Who Was Perseus’s Father?
Perseus was, like many of Greek mythology’s renowned heroes, one of the sons of Zeus. His mother, Danaë, was the princess of the powerful kingdom of Argolis.
Danaë’s father did not want his daughter to have a son because of a prophecy regarding his own death, and he went to great lengths to ensure that she never married. He could not stop an amorous god, however, and Danaë was impregnated in a most unusual fashion.
While Perseus was famous for killing Medusa and rescuing Princess Andromeda from a sea monster, his importance in the Greek world extended far beyond his heroic exploits. To the kings of Greece he was an important ancestor and a link between them and their gods.
The son of Zeus was an ancestor of almost every ruling dynasty in the classical world, and several cities and nations could trace their founding to one of his descendants. The story of Zeus and Danaë’s son was not just one of heroism, but one that linked the ruling class to one another and to the king of the gods.
The story of Perseus’s birth is memorable for its drama. It is also noteworthy for the unusual form Zeus took to reach a woman who had been isolated from all chance of meeting a man.
Danaë was the princess of Argos and the only child of its king, Acrisius. The king had ruled for many years but never had a male heir, so he visited the oracle of Delphi to learn if he would ever have a son to inherit his lands.
He was told that he would not ever have a son of his own, but that his daughter Danaë would one day give birth to a boy who would be king. That boy, unfortunately, would only inherit the throne of Argos by one day killing Acrisius himself.
Because Danaë had not yet been married, the king believed it was still possible to avoid the fate that had been foretold to him. He named his brother as his heir and set to making sure that his daughter would never give birth to a son.
Acrisius built a chamber of bronze, usually said to be beneath the floor of his palace, and locked his daughter inside. In other versions of the story he built a high tower with no door, just a narrow slot through which to pass her food.
There was only a small window which was inaccessible. Guards were assigned to make sure no man tried to gain entry with a ladder or rope.
All these precautions were no obstacle for a god, however. Zeus came to Danaë in a shower of gold, able to pass through the small window and unseen by her guards.
Nine months later Danaë gave birth to a son she named Perseus. Not believing the child to be that of a god, Acrisius decided that the boy needed to be killed to ensure his own safety.
Killing his own family, however, would go against Zeus’s laws and bring the Furies to punish him. The only way to avoid this was by ensuring that the child died in a way that was not directly caused by him but could be considered natural or accidental.
He had Danaë and her infant son sealed into a wooden chest which he sent floating away at sea, certain that they would eventually drown. By the will of Zeus, however, Poseidon and a group of water nymphs guided them safely to the island of Seriphos where they were taken in by a kindly fisherman.
Perseus lived a relatively ordinary mortal life until he was ordered by the king of Seriphos, Polydectes, to kill the Gorgon Medusa and bring back her head. That was when the young hero once again attracted the attention of the gods.
His half-siblings Athena and Hermes gave him assistance on his quest and tools he would need to defeat the Gorgon. In some versions of the tale, Zeus himself gave his son a sword made of adamantine to cut off the monster’s head.
After returning from his quest and getting vengeance on the king, who had sent him away so that he could force Danaë into marriage, Perseus gave his gifts back to the gods.
Medusa’s head was given to Athena. She placed it on Zeus’s shield, which she carried, and it became a symbol of both of them.
Like many of Zeus’s children, Perseus had little contact with his father throughout his life. According to local myths, however, he went to war against another of his divine half-siblings, Dionysus.
Perseus was remembered as a great hero and king. His many children did not just rule Argos after him, but went on to found other cities and dynasties.
The Greeks believed that Perseus and his wife, the Aethiopian princess Andromeda, had seven or eight children. Their sons established their own kingdoms in adulthood while their daughters married into other ruling families.
Perseus had already come from a long line of powerful and influential kings through his mother, the princess of Argos. The Argive lineage was traced through Io, Zeus’s mistress shortly before the Flood of Deucalion, and included the kings of such far-off nations as Egypt and Libya.
Many of the places ruled by Perseus’s ancestors were relics of the past by the classical era. The heroic son of Zeus, however, brought the genealogy of kings into the contemporary era.
Perseus became king of Argolis after his grandfather’s death which was caused, albeit accidentally, by his actions. This region included the powerful state of Tiryns and the city the hero was said to have built, Mycenae.
His sons were all described as princes and kings of these places. A few were said to have established cities of their own elsewhere in the Greek world.
One of his daughters married the kings of Messenia and Laconia, the region that included Sparta. Her sons became kings of later generations in those two regions.
For several generations, the descendants of Perseus became legendary kings and queens. Through marriage and conquest they came to control not only Argolis and Laconia, but also Thebes, Troy, Ithaca, and Arcadia.
In time, much of the Greek world was ruled by a supposed descendent of Perseus, and thus of Zeus. The Greeks even believed that one of his sons, Perses, had moved east and established the first dynasty of the Persian Empire.
Many famous names from the Age of Heroes were direct descendants of Perseus.
His grandson Tyndareus was the human father of Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra, Castor, and Pollux. Of course, their divine father was also their great-great-grandfather Zeus.
Through Clytemnestra, he was the ancestor of Orestes, Electra, and Iphigenia. Orestes died after a life of tragedy, but his son Phenthilius went on to found a new city in Thrace.
Penelope, the famously loyal wife of Odysseus, was another of Perseus’s great-granddaughters. According to some legends her grandson Latinus helped to establish what would later be Rome.
Of course, the most famous descendent of Perseus was the great hero, later god, Heracles. Both his mother and stepfather were grandchildren of Perseus making him both a son and great-great-grandson of Zeus.
Heracles went on to have many sons by various women who were collectively known as the Heraclides. They and their descendants established many cities outside of mainland Greece, particularly in Asia Minor.
Through Perseus, most of the Greek-speaking world could therefore trace their lineage directly back to Zeus. While the hero’s story may have been ancient, his children and later lineage were added to link both major legendary figures and contemporary ruling families to the king of the gods.
Perseus was the son of Zeus and a human princess, Danaë. The princess of Argos, Danaë’s father had tried to keep her from having children out of fear of a prophecy that he would die by his grandson’s hand.
The king of Argos went so far as to set his daughter and infant grandson adrift at sea to ensure their deaths, but due to Zeus’s intervention they survived.
Perseus is most often remembered for killing the Gorgon, Medusa, and using her head to petrify his enemies and rescue the Aethiopian princess Andromeda from a ferocious sea monster.
He had the assistance of the gods, notably his father and half-siblings, in his quest. In thanks he gave Athena the head of the Gorgon, which she affixed to Zeus’s shield.
To the Greeks, however, the marriage of Perseus and Andromeda was just as important as his heroic actions. Their children were the ancestors of many famous characters in Greek mythology, including Heracles.
They were also the ancestors of many of the ruling dynasties of the Greek world. Through conquest and marriage, nearly every ruling house could trace their lineage back to Perseus.
As direct descendants of both a renowned hero and the king of the gods, kings in ancient Greece legitimized their claims to power. Perseus may be remembered as a heroic son of Zeus, but he was also the mortal connection between the ruler of the universe and the human kings of Greece.