore
over the sea straight towards the north. On and on he went, and soon
sea was passed; and he came to a famous land, where there were cities
towns and many people. And then he flew over a range of snowy
beyond which were mighty forests and a vast plain where many rivers
seeking for the sea. And farther on was another range of mountains; and
then there were frozen marshes and a wilderness of snow, and after all
the sea again,-but a sea of ice. On and on he winged his way, among
icebergs and over frozen billows and through air which the sun never
and at last he came to the cavern where the three Gray Sisters dwelt.
so old that they had forgotten their own age, and nobody could count
years which they had lived. The long hair which covered their heads had
been gray since they were born; and they had among them only a single
and a single tooth which they passed back and forth from one to
Perseus heard them mumbling and crooning in their dreary home, and he
very still and listened.
"We know a
secret which even
the Great Folk who live on the mountain top can never learn; don't we,
sisters?" said one.
That we do, that
we do!" chattered the others.
the tooth, sister,
that I may feel young and handsome again," said the one nearest to
me the eye that
I may look out and see what is going on in the busy world," said the
who sat next to her.
yes, yes, yes!"
mumbled the third, as she took the tooth and the eye and reached them
towards the others.
as thought, Perseus
leaped forward and snatched both of the precious things from her hand.
the tooth? Where
is the eye?" screamed the two, reaching out their long arms and groping
here and there. "Have you dropped them, sister? Have you lost them?"
laughed as he stood
in the door of their cavern and saw their distress and terror.
your tooth and your
eye," he said, "and you shall never touch them again until you tell me
your secret. Where are the Maidens who keep the golden apples of the
Land? Which way shall I go to find them?"
young, and we are
old," said the Gray Sisters; "pray, do not deal so cruelly with us.
us, and give us our eye."
wept and pleaded
and coaxed and threatened. But Perseus stood a little way off and
them; and they moaned and mumbled and shrieked, as they found that
words did not move him.
we must tell him,"
at last said one.
we must tell him,"
said the others. "We must part with the secret to save our eye."
they told him how
he should go to reach the Western Land, and what road he should follow
to find the Maidens who kept the golden apples. When they had made
plain to him Perseus gave them back their eye and their tooth.
they laughed; "now
the golden days of youth have come again!" And, from that day to this,
no man has ever seen the three Gray Sisters, nor does any one know what
became of them. But the winds still whistle through their cheerless
and the cold waves murmur on the shore of the wintry sea, and the ice
topple and crash, and no sound of living creature is heard in all that
IV. THE WESTERN MAIDENS
Perseus, he leaped
again into the air, and the Magic Slippers bore him southward with the
speed of the wind. Very soon he left the frozen sea behind him and came
to a sunny land, where there were green forests and flowery meadows and
hills and valleys, and at last a pleasant garden where were all kinds
blossoms and fruits. He knew that this was the famous Western Land, for
the Gray Sisters had told him what he should see there. So he alighted
and walked among the trees until he came to the center of the garden.
he saw the three Maidens of the West dancing around a tree which was
of golden apples, and singing as they danced. For the wonderful tree
its precious fruit belonged to Juno, the queen of earth and sky; it had
been given to her as a wedding gift, and it was the duty of the Maidens
to care for it and see that no one touched the golden apples.
stopped and listened
to their song: "We sing of the old, we sing of the new,-
Our joys are
many, our sorrows
We wait to
welcome the good
and the true.
daylight is waning, the
evening is here,
The sun will
soon set, the
stars will appear.
We wait for
the dawn of
a glad new year.
shall wither, the
apples shall fall,
come, and death
But hope shall
comfort us all.
tale shall be told,
the song shall be sung,
The bow shall
the harp unstrung,
Till every joy
to the winds
shall be flung.
But a new
tree shall spring
from the roots of the old,
And many a
blossom its leaves
For its boughs
laden with apples of gold."
PERSEUS STOPPED AND
LISTENED TO THEIR
Perseus went forward
and spoke to the Maidens. They stopped singing, and stood still as if
alarm. But when they saw the Magic Slippers on his feet, they ran to
and welcomed him to the Western Land and to their garden.
that you were coming,"
they said, "for the winds told us. But why do you come?"
told them of all
that had happened to him since he was a child, and of his quest of
head; and he said that he had come to ask them to give him three things
to help him in his fight with the Gorgons.
they would give him not three things, but four. Then one of them gave
a sharp sword, which was crooked like a sickle, and which she fastened
to the belt at his waist; and another gave him a shield, which was
than any looking-glass you ever saw; and the third gave him a magic
which she hung by a long strap over his shoulder.
three things which
you must have in order to obtain Medusa's head; and now here is a
for without it your quest must be in vain." And they gave him a magic
the Cap of Darkness; and when they had put it upon his head, there was
no creature on the earth or in the sky-no, not even the Maidens
could see him.
last he was arrayed
to their liking, they told him where he would find the Gorgons, and
he should do to obtain the terrible head and escape alive. Then they
him and wished him good luck, and bade him hasten to do the dangerous
And Perseus donned the Cap of Darkness, and sped away and away towards
the farthermost edge of the earth; and the three Maidens went back to
tree to sing and to dance and to guard the golden apples until the old
world should become young again.
V. THE DREADFUL GORGONS
sharp sword at
his side and the bright shield upon his arm, Perseus flew bravely
in search of the dreadful Gorgons; but he had the Cap of Darkness upon
his head, and you could no more have seen him than you can see the
He flew so swiftly that it was not long until he had crossed the mighty
ocean which encircles the earth, and had come to the sunless land which
lies beyond; and then he knew, from what the Maidens had told him, that
the lair of the Gorgons could not be far away.
He heard a
sound as of some
one breathing heavily, and he looked around sharply to see where it
from. Among the foul weeds which grew close to the bank of a muddy
there was something which glittered in the pale light. He flew a little
nearer; but he did not dare to look straight forward, lest he should
at once meet the gaze of a Gorgon, and be changed into stone. So he
around, and held the shining shield before him in such a way that by
into it he could see objects behind him as in a mirror.
Ah, what a
it was! Half hidden among the weeds lay the three monsters, fast
with their golden wings folded about them. Their brazen claws were
out as though ready to seize their prey; and their shoulders were
with sleeping snakes. The two largest of the Gorgons lay with their
tucked under their wings as birds hide their heads when they go to
But the third, who lay between them, slept with her face turned up
the sky; and Perseus knew that she was Medusa.
stealthily he went nearer
and nearer, always with his back towards the monsters and always
into his bright shield to see where to go. Then he drew his sharp sword
and, dashing quickly downward, struck a back blow, so sure, so swift,
the head of Medusa was cut from her shoulders and the black blood
like a river from her neck. Quick as thought he thrust the terrible
into his magic pouch and leaped again into the air, and flew away with
the speed of the wind.
two older Gorgons
awoke, and rose with dreadful screams, and spread their great wings,
dashed after him. They could not see him, for the Cap of Darkness hid
from even their eyes; but they scented the blood of the head which he
in the pouch, and like hounds in the chase, they followed him, sniffing
the air. And as he flew through the clouds he could hear their dreadful
cries and the clatter of their golden wings and the snapping of their
jaws. But the Magic Slippers were faster than any wings, and in a
while the monsters were left far behind, and their cries were heard no
more; and Perseus flew on alone.
VI. THE GREAT SEA BEAST
soon crossed the
ocean and came again to the Land of the West. Far below him he could
the three Maidens dancing around the golden tree; but he did not stop,
for, now that he had the head of Medusa safe in the pouch at his side,
he must hasten home. Straight east he flew over the great sea, and
a time he came to a country where there were palm trees and pyramids
a great river flowing from the south. Here, as he looked down, a
sight met his eyes: he saw a beautiful girl chained to a rock by the
and far away a huge sea beast swimming towards her to devour her. Quick
as thought, he flew down and spoke to her; but, as she could not see
for the Cap of Darkness which he wore, his voice only frightened her.
Perseus took off his
cap, and stood upon the rock; and when the girl saw him with his long
and wonderful eyes and laughing face, she thought him the handsomest
man in the world.
me! save me!" she
cried as she reached out her arms towards him.
drew his sharp sword
and cut the chain which held her, and then lifted her high up upon the
rock. But by this time the sea monster was close at hand, lashing the
with his tail and opening his wide jaws as though he would swallow not
only Perseus and the young girl, but even the rock on which they were
He was a terrible fellow, and yet not half so terrible as the Gorgon.
he came roaring towards the shore, Perseus lifted the head of Medusa
his pouch and held it up; and when the beast saw the dreadful face he
short and was turned into stone; and men say that the stone beast may
seen in that selfsame spot to this day.
Perseus slipped the
Gorgon's head back into the pouch and hastened to speak with the young
girl whom he had saved. She told him that her name was Andromeda, and
she was the daughter of the king of that land. She said that her
the queen, was very beautiful and very proud of her beauty; and every
she went down to the seashore to look at her face as it was pictured in
the quiet water; and she had boasted that not even the nymphs who live
in the sea were as handsome as she. When the sea nymphs heard about
they were very angry and asked great Neptune, the king of the sea, to
the queen for her pride. So Neptune sent a sea monster to crush the
ships and kill the cattle along the shore and break down all the
huts. The people were so much distressed that they sent at last to ask
the Pythia what they should do; and the Pythia said that there was only
one way to save the land from destruction,-that they must give the
daughter, Andromeda, to the monster to be devoured.
and the queen loved
their daughter very dearly, for she was their only child; and for a
time they refused to do as the Pythia had told them. But day after day
the monster laid waste the land, and threatened to destroy not only the
farms, but the towns; and so they were forced in the end to give up
to save their country. This, then, was why she had been chained to the
rock by the shore and left there to perish in the jaws of the beast.
Perseus was yet talking
with Andromeda, the king and the queen and a great company of people
down the shore, weeping and tearing their hair; for they were sure that
by this time the monster had devoured his prey. But when they saw her
and well, and learned that she had been saved by the handsome young man
who stood beside her, they could hardly hold themselves for joy. And
was so delighted with Andromeda's beauty that he almost forgot his
which was not yet finished; and when the king asked him what he should
give him as a reward for saving Andromeda's life, he said:
to me for my wife."
pleased the king very
much; and so, on the seventh day, Perseus and Andromeda were married,
there was a great feast in the king's palace, and everybody was merry
glad. And the two young people lived happily for some time in the land
of palms and pyramids; and, from the sea to the mountains, nothing was
talked about but the courage of Perseus and the beauty of Andromeda.
THE KING SAW IT AND WAS
Perseus had not forgotten
his mother; and so, one fine summer day, he and Andromeda sailed in a
ship to his own home; for the Magic Slippers could not carry both him
his bride through the air. The ship came to land at the very spot where
the wooden chest had been cast so many years before; and Perseus and
bride walked through the fields towards the town.
wicked king of that
land had never ceased trying to persuade Danaë to become his wife;
but she would not listen to him, and the more he pleaded and
the more she disliked him. At last when he found that she could not be
made to have him, he declared that he would kill her; and on this very
morning he had started out, sword in hand, to take her life.
Perseus and Andromeda
came into the town, whom should they meet but his mother fleeing to the
altar of Jupiter, and the king following after, intent on killing her?
Danaë was so frightened that she did not see Perseus, but ran
on towards the only place of safety. For it was a law of that land that
not even the king should be allowed to harm any one who took refuge on
the altar of Jupiter.
Perseus saw the king
rushing like a madman after his mother, he threw himself before him and
bade him stop. But the king struck at him furiously with his sword.
caught the blow on his shield, and at the same moment took the head of
Medusa from his magic pouch.
to bring you
a present, and here it is!" he cried.
saw it, and was
turned into stone, just as he stood, with his sword uplifted and that
look of anger and passion in his face.
of the island
were glad when they learned what had happened, for no one loved the
king. They were glad, too, because Perseus had come home again, and had
brought with him his beautiful wife, Andromeda. So, after they had
the matter over among themselves, they went to him and asked him to be
their king. But he thanked them, and said that he would rule over them
for one day only, and that then he would give the kingdom to another,
that he might take his mother back to her home and her kindred in
he gave the kingdom to the kind man who had saved his mother and
from the sea; and then he went on board his ship, with Andromeda and
and sailed away across the sea towards Argos.
VIII. THE DEADLY QUOIT
Danaë's old father,
the king of Argos, heard that a strange ship was coming over the sea
his daughter and her son on board, he was in great distress; for he
what the Pythia had foretold about his death. So, without waiting to
the vessel, he left his palace in great haste and fled out of the
daughter's son cannot
kill me if I will keep out of his way," he said.
had no wish to
harm him; and he was very sad when he learned that his poor grandfather
had gone away in fear and without telling any one where he was going.
people of Argos welcomed Danaë to her old home; and they were very
proud of her handsome son, and begged that he would stay in their city,
so that he might some time become their king.
that the king of a certain country not far away was holding games and
prizes to the best runners and leapers and quoit throwers. And Perseus
went thither to try his strength with the other young men of the land;
for if he should be able to gain a prize, his name would become known
over the world. No one in that country knew who he was, but all
at his noble stature and his strength and skill; and it was easy enough
for him to win all the prizes.
One day, as
he was showing
what he could do, he threw a heavy quoit a great deal farther than any
had been thrown before. It fell in the crowd of lookers-on, and struck
a stranger who was standing there. The stranger threw up his hands and
sank upon the ground; and when Perseus ran to help him, he saw that he
was dead. Now this man was none other than Danaë's father, the old
king of Argos. He had fled from his kingdom to save his life, and in
so had only met his death.
grief, and tried in every way to pay honor to the memory of the unhappy
king. The kingdom of Argos was now rightfully his own, but he could not
bear to take it after having killed his grandfather. So he was glad to
exchange with another king who ruled over two rich cities, not far
called Mycenae and Tiryns. And he and Andromeda lived happily in
for many years.