The tale of Perseus is one of the most famous in all Greek mythology. He is thought to be the oldest of all the Greek heroes, coming before Theseus, Heracles, Odysseus, and the rest. His story was recorded by many major Greek historians like Apollodorus and Pausanias. The Roman poet, Ovid, also included a version of Perseus' tale in his famous epic poem The Metamorphoses.
The story of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the Cetus, a sea monster, has been popular for thousands of years. Over the years, the tale has inspired many famous artists. Paul Rubens, Edward Burne Jones, and Giorgio Vasari and countless others all put their own spin on the subject. (Check out our Photos tab for some examples.)
The story has continued to be popular even today. In 1981, it was turned into a movie called Clash of the Titans, which featured the amazing stop-motion animation of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. Clash of the Titans was remade in 2010 starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, and Ralph Fiennes, among other Hollywood stars. These film adaptations definitely aren't true to the original myth, though we find the changes pretty interesting. Be sure to check them out.
The story of Perseus and Andromeda has an in-between setting in the larger story of the hero Perseus. Perseus' main mission is hunting down Medusa, decapitating her, and bringing her severed head back home to his king on the island of Seriphus. His run-in with Cetus and Andromeda is really just a side quest in his larger adventure, rather than the main event.
At the beginning of the story we find Perseus flying over the Ethiopia coast on his way back home from the Gorgon Medusa's cave. He's got Medusa's head in his backpack and his mission is almost over. When he sees a pretty princess tied to a rock in the middle of the ocean, though, he just has to stop. Ethiopia is an interesting setting because it isn't in the Greeks' home turf; it's actually kind of exotic.
The ocean setting, though, is especially important. It tells us that we're in the realm of Poseidon /poseidon-neptune/, the god of the sea. That's not really good news, because Poseidon is known for having some serious anger-management issues and for viciously punishing humans to offend him. In this story, he's sending his sea monster, Cetus, after Andromeda's family and kingdom. Good thing Perseus shows up to save the day.
Probably the closest story to the tale of Perseus and Andromeda is the story of St. George defeating a dragon, which was really popular in medieval Europe. The story goes that St. George, a noble Christian knight who is traveling in Africa, comes upon a beautiful princess tied up beside a lake. It turns that the lake is the home of an evil dragon, who will destroy the land unless the princess is fed to it. Brave St. George tells her not to worry and slays the evil dragon with ease, converting all the Africans to Christianity in the process.
Interested in the heroic St. George? You can read the story of his run-in with the dragon here.
Beowulf is an epic Anglo-Saxon poem about a monster-slaying Viking hero named Beowulf. Like Perseus, Beowulf comes from a foreign land and helps a kingdom get rid of a monster that has been menacing the kingdom. In this story, though, there's no damsel in distress.
Psst. You can read a lot more about Beowulf on Shmoop. Just click here.
Japanese mythology has its own Perseus-like hero named Susanoo. In the myth of Susanoo and Yamato no Orochi, Susanoo, Susanoo happens upon an old couple and their beautiful daughter. They're all crying because the girl, Kushinada, is about to be eaten by a giant serpent named Yamato no Orochi. The hero says that he'll fight the serpent if he can marry the beautiful Kushinada. (This sounds a lot like Perseus' story, doesn't it?) The girl's parents agree, and with a good sword and a bit of trickiness, Susanoo kills the monster and saves the girl.
The story is pretty fun, so be sure to read the whole thing here.
The sea monster Cetus is a symbol of the wrath of the gods, particularly the wrath of Poseidon, the sea god. When the mortals misbehave, Poseidon sends Cetus after them.
Over the years, the Cetus became a symbol of all the bad stuff that can happen at sea – storms, pirate attacks, shipwrecks, stuff like that. Superstitious sailors wouldn't even say the name Cetus for fear that bad things would happen. On the other hand, some ships would fly in the face of superstition and name their ship Cetus, showing that they were unafraid of the dangers of the sea.