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Stories of the Ancient Greeks by  Charles D. Shaw


 

 

MEN TURNED TO STONE

[48]

T
HE king of Argos was angry and afraid. An oracle had told him that he should die by the hand of his daughter's child. He shut up his daughter and her little boy in a box, and pushed them off to sea.

They floated to an island, Seriphos, where a fisherman found them and took them to his home.

After a while, Polydectes, the king of the island, wanted to get rid of the boy, Perseus, that he might marry Danae, the mother. He sent the lad, who was then well grown, to find and bring back the head of Medusa. She was the Gorgon, one of three sisters who had teeth like those of swine, brass claws, wings like those of eagles, and hair which was hissing snakes. The others were ugly enough, but Medusa was so frightful that any living thing that looked on her was turned into stone. Perseus was to cut off her head and take it home to the king.

He could never have done that if Athene and Hermes had not helped him. The goddess lent her bright shield, and he borrowed from Hermes his winged shoes and crooked sword.

He flew far and farther until he came to the land where Medusa and her sisters lay asleep. Using the bright shield as a mirror, so that he did not look at Medusa [49] but at her image, he flew down, and with one sudden stroke cut off her head. He put it into his wallet and rose from the ground just as the other sisters wakened. They flew after him for a long time, but could not catch one who wore the winged shoes of Hermes.

After several days of flying Perseus reached the country of the Æthiopians. Here he found sorrow and weeping. The queen of that land has boasted that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs. To punish her they sent a monster of the sea to swim up and down the Æthiopian coast. It sunk the ships and ate the crews. Nobody could go fishing, or sailing, or bathing, because of this monster.

The king and queen went to the oracle, which said "Chain your daughter Andromeda to a rock in the sea, and let the monster have her. It will then go away, and your country will be free."

At the moment when Perseus arrived she was chained to the rock and waiting to be eaten by the monster. The young hero flew down near her and said, "O, maiden, why do you weep, and why are you thus chained at the edge of the sea?"

She told him, and the crowds that lined the shore wept while she spoke. Her father and mother were there, and above all others their cries were heard.

Perseus said, "I will try to save her from the monster."

The sea serpent came swimming, making a loud noise, and with its head high above the waves. Perseus flew up in the air, came down on the monster's back, and struck a blow with the crooked sword. When the dragon [50] darted head or claws at him, he flew up out of reach, then, coming down suddenly, struck again and again. The monster lost its strength, and sank slowly under the water. The people waited and watched, but it did not rise again.

Andromeda was unbound, and the king and queen with Perseus and all the people went, filled with joy, to the palace.

While they were feasting a number of number of young men burst in. One of them said, "I have come to claim my bride."

The king said, "Why did you not rescue her when she was in danger? I shall give her to the stranger who saved her life."

A fight began which was settled by Perseus. "Let every friend of mine turn away his eyes and not look at me!" he cried. He drew out the Gorgon's head and held it up. Every one of the attacking party looked at it, and all were turned to stone.

Perseus took his young wife to Seriphos, the island where lived the king who had sent him on his search for the head of Medusa. He went into the royal dining hall. The king laughed at him and asked, "Did you bring the Gorgon's head?" The company that that a very good joke, and laughed heartily.

The king had been very cruel to the mother of Perseus. The young man was angry for that reason, and when the company mocked at him he opened his wallet and took out the dreadful head. "Look," he said. They turned toward him, and were changed into stone.

Perseus journeyed through a country where the young [51] men were holding games. His grandfather, Acrisius, whom Perseus did not know, was looking on. Perseus joined the game and threw a quoit. It went far, and fell heavily on the foot of the old man. He fainted with pain and was carried from the field. In a short time he died. So the oracle was fulfilled, and he died by the hand of his daughter's son.

Perseus was very sorry, but he was entirely innocent, and that was a comfort. He gave the Gorgon's head to Athene, who set it in the middle of her shining shield. The sword and shoes were given back to Hermes. Perseus did not fly abroad any more, but stayed at home with Andromeda.


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