Once there was a king named Acrisius, he had a beautiful daughter named Danae. The oracle of Apollo told Acrisius that Danae’s son would one day kill him. Acrisius could not let that happen, so he locked Danae in a bronze tower so that she would never marry or have children.
The tower had no doors, but it had one very small window. Danae was very sad, but one day a bright shower of gold came through the small window. A man appeared, he had a thunderbolt in his hand and Danae knew he was a god, but she didn’t know which. The man said, “Yes, I am a god and I wish to make you my wife. I can make this dark prison a wonderful sunny land with many flowers ”
All happened as he said, the horrible prison became fields almost as wonderful as the Elysian Fields themselves, but one day Acrisius saw light coming out of the small window. He told his men to tear down one of the walls. He walked into the tower and saw Danae with a baby on her lap, smiling she said, “I have named him Perseus.” Acrisius was furious, he shut Danae and baby Perseus up in a large chest and cast them out to sea.
Somehow they got safely to the island of Seriphos where Polydectes was king. The kings brother who was a fisherman, caught them in his net and pulled them to shore, his name was Dictys. Perseus grew up to become a strong young man. Polydectes heard about Danae and wanted her to marry him, but she rejected him. Polydectes would have married Danae by force if Perseus wasn’t there to protect her.
Polydectes decided on a plan to get rid of Perseus. Polydectes pretended to be marrying a daughter of a friend of his. Everybody had to bring a present, including Perseus. Polydectes pretended to be furious when Perseus arrived empty-handed, for he was not only very strong and brave but very poor. “What, no wedding present?” yelled Polydectes. ” I don’t have any money.” exclaimed Perseus. ” That’s what you get for a lazy good-for-nothing.” said Polydectes. Perseus was furious. “I can bring you any present in the world, anything.” he said. “Then bring me the head of the gorgon Medusa!” replied Polydectes. “Fine!” said Perseus.
So he went of on his perilous voyage. For days he wandered, searching for the gorgons lair. One night in an unknown country he realized how hopeless things were. The gorgons were horrible, instead of hair they had black serpents that writhed on their head, they had brazen hands that could have squashed poor Perseus, but worst of all if you looked a gorgon you were instantly turned to stone.
Then suddenly a tall woman and a young man with winged sandals appeared. The man said, “I am Hermes and this is our sister Athena. Yes, you are a son of Zeus. We have some things that may help you in slaying Medusa. Here are my winged sandals and the sickle which Cronos used to overpower Uranus and Zeus used against mighty Typhoeus.” “And here is a gifts from me.” said Athena, “Use this shield to reflect the image of Medusa so you won’t be turned to stone.” “You must find the Graeae and get them to tell you how to get to the Nymphs of the North, they will give you the cap of darkness and give you a magic wallet and tell you how to get to the Gorgons’ lair.” Hermes said.
So Perseus went to the cave of the Graeae. The Graeae were strange women, there were three of them having only one eye for all three of them which they constantly fought over. Perseus hid behind some bushes and watched them. When one took out the eye to give to another Perseus sprang from his hiding place and snatched the eye from them. Then he said, “I have your eye and if you don’t tell me how to find the Nymphs of the North you shall never have it back!” So they reluctantly told them how to find the Nymphs of the North. He gave them back their eye and flew off on his winged sandals.
The kindly Nymphs of the North gave him the Cap of Darkness which has the power to make it’s wearer invisible and the magic wallet. They told him how to reach the gorgons’ lair. Perseus went farther north until he found an island surrounded by rocks and statues which used to be men.
Perseus raised his shield and saw Medusa and her sisters asleep, he put on the Cap of Darkness and flew down. He swung the sickle and felt it tearing through sinew and bone. Still looking into the shield, he put Medusa’s head in the magic wallet. Medusa’s sisters woke up and attacked Perseus. He flew quickly away on his winged sandals and was not hurt.
On his way back to Seriphus he had many adventures, one was that when he saw the Atlas holding up the sky Perseus was sorry for Atlas and turned him to stone by showing him the head of Medusa so he could no longer feel the weight of his burden.
Later he saw what looked like a statue chained to a rock, he flew down. He saw that it was not a statue, but a woman. He asked why she was chained to the rock. “My name is Andromeda and I have been punished because of my vain mother. She boasted that I was more beautiful then the Nereids. Poseidon was angered and said that I must be sacrificed to a sea monster,” she said. Even as she spoke a monster rose from the sea.
Perseus pulled Medusa’s head out of the wallet and the sea monster turned to stone and crumbled to pieces. Perseus cut Andromada’s chains and took her to her father, King Cepheus of Phoenicia. When Perseus asked Andromeda’s hand in marriage Cepheus gladly agreed. So Perseus – with Andromeda in his arms set off for Seriphus.
On the way they stopped at Larisa so Perseus could compete in some games, but when he threw a discus it hit an old man in the stands who was Acrisius. So the prophecy came true and after mourning for a while Perseus and Andromeda left.
When they arrived at Seriphus, the first person they met was Dictys the fisherman who brought Danae and Perseus to shore after they sailed in the trunk. Dictys told Perseus and Andromeda how Polydectes had never really married, but since Danae wouldn’t marry Polydectes, he forced her to be his handmaiden. Perseus was furious. He told Dictys to take care of Andromeda.
Perseus stormed to the palace, walked in and said, “Let all who are my friends shield their eyes!” So saying he raised Medusa’s head and Polydectes and his courtiers were changed to statues. Perseus and Andromeda lived happily for many years and their descendants became great kings, but the greatest of these was Heracles the strongest man in the world.
Later Perseus was killed by Dionysus. Perseus and Andromeda were put up in the sky as constellation
Theseus was Athens’s great hero. While having all the qualities of a traditional hero, such as strength and courage, he was also intelligent and wise. His early adventures benefited the city and region. He was a successful king. He consolidated Athens’s position in the region through shrewd political maneuvering. He led Athens’s army on victorious campaigns. He is credited as the founder of Athens’s democracy voluntarily turning many of his powers as king over to an elected assembly. He gained a reputation for helping the poor and oppressed.
His shedding of power also made it easier for him to continue going on adventures after he was king. “Not without Theseus” became a popular Athenian saying, reflecting the belief he should be included in any important undertaking.
While growing up he wanted to be like his older cousin Heracles. Perhaps the only example of conscious emulation by one Greek Hero of another. He became a fast friend of Heracles and they saved each others lives. Heracles through his strength. Theseus through his wisdom.
In middle age his wisdom deserted him. He began going on foolish adventures. He started making bad decisions. His efforts to produce an heir for the throne led to more problems. The people of Athens’s grew tired on the turmoil he produced. Ultimately, he died in exile from Athens’s. The city did not bother to bring his body home.
Generations pasted without much thought being given to Theseus. Then during the Persian wars Athenian solders reported seeing the ghost of Theseus and came to believe him responsible for their victories. The Athenian general Cimon received a command from the Oracle at Delphi to find Theseus’s bones and return them to Athens. This he did and he was reburied in a magnificent tomb that also served as a sanctuary for the defenseless.
Bellerophon provides a lesson in the proper relationship between a mortal hero and the gods. When he was young he honored the gods and won their favor but, then his pride got the better of him and led to his downfall.
Bellerophon was the son of Eurynome, wife of Glaucus, by Poseidon. He was raised by Glaucus who thought Bellerophon was his own son. Considering both his fathers involvement with horses it is not surprising that he quested after Pegasus. After many failures he asked the seer Polyeidus for help.
Following Polyeidus instructions he spent the night at an alter to Athena. Here he had a dream of the goddess giving him a magical golden bridle. He awoke and found the bridle from the dream in his hands. He sensibly sacrificed to both Athena and Poseidon. This done he went to where Pegasus grazed and was able to bridle and ride the horse without difficulty. Triumphant in his success he went to King Pittheus and received permission to marry his daughter Aethra. However, before the marriage could take place he accidently killed a man, possibly one of his brothers, and was banished.
He went to King Proetus to be purified for his crime. This was done but, while staying as Proetus’s house guest the King’s wife, Stheneboea, attempted to seduce him. As an honorable man Bellerophon rejected her advances. This infuriated Stheneboea who then falsely accused him of attempting to seduce her.
Greatly upset, Proetus wished to be rid of Bellerophon without having to accuse him publicly. He was also concerned about harming a house guest as this was an offence to the gods. So he sent Bellerophon to deliver a sealed message to his wife’s father, King Iobates.
Arriving on Pegasus, Bellerophon was warmly received and settled in as Iobates house guest. Iobates unsealed and read the message thus learning of Stheneboea’s accusations against Bellerophon. This left Iobates in the same predicament of acting against a guest that had troubled Proetus.
Iobates solution was to ask Bellerophon to undertake a series of heroic but, normally deadly tasks. However, Bellerophon’s courage and skill as an archer combined with Pegasus as a mount allowed him to prevail. In addition his parentage, his sacrifices, and his acts of honor brought him the favor of the gods. His first task was to kill the terrible Chimaera. Succeeding here he was sent to conquer the neighboring Solymi tribe, who were Iobates traditional enemies. When he defeated them the King sent him to fight the Amazons. He was again victorious. In desperation Iobates laid an ambush against Bellerophon using his entire army. This army was killed to the last man.
At this point Iobates had the wisdom to notice that something was very wrong. He realized that the gods favored Bellerophon and that this favor would not have been given to a dishonorable house guest. Iobates succeed in making amends by giving Bellerophon half his kingdom, including the best farm land and his daughter Philonoe in marriage.
There are two stories concerning the fate of Stheneboea. One that Bellerophon extracted revenge by taking her for a ride on Pegasus then shoving her off to fall to her death. This seems unheroic. In the other version Stheneboea hears that Bellerophon has married her sister. She knows that this means her slander will be reveled and chose to kill herself.
It appeared that Bellerophon would live happily ever after. His glorious deeds were widely sung. He was happily married. Philonoe bore him two sons, Isander and Hippolochus, and two daughters, Laodameia and Deidameia. As a king his subjects loved and honored him.
All this was not enough for Bellerophon. In his arrogance he decided that he could ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus and visit the gods. Zeus quickly put an end to his trip by sending the gadfly to sting Pegasus and throw Bellerophon. He survived his fall but, was crippled. He spent the rest of his life wandering the earth. No man would help him because of his offense to the gods. He died alone with no one to record his fate.
Atlanta’s parentage is uncertain. One possibility is King Iasus with Clymene. She came into the world in the undesirable state of being female. As a result her Father had her carried into the woods and left exposed to die. Instead, she was raised during her childhood by a bear. As she grew older she began to spend time with hunters and was soon the best amongst them. She loved hunting and the outdoors and had no use for a man in her life. She also received an oracle that her marriage would end in disaster. She had no compunction in defending her virginity. When the centaurs Rhoecus and Hylaeus attempted to rape her she quickly killed them with her arrows.
She wished to join the Argonauts but, Jason thought it inadvisable to have a women among the crew, fearing problems like those that would occur during the boar hunt.
Her shooting skills allowed her to draw first blood during the Calydonian Boar Hunt. Her contribution to the hunt was marred when a quarrel over giving her a trophy of the hunt resulted in the death of Meleager and his uncles.
At the funeral games honoring Pelias, Atlanta entered the wrestling contests. Here she gained more fame by scoring a victory over Peleus.
She achieved enough that her Father forgave her for not being a son and allowed her to return home. Once there he attempted to fulfill his fatherly obligations by finding her a husband. For her to simply refuse might arouse dangerous resentment. Instead she proposed a test. The successful suitor would have to beat her in a foot race. Losing suitors would be beheaded by her. As Atlanta was one of the fastest mortals this appeared to insure her maidenhood.
For quite some time this worked. Some say that she evened the odds by wearing armor while she ran. Others say that she gave the suitors a head start of half the distance. In any case the heads stacked up.
Melanion fell in love with her. He knew that he was not fast enough to win the race. So he did what many frustrated lovers have done. He prayed to Aphrodite for help. Aphrodite has a weakness for lovers and a concern about those that reject romance to the degree that Atlanta did. Aphrodite presented Melanion with three golden apples and a plan. In return Melanion was to sacrifice to Aphrodite.
Melanion then ran his race with Atlanta carrying the apples with him. When Atlanta caught up to him he tossed the first apple at her feet. The sight of the magic golden apple was irresistible to Atlanta. She stopped to pick it up confident that she could make up the time. Soon enough she was once again passing Melanion. He threw the second apple, this time further to the side. Again, she lost time retrieving the apple. As she again caught up the finish line was near and chasing the third thrown apple cost her the race.
Despite her resistance once won marriage seemed to suit Atlanta. Melanion’s happiness and joy was so great he completely forgot his obligations to sacrifice to Aphrodite. As usual when messing up with the gods payback was severe.
Aphrodite waited until Melanion and Atlanta were passing a shrine to a god, possibly Zeus. She then hit them with overwhelming desire. Melanion took Atlanta into the shrine and lay with her. At this point the infuriated god turned them both into lions. This was regarded by the Greeks as particularly poetic as they believed that lions could mate only with leopards.
There is one other mystery of Atlanta. Somehow despite her vaunted virginity she had a son – Parthenopaeus. The father is uncertain. Melanion and Meleager have both been suggested but, both of them were with Atlanta only briefly. Aris has also been put forward as the father. Out of embarrassment she left the child exposed on a mountain. He was found and raised, eventually becoming a hero in his own right.
Heracles is best known as the strongest of all mortals. Stronger then many gods. So strong he was the deciding factor in allowing the Olympian Gods to win their battle with the giants. He was the last mortal son of Zeus. He is the only man born of mortal woman to become a god upon his death.
Offsetting his strength was a noticeable lack of intelligence or wisdom. Once when he became too hot he pulled his bow out and threaten to shoot the sun. This coupled with strong emotions in one so powerful frequently got Heracles in trouble. While his friend and cousin Theseus ruled Athens, Heracles had trouble ruling himself. His pride was easily offended. He took up grudges easily and never forgot them. His appetites for food, wine, and women were as massive as his strength. Many of Heracles great deeds occurred while doing penance for stupid acts done in anger or carelessness.
It would be easy to view Heracles as a muscle bound buffoon. Indeed, many of the comic Greek playwrights used him this way. Even among serious critics he was often seen as a primitive, brutal, and violent. There is much to support this view. His chosen weapon was a massive club. His customary garment a lion skin, head still attached. He impiously wounded some of the gods. He threatened Apollo priestess at Delphi when a answer to his questions was not forthcoming. He created most of his own problems.
However, Heracles as simply a macho buffoon is unfair. If he held grudges, he would also do anything to help a friend. Once his anger passed he was the most critical judge of his own actions. He was too strong for anyone to force a punishment on him. That he willing did severe penance shows a fundamental sense of justice. During his punishments he shows patience, fortitude and endurance that are as heroic as his strength. Terrible things happen to him because of Hera’s hatred, a hatred that he is not responsible for. That he perseveres through it all is a moral victory beyond simple strength.
The view of Heracles shifted considerable over time. The early view focused on how badly he managed despite his obvious gifts. As time passed the focus shifted to his virtues. The Romans valued him highly as he best fit their idea of a hero. He eventually had a fair sized cult that worshiped him as a god.
Son of King Oeneus of of Calydon and Althaea. Seven days after his birth the Fates appeared to foretell his future. Clotho and Lachesis predicted he would be noble and brave. Atropos warn that he would die as soon as one of the sticks in the fireplace burned completely. Taking the hint Althaea pulled the stick from the fire, put it out, and hid it in a safe place.
While still young he came to be regarded as second only to Heracles in his abilities. He was the youngest of the Argonauts and according to some killed the Argonauts chief enemy, King Aeetes of Colchis.
After he returned from this journey he married Cleopatra and had a daughter Polydora. His domestic tranquility was brought to an end when Artemis unleashed the fearsome boar in his homeland. He naturally took a leading role in killing the boar during what became known as the Calydonian Boar Hunt which lead to his death.
There are two versions of Meleager’s death Both start with a quarrel with his uncles over the prize boar skin. To understand what happened it is necessary to know that Althaea was married to Oeneus to help settle a blood feud that may have gone on for generations. While his uncles came to help with the boar there still would have been a lot of tension between them and the Calydonians and Althaea’s brothers. Tensions that were not helped by strange choice of taking Atlanta on the hunt.
In the first version the quarrel over the prize led to a new war between Curetes and Calydon. This put Meleager who had blood relatives on both sides in a terrible position. Without his leadership Calydon was on the verge of losing. His wife appealed to him to save the city. However, while leading Calydon he killed his uncles. As a result his Mother cursed him. Possibly by burning the stick from the Fates visit. With or without the curse, the Erinyes killed him to revenge his killing of blood relatives.
The more romantic version of his death starts with Meleager awarding the prize to Atlanta because she drew first blood. Awarding the prize to a woman angers the rest of the hunting party but, most stay silent. However, his uncles feel their position entitle them to tell Meleager what to do. The quarrel breaks out between them and Meleager kills his uncles. On hearing of her brothers death by his hands, his mother burns the magic stick from the Fates visit. As predicted Meleager dies. Althaea then kills herself in remorse. This is followed by Cleopatra killing herself from grief.