| Famous Men of Greece|
|by John H. Haaren|
|Attractive biographical sketches of thirty-five of the most prominent characters in the history of ancient Greece, from legendary times to its fall in 146 B.C. Each story is told in a clear, simple manner, and is well calculated to awaken and stimulate the youthful imagination. Ages 9-12 |
 IN a Grecian city named Argos lived beautiful Danaë, the
king's daughter. An oracle warned the
king that he would be killed by Danaë's son. To save his
life he ordered Danaë and her child,
Perseus, to be shut up in a chest and cast adrift on
the Mediterranean Sea.
For two days and nights the chest floated on the water. At
the end of that time it struck against
some rocks on the shore of an island called
Seriphos. There was a little opening in the side of
the chest, and peeping through it, Danaë saw a man coming
over the rocks toward her. As soon
as he was near enough, he threw a fishing net over the chest
and drew it ashore.
He broke the chest open and let Danaë out. Then he told her
that she had landed upon an island
 by his brother, Polydectes. His own name was Dictys. He took Danaë and her child to his
Years went by, and Perseus grew to be a strong and handsome
man. Danaë was still a beautiful
woman and Polydectes fell in love with her. She refused his
love, and Perseus also was unwilling
that he should marry her. Then Polydectes told Perseus that
he was about to marry, and that he
wished to give the head of the
Gorgon, Medusa, to his
bride for a present. Perseus promised to
get him the Gorgon's head. This pleased Polydectes. He did
not want the Gorgon's head, but he
asked for it because he believed that the young man would
never return alive if he went in search
The Gorgons were three horrible sisters who lived on a
distant island near the land of the setting
sun. Their hair was snakes that hissed at all who came near
them. They had wings of gold and
claws of brass. Two of them were immortal, but the
youngest, Medusa, was mortal. Her face
was that of a beautiful woman, but never free from a frown;
and whoever looked upon it was
turned to stone.
When Perseus had made his promise, he went out from the
palace and sat on the cliffs of
Seriphos. While he was gazing at the white-capped sea,
Mercury, the messenger of the gods,
appeared before him and promised help from himself and from
 the goddess of wisdom.
Minerva would lend her shield, Mercury offered his sword of
light, and both agreed to guide him
to the land of the setting sun, where the three Gray Sisters
lived. These sisters would tell him the
way to the home of the Hesperides. The Hesperides were
beautiful nymphs who had three
magic treasures, which Perseus must get before he could
reach the land of the Gorgons.
Leaving Seriphos, Perseus began his long journey to the land
of the setting sun. When he arrived
there he found the three Gray Sisters. They were the
strangest beings that he had ever seen.
 among them only one eye and one tooth, which they passed in
turn from one to another.
PERSEUS AND THE GRAY SISTERS
When Perseus reached their dwelling the door was wide-open,
and so he walked in. He was
overjoyed to find the three sisters all taking a nap, with
their one eye and one tooth lying beside
them; and he quickly seized both these treasures. That
done, he awakened the sisters and inquired
of them the way to the home of the Hesperides. At first
they refused to tell him, but when they
found that he had their eye and tooth, they quickly told him
how to go. He then gave them back
the eye and the tooth.
PERSEUS AND THE HESPERIDES
It did not take him long to reach the home of the
Hesperides. It was an island in the Western
 The nymphs had been told by Minerva that he was coming. So
when he arrived they gave him
welcome and agreed to lend him their magic treasures.
"The distance across the sea to the home of the Gorgons is
great," said one of the nymphs to
Perseus. "Take therefore these winged sandals of gold.
With them you can fly through the air
like an eagle."
"The Gorgon's head," said another of the nymphs, "must be
kept in this magic wallet, lest you
look upon the terrible face and be turned to stone."
"To get near the Gorgons," added the third, "you must wear
this cap of darkness, so that you may
see without being seen."
The hero then slung the wallet over his shoulder, put the
sandals upon his feet, and the cap upon
his head, and vanished. As swift as lightning, he crossed
the dark waters and reached the home of
the Gorgons. They were all asleep. Without looking at them
Perseus held up the shield of
Minerva and saw reflected upon it the frowning face of
Medusa. With one blow from the sword
of Mercury he struck off her head, and without looking at it
placed it within his wallet. Then he
hurried away from the weird place.
PERSEUS SLAYS THE GORGON
The other Gorgons awoke at once and followed him in furious
haste; but as he wore his cap of
 darkness they could not see him, and with his sandal wings
he flew so fast that he was soon too
far for them to follow.
AS he was flying along the coast of Africa he heard the
sound of weeping. He looked down and
saw a beautiful girl chained to a rock at the water's edge.
Hastening to her, he took off his cap of
darkness that she might see him and exclaimed, "Fair maiden,
why are you chained to this rock?"
"Alas!" she said, "I have been offered as a sacrifice to
Neptune. You cannot save me, however
much you want to."
Her words made Perseus the more determined to help her.
"Why is Neptune angry?" he asked.
"And who has dared to treat you so cruelly?"
"I am Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus and
Cassiopeia, king and queen of this
replied the maiden. "My mother boasted that I was more
beautiful than any nymph in Neptune's
palace. Her pride enraged Neptune so that he raised great
storms and sent a terrible monster to
devour our people. The priests said that if I were offered
to him the rest of the people would be
PERSEUS RESCUES ANDROMEDA
Then with the sword of light Perseus cut the chain which
bound Andromeda to the rock. At
 this moment the monster, huge and ugly, came plowing through
the water. Perseus could not be
seen because he had put on his cap of darkness, and before
the creature could harm the maiden its
head was cut off by the sword of light.
On his swift-winged sandals Perseus, with Andromeda in his
arms, now flew to the palace of
Cepheus and Cassiopeia.
There had been many glad weddings before that of Perseus and
Andromeda, but none was ever
more joyful. For he was admired as a wonderful hero, and
everyone loved the girl who had been
willing to give her life to save her people.
After the wedding Perseus went back to Seriphos, taking
Andromeda with him. When he reached
the island Polydectes was in his palace feasting, and
Perseus hastened at once to the banquet hall
and said to the king:
"See! I have brought that which you desired."
With these words he held up the head of the Gorgon. The
king and his courtiers gave one look
and were instantly turned to stone.
The Gorgon's head had now done its work; so Perseus carried
it to a temple of Minerva and there
offered it to the goddess. Ever after she wore it upon her
shield, and its snaky ringlets and
frowning face are to be seen upon her statues. The sword
 of light was given back to Mercury, who also returned the
winged sandals, the magic wallet and
the cap of darkness to the Hesperides.
YOU will remember that Argos was the birthplace of Perseus,
and to that city he now returned,
taking Andromeda with him. His grandfather, who was still
king of Argos, remembered the
oracle that he should die by the hand of Danaë's son and was
much alarmed, but Perseus quieted
the fears of the king and the two became very good friends.
While playing quoits one day,
however, Perseus accidentally hit his grandfather with a
quoit. The wound caused the old king's
death. And thus, as the Greeks used to say, "What had been
fated came to pass."
Perseus was overwhelmed with sorrow. He could not bear to
live any longer at Argos and
therefore gave his kingdom to a kinsman of his, in exchange
for the kingdom of Tiryns.
At Tiryns he ruled long and wisely. The gods gave him and
Andromeda a glorious place among
the stars after their death. With Cepheus and Cassiopeia
they can still be seen in the skies not far
from where the Great Bear shines.
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