Many people are familiar with the legend of Perseus and the Gorgon. With the aid of Athena and Hermes, the exiled Argive prince killed the horrific monster.
Also well-known is the story of his return to Greece after this adventure. His daring rescue of Andromeda from the threat of a sea monster established the archetypes of the damsel in distress and the slaying of a dragon.
But fewer people know what happened to Perseus and Andromeda when they returned to Greece and established their own kingdom. As the builder of Mycenae, Perseus established the most powerful city of early Greek history.
Unusually for the Greek heroes, Perseus and his wife enjoyed a happy and peaceful marriage. They left behind several children, a strong kingdom, and a noble legacy.
The story of Perseus and Andromeda did not end with their marriage or even with the founding of Mycenae. Through their descendants, the hero and the princess he married influenced all of Greek history!
After Perseus slayed the Gorgon, he used the winged sandals of Hermes to fly back to Seriphos, the island he had grown up on. Along the way, he flew over the kingdom of Ethiopia and rescued Princess Andromeda from the sea monster she was being sacrificed to.
Perseus and Andromeda were soon married, and she accompanied him to Seriphos. He saved his mother, Danae, from the advances of Polydectes and installed Dictys as king of the island.
Danae was the daughter of the king of Argos, Acrisius, but had been exiled after her son’s birth. Acrisius had been told by an oracle that his daughter’s son would kill him, so he hoped that the baby had died.
Mindful of this, Perseus did not return to his mother’s homeland. Instead, he and his new wife traveled to many places in Greece before stopping in Larissa for the king’s funeral games.
What Perseus did not know was that his grandfather was attending the games as well. When a discus thrown by the hero went off course and struck the king of Argos, Acrisius was killed and the prophecy fulfilled.
Perseus was the heir of Argos, but he could not take power because he killed his grandfather. Under Greek law any killing, even if it was accidental, was punishable by banishment.
Instead of taking the throne of Argos, Perseus and Andromeda traded kingdoms with his cousin Magapenthes. His cousin was happy to receive the powerful kingdom of Argos in exchange for the relatively underdeveloped land of Tiryns.
Perseus and Andromeda, however, built Tiryns into a powerful kingdom. With its new capital city, Mycenae, the kingdom of Perseus became one of Greece’s most influential lands.
The hero had a long and successful reign as the king of Tiryns and Mycenae. Perseus and Andromeda also had a happy marriage that resulted, according to some sources, in the birth of nine children.
According to some sources, Perseus and Andromeda’s first son had been born before they left Ethiopia. Because Andromeda’s father had no male heirs, they had left Perses to be raised by him. Perses became the ancestor of the Persian kings.
Another son of Perseus and Andromeda, Electryon, inherited the kingdom after his father’s death. His daughter, Alcmene, became the mother of Heracles.
Most sources claimed that Electryon had married his niece Anaxo, one of the daughters of his brother Alcaeus. Anaxo’s brother, Amphitryon, married Alcmene and so was the stepfather of Heracles.
Heracles was not only the most lauded and famous hero of Greek mythology. He was also the father of up to fifty children, several of whom supposedly founded Greek cities around the world.
While many of the descendants of Perseus and Andromeda had close relationships, others were not as friendly toward their kin.
One of Perseus’s sons, Mestor, had a grandson named Taphius who founded the city of Taphos. He had several sons who, they believed, were also entitled to part of Tiryns.
Electryon was quite old by that time, so his sons defended the kingdom against their cousins’ attack. Ultimately, only one man was left alive on both sides.
The instability, and the death of Electryon at the end of the conflict, allowed another of Perseus and Andromeda’s sons to seize the throne of Tiryns and Mycenae. Sthenelus exiled Amphitryon after Electryon’s death and claimed power as his brother’s heir.
Sthenelus passed the throne on to his own son, Eurystheus. He is best remembered as the king who set the Twelve Labors of Heracles.
Most of Sthenelus’s line was killed in the conflicts that followed the death of Heracles. In an attempt to kill the Heraclides, the hero’s children, both Eurystheus and his sons were killed.
While Perseus and Andromeda had two other sons, Heleus and Cynurus, they had little impact on history. Their sisters, however, played a more prominent role.
Autochthe married King Aegeus, the legendary ruler of Athens. Their only children were daughters, prompting him to conceive Theseus in Toezen to have a male heir.
Andromeda’s daughter Gorgophone was a prominent figure in the history of Sparta. She married Perieres of Messina, then after his death became the first woman to marry twice by taking Oebalus of Laconia as her second husband.
Gorgophone’s son Tyndareus became the king of Sparta. He married Leda and was the mortal father of Helen of Troy, Castor, Pollux, and Clytemnestra.
Tyndareus had other children besides those who played major roles in the Trojan War. His daughter Timandra became queen of Arcadia.
Gorgophone also had a son named Icarius. His most famous child was Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus.
The Perseids, as the children of Perseus were called, became one of the most influential family lines in Greek lore. Through them, Perseus and Andromeda were the ancestors of famous heroes, kings, queens, and adventurers.
As a legendary hero and the son of Zeus, Perseus had a prominent place in Greek mythology. His descendants, however, made his position even more important.
Many of Greek mythology’s heroes were successful in their adventures but had far less luck in their personal lives. Heracles’s marriages ended in tragedy, Medea killed Jason’s children, and Theseus abandoned Ariadne.
Perseus and Andromeda, however, had a long, fruitful, and peaceful marriage. They built a kingdom together and created a family that would be influential for generations to come.
This was a common theme in Greek mythology. The descendants of Perseus and Andromeda were among the most prominent people in Greek mythology, but theirs was not the only family with an outsized influence.
Many myths, for example, tied Greek gods and heroes to foreign powers. In the case of Perseus and Andromeda, the story of their marriage connected them to two non-Greek neighbors.
Andromeda had been from Ethiopia, which in Greek lore could refer either to Africa or India. The later legend of her son Perses made her and her husband the ancestors of one of Greece’s greatest enemies.
The word Persian, in fact, comes from a native Old Persian word. The coincidental similarity to the name of a Greek hero, however, inspired the idea that they must be related.
The idea of being related to a great hero, and thus to the gods, was a major theme in Greek mythology.
The Greeks regarded characters like Perseus and Andromeda as figures from history. They largely believed that these people and their legends were historical fact rather than legends.
When a hero such as Perseus had children and grandchildren who became kings and queens, it created more connections between the places they ruled. Through the Perseids, many prominent cities and regions had a direct link to Perseus and Andromeda.
Sparta, for example, did not feature in the story of Perseus. His daughter Gorgophone, however, was prominent in its legendary history.
These legends helped to legitimize the leaders of these cities and the foundation of new colonies. The colonies supposedly founded by the Heraclides, for example, could claim descent from two great heroes.
Through Perseus, many Greek rulers could also claim to be descended from Zeus. This further legitimized their rule by making them genetically superior to the common men who might oppose them.
These supposed family connections could prove useful not only locally, but also in relations between kingdoms. The Persian king Xerxes, for example, apparently knew of the Greek legend of Perseus and Andromeda’s son because he tried to use the family ties to bribe Argive rulers in the 5th century BC.
Such stories of interconnected families were more than just legends. They also reflected the real family ties that bound the rulers of Greece and its neighbors.
As with many other cultures, the social classes of Greece had little intermixing. The nobility and rulers tended to marry people of similar status.
This meant that, as was the case with the Perseids, many members of the Greek elite married cousins from other cities. The constant intermarriage strengthened the family ties, which could be used to form alliances in times of need.
As with the Perseids, however, these family ties could also breed conflict. The intermarriage between ruling families sometimes led to competing claims over land and titles.
Perseus and Andromeda supposedly built the city of Mycenae, which was the center of early Greek culture. There is probably some basis in history for the idea that many early kings and queens were directly descended from the ruling families of Mycenae.
The family tree of Perseus and Andromeda, therefore, represented far more than a myth. It was a legendary version of the real ties that existed between the rulers of Greece and its neighbors.
According to Greek legends, Perseus rescued the Ethiopian princess Andromeda from being sacrificed to a sea monster after he killed the Gorgon. He married her and brought her back to Greece.
Perseus inherited the kingdom of Argos from his grandfather, but gave it up because he had been accidentally responsible for the older king’s death. To circumvent the custom of exile, he traded the powerful kingdom for Tiryns, which was ruled by a cousin.
Tiryns was the lesser of the two kingdoms, but Perseus and Andromeda soon built it into a powerful state. They founded the city of Mycenae, which historically was the center of early Greek culture.
Together, they had several sons and at least two daughters. Their descendants not only ruled Mycenae, but also influenced many other Greek kingdoms.
Their daughter Gorgophone, for example, became the queen of Sparta and the ancestor of many of its rulers. Helen of Troy, Castor and Pollux, Penelope, and Clytemnestra were all descended from Perseus through her.
Both Heracles and his foe Eurystheus were direct descendants of Perseus and Andromeda as well. The children of Heracles supposedly went on to found many Greek colonies.
Even foreign kings supposedly came from this line. Perseus and Andromeda were said to have left their eldest son, Perses, in Ethiopia where he founded the line of Persian kings.
These family connections to a great hero, and through him to Zeus, were common in Greek lore. The sprawling family of Perseus and Andromeda gave legitimacy to the lands their descendants ruled stories of their heroic deeds.
They also likely represented historical fact. By marrying within the same social class, the ruling families of the Greek states created interconnected family trees that were as complex and influential as that of the Perseids.