PERSEUS AND ANDROMEDA

BY V. C. TURNBULL

On the shores of the Great Sea there dwelt in ancient times a simple folk of shepherds and tillers of the ground, who called themselves the Blameless Ęthiops. They were a pious race, and worshiped in particular Atergatis, Queen of the Fishes. Year by year they dwelt in peace among their flocks and herds, their fields of barley and flax, and their vines that bore purple grapes on the sunny hillsides.

But a great trouble fell upon this happy folk. For the earth heaved and yawned, and the dwellings of the people fell, and the sea poured in on the land, flooding and laying waste the golden harvest fields. Then a greater terror followed, for out of the sea rose a monster huge and terrible, such as never man had seen. Riding on the flood he came, bearing down upon the terrified people, and into his maw he swept their fattest sheep and kine, and also, alas! their fairest sons and daughters. And thus he came night after night, till the people's hearts failed them, and in their utter misery they sought counsel of their king. And King Cepheus spoke unto them, and said: "Surely, my people, ye have sinned, and offended our great sea-god. Let us go to his temple and offer gifts, and inquire of his priests, and learn which of you has sinned."

So they went with their King Cepheus to consult the priests of the sea-gods whom they worshiped. And when many sacrifices had been offered, the priests cast lots to find who it was who had angered the gods and caused them to plague the land. And the lot fell upon Cassiopœia, the queen.

Then Cassiopœia stood up before all the people, her ebon hair falling to her feet and her eyes shining with tears, as she cried, and said: "O my friends, I have sinned in my pride, and brought this evil on your homes. For not many days since my heart was lifted up and I boasted myself fairer than all the Nereids. And they, hearing, have risen in their wrath to avenge the insult. Pardon me, O my friends, for thus have I drawn desolation upon our land."

And all the people were silent, but the priests made answer: "Truly hast thou spoken, O Queen, and assuredly has thy boasting been our curse. Now, therefore, take thy daughter Andromeda and bind her to a rock on the seashore, so that when the monster cometh again he shall see that we have given him our best, even our king's daughter. Perchance he will have mercy and spare her when he sees our repentance, but anywise he will depart whence he came and trouble us no more."

Then King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopœia rose up and went down to their palace in grief too great for tears. And they took Andromeda, their only child, the fairest maiden in the land, and withal the tenderest and truest, and carried her down to the sea-shore. And all the people followed, weeping bitterly, for to many of them Andromeda had spoken kind words, and to not a few had she done gracious deeds. Yet when they thought on their own desolate homes, where no children played, they told themselves that the young princess must die for the people.

So they led Andromeda to the base of a sea-washed crag, and riveted her white arms with chains of brass to the black rock. And Cassiopœia, kissing her, cried: "O child, forgive thy wretched mother!"

And Andromeda answered: "It is not thou, mother, but the sea-god who hath done me to death."

And the queen kissed her yet again, and departed weeping. All the people followed, and night fell, and she was left alone. Out of the sky looked down the white moon behind the cloud rack, and not more fair was she than this maiden standing on the black rock like a white statue, half hid by the streaming locks that rippled to her knee.

So all night she stood and waited for her doom, most time mute with terror, but at whiles lamenting, and calling on the gods for pity. But no answer came save the thunder of the sea upon the rocks and the scream of the sea-birds wheeling between earth and sky.

Morning came, flinging roses from her car and scattering gold across the waters, and as those in bitterest pain of heart take strange note of passing things, Andromeda's eyes, dull and despairing, watched the sea-birds at their play. Among them came one flying swifter and greater than osprey or sea-eagle, and the gulls all dived at his approach. As the winged form drew nigh Andromeda was aware that this was no sea-bird; and soon she perceived a youth, godlike and strong, whose plumed sandals carried him over the deep as lightly as if he had been indeed a bird. Blue as the sea were his eyes, and his hair shone in the morning sun like spun gold. From his shoulder floated a goat-skin, on his arm he carried a brazen shield, and on his thigh hung a sword that flashed like diamonds in the sun. Straight to Andromeda he flew, and putting back the hair that covered her face he gazed into her eyes with love and pity, as he cried: "O maiden, beautiful and pitiful, what cruelty hath brought thee to this pass?"

But Andromeda, wan and weak after the terrors of the night, could only hang her head and weep. So Perseus drew his diamond sword and smote through her chains, and gathered her, set free, to his breast. But when she had wept there a little space Andromeda thrust him away with a sharp cry.

"Oh, leave me!" she wailed, "for I am the accursed one, the victim offered to the angry gods. Come not between me and my doom, for I suffer in the people's place."

"Never will I leave thee," answered Perseus, "and never shalt thou suffer while I have strength to draw sword in thy defense."

But Andromeda only wept the more and begged him again to be gone, and he, thinking to calm her, again entreated to hear the story of her sad plight. So Andromeda told him why she was being offered up to the monster, and as she finished speaking, her eyes, wandering seaward, widened with horror, and she shrieked aloud: "It comes! it comes! Oh, kind and godlike youth, fly ere it is too late! Leave me; let not thine eyes behold my shameful end!"

But Perseus, kissing the tears from her face, laughed aloud and made a mock of the great fish-beast which even now, like a leviathan of the deep, could be seen plowing its way towards them across the sea.

"Shall I flee from a beast of the deep?" he asked. "Maiden, my father was Jupiter, king of the gods, and the great goddess Minerva hath me under her protection. From her I received this shield, and from Mercury, swiftest of the gods, a cap of darkness, these sandals, and this sword. Then, at Minerva's bidding, I sped northward through regions where man nor beast hath trodden. There found I the Gray Sisters, and snatched from them their one eye, keeping it till they told me the way to the garden of the Hesperides. And from the maidens in that garden I learned the secret dwelling-place of the gorgon Medusa, the very sight of whose face turns all men to stone. Her, at the bidding of Minerva, I slew, using the shield as a mirror and looking not on the gorgon's face as I shore off her viper-crowned head. Seven years have these adventures filled; very far have I traveled and many perils known. And shall I now turn back from a beast of the sea?"

And he laughed again, and his laughter rang so joyously through the morning air that some comfort stole even into the sad heart of Andromeda; but still she besought him to go.

"Many hath the sea-beast slain," she pleaded; "and why should he slay thee? Shall two perish instead of one? Strong-limbed art thou and brave; but what mortal shall stand against that strength? Never have I known fairer or gentler man than thou, and why should'st thou die? Seven years hath thy mother awaited thy homecoming, and shall her eyes see thee nevermore?"

And when she had said this, Andromeda hid her face in her hair, sobbing very bitterly as she added: "Surely some maiden longeth for thee afar; and shall she go longing to her grave?"

But ere Perseus could answer there came a roar from the sea, and looking down they saw that the monster was at hand. His great snout, pouring forth fountains of sea-water, lay already on the rocks, his vast scaly body, shells clinging to its scales and seaweeds dripping down its sides, rolled like some water-logged hulk; his tail, curling, coil upon coil, to the horizon, lashed the waters till they were white with foam, and the sea-birds screamed as before him the fishes fled leaping.

Then Perseus, pausing not an instant, drew forth from under his goat-skin the fatal head of Medusa, the sight of which is death, and gripping it by its viper locks, he swooped like a hawk upon the monster as it rose to clamber up the beach. And the monster's great eyes rolled upward, blinking and wicked; but when they saw the Medusa they became fixed in a ghastly stare. And a great spasm ran through the sea-beast from snout to tail—a shiver, and then no motion or breath or sign of life, for that which had been a monster was now nothing but a long black rock.

Then Perseus went back to Andromeda and showed her that her enemy was indeed dead, and Andromeda, after all her sorrows, was now the happiest maiden in the land. And all the people, hearing what had happened, came down to the shore with laughter and dancing and singing, and carried Andromeda and Perseus to the palace of the king and queen, who sat sorrowing for their daughter, deeming her already dead. And they, when they heard the glad tidings, rose up and embraced their daughter who had come back to them, as it were, from the grave, and gave her to Perseus to wife, begging him to stay with them for a while before he carried home his bride.

So Perseus stayed with Cepheus and Cassiopœia and their dark-haired Ęthiopians for the space of a year, teaching them many things; and after that he built himself a ship of cedar-wood, and in it he sailed with Andromeda to Seriphos among the Isles of Greece, where his mother had waited for him seven years. And after a little while Perseus became King of Argos in the place of his grandfather Acrisius. Long and glorious was his reign, and fair Andromeda bore him four sons and three daughters. And when after many days Perseus died, the gods took him up into the sky. Who has not seen on a starlight night Cassiopœia seated on her golden throne? There, too, is Perseus, still holding the Medusa's head, and beside him is Andromeda, still stretching out her starry arms to embrace her enstarred deliverer.