Perseus, son of Zeus and Danae, is one the most famous of all Greek heroes and one of the most popular still today. Both versions of the Clash of the Titans films (1981 and 2010) are based on his legendary exploits. Just like pretty much every action hero of today, he is brave, daring, and handsome, defeating all the evil villains in his way with ease.
In the story of Perseus defeating the Gorgon Medusa we see our hero succeeding by using his quick thinking skills and sheer cleverness: he blackmails the Graeae to get valuable information and he kills Medusa while she's sleeping. The story of Perseus fighting Cetus the sea monster, however, gives us a chance to see our hero in combat. Just like you'd expect from someone played on the big screen by Sam Worthington, he's a pretty good fighter. Hey, all ancient Greek heroes are.
But Perseus doesn't take on the sea monster just to show off his buff muscles and prove his fighting skills. Nope, it's all about the girl. Every hero needs a love interest, right?
While flying over Ethiopia, Perseus spots the beautiful Andromeda chained to a rock in the sea, preparing for her future as a monster meal. Even without the help of Cupid and his pesky arrows, Perseus falls in love the princess at first sight. Later, when his claim to her hand is challenged by her former fiancé, Perseus quickly eliminates the competition. Meaning, um, he uses Medusa's head to turn the guy into a rather realistic stone sculpture.
For much more on Perseus, click here.
Andromeda is the drop-dead gorgeous princess whom Perseus rescues from Cetus the sea monster. We don't get to hear much about her personality or anything in the story. She's not really much more than a pretty face, but that face is pretty enough to make Perseus kill a monster.
Andromeda is a fitting wife for Perseus, a heroic son of Zeus. Applicants for the position of Wife of a Greek Hero generally must meet two qualifications:
Well, everything seems to be in order. Application accepted.
For modern readers, Andromeda can bet a bit… well… disappointing. She's just a passive damsel in distress, a reward for Perseus' heroic deeds. We suppose that reflects the ancient time period the story comes from, but maybe you were still hoping for more.
One interesting way to look at Andromeda is to compare her to Psyche, Cupid's beloved wife. In some ways, these women have very similar stories. Both are so beautiful that goddesses get upset. In the case of Psyche, her good looks really irk Venus /aphrodite-venus/, the goddess of love and beauty. Psyche's parents also abandon their daughter to be eaten by a monster, but then her story becomes different.
The cool thing about Psyche is that she's the hero of her story. She falls in love with Cupid, looses him, and then fights hard to get him back. It's Cupid who is her reward. Andromeda, in comparison, isn't the star of the show. She's not the hero of the myth. Heck, we're not even sure if she loves Perseus. Or if, given the choice, she'd choose to marry Perseus or Phineus. (Though we suppose the choice isn't that complicated. Marrying your uncle is gross.)
If you want to read more about Andromeda, head over to "Themes: Women and Femininity."
Cassiopeia is the Queen of Ethiopia and the mother of Andromeda. She starts all the trouble by boasting that her daughter is more beautiful the Nereids, the goddesses of the sea. Today, the name of Cassiopeia lives on as the name of a constellation.
Cepheus is the King of Ethiopia and the father of Andromeda. He decides to sacrifice his daughter to the sea monster in order to save his kingdom from the wrath of Poseidon. However, he agrees to let Perseus marry his daughter in return for the hero slaying the monster. Like many of the other characters in the story, Cepheus has a constellation named for him today.
For more on Cepheus, see "Themes: Sacrifice."
Actually, we take that back. Release Cetus!
Cetus is the giant sea monster who is coming to chow down on Andromeda. Unfortunately (for Cetus at least), Perseus slays him before he gets to have his tasty dinner. The sea monster Heracles killed was also called Cetus. Today Cetus is the name of a constellation, which is usually represented by a whale.
For more on Cetus, check out our discussion of him as a symbol.
Medusa is the monstrous lady whose head Perseus chops off. She is a Gorgon, and like her sisters, Stheno and Euryale, she has snakes for hair, bronze hands, wings, and tusks. Medusa and her fellow Gorgons are said to be so hideous that they turn anyone they look at into stone.
The Nereids are minor goddesses of the sea. They get really ticked off when Cassiopeia brags that her daughter Andromeda is more beautiful than they are. When they complain to Poseidon, the great god of the sea threatens to destroy Ethiopia with a flood and a giant sea monster.
The Nereids aren't the only goddesses to fly into a tizzy over a mortal girl's beauty. Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, did the same thing. Read about Venus' jealousy of Psyche here.
Phineus is the Andromeda's uncle and her fiancé (umm… gross). He gets all mad when Perseus marries Andromeda. When he challenges Perseus, the hero turns him to stone with the help of his handy-dandy Gorgon head.
Poseidon is the brother of Zeus, and he's the great god of the sea. When Cassiopeia offends the Nereids, he threatens to send a flood and a sea monster to destroy the kingdom of Ethiopia.
Is Poseidon being especially grumpy in this story? Well, not really. He's known for throwing temper tantrums, especially when mortals offend him. Don't believe us? Just ask Odysseus.
For much more on Poseidon and his anger-management problem, click here.