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Memnon: the Mythical King of the Ethiopians

by October 12, 2021

by Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
One of the most remarkable figures in all of Ancient Mythology is that of Memnon. He was a great hero, not Greek nor Roman, but an African. He was a king of the Ethiopians and he played a critical role in the Trojan War.
Origin of Memnon
Memnon was the son of Tithonus, a prince of Troy, and Eos, the goddess of the Dawn. According to legend the goddess swept the Trojan Prince away and took him to the farthest reaches of the earth, known as Oceanus in Greek mythology. The goddess of the Dawn bore the Trojan a son. He was referred to as bronze-armed Memnon and he grew up to be a great warrior.
Memnon enjoyed the great favor of the gods and he retained it for all his life. At some point, Memnon became the king of the Ethiopians. This was an area due south of Egypt and it encompassed not only modern Ethiopia, but also what is now Northern Sudan. Memnon ruled a great kingdom and commanded a large army.
As a warrior, he was considered to be superior of all the Greek heroes, except for Achilles. Some stories claimed that he conquered great swathes of the east. He was considered to be a very handsome man and possessed all the masculine virtues. It appears that he maintained close ties with the home city of his father. At some point Memnon married a Trojan Queen, Troana Ilium.
Memnon and Achilles fighting
Memnon and Achilles fighting on 4th-century Greek vase
Little is known about the early life of the great hero because the epic poems based on his life have sadly been lost.
Memnon and the Trojan War
When Achilles killed Hector, it appeared that Troy, without its great champion was doomed. Priam, the King of Troy implored the Gods to help him and his people in their darkest hour. The Gods heard his pleas and told Memnon to leave Ethiopia to fight the Achaeans. According to a post-Homeric account of the Trojan War, the Ethiopian king traveled to Troy with a huge army. This included specialist units and soldiers that all had ‘a terrifying warlike appearance’. He and his men were so numerous that they had to camp outside the walls of the city because it could not accommodate them all.
Memnon and the Trojans attacked the Greeks and a brutal battle ensued. The Ethiopian king was described as riding in a chariot and killing many Greeks. Then in many accounts, Memnon dueled with Antilochus, the son of Nestor. After single combat Memnon killed Antilochus, who was considered to be one of the greatest warriors in all of Greece.
The walls of Troy
The walls of Troy
After the death of Antilochus, the Greek army panicked and was driven back almost to their ships; it seemed that they were on the verge of a complete defeat. Then along came mighty Achilles and he challenged Memnon to single combat. The two great heroes were evenly matched. While the two were both the favorites of the Gods, the Olympians agreed not to help one or the other.
In the fight, Achilles was simply too quick and strong for Memnon. He was able to thrust his spear through the shield of the Ethiopian King, pierce his side and then he finish him off with a thrust of his sword to the throat. With the death of their leader, the mighty Ethiopian army fled in terror. According to legend, some stayed with their king to bury him and they were turned into birds that would remove the dust from their dead lord’s tomb.
Bust of Memnon
Bust of Memnon
One story relates that the Gods collected all the spilled blood of the hero and turned it into a mighty river. On the anniversary of his death, it would turn red.
According to another tradition, Zeus, the king of the gods, was so moved by the tears of the goddess of the Dawn that he raised Memnon from the dead and he became become immortal.
The legend of Memnon
Both the Romans and the Greeks revered him. He was the subject of many works of art. Memnon’s image appeared on vases and there are many sculptures depicting the great Ethiopian. Tragically, a Greek epic poem on his death has been largely lost, and we only have fragments of the work.
There are many who believe that Memnon was possibly based on an Egyptian Pharaoh. Some academics argue that instead it was one of the Nubian kings from the Kushite Dynasty, that ruled Egypt for over a century. Others still think that he was based on the great Egyptian ruler, Amenhotep III.
Colossi of Memnon
Colossi of Memnon
When the Romans conquered Egypt, they believed that many of the statues of Pharaohs represented Memnon. The statues of Amenhotep III, of the 18th Dynasty, were called the Colossi of Memnon by the Romans. One of these statues was believed to have made sounds when struck by the light of dawn.

Athena in Ancient Literature

by October 6, 2021

by Sean Kelly, Managing Editor, Classical Wisdom
She’s one of the most famous and prominent of the Greek deities. Her symbol – the owl – still stands proudly, millennia later, as an emblem of wisdom.
Yet what do the ancient texts actually say about her? Who is she, and what does she do?
What do we know about the Goddess of Wisdom?
Athena in Homer
The Iliad and the Odyssey were both of central importance to Ancient Greek society. Even today, it is many people’s first exposure to the world of the Classics. Athena’s role in both, while comparatively small in terms of ‘screentime’, is key to the action of the story.
Of the two Homeric poems, Athena plays a much larger role in the Odyssey. She essentially acts as the protector of Odysseus. At various points across Odysseus’ journey, it is Athena’s help and guidance that allow the cunning hero to escape to safety. Moreover, it is Athena’s request to Zeus that allows Odysseus to leave the island of Circe.
Some have taken this to diminish the role of Odysseus himself. The interaction between the human and the divine in Greek literature, however, is more complex than that. Odysseus own qualities of cunning and guile are what win him the approval of the goddess. It is his own resourcefulness that makes him worthy of having a god intervene on his behalf. Odysseus own personality is so defined by the traits of cleverness and using his wits. That these are traits similar to those possessed by the goddess herself is significant.
A direct parallel is drawn between Odysseus and Athena in two incidents that bookend the epic. Early on in the Odyssey, Athena appears to Odysseus’ son Telemachus in disguise. Towards the end of the epic, it is Athena that allows Odysseus to take on the form of a beggar, which allows him to re-enter Ithaca disguised.
Ulysses transformed by Athena into beggar, 1775, by Giuseppe Bottani
Ulysses transformed by Athena into beggar, 1775, by Giuseppe Bottani
Athena’s presence in the Iliad is notably less prominent. Nevertheless, she also acts as something of a guide to Achilles at key moments throughout. For instance, she is present at the infamous quarrel of Agamemnon and Achille over Breseis which opens the epic. She helps stay the anger of Achilles, preventing him from killing Agamemnon outright!
Athena in Greek Tragedy
Athena was, naturally enough, the patron of her namesake city, Athens. The Festival Dionysia, where Greek tragedies were staged, actually took place in Athens. So, the audience for Greek tragedies consisted primarily of Athenians. The characterisation of Athena in Greek tragedies is, unsurprisingly, consistently positive.
Perhaps Athena’s most important role in Greek Tragedy is in the Eumenides by Aeschylus. Athena appears in the third and final play of the Oresteia trilogy, where she effectively acts as a judge in the world’s first courtroom drama.
The deciding vote as to whether or not Orestes should be considered guilty of his crimes is granted to Athena. The ruling frees Orestes from punishment by the Furies, while also granting the Furies a place of honour in a new system of justice.
This ruling is seen as representing in dramatic form perhaps the greatest Athenian invention – democracy.
Athena in the Eumenides
Athena in the Eumenides
Athena also appears in a number of Euripides‘ plays, such as Iphigeneia Among the Taurians, The Suppliants and Ion. In each of these plays, she acts in the role of deus ex machina, a term that literally means ‘god from the machine’.
Although that term might conjure up the sort of imagery you’d see in a Marvel or Matrix movie, it’s real meaning is much more straightforward than it might sound.
The ‘machine’ is in fact the mechane, a sort of crane that formed part of the Ancient Greek stage. It was a heightened platform, placed physically above the action of the rest of the scene, to signify to the audience that the actor was playing a god.
Whenever the drama has reached a point near the climax of the story, and all the play’s problems seem unsolvable, a god appeared on this stage. They then go on to very effectively resolve the conflict of the play, by telling each of the characters what they must do. It’s not always been a popular technique in tragedy – Aristotle was critical of the convention of the deus ex machina in his treatise on tragedy, the Poetics. Today, many would still agree with him. Yet it is a fitting role for Athena to fulfil. It’s consistent with how Athena is characterised throughout ancient literature, while also wrapping up the stories of the tragedies
There is, of course, an even more vast body of myths that surround Athena. Many of these belonged to the lost poems of the Epic Cycle. We still know many of these stories – for instance, that she was one of the three goddesses Paris had to choose between in the “Apple of Discord” story. Yet so much is also lost. Perhaps the real wisdom is found in the words of Socrates – “I know that I know nothing.”

Women in the Odyssey: Goddesses, wives, lovers, and threats

by September 15, 2021

By Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Traditionally, Ancient Greece is seen as a patriarchal society and women were marginalized and oppressed.  Yet, despite this, some women were able to be independent and play an important role in the Hellenic World. In the Odyssey of Homer, women have a significant role in the 20-year travels of Odysseus as he tried to reach his kingdom in Ithaca. Their roles in the epic in turn reveal the different roles of women in Ancient Greek society and culture and how they were viewed by the male elite.
A Roman Statue of Odysseus
A Roman Statue of Odysseus
Goddess Athena
In the Greek Pantheon, there were many female Goddesses. Athena was the Goddess of War, strategy, and craftiness. Athena favors Odysseus because he honors her and she admires his qualities. She is the patron of Odysseus and the two share many of the same personality traits. After Odysseus is shipwrecked in the land of the Phaceians and he is at his lowest point, Athena inspires the young woman Nausciaa to get her people to help him. Homer shows that Odysseus could not have made it home without her intervention.
Nausicaa was the daughter of the King of the Phaeacians Alcinous and his Queen Arete, who is shown as being the equal of her husband. Nausicaa is only a teenager, and Homer describes her as being as beautiful as a Goddess and very intelligent.  The young woman helps the hero when he was at his lowest ebb, alone and lost in the world. She falls in love with the Greek hero at first sight and she listens fascinated as he recounts his journey and tribulations.  Odysseus’ has feelings for her but does not return her love as he is married and wants to go home. Homer presents Nausicaa as in many ways the ideal of the Greek young women, innocent, caring and virtuous.
Penelope: the perfect Greek wife
Penelope is one of the most important characters in the Odyssey. She is a virtuous wife, and is faithful to her husband and protects his household (or oikos, as the Greeks would have it). Penelope rejects all the offers of marriage from her suitors because they believe that Odysseus died on his way back from the Trojan War. Penelope never gives up hope and believes that her husband is alive. She is not some meek and submissive housewife but is shown to be a strong and independent woman. This is seen in the various strategies that she uses to delay having to marry one of her 108 suitors for twenty long years. Her best known ruse was claiming that she would give her decision on who to marry after she had woven a burial shroud for the eventual funeral of her father-in-law, Laertes. Every night she would secretly unravel some of the shroud and in this way, she was able to avoid marrying one of the suitors. In many ways, she shares some of the characteristics of her husband and she was greatly admired by the Greeks and later the Romans.
Circe was a minor deity and in some myths she was the daughter of the goddess of the realm of death, Hecate. She has the characteristics of a witch; she was infamous for her potions and her staff with magical powers.  She was known to transform her enemies into monsters and beasts. Odysseus visits her, at her home on the island of Aeaea during his wanderings. The Greek heroes’ crewmates offend her, and she turns them into pigs. Odysseus manages to persuade her, with the help of Athena to turn them back and he agrees to stay with her. During his time on the island, he has two sons with her.  Circe advises Odysseus to travel to the Underworld (Hades) so that he can secure the favor of the dead spirits. Upon his return, she tells him of two equally dangerous routes home. Circe was the archetypal predatory woman to the Greeks who were sexually unrestrained and devious. Any woman that was not controlled by males was considered to be a threat to the social order in the Ancient World.
Circe from a 5th-century Greek vase
Circe from a 5th-century Greek vase
Calypso was a nymph (minor Goddess) and when Odysseus visits her, she keeps him prisoner. For seven years he is her lover but they do not have children. Calypso is infatuated with the Greek hero and wants him to become immortal, yet Odysseus is shown by Homer as pinning for his wife Penelope.  Zeus sends Hermes to Calypso and tells her to free Odysseus as mortals cannot become immortals. Without the intervention of Zeus, the King of Ithaca would have never made it home. The story of Calypso shows the Greek belief that women were driven by their sexual desires and were irrational. This type of thinking was used to justified male oppression of females, whom it was believed needed to be controlled and dominated, because of their uncontrollable and dangerous passions.
Calypso and Odysseus
An 18th century painting of Calypso and Odysseus
In the Odyssey women were either a help or a hindrance for the Greek hero on his journey home. The women in Homer offer a fascinating account of male Greeks attitudes and views towards women. They were seen as playing an important part in the family and household. Like Penelope, they were required to be good wives or virtuous like Nausicaa. Independent and sexually liberated women, who lived beyond the control of men were seen as dangerous and this was used to justify their lowly status and general powerlessness.
Cohen, B. ed., 1995. The distaff side: representing the Female in Homer’s Odyssey. Oxford University Press.

The All Seeing Greek but Overlooked God: Helios

by September 3, 2021

By Alicia McDermott, Contributing writer, Ancient Origins

An unpunished second-generation Titan of Greek myth, Helios was a deity who was important, but not always recognized for his powers. Until his role was usurped by a newer god, Helios was the deity of the life-giving, season-changing sun. He appeared in artwork riding his horse-drawn chariot across the sky and was a firsthand witness to several major events in the lives of other gods and goddesses, but Helios generally seemed to pass along in the background, seeing everything going on both on earth and in the heavens as he made sure to follow his daily routine.

Titans, Nymphs, Kings, and Oceanids: Helios’ Extensive Family

Helios’ parents were the Titans Hyperion, god of light, and Theia, goddess of sight. His sisters were Selene (the Moon) and Eos (Dawn). He was born/created in what is called the Golden Age of Greek Mythology and was responsible for bringing light to the world as the god of the sun. That role would gradually be usurped.

The Greek god of sun at noon

‘Helios as Personification of Midday’ (1765) by Anton Raphael Mengs.

His lovers include the Oceanids Perseis (whom some sources call his wife) and Clymene as well as the nymphs Crete and Rhodes.

His daughters with Persis include the famed sorceresses Circe, a lover to Odysseus, and Pasiphae, King Minos of Crete’s wife. His two sons with Perseis were King Aietes (Aeete) of Kolchis (Colchis) and King Perses of Persia.

Phaethon was his son born from Helios’ relation with Clymene and he had three (or five) daughters with her, known collectively as the Heliades.

Painting of the four seasons

‘Helios and Phaeton with Saturn and the Four Seasons’ (1635) by Nicola Poussin.

With Rhode, Helios had seven sons, the Heliadae, and a daughter named Electryone. These sons were said to have been smarter and stronger than any other men and soon became the rulers of Rhodes. Three of the main cities, Ialysos, Cameiros, and Lindos, are said to be named for three of his sons.

Two of his nymph daughters, Lampetia and Phaethusa, were in charge of overseeing his cattle on Thrinacia.

Helios in Art – How Did the Ancients Depict the Greek Sun God?

Helios appeared in all kinds of Greek art. He’s generally depicted as a young man wearing a crown of the sun’s rays, or with bright, curly hair. His piercing eyes reflect the legends of his all-seeing gaze and he’s clothed in a garment fit for a god. A simpler Greek symbol for Helios is a large haloed eye.

The poet who authored the 31st Homeric Hymn presents a beautiful description of the sun deity’s appearance in artwork:

“As he rides in his chariot, he shines upon men and deathless gods, and piercingly he gazes with his eyes from his golden helmet. Bright rays beam dazzlingly from him, and his bright locks streaming from the temples of his head gracefully enclose his far-seen face: a rich, fine-spun garment glows upon his body and flutters in the wind: and stallions carry him.”

Sculpture of the Greek Sun god

Relief showing Helios, sun god in the Greco-Roman mythology. From the North-West pediment of the temple of Athena in Ilion (Troy). Between the first quarter of the 3rd century BC and 390 BC. Marble. Found during the excavations lead by Heinrich Schliemann in 1872, now in the Pergamon-Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Usually the sun god is shown riding his golden chariot at the edge or in the background of someone else’s scene. His chariot is drawn by four winged horses, or sometimes dragons, and he is sometimes accompanied by one or both of his sisters.

His image has been identified in several examples of Greek pottery dating to the 5th and 6th centuries BC. For example, Helios is depicted on a red-figure calyx-krater from 420 BC, in which boys symbolizing the stars fall towards the ocean as he approaches. He’s also represented in some Heracles’ scenes on 6th century BC black-figure and 5th century BC red-figure pottery.

Pottery of the Greek sun god

Helios on a red-figure calyx-krater from 420 BC.

The most famous example of Helios in art, however, was the Colossus of Rhodes. This massive standing figure was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was constructed between 304 and 280 BC, but toppled over during an earthquake in either 228 or 226 BC. Coins from Rhodes also presented their patron deity for centuries.

Some notable historic figures also took on the likeness of the Greek sun god in their portraits. Alexander the Great and the Roman emperors Vespasian and Nero all desired to be seen as incarnations of a sun god.

Bust of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great as Helios. Marble, Roman copy after a Hellenistic original from 3rd–2nd century BC.

His Daily Journey Across the Sky

The most important ancient Greek myth of Helios is his daily journey. The ancient Greeks believed that there was a golden chariot of the sun that was so bright that human eyes could not bear to gaze upon it. For them, that chariot was driven from the east (Ethiopia) to the west (Hesperides) across the sky every day by the god Helios.

The journey was difficult and it was believed that Helios was a skilled charioteer to be able to not fly too close or distant from the earth. Helios’ daily trip across the sky began as his sister Eos (as dawn) threw open the gates of his beautiful eastern palace. He set off with his four winged horses (Aethon, Aeos, Pyrois, and Phlegon). The long travel had a steep ascent, peaked around mid-day, and then steeply descended towards his western palace, where his nephew, Hesperus (evening) awaited him.

Painting of the Gods

Three paintings showing three deities of Greek mythology as personifications of the times of the day. From left to right: Helios (or sun god Apollo) personifying Day, Hesperus embodying Evening, and Selene (or Diana, Luna) personifying Night or the Moon.

To return to the eastern palace, Helios was believed to have sailed under the world via the northerly stream of the realm of Oceanus with his horses and chariot in a golden boat (or large cup/goblet, or bed) created by the master smith and deity, Hephaestus. While Helios was hidden in Oceanus, Selene, the moon goddess, took her turn to cross the sky.

Minor Roles for Helios in Greek Myths

Another well-known myth involving Helios was when his son almost destroyed the earth. A popular version of the Greek myth of Phaethon says that the young man wanted proof that the sun was his father, so he went east to test the deity and ask him for a gift. Helios agreed to give his son whatever the youth wanted, but was distressed to discover Phaethon wanted to take a turn driving the golden sun chariot across the sky. He reluctantly consented and that favor turned into a disaster.

Phaethon could not control the winged horses and spun out of control, hurtling too far, then far too close, to the earth. Some of the world froze and other parts were set on fire as Phaethon struggled to control the chariot. But it was too much for him and as the gods watched the chaos unfold it was decided that something must be done before the earth was destroyed.

Picture depicting Phaeton's fall

‘The Fall of Phaeton’ (1531-1535) by Giovanni Bernardi.

Zeus saw no other option than to strike Phaethon down with a thunderbolt. The gods had to beg Helios to return to his work following the death of his son, but the sun god eventually agreed. And Phaethon’s sisters, the Heliades, were in such despair due to their brother’s death that their tears turned into amber and they became poplar trees.

Helios also played a minor role in many Greek myths. For example, his power to see everything on earth and in the heavens made him an eyewitness to the abduction of Persephone by Hades and the affair between Aphrodite and Ares.

Painting of Helios the Greek God

Helios (as Sol) shows the other gods Venus and Mars (Aphrodite and Ares), Vulcan (Hephaestus) stands at the front of the painting. (1540) by Maarten van Heemskerck.

He sometimes offered his assistance to other characters in Greek myth, such as when he allowed his granddaughter Medea to flee on his chariot after she murdered her children. He also lent his golden ship/cup to Heracles when the Greek hero had to cross Oceanus and capture the cattle of Geryon. Helios rescued his friend Hephaestus from the battlefield during the Gigantomachy and restored Orion’s eyesight after he was blinded by Oenipion as well. The earth mother goddess, Gaia, also sought his aid in warming and drying her when the land had been frozen by the remains of Typhon.

But Helios also showed his vengeful side when he appeared in the epic Greek tale, the Odyssey. After Odysseus’ men fed upon Helios’ sacred cattle he was so angered he had Zeus strike Odysseus’ ship with a thunderbolt – Odysseus was the only survivor of the attack.

The Cult of Helios

In Classical Greece, Helios was openly worshipped in Rhodes, where he was considered their patron deity since at least the early 5th century BC. Legends said that Helios was the first to see the island emerge from the waters and claimed it as his own. The island’s name came from Helios’ nymph lover, Rhodos. Every five years the island held PanHellenic games called the Halieia and a chariot and four horses were thrown into the sea as an offering to Helios.

While he was worshiped on Rhodes, it seems that Helios was not a major cult deity in the rest of ancient Greece. Temples of worship have not been mentioned to any extent, perhaps due to a belief that ‘barbarians’ built temples of worship to the sun. Nonetheless, his name was invoked in serious oaths and Plato wrote that Socrates and others would greet and pray to the sun every day.

Illustration of the Colossus of Rhodes

‘The Colossus of Rhodes straddling over the harbor’ (1886) painting by Ferdinand Knab.

Helios vs Apollo and Sol – Who was the Real Sun God?

The Greek Titans fell and the Olympians arose. Helios was not punished after the Titanomachy, but ancient Greeks pushed his role as the sun god towards someone else – Apollo.

It seems that the radiant and pure god Apollo began to gradually take over the role of sun god beginning around the 5th century BC. By the Hellenistic period the transition was almost complete. Apollo and Helios had become almost synonymous.

The Romans transformed Helios/Apollo into their sun god, Sol, and decided it was time for the deity to take a more important cult role. The Circus Maximus of Rome even had a temple dedicated to Sol and Luna (the Moon) from the 3rd century BC.

The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus

by August 25, 2021


Theseus slays the Minotaur
Ancient Greek mosaic

The story of Daedalus and Icarus is a popular myth that recounts the escape from Crete by the crafty inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus. It is a story that is often attributed to the Roman poet Ovid in his magnum opus Metamorphoses.

The general theme of the story involves the ingenuity and brilliance of man, and the misuse of that brilliance that can often lead to our own downfall.

Daedalus is mentioned in the story of Theseus as the inventor of the labyrinth that housed the Minotaur. He was described as an inventor and a scholar whose ingenuity and intelligence was unmatched by any other.

The labyrinth was said to have been one of his greatest creations. It was constructed in such a way so that any man sent into the labyrinth would become hopelessly lost and unable to escape. It was only with the help of Ariadne, the princess of Crete, that Theseus was able to navigate the labyrinth, slay the Minotaur and escape. Ariadne had been told the secrets of the labyrinth by Daedalus and in this way Theseus was able to leave the maze.

Icarus 1

Daedalus constructs wings for Icarus
painting by. Andrea Sacchi

After Theseus escaped the island, King Minos was so enraged that he locked the inventor away in a tower for his part in helping the Athenian hero escape. Other versions of the story tell that Daedalus was put away long before the arrival of Theseus, so the secrets of the labyrinth would not be known to the public.

Daedalus and his son, Icarus, spent their days locked up in a tower, unable to escape by land or sea. All the ships leaving the island were carefully monitored by King Minos, who was determined to not let Daedalus escape. So the inventor decided that if he could not escape by sea, then he would escape the island of Crete by riding on the winds. The original Roman poem describes this inspiration when Daedalus states:

“Tho’ Earth and water in subjection laid,
O cruel Minos, thy dominion be,
We’ll go thro’ air; for sure the air is free.”

Daedalus collected the feathers of the numerous birds that roosted in his tower prison. He constructed a set of wings that could be worn by a man by using candlewax and thread to hold the feathers in place. He then constructed wings for his son Icarus, who had been cast away in the tower as well. When the wings were complete the father and son prepared to jump from the tower and fly to freedom. Before they did so, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too low to the sea, as the mist would dampen his wings and cause him to fall. He also warned the young boy not to fly too high as the warmth from the sun would melt the wax that held the feathers and cause him to fall to earth. Daedalus warns:

To wing your course along the middle air;
If low, the surges wet your flagging plumes;
If high, the sun the melting wax consumes:

Daedalus and his son leaped from the tower and soared across the land and out to sea. The farmers and herders stopped their work and looked up at the duo flying like birds. The citizens of Crete thought that the pair were gods, never before had they seen such a miraculous sight.

icarus 2

Mourning for Icarus
painting by. Herbert James Draper

The two flying men traveled at peace for some time. They passed the islands of Samos and Delos and eventually flew past Lebynthos. All the while they were careful not to fly too low or too high. However, Icarus eventually would leave the guidance of his father and begin to fly higher and higher as if too reach heaven.

True to his father’s predictions, Icarus flew too high and the heat from the sun began to melt the wax holding the feathers in place. Soon, the wings disintegrated entirely and Icarus plummeted down through the air. He screamed in fear as he tried to fly away, yet his wings were no longer capable of flight. He splashed into the sea and drowned.

Daedalus looked for Icarus diligently. He would cry out “Icarus, Icarus where are you?!” He finally found his body floating among the waves, feathers strewn about the surf. Daedalus lamented the death of his child and buried his body in the nearby land. Daedalus named the land Icaria, in memory of his son.

The inventor would later travel safely to Sicily, where he would build a temple to Apollo. He hung up his wings to the god as an offering. He never took them down; Daedalus would never fly again.

Andromeda: The Beauty of the Mediterranean

by August 24, 2021

Written by Katherine Smyth, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

The story of Perseus and Andromeda is well known from the hero’s side, but who really was the woman he saved? No one seems to know. For eons scholars and bards alike have argued and debated. Artists have studied her, represented her in statues, music, and paintings. Yet, the question remains: who is this mysterious woman of the Mediterranean?

Beautiful beginnings

We’ll begin Andromeda’s story with what we know. She is a princess—the daughter of King Cepheus of Aethiopia, and his queen, Cassiopeia—and has been promised to Cepheus’ brother, Phineus, as a bride.

Andromeda is beautiful, and her mother makes sure everyone knows just how beautiful her daughter is. It’s this hubris, or utter foolishness, that angers the immortals. Cassiopeia’s boasting goes so far as comparing her daughter’s beauty to be far greater than that of the Nereids, the nymph-daughters of Nereus, who accompany Poseidon.

Once insulted, Poseidon sets out to punish Cassiopeia for her arrogance, and as part of this punishment, he sends the monster Cetus (κῆτος), to ruin the kingdom’s coastline. So, Cetus produced a ravishing storm, tearing apart ships and villages, and as the waters rose the area became flooded.


Mosaic with a ketos (sea monster – Latinized as Cetus) found at Caulonia (Monasterace) in the Casa del Drago, 3rd century BCE. [Source:]

In desperation, Cepheus consults with the Oracle of Apollo, who delivers the news that their salvation lies in sacrificing their daughter to the monster. King Cepheus commands that his daughter be chained to a seaward facing rock, and where she would await her terrible fate.

Enter the hero

While waiting, in the midst of a maelstrom, the hero Perseus spots Andromeda from the back of a winged-Pegasus. Having spotted the damsel in distress, he swoops in.

As Perseus’ feet touch the sodden rock, his eyes fall upon beautiful Andromeda, and both of their fates are sealed. As the monstrous Cetus approaches, Perseus retrieves the Gorgon Medusa’s head from its magical sack, and the foul beast is instantly turned to stone. He then frees Andromeda and they return to the palace to be wed.

Unfortunately, things don’t go smoothly for the young couple. Perseus marries Andromeda in spite of her being betrothed to her uncle Phineus. The jilted groom becomes enraged and plots to kill Perseus with help from some allies.


Andromeda and Perseus, Richard F. Lack, 1965.

During the wedding, a brawl breaks out when Phineus attempts to spear Perseus. Perseus is eventually surrounded by his assailants and is forced to use Medusa’s head once more. Phineus and his allies are all turned to stone and, although a lawful defense, the couple choose to leave Aethiopia soon thereafter.

Married life and beyond

Andromeda follows her husband to Serifos, where he saves his mother Danaë, and then on to Tiryns in Argos, where they become King and Queen. Andromeda bears many children, and the couple reign peacefully and competently over Tiryns.

Through their union, the family of the Perseidae are born, via their son Perses. Along with Perses, they have six other sons together: Alcaeus, Heleus, Mestor, Sthenelus, Electryon, and Cynurus, along with two daughters, Autochthe and Gorgophone.

It is their descendants who would rule Mycenae for several generations, and who would eventually produce several well-known heroes, such as Heracles. According to Greek mythology, Perses is also the ancestor of the Persians.


Johannes Hevelius’s depiction of Andromeda, from the 1690 edition of his Uranographia.

How does Andromeda’s story end? Well, after she died, the goddess Athena transformed her into a constellation in the northern sky, as a reward for her courage, duty, and virtue. Andromeda is nestled near both her husband Perseus and her mother Cassiopeia.

Andromeda today

Since the 2nd-century, when Ptolemy listed Andromeda’s constellation, among 48 others, we’ve been gazing at her starry tale. It has remained to this day one of the 88 officially recognized constellations, and can be seen along with four other nearby constellations that are closely associated; Cephus, Cassiopeia, Pegasus, and Cetus.

Star-gazing isn’t the only way you can be inspired by Andromeda’s story, she’s been featured in the plays of Sophocles and Euripides, and in more modern times by the French tragedian Corneille and the French-Italian composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.

Andromeda is the subject of many well-known artworks, painted by artists such as Titian, Wtewael, Veronese, Ingres, Moreau, and Rubens. From the Renaissance forward, Andromeda began to appear nude and usually chained while waiting for Cetus to devour her. Cesari’s Perseus saving Andromeda is an example of this style, however, Rembrandt’s Andromeda Chained to the Rocks shows a fearful and partially clothed Andromeda.


Wide angle view of the Andromeda Constellation, with the Andromeda Galaxy visible as a hazy oval. [Photo copywright: 2012 by Fred Espenak]

Finally, there are many films, TV shows, and novels that have included Andromeda in one form or another. In 1973 the Soviet Union released Legends and Myths of Ancient Greece and included Perseus as one tale. In 1981, the original Clash of the Titans retold Perseus and Andromeda’s story, and was remade in 2010, with Andromeda appearing in the sequel, Wrath of the Titans.

Whatever the exact origins of the mythology surrounding her, Andromeda stands out as an important figure, from the days of the ancient Greeks to our own. Her story is an inspiring one, escaping certain death and going on to become a reputable Queen.

While it is difficult for us moderns to be as awe inspired by these tales as the ancient Greeks were, perhaps we can get a taste of that when we look up at the night sky and see the majesty that is the constellation of Andromeda.