Simplified Heracles and Perseus Genealogy

Perseus, Greek Περσεύς, was the son of Danae, the only child of Acrisius king of Argos. Disappointed by his lack of male heirs, he asked an oracle if this would change. The oracle told him that one day he would be killed by his daughter's child. She was childless and, meaning to keep her so, he shut her up in a brazen chamber. But Zeus came to her in the form of rain, and impregnated her. Soon after, their child Perseus was born.

Carpenter prepares a chest for Danae and Perseus

None too happy, but unwilling to provoke the wrath of the gods by killing his offspring, Acrisius cast the two into the sea in a wooden chest. They washed ashore on the island of Seriphos, where they were taken in by Dictys, the brother of king Polydectes, who raised the boy to manhood. Now after a time Polydectes fell in love with Danae, and so wanted to get Perseus out of the picture. He thereby hatched a plot to send him on a suicide mission.

Polydectes placed some strong hints that he would love to have the head of Medusa, one of the gorgons whose very expression turns people to stone. He then announced that he would woo Hippodamia and so needed the others to provide him with horses (a different myth). Shamed at having nothing to give, Perseus left to get him Medusa's head. This was of course not easy, and for a long time he wandered aimlessly, without hope of ever finding her or being able to accomplish his mission when he did.

The gods Hermes and Athena came to his rescue. They led him to the Graeae, three perpetually old women with one eye and tooth between them and sisters of the gorgons. Perseus took the eye and would not return it until they had given him directions. He also received winged sandals, a magic wallet, the cap of Hades that made one invisible, an adamantine sickle, and a mirrored shield. With all this he came upon the sleeping gorgons. By viewing Medusa's reflection in his shield he could safely approach and cut off her head. The other two gorgons pursued him, but he became invisible and escaped.

Perseus, Andromeda and Ketos

On the way back to Seriphos, Perseus stopped in Ethiopia, ruled by King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia, having boasted herself equal in beauty to the Nereids, drew down the vengeance of Poseidon, who sent an inundation on the land and a sea-monster which destroyed man and beast. The oracle of Ammon having announced that no relief would be found until the king exposed his daughter Andromeda to the monster, she was fastened to a rock on the shore. Here Perseus, returning from having slain the gorgon, found her, slew the monster, set her free, and married her in spite of Phineus, to whom she had before been promised. At the wedding a quarrel took place between the rivals, and Phineus was turned to stone by the sight of the Gorgon's head (Ovid, Metam. v. 1). Andromeda followed her husband to Tiryns in Argos, and became the ancestress of the family of the Perseidae through Perseus' and Andromeda's son, Perses. After her death she was placed by Athena amongst the constellations in the northern sky, near Perseus and Cassiopeia. Sophocles and Euripides (and in more modern times Corneille) made the story the subject of tragedies, and its incidents were represented in numerous ancient works of art.

And on returning to Seriphos and discovering his mother had had to take refuge from the violent ways of Polydectes, he killed him, and made Dictys king.

Perseus then returned his tools and gave Medusa's head as a gift to Athena. He started for Argos, but learning of the oracle instead went to Larissa, where athletic games were being held. By chance Acrisius was there, and Perseus accidentally struck him with his javelin, fulfilling the oracle. Too shamed to return to Argos he then gave the kingdom to Megapenthes son of Proetus (Acrisius' brother) and took over his kingdom of Tyrins, also founding Mycenae and Midea there.

Perseus, Canova, Metropolitan Museum

Abas was a good friend of Perseus.

One legend goes that Perseus turned Atlas the Titan into Atlas the mountain using the head of Medusa when he refused to give Perseus shelter.

Perseus and Andromeda had six sons: Perses, Alcaeus, Heleus, Mestor, Sthenelus, and Electryon. The first was supposedly left in Ethiopia and became ancestor of the emperors of Persia to explain the similarity of the country's name and Perseus'. His descendants ruled Mycenae from Electryon down to Eurystheus, after whom Atreus got the kingdom, and include the great hero Heracles son of Amphitryon son of Alcaeus.

Perseus and Andromeda, after a miniature of the 14th century, "Liber der Locis Stellarum Fixarum.", Spanish Manuscript, Arsenal Library Paris

Perseus's daughter was Gorgophone, whose name means "Gorgon Slayer", a tribute to her father. Gorgophone is a central figure in the history of Sparta, having been married to two kings, Oibalos of Sparta (actually Lakonia, Sparta's region) and Perieres of Messenia, the region to the west of Lakonia which Sparta, in the late 8th or early 7th century B.C. enslaved. She was of Lelege descent, the Leleges being a people of Asia Minor who settled in Lakonia. One of the sons of Oibalos and Gorgophone was Tundareus, father of Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra, Castor and Pollux, and another was Ikarios, father of Odysseus's wife, Penelope. Thus Perseus's descendants played a central role in the Homeric epics and the pre-history of Greece, however we choose to understand the figure of Perseus himself. The most famous historical Spartan woman derived her name from Gorgophone, that is, Gorgo, the daughter of the great Spartan king Cleomenes. Gorgo was born about 507 B.C. After her father's rather awful death she married his brother, Leonidas, who became king and was the hero of the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Like her namesake Gorgophone, Gorgo remarried another Spartan king, and spawned yet another. Gorgo herself was renowned in Spartan legend, and it is curious that she bore the name that was so closely identified with the legendary Perseus and his daughter, who, if they really lived, pre-dated Gorgo by over seven centuries. Chief sources for Gorgophone are Pausanias, books 2 and 4, and Apollodorus, Books 1 and 3. Plutarch's works contain a good deal on Gorgo, and she appears in a couple of Herodotus's anecdotes that emphasize her close ties with her father and his trust in her acuity of judgement.

Perseus beheads Medusa. Statue by Laurent Honoré Marquest

The legend of Perseus was the basis for the film Clash of the Titans, the last movie to feature Ray Harryhausen's stop motion special effects.


Perseus is also a son of Nestor and Anaxibia. (Homer Od. iii. 414; Apollod. i. 9. 9.)

Perseus Gallery

Morford, Mark P.O.; Robert J. Lenardon (2006-07-18). "Perseus and the Legends of Argos", Classical Mythology, Eighth, USA: Oxford University Press, 506-518. ISBN 978-0195308051.

Phinney Jr., Edward (1971). "Perseus' Battle with the Gorgons". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 102: 445-463. DOI:10.2307/2935950. Retrieved on 2007-05-05.

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