Magical tales of mythical monsters and legendary heroes

Perseus and the Gorgon

Written By on in Europe

1,986 words, estimated reading time 10 minutes.

Our brave hero Perseus sets off on a quest to slay the evil gorgon Medusa who is so hideous that anyone who looks at them turns to stone. This he must do to save his mother from slavery to the evil King Polydectes of Seriphos.

King Polydectes of Seriphos was feeling very pleased with himself. At last, he had managed to get rid of Perseus. The boy was a nuisance. Ever since he and his mother Danae had been shipwrecked on Seriphos, Perseus had protected her against the King. Polydectes, who hated both of them, wanted Danae as his slave. Determined to have his way, the King had tried for years to find some means of sending Perseus to certain death. Now he had succeeded.

"Perseus is a fool!" Polydectes laughed with wicked satisfaction. "He fell straight into my trap."

Polydectes' trap was simple. He invited Perseus to a banquet. The guests were supposed to bring some rich gift with them, but Perseus was so poor that he had nothing to give.

"You must wipe out this insult, Perseus!" Polydectes demanded, pretending to be very angry. "You must bring me the head of the Gorgon, Swear you will do so!"

Perseus had to do as the King demanded. However, the task he swore to perform only was impossible!

"Perseus cannot kill Medusa without looking directly at her," Polydectes chortled gleefully. "The moment he does so, he will be turned to stone!"

While King Polydectes was congratulating himself on his cleverness, Perseus was feeling desperate.

"What am I to do?' he thought. "I don't want to be turned to stone but I can't kill Medusa with my eyes shut!" Perseus knew now that the King wanted him dead, but he could not go back on his word. That would be a dreadful disgrace.

"I am doomed," Perseus decided gloomily. "There is no escape!"

Happily, Perseus was wrong. The Greek gods Athene and Hermes had seen and heard all that had happened. They were watching from the Palace of Olympus where the gods lived high up in the clouds.

"Perseus is in terrible trouble," sighed Athene, the goddess of wisdom. "We must help him."

"Of course we must," replied Hermes, the messenger of the gods.

Hermes thought for several moments. Then, at last, he cried, "I've got it! Come, Athene, bring your shield which shines like a mirror. I'll bring my curved sword and a pair of my winged sandals."

"Where are we going?" asked Athene.

"To see Perseus," Hermes told her. "On the way we will call on Hades in the Underworld, and borrow his helmet of invisibility. Then we will go to the Nymphs and borrow their magic wallet. Come, Athene, we must hurry. There is no time to lose."

Suddenly, or so it seemed to Perseus, a bright, golden light started shining in front of him. Perseus was dazzled by it. Gradually, he was able to make out the shapes of the tall, beautiful Athene and the small, slim Hermes.

"Who are you?" Perseus asked, mystified by these creatures who shone with golden light.

"We are beings with great powers," said Athene. "We can do things humans find impossible."

"Like killing Medusa," Hermes added, with a smile. "Or at least telling you how it can be done!"

Perseus frowned. "You are making fun of me," he said suspiciously. "No one can kill Medusa without being turned to stone first!"

"You are wrong, Perseus! You can do it," replied Hermes cheerfully. "Here are the things you will need."

Perseus stared in amazement as Athene and Hermes laid before him Athene's shield, the helmet of invisibility, the magic wallet and Hermes' curved sword and winged sandals. "What use are all these things?" Perseus asked.

"Listen!" replied Hermes. The wings on his sandals flapped as he ?ew up to whisper in Perseus'ear. As Perseus listened to Hermes, he stopped frowning with worry. By the time Hermes had finished, Perseus was very cheerful and excited.

"Marvellous! Wonderful!" he cried, as Hermes ?uttered back to the ground.

"Now I can kill Medusa and get her head!"

"All you need to know now is the way to the Land of the Dead where Medusa and her two sisters live" said Athene

"Don't you know it?" Perseus asked in surprise.

"Only the Old Grey Women have that knowledge," Hermes told him. "They are strange creatures with only one eye between them, but it is so powerful that it can see to the end of the world."

"What are we waiting for?" Perseus cried impatiently. "Let's go and ask them!"

Hermes put his hands under Perseus' elbow. Slowly, Perseus felt himself rise into the air. The wings on his own sandals were beating up and down like the wings of a bird. Perseus had never ?own before and at first, he wobbled a bit. Soon though, he was flying as swiftly and as surely as Hermes.

A few moments later, they were flying over a seashore and Hermes was pointing to a large cave close by the beach.

"There they are!" Hermes cried.

Perseus looked down and saw the three Old Grey Women coming out of the cave. Together with Hermes, he swooped downwards to land on the shore. At once, Hermes darted behind a nearby bush and signalled Perseus to do the same.

As the Old Grey Women approached, they were arguing fiercely.

"You've had the eye long enough now, Sister," croaked one Old Woman.

"Let me have it. I want to take a look at the world."

"No, it's my turn," protested the Woman behind her.

The two blind Women were groping about, but the one with the eye avoided them. "You will both have to wait," she said. "I haven't finished with the eye yet."

"They always quarrel like this," Hermes whispered. "Wait until the Old Woman with the eye gives it to one of the others. Then all three are blind. Here's what you must do..."

Perseus waited until the Woman with the eye took it from the hole in the centre of her head and began passing it to one of her sisters.

"Now! Quick!" cried Hermes.

Perseus leapt up, rushed over to the Women and snatched up the eye. The Women shrieked with alarm.

"Who's there?" they cried. "Someone's stolen our eye!"

"Your eye is quite safe," said Perseus. "I have it here!"

"Give it back! Give it back this instant!"

"Not until you have told me how to reach the place where the Gorgons live!" Perseus said firmly.

The Old Grey Women whined and complained, but they knew that without their eye, they were all helpless. At last, they gave in. One of the Old Women angrily told Perseus all he wanted to know.

"Now," snarled the Old Woman when she had finished. "Give us back our eye!"

Perseus placed the eye in the forehead of the Old Woman who had spoken to him. As soon as she could see again, she tried to scratch him with her long, black fingernails. Perseus escaped by rising swiftly into the air on his winged sandals. Hermes went with him.

"We must part here," Hermes said. "Farewell, Perseus. Remember all you must do when you reach the land of the Gorgons."

Hermes soared into the clouds and out of sight. Perseus turned westwards, as the Old Women had said and flew past all the coasts and oceans which they told him led to his destination.

Beneath him, as he flew, the Earth looked like a carpet of many colours. There was the dark green of the forests and grasslands. There was the gold of the sand on the seashore, and the blue of the lakes, rivers and oceans.

After a while, though, Perseus could see only black rocks and grey barren mountains. Perseus knew he was nearing his destination. At last, he saw a large black island below. Three shapes lay on the rocks by the shore. They looked like giant, winged dragons.

"The Gorgons!" Perseus cried, feeling frightened and excited at the same time.

All three looked as if they were asleep. When he looked at them, Perseus shivered with horror.

The Gorgons were the most horrible creatures he had ever seen. From their cheeks grew two white tusks. Their hands had long claws made of brass. Two Gorgons were covered in dragon scales from head to toe. The head of the third Gorgon, instead of hair, was a mass of writhing snakes.

"That must be Medusa," breathed Perseus.

He had hurry. The Gorgons might wake at any moment. Perseus hovered in the air, while he placed the helmet of invisibility on his head.

He opened the magic wallet that hung from his belt and gripped Hermes' sword in his right hand. Then, with his left hand, Perseus carefully moved Athene's mirror-like shield until he could see Medusa's reflection in it.

Slowly, Perseus ?ew down towards the rock where Medusa lay, keeping her re?ection in the shield all the time. He was nearly there, lower, then a little lower. Perseus was above Medusa's head.

Now! he thought, and with one swift stroke, he brought the curved sword down. Its tip clanged on the rock as it sliced through Medusa's neck. Perseus darted downwards, using the shield as a mirror to show him what to do. Quickly, Perseus grasped Medusa's head and pulled it off the sand where it had fallen. He pushed it into the wallet and fastened it tightly.

Just then, the other two Gorgons woke up. When they saw Medusa's headless body lying on the rock, they let out dreadful screams and howls. But they could not see who had killed her. The helmet of invisibility Perseus was wearing made sure of that.

It was time to escape. The wings on Perseus' sandals beat rapidly and he soared up into the air, leaving the two Gorgons screaming and clutching vainly at the air.

Perseus began his long journey back to the island of Seriphos. At last he ?ew down to land on the beach near Polydectes' Palace.

A few minutes later, Perseus marched into the palace. Before anyone could stop him, he threw back the doors of the banquet hall, where Polydectes was feasting his nobles. Everyone jumped in surprise.

When Polydectes saw that Perseus had returned, he went pale with fear. "I have the Gorgon's head, Polydectes," Perseus said in a confident voice. "I have done as I promised."

Despite his fear, Polydectes laughed. "Come, now, Perseus!" he said. "How could you have killed Medusa and returned alive?"

By now the nobles of Seriphos had also recovered from their surprise.

"You lie, Perseus!"

"You're talking nonsense!

"It is impossible!" These cries rang out from all around the hall.

Then Polydectes signalled to one of his servants. "Go, fetch the mother of this foolish boy!" the King instructed. "Bring Danae and let her see her son is a liar!"

When Danae entered the hall, Perseus found it hard to recognise her. Polydectes had forced her to do all the dirty jobs in the palace kitchens. She looked old and worn.

When she saw Perseus, Danae's eyes shone with tears of joy. But Perseus was horrified to see how the King had ill-treated her.

"Keep your eyes on the floor, Mother," Perseus whispered to Danae. "Don't look at what I am going to do!"

Danae did as Perseus told her. Then Perseus turned again to King Polydectes. "You want proof that I have killed Medusa?" he demanded.

"You haven't got any proof!" cried Polydectes.

"Very well, look at this!" Perseus replied and pulled Medusa's head out of the magic wallet.

Immediately, King Polydectes and his nobles turned into stone. Some had their mouths open in amazement. Others were holding up their hands to shield themselves from Medusa's terrible eyes. It was no use. They all became solid grey stone in an instant.

Perseus plunged Medusa's head back into the wallet and closed it. He put his arms round Danae and embraced her. She was gasping with amazement at the hall full of statues.

"We are free from the wicked King," Perseus told her. "He will never trouble anyone ever again!"

Ancient Temple Mythology

Image copyright: Pexels

Last updated on: Sunday 20th August 2017

 

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