Perseus and Medusa - Greek Mythology
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Perseus and Medusa

woman and baby in a box
Danae and Perseus adrift in their box

Once there was a good king, but he died. His bad brother killed him so that he could be king. The bad brother needed to get rid of the good king's wife (Danae) and baby (Perseus), but he was afraid to kill them too. So he put them in a wooden chest and he dropped the wooden chest in the ocean.

After a long time they drifted ashore in a new kingdom. Perseus and his mother Danae stayed there while Perseus grew up. But after a while the king of the new place wanted to marry Danae, but she didn't want to marry him. This king wanted to get rid of Perseus for awhile so he could make Danae marry him.

So the king sent Perseus on a quest, to kill the monster Medusa and bring back her head.

woman gives winged sandals to man
Athena gives Perseus his winged sandals
(in a different variation of the story)

At first Perseus didn't know where to find Medusa, so he went and asked the three Fates. The Fates were very old and they only had one eye and one tooth between them and they took turns every day, passing the eye and the tooth between them. When Perseus came to them, at first they didn't want to tell him where Medusa was. But Perseus waited until they were passing the eye from one to another, and so none of them could see. Then he quick grabbed the eye! The Fates had to tell Perseus where Medusa was in order to get their eye back.

Then Perseus met the god Hermes, who gave Perseus winged sandals to wear so he could fly to where Medusa was, and fight from the air. And he met the goddess Athena, who gave him a sword and a shield. Athena told Perseus not to look at Medusa or her ugliness would turn him to stone. Instead he should use the shield as a mirror and look in that to cut off Medusa's head.

Learn by doing: making a Greek shield
More about Perseus

Bibliography and further reading about Perseus

Snake Hair: The Story of Medusa (All Aboard Books Reading Level 2)
by Stephanie Spinner and Susan Swan. A beginning reader book, just a few sentences on each page, and big pictures done with paper collage. My daughter and I loved this one.

Say Cheese, Medusa! Myth-O-Mania, by Kate McMullan (2002). A "cool" retelling of the story, with a lot of puns.

D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D'Aulaire.

Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, by Stephen R. Wilk (1999). For adults. Traces the story of Medusa using the ancient sources (writing and art) and then through the centuries to modern times.

More about Medusa and Perseus
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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