Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Autumn Constellations

The wonderful story of Perseus is in the sky right above us right now. You can read the whole story in the D'Aulaires' outstanding book of Greek Myths. All of these beautiful illustrations are from their book. You can also see wonderful weekly constellation charts in the New York Times.

Long, long ago in Ancient Greece there was a king named Acrisius. An oracle told him that he was doomed to be slain by the son of his beautiful daughter, Danae. To try to prevent that from ever happening, Acrisius locked his daughter in a prison with only one opening, a hole in the roof. But Zeus, the thunder god, was always looking for pretty maidens, and in the picture below, the thunder god has discovered Danae and is descending to her as a golden shower through the opening in the roof of her prison. Danae became the thunder god's bride and gave birth to a baby boy, whom she named Perseus.

When Acrisius found out that Danae had had a baby boy he was furious and afraid. But he did not dare to harm Zeus' son. He put Danae and baby Perseus into a chest and tossed them into the sea. It they died, it would be Poseidon's fault. But Zeus watched over Danae and Perseus, guiding the chest to an island, where a kind old fisherman caught them in his nets. He took them home and took good care of them for many years. Perseus grew to be a strong and brave young hero.

Unfortunately, the cruel king of the island found out about Danae and wanted her for his wife. Danae refused, for she was already the wife of Zeus, and Perseus defended her. The king decided he had to get Perseus out of the way. He announced that he was marrying a princess from a nearby island. All the men of the kingdom offered gifts in honor of the marriage, all but Perseus, who was too poor. Instead, he offered his services. The king sent Perseus to kill the Gorgon Medusa and bring back her head, knowing that Perseus would probably never return. Medusa and her Gorgon sisters could turn people to stone with their terrible gaze.

Zeus sent Hermes and Athena to help Perseus on his quest. Athena lent him her highly polished shield, and Hermes lent him his sword, which was so sharp it could cut through the hardest metal. The nymphs of the north lent him winged sandals, an invisibility cap, and a magic bag which could hold anything. When Perseus reached the Gorgons' island, he looked into the mirror-like shield and saw the Gorgons sleeping on the beach. He flew down, sliced off Medusa's head, and put it into the magic bag. Out of Medusa's neck jumped Pegasus, a beautiful flying horse. When Pegasus whinnied, the Gorgon sisters woke up. Perseus popped on his invisibility cap and disappeared just in time.

Perseus' adventure was not yet over. As he flew over the coast of Ethiopia he saw a beautiful girl chained to a rock in the sea. Her name was Andromeda, and her parents, King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia had had to sacrifice their daughter to a terrible sea monster in order to appease Poseidon. Poseidon was angry at Queen Cassiopeia for boasting that she was prettier than the Nereids, the goddesses of the sea, and he had sent the monster to lay waste to Ethiopia. Perseus made short work of the sea monster, turning the sea red with blood. From then on, it was known as the Red Sea.

Andromeda's former suitor and all of his warriors challenged Perseus as soon as the monster was dead. Perseus whisked out Medusa's head, turning all of the men into stone, and also accidentally killing Andromeda's parents, King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. The gods took pity on the king and queen and hung them in the sky as constellations. Read the last bit of the story to find out whether the oracle's prediction came true. Did Perseus kill his grandfather, Acrisius? And look up into the sky this Autumn to see the constellations of Perseus, Andromeda, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, the Whale (or monster) and Pegasus.


Bending Birches said...

so very interesting...and love love love the photos!

Appleshoe said...

This brings back wonderful memories of warm coco, star gazing, and story telling with my father.

Gabriele Kubo said...

How beautiful, Beth!!