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save Hypermnestra, slew their husbands on the wedding night. For this crime the forty-nine Danaïds were condemned to spend eternity in Tartarus, trying to fill with water a vessel full of holes. From Hypermnestra and her husband, Lynceus, was sprung the royal house of Argos. Their son was Abas; their grandson, Acrisius, – of whom the following narrative is told.
$ 134. The Doom of King Acrisius.'-— The daughter of Acrisius was Danaë, of surpassing loveliness. In consequence of an oracle which had prophesied that the son of Danaë would be the means of his grandfather's death, the hapless girl was shut in an underground chamber, that no man might love or wed her. But Jupiter, distilling himself into a shower of gold, flooded the girl's prison, wooed, and won her. Their son was Perseus. King Acrisius, in dismay, ordered mother and child to be boxed up in a chest and set adrift on the sea. The two unfortunates were, however, rescued at Seriphus by a fisherman, who conveyed the mother and infant to Polydectes, king of the country, by whom they were treated at first with kindness, but afterwards with cruelty.
§ 135. Perseus and Medusa.? — When Perseus was grown up, Polydectes sent him to attempt the conquest of the Gorgon Medusa, a terrible monster who had laid waste the country. She had once been a maiden whose hair was her chief glory; but as she dared to vie in beauty with Minerva, the goddess deprived her of her charms, and changed her ringlets into hissing serpents. She became a monster of so frightful an aspect that no living thing could behold her without being turned into stone. All around the cavern where she dwelt might be seen the stony figures of men and animals that had chanced to catch a glimpse of her and had been petrified at the sight. Perseus, favored by Minerva and Mercury, set out against the Gorgon, and approached first the cave of the three Grææ : —
1 Simonides of Ceos, also Apollodorus, Pausanias, and Hyginus (Fables). 2 Ovid, Metam. 4:608–739; 5:1-249. 8 For Gorgons and Grææ, see § 54.
There sat the crones that had the single eye,
Snatching the eye, Perseus compelled the Grææ, as the price of its restoration, to tell him how he might obtain the helmet of Hades that renders its wearer invisible, and the winged shoes and pouch that were necessary. With this outfit, to which Minerva added her shield and Mercury his knife, Perseus sped to the hall of the Gorgons. In silence sat two of the sisters, —
But a third woman paced about the hall,
And moaned aloud, and shrieked in
her despair; Because the golden tresses of her hair
Were moved by writhing snakes from
side to side, That in their writhing oftentimes would
glide On to her breast, or shuddering shoul
ders white; Or, falling down, the hideous things
would light Upon her feet, and crawling thence would twine Their slimy folds about her ankles fine.
This was Medusa. Her, while she was praying the gods to end her misery, or, as some say, while she was sleeping, Perseus approached, — and guided by her image reflected in the bright shield which he bore, cut off her head, and so ended her miser
1 William Morris, The Doom of King Acrisius, in The Earthly Paradise.
able existence. Thus are described the horror and the grace of her features in death :
It lieth, gazing on the midnight sky,
Upon the cloudy mountain-peak supine;
Its horror and its beauty are divine.
Loveliness like a shadow, from which shine,
Yet it is less the horror than the grace
Which turns the gazer's spirit into stone;
Are graven, till the characters be grown
'Tis the melodious hue of beauty thrown
§ 136. Perseus and Atlas. — From the body of Medusa sprang the winged horse Pegasus, of whose rider, Bellerophon, we shall presently be informed.
After the slaughter of Medusa, Perseus, bearing with him the head of the Gorgon, flew far and wide, over land and sea. As night came on, he reached the western limit of the earth, and would gladly have rested till morning. Here was the realm of Atlas, whose bulk surpassed that of all other men. He was rich in focks and herds ; but his chief pride was his garden of the Hesperides, whose fruit was of gold, hanging from golden branches,
1 From Shelley's lines On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery,