Classical Mythology: A Family Reunion

A Family Reunion

Upon his return to the island of Seriphus, Perseus found his mother taking refuge at the altar of the gods. As soon as Perseus had set out on his quest, the lustful King Polydectes had attempted to ravish Dana. The king's brother Dictys had thwarted Polydectes and led Dana to the altar, sacred ground where the king dared not violate her.

Upon hearing of Polydectes' treachery, Perseus headed straight for the palace. Bursting in upon a banquet, he surprised the king, who had no doubt presumed that Perseus was dead. Perseus announced that he had brought the promised gift for the intended bride of Polydectes. The king scoffed at this claim, challenging Perseus's word and his honor. The young hero needed no further provocation. Averting his own eyes, he held up the severed head of Medusa, which instantly turned Polydectes and his guests into stone.


An aegis was a protective garment carried on the arm like a shield or occasionally worn over the shoulder.

Having rescued his mother, Perseus rewarded Dictys for his loyalty and protection by giving him the throne vacated by Polydectes. He then returned his borrowed weapons to Hermes, who carried them back to the Naiads. In gratitude to Athena, Perseus mounted his trophy, the head of Medusa, on the shield of the goddess. The head, surrounded by snakes' heads on the center of her aegis, became Athena's most distinctive emblem. His heroic quest completed, Perseus set out for Argos with Andromeda and Dana. There, in the kingdom of his birth, he hoped to make peace with his grandfather, Acrisius.

Welcome Home

The exploits of his grandson, Perseus, had not gone unnoticed by Acrisius. Fearing that his daughter and her famed son would soon return to Argos and fulfill the prophecy he had desperately tried to avoid, Acrisius fled to Larissa, a kingdom in Thessaly. But Perseus, who apparently harbored no vengeance for his grandfather despite Acrisius's cruelty so many years before, followed the old man to Larissa. Perseus had not yet found his grandfather when he learned that the father of the king of Larissa had died.

While attending funereal games held in honor of the king's father, Perseus impulsively decided to join the discus-throw competition. Unfortunately, a discus thrown by Perseus got away from him. It accidentally struck and killed one of the spectators: his grandfather Acrisius. The prophecy had come true: Perseus had indeed caused his grandfather's death.

Mythed by a Mile

Some say that Perseus threw the discus that killed his grandfather not at funereal games, but at games held to celebrate the reconciliation between grandfather and grandson. The two had already met and made their peace with each other before the tragic competition.

With the death of Acrisius, Perseus inherited the throne of Argos. Yet he felt so ashamed to have won the throne by accidentally killing his own grandfather that Perseus vowed never again to return to Argos. Instead, he traded kingdoms (Argos for Tiryns) with Megapenthes, the only son of Acrisius's twin brother Proetus.

Perseus served as king of Tiryns for many years thereafter. While ruling Tiryns, he established the city of Mycenae (though some say he merely fortified it) and fortified Midea. He remained faithful to Andromeda, who bore him six more children.

One of the greatest heroes of Argos, Perseus was worshipped after his death in both Athens and Seriphus. Athena herself honored Perseus and Andromeda by making constellations in both their names after they died.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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