Andromeda plays a significant role in the Perseus legend in Greek mythology. Her father was Cepheus, king of Ethiopia, and her mother Cassiopeia, whose beauty was renowned throughout Greece and beyond.
Andromeda turned out to be every bit as beautiful as her mother. Cassiopeia, who had always been vain about her own appearance, was inordinately proud of her daughter's good looks. One day the notoriously jealous goddess Hera overheard Cassiopeia boasting that she and her daughter were more beautiful than any of the Nereids, the sea nymphs who were daughters of the sea god Poseidon. Greek mythology is full of stories of the gods punishing the sin of hubris, or pride, in humans, and Cassiopeia was destined to become a leading example.
Hera and the Nereids complained to Poseidon, who sent a flood to ravage Ethiopia. He also sent a dreadful female sea monster to haunt the coast of the country. The creature wreaked havoc and had an appetite for human flesh that seemed insatiable.
Cepheus, at his wits' end, consulted an oracle, who told him that the way to get rid of the sea monster forever was to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda to it. Cepheus protested to the gods, but they were adamant that this was the only way to atone for Cassiopeia's effrontery.
Andromeda was chained to a rock facing the sea, naked except for her jewels, as the gods had instructed. While she lay there, nervously awaiting her fate, she saw a young man fly past, propelled through the air by a pair of winged sandals.
This was Perseus, the hero who had just killed the Gorgon Medusa with a magic sickle and was returning to Argos with the monster's head in a bag. The bag, the sickle, the winged sandals, and a helmet that conferred invisibility on the wearer had been given to him by the gods to help him to kill the Gorgon, whose horrible looks turned anyone who looked at her to stone.
Perseus was astonished to see a beautiful naked woman chained to a rock. As he descended from the sky to take a closer look, he saw Andromeda's parents watching in despair from the shore. They promised him that he could marry Andromeda if he managed to rescue her from the monster. No sooner had they finished speaking than the monster emerged from the sea and moved toward Andromeda with its mouth wide open, making as if to swallow her whole.
Perseus instantly rose into the air, and with a single stroke of his magic sickle, he cut off the monster's head. He then released Andromeda from her chains and led her back to her delighted parents. Finally, he sacrificed to all the gods as an act of penance for having denied them their vengeance. Poseidon later turned the dead body of the monster into the sea's first coral.
Andromeda was deeply impressed by the bravery of Perseus and fell in love with him. She urged her parents to let her marry him right away. They reluctantly agreed, but Cassiopeia then secretly told the whole story to Agenor, who had previously been betrothed to Andromeda, but who had done nothing to help her while she was in mortal peril. On the day of the wedding, Agenor arrived uninvited with a group of friends, disrupting the ceremony and demanding that Andromeda be released from the bargain with Perseus. Cepheus and Cassiopeia took Agenor's side, because he was the son of a powerful neighboring king. When Perseus refused to call a halt to the wedding, Agenor tried to carry Andromeda away by force, while his friends lashed out at Perseus with their weapons.
Perseus had anticipated Cassiopeia's treachery, and had therefore brought with him the magic bag containing Medusa's head. He took it out and used it to turn Agenor and his friends to stone. He also transformed Cepheus and Cassiopeia, so that Cassiopeia was punished for her sin of pride.
The gods decided to make an example of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. They set them among the stars as constellations as a warning to the impious. At some times of the year, Cassiopeia's constellation turns upside down—in order, the Greeks said, to punish her further.
As for Andromeda, Perseus flew back to Argos with her in his arms. He then won his kingdom back from his uncle, who had usurped the throne in his absence, and had many further adventures. Perseus and Andromeda eventually became king and queen of Tiryns, an ancient city on the Peloponnese peninsula, and their children ruled over it after them. When they died, Andromeda and Perseus were also set up in the sky as stars, but in their case this was an honor, not an awful warning.
One of the Andromeda constellation's best-known features is the Andromeda nebula, the closest galaxy to our own.
See also: GORGONS; HERA; PERSEUS; POSEIDON.
- Bulfinch's Mythology. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006. .
- The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
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