Fragmentary Friday: Early Accounts of Perseus

Perseus, Andromeda, and a Sea Monster
Perseus, Andromeda, and a Sea Monster

Hesiod, Fr. 129.8-18

“And she bore both Proitos and king Akrisios
And the father of gods and men established them in different places
Akrisos ruled in well-built Argos…
[three broken lines describing the marriage of Akrisios to Eurydike, daughter of Lakedaimon]
She gave birth to fine-ankled Danae in her home
Who in turn was the mother of Perseus, the mighty master of fear.
Proitos lived in the well-built city of Tiryns
and married the daughter of the great-hearted son of Arkas
the fine-haired Stheneboia…”

ἣ δ’ ἔτεκε Προῖτόν τ]ε̣ καὶ ᾿Ακρίσιον βασιλῆα[ ]
καὶ τοὺς μὲν διένασ]σ̣ε πατὴρ [ἀν]δρῶν τ[ε θε]ῶν τε•
᾿Ακρίσιος μὲν ἄρ’ ῎Α]ρ̣γ̣ει ἐυκτί̣[τ]ωι ἐμβασί[λ]ευεν
[ ]..ρ̣εν ὀκριόεντ[.].[.].[
[ Εὐρυ]δίκην Λακεδαί[μο]νο[ς ]ι̣[.]
[ καλλι]πάρηον ἐὺ πραπί[δεσσ’] ἀρα[ρυῖα]ν
ἣ δ’ ἔτεκεν Δανά]ην κ̣[α]λλίσφυρο[ν ἐν μεγά]ρ̣[οισιν,
ἣ Περσῆ’ ἔτεκεν κρα]τ̣ε̣[ρὸ]ν μ[ήσ]τωρ[α] φόβοιο.
Προῖτος δ’ αὖ Τίρυ]ν̣θ̣α ἐυκ[τ]ίμε[νο]ν πτολίεθρον
νάσσατο καὶ κούρη]ν μεγαλήτορος ᾿Αρκασίδα[ο
γῆμεν ᾿Αφείδαντο]ς̣ καλ[λι]πλόκαμον Σ[θ]ενέβοι[αν

This fragment sets Perseus in his conventional genealogy against the background of a conflict between Akrisios and Proitios.

Hesiod, Fr. 135

“[unclear
….. …..]Abas who fathered Akrisios[
….. …..] Perseus, whom into the sea in a box[
….. …..] rose up for golden Zeus[
….. …..] dear Perseus[
From whom with Cepheus’ daughter Andromeda were born
Alkaios], Sthenelos, and powerful Elektryon.”

….. …..]τ̣ρηλι̣τ̣ε̣α̣[..]..α̣.ουνε̣[
….. …..]῎Αβας̣• ὃ̣ δ̣’ ἄ̣ρ̣’ ᾿Ακρίσιον τέ̣[κεθ’ υἱόν.
….. … Πε]ρσῆα, τὸν εἰς ἅλα λά[ρνακι
….. …. ἀ]νέτειλε Διὶ χρυσει[
….. …].η̣ Περσῆα φίλον τ̣[
τοῦ δὲ καὶ] ᾿Ανδρομέδας Κηφη̣[ίδος ἐξεγένοντο
᾿Αλκαῖος Σ]θένελός τ̣ε βίη τ’ [᾿Ηλεκτρυωνείη

In this spare fragment, we find the kernels of Perseus’ sea-journey in a box and the more far-flung tale of his freeing of Andromeda.

Hesiod, Theogony 274-281

…the Gorgons, who live beyond famous Ocean,
In the farthest part near night, near the clear-voiced Hesperides,
Sthennô, Euryalê, and Medousa who suffered grievous things.
She is mortal, but the other two are immortal and ageless.
The Dark-maned one laid down next to her
In a soft meadow and among blooming flowers.
When Perseus cut of her head then leapt out
Great Khrusaôr and the horse Pegasos.

Γοργούς θ’, αἳ ναίουσι πέρην κλυτοῦ ᾿Ωκεανοῖο
ἐσχατιῇ πρὸς νυκτός, ἵν’ ῾Εσπερίδες λιγύφωνοι,
Σθεννώ τ’ Εὐρυάλη τε Μέδουσά τε λυγρὰ παθοῦσα•
ἡ μὲν ἔην θνητή, αἱ δ’ ἀθάνατοι καὶ ἀγήρῳ,
αἱ δύο• τῇ δὲ μιῇ παρελέξατο Κυανοχαίτης
ἐν μαλακῷ λειμῶνι καὶ ἄνθεσιν εἰαρινοῖσι.
τῆς ὅτε δὴ Περσεὺς κεφαλὴν ἀπεδειροτόμησεν,
ἐξέθορε Χρυσάωρ τε μέγας καὶ Πήγασος ἵππος.

Essential elements of the Perseus narrative are present in Hesiod’s Theogony including (1) the killing of Medusa and the (2) freeing of Pegasos.

Pindar, Pythian 12. 11-19

“…Perseus, when he exulted as he carried one third of the sisters
as death to shore-dwelling Seriphos and its people.
He also blinded the godly race of Phorkos
And made Polydectes’ feast deadly in exchange for
The slavery and forced bed of his mother
Once he scavenged the head of fair-cheeked Medusa,

That son of Danaë, the one we say was born from
Flowing gold…”

Περσεὺς ὁπότε τρίτον ἄυσεν κασιγνητᾶν μέρος
ἐνναλίᾳ Σερίφῳ λαοῖσί τε μοῖραν ἄγων.
ἤτοι τό τε θεσπέσιον Φόρκοι’ ἀμαύρωσεν γένος,
λυγρόν τ’ ἔρανον Πολυδέκτᾳ θῆκε ματρός τ’ ἔμπεδον
δουλοσύναν τό τ’ ἀναγκαῖον λέχος,
εὐπαράου κρᾶτα συλάσαις Μεδοίσας
Γ′ υἱὸς Δανάας, τὸν ἀπὸ χρυσοῦ φαμὲν αὐτορύτου
ἔμμεναι…

Core elements of Perseus’ tale are present here: the ode emphasizes the fact that Athena helped him, that he effectively blinded the Graiai (“race of Phorkos”), beheaded Medusa, and punished Polydectes for harming his mother.

D Schol. Il. 14.319

A different story is told by the D Scholia for the Iliad, one of the earliest groups of commentary on the epic

“Danaês: Danaê, a daughter of Akrisios who, after having sex with Zeus, gave birth to Perseus. For they say that Akrisios had a prophecy concerning any male descendants: the god said that if a boy was born from his daughter he would kill Akrisios. Because he feared this, Akrisios prepared a bronze chamber in the earth and guarded Danaê there. She, as Pindar and others say, was raped by her own uncle Proitios—and this created a conflict between the brothers. Others say that Zeus changed himself into gold and entered through a hole in the chamber, falling on Danaê’s lap. When Akrisios noticed later, and when Perseus was born, he didn’t believe that his daughter was corrupted by Zeus: so he put her and the child in a box and tossed it into the sea. They were preserved and arrived on the island Seriphos and she entrusted the child to Polydeukes, or, as some say to Diktys, the brother of Polykeukes. Later, when Akrisios went into exile, Perseus took over the kingdom of the Argives.”

Δανάης. Δανάη ᾿Ακρισίου θυγάτηρ, ἣ
Διῒ συγκοιμηθεῖσα, Περσέα ἐγέννησε.
Χρησαμένῳ γάρ φησι τῷ ᾿Ακρισίῳ περὶ
γενέσεως ἀῤῥένων παίδων, ὁ θεὸς ἔφη,
τὸν γενόμενον παῖδα ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς
αὐτοῦ αὐτὸν κτενεῖν. Δείσας δὲ ὁ ᾿Α-
κρίσιος, κατὰ γῆς θάλαμον χαλκοῦν κα-
τασκευάσας, τὴν Δανάην ἐφρούρει. Αὕ-
τη δὲ, ὥς φησι Πίνδαρος, καὶ ἕτεροι
τινὲς, ἐφθάρη ὑπὸ τοῦ πατραδέλφου αὐ-
τῆς Προίτου. ῞Οθεν αὐτοῖς καὶ στάσις
ἐκινήθη. ῾Ως δὲ ἔνιοί φασι, Ζεὺς μετα-
μορφωθεὶς εἰς χρυσὸν, καὶ διὰ τῆς ὀροφῆς
εἰσδὺς εἰς τὸν Δανάης κόλπον, συνῆλθεν
αὐτῇ. Αἰσθόμενος δὲ ᾿Ακρίσιος ὕστερον,
ἐξ αὐτῆς γεγεννημένον Περσέα, μὴ πι-
στεύσας ὑπὸ Διὸς ἐφθάρθαι, τὴν θυγα-
τέρα μετὰ τοῦ παιδὸς εἰς λάρνακα βα-
λὼν, εἰς θάλασσαν ἔῤῥιψε. Διασωθέν-
των δὲ τούτων εἰς Σέριφον τὴν νῆσον,
συνέβη ἀνατραφῆναι τὸν παῖδα παρὰ
Πολυδεύκῃ, ἢ, ὡς ἔνιοί φασιν, ὑπὸ Δί-
κτυος τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ Πολυδεύκους. Φυγόν-
τος δὲ ὕστερον ᾿Ακρισίου, τὴν ᾿Αργείων
βασιλείαν παρέλαβε Περσεύς. Καλλι-

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