With Lorna George coming to this blog in a couple weeks–her novel The Redwood Rebel is out soon–I am continuing to think about princes who do not take their rightful throne in the stories of ancient Greece.
Being a son of Zeus did not guarantee advancement in ancient Greece. More than likely, divine birth pushed one into competition and danger.
So it was for Perseus. With his birth came a prophecy: one of his mother Danea’s children would kill his grandfather the king of Argos. So the king kept his mother imprisoned in a chamber made of bronze. Still in that hidden place, Zeus came to her and she bore a son, Perseus. Fearful of the wrath of Zeus, the king did not directly kill the babe and his mother: he sent them adrift in a wooden box. Protected by the god, they landed on the island of Serifos and were taken in by a fisherman Dictys who raised the boy as his own.
Dictys’ brother was king of that land, and the king wanted Danae as his wife. When Perseus prevented this because he did not believe the king to be honourable, the king gave the young man the task of killing Medusa, the gorgon whose eyes turned people to stone.
With the help of Athena, Perseus succeeded. During many adventures on the journey home, he met and married Andromeda. When he got back to Serifos, he discovered that his mother had taken refuge from an increasingly violent king. Using Medusa’s head, Perseus killed the king and placed his foster-father Dictys on the throne in his stead.
Despite the grace Perseus showed in placing another on the throne of the island, he was fated to fulfill the prophecy and kill his grandfather. Even though he honoured Athena by returning the tools she loaned him to slay Medusa, he could not escape his fate.
Some say that when Perseus returned to Argos, his grandfather did not believe he fulfilled the quest, but when Perseus removed the head from its bag, the king looked on it and turned to stone. Others say that Perseus went into exile voluntarily in Thessaly, but when he competed in funeral games there, an unlucky discus throw veered from its course and killed his grandfather.
Still the gracious Perseus did not take the throne. He gave it to the next in line, and he moved south to the Peloponnesus, and established the city of Mycenae, a place that became a powerhouse in Bronze Age Greece.
This brings us to the edge of my novel Before the New Moon Rises (due out in December), but we will come to the stories of that great city later. Next time I reflect on why the competition between king and prince in a land that claimed honour within families as a basic value.