Medusa was only the first monster to be killed by the legendary hero Perseus. On the very day that he killed the Gorgon, he defeated another great foe.
On his way home he happened upon the site of a great sea monster who was about to take a beautiful princess as a sacrifice. Perseus flew into action, killing the monster and claiming Andromeda as his bride.
While many marriages in mythology are marked by tragedy and betrayal, Perseus and Andromeda appear to have had a happy union. They established a great kingdom of their own and had nine children who became kings and queens throughout Greece.
Andromeda’s marriage to Perseus did not only make her the ancestress of many of the most important heroes and rulers of the Greek world. It also made her one of the first characters in classical literature that can be identified as non-white.
According to legend, Perseus began to make his way back to his childhood home, the island of Seriphos, after killing the Gorgon. He used the winged sandals of Hermes to fly so that he might return more quickly.
Along the way, however, he passed over the coastline of Aethiopia. There, he saw a sight so terrible he felt no choice but to intervene.
The Cetus, a sea monster, was attacking the capital city of that kingdom. Bound to the rocks on the shore and about to be devoured by the beast was a beautiful princess.
Aethopia was ruled by King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. The queen’s pride and vanity had drawn the ire of a god.
Cassiopeia had bragged that her daughter, Andromeda, was more beautiful than the Nereids. The nymphs had complained to Poseidon and at their behest, particularly because his wife was a Nereid herself, the sea god moved to punish the kingdom for its queen’s arrogance.
The sea god sent a flood, then set the Cetus loose on Aethiopia. The floodwaters not only destroyed crops and homes, but also allowed the sea monsters to move further into the interior of the country and cause more damage.
King Cepheus consulted the oracle of Ammon and was told that the destruction would only end if he offered his daughter as a sacrifice to the monster.
The beautiful princess was tied naked to the rocks along the shore to appease the monster. Perseus arrived just as the Cetus was about to eat her alive.
The hero did not hesitate. Although the legends to not elaborate on the details of the fight, he killed the monster and set Andromeda free.
The two fell instantly in love, and Perseus made his way to the palace of Cepheus to claim the princess as his bride. He encountered and obstacle, however, in the form of a preexisting engagement.
Andromeda had been promised in marriage to her own uncle, Phineus. Cepheus agreed to break the arrangement because Phineus had been unmoved by the prospect of Andromeda’s death, but a fight broke out at the wedding of Perseus and the princess.
Phineus reasserted his betrothal to Andromeda and challenged Perseus to combat for the crime of stealing her from him. Rather than fight, Perseus pulled out the Gorgon’s head and turned Andromeda’s wicked uncle to stone in an instant.
Andromeda then followed her new husband to Seriphos, where he defeated King Polydictes upon learning that he was trying to force Perseus’s mother, Danae, into an unwanted marriage. From there, the pair continued on to Argos to meet his grandfather.
As an oracle had predicted, however, Perseus accidentally killed his own grandfather before the two recognized one another. He became the king of his grandfather’s lands because of the death.
Rather than take the kingdom of Argos under such tragic circumstances, however, Perseus offered to trade kingdoms with his cousin. Magapenthes became king of Argos while Perseus and Andromeda settled in the less prominent kingdom of Tiryns.
Under their rule, however, Tiryns grew into a superpower in its own right. Their new capital, Mycenae, became the center of a great civilization.
The marriage of Perseus and Andromeda was noteworthy in Greek mythology for the fact that, after their wedding, it was uneventful.
Many other heroes had marriages that were marked by tragedy and drama. Hercules killed one wife and was killed by another, Theseus abandoned Ariadne, and Medea avenged Jason’s betrayal by killing her own children.
Perseus and Andromeda, however, settled into a peaceful married life that included no such tragedy. Instead, they established a prosperous kingdom and raised a family that would become legendary.
Andromeda gave birth to, by most accounts, seven sons and two daughters. The family became rulers over a variety of kingdoms, both new and long-established, making them the ancestors of virtually every ruling family in Greece.
By the time of the Trojan War, many of the most famous actors on both sides were descended from the marriage of Perseus and Andromeda, including Helen and her siblings.
The offspring of Andromeda also continued to connect Greek culture that foreign lands. Her son Perses was said to be the ancestor of the Persians and many generations later Latinus and Italus would both establish kingdoms in what would later become Rome.
Perseus and Andromeda’s descendants included not only several kings, but many of the prominent heroes of subsequent generations. One of their most famous descendants was their great-grandson, Hercules.
The introduction of Andromeda into Greek mythology also tied in the ruling family of another foreign kingdom.
Other myths created links between Greece and foreign lands like Phoenicia, Egypt, and Libya. The story of Andromeda’s rescue added Aethiopia to this list.
This made Andromeda one of the first distinctly non-European figures in classical mythology and, thus, western civilization.
Although she is often still depicted similarly to other Greek princesses, some ancient writers and artists took note of the character’s non-Greek origins. The Roman poet Ovid, for example, frequently referred to her as “dark Andromeda” and mentioned that white clothing looked particularly good against her dark complexion.
Andromeda’s origin in Aethiopia, however, does not necessarily mean that she was African.
The Greeks defined Aethiopia as being anywhere between the Atlantic and Indian oceans that was not a part of Egypt. Thus, the term Aethiop could apply to a person born anywhere from Western Africa to the Indian subcontinent.
Although Ovid noted Andromeda’s dark complexion, he believed that her homeland was much closer to India than Africa. While this would still make her darker than the average Greek, Ovid’s definition of Aethiopia is far off from the modern country that adopted that name.
Due to both this ambiguity and long-established artistic conventions, Andromeda continued to be shown primarily as a fair-skinned of European beauty. The written record, however, suggests that the ancestress of many of Greece’s most legendary figures was a woman with dark skin.
The hero claimed Andromeda as his wife and, despite a challenge from her wicked uncle, married her almost immediately. From there, she joined him on his journey back to Greece.
They eventually became the king and queen of Tiryns and founded the important city of Mycenae. Unlike many other heroes, Perseus’s marriage was marked by prosperity and peace instead of tragedies.
Perseus and Andromeda had nine children together. In addition to inheriting Mycenae, they married into other ruling families and established new kingdoms and dynasties of their own.
Over the next few generations, the descendants of Perseus and Andromeda came to include members of nearly every ruling family in Greece. Among their famous descendants was Hercules, their great-grandson.
Andromeda was not only the ancestress of many kings, queens, and heroes, but was also notable for her own origins. She hailed from the poorly-defined land of Aethiopia, which made her one of the few mythological characters to be definitively non-European.
Although this aspect of her character was often ignored in art, some writers and artists made note of the fact that the great founding queen of legend was a foreign woman who probably had dark skin.
While the Greek land of Aethiopia was not synonymous with Africa, its princess was almost certainly the first major non-white character in classical literature.