More often than not, Greek mythology tales are heroic stories encompassing a climax where good triumphs over evil. Although there are numerous adventures of heroes battling to overturn impossible odds, there are only a few narratives regarding the relationship between gods or between gods and mortals.
The fable of Danae in Greek Mythology is one such story of the relationship between a mortal and a god tarnished by a king. This king wants to escape his inevitable destiny, going over and beyond to shun his daughter from a life of romance.
Born to king Acrisius and his wife, Eurydike, Danae was hailed as the princess of Argos, a kingdom in the eastern part of the Peloponnesian peninsula. Even while being extremely precious to her parents, Danae couldn’t bring her father, king Acrisius. The happiness he’d receive by being granted his undying wish of having a son.
However, Greek mythology is not a stranger to such patterns. Whenever a king’s wife is either unable to conceive a child or gives birth to a daughter, the king hurries to an oracle. Here, he learns how his wife could give him a son, and Acrisius is no exception. He made his way to the Delphic oracles to consult the priestesses. They were known for delivering messages from the oracular god Apollo, himself.
Here’s more about Danae’s life in Greek Mythology, including her brief imprisonment and her love story with a god. Also, read about the legendary demi-god that resulted from the aforementioned romance.
Danae And Acrisius: The Prophecy
The son of Lynkeus and Hypermestra, Abas, belonged to the kingdom of Argos. Argos possessed the tradition of procuring twins throughout the royal bloodline. As the twelfth king of Argos, Abas kept the norm alive and had Proitos and Acrisius, who kept bickering, even in the womb and as they grew up.
Eventually, Proitos left Argos and laid the foundation for a new kingdom at Tiryns, located a few miles south of Argos. On the other hand, Acrisius succeeded the throne by getting crowned as the thirteenth king of Argos. Shortly after, he got married and had a daughter, Danae.
Although he couldn’t keep the bloodline tradition alive since he could not conceive twins, he wanted a son who’d succeed him on the throne. This pursuit took him to the Delphi oracles, who bestowed upon him an unfortunate prophecy instead of guiding Acrisius to a son.
According to the oracles of Delphi, if Acrisius’ daughter, princess Danae, conceived a child, she would give birth to a son who would kill him.
What Was Acrisius’ First Solution?
Upon learning about the prophecy, Acrisius was suddenly more worried about his mortality than the lack of a suitable heir. To protect himself, the king imprisoned Danae in what’s been called a “subterranean, bronze chamber.”
Since she had no suitor then, such a drastic measure meant only one thing to Acrisius – falsification of the prophecy.
Moreover, the bronze chamber contained only a single door, which was guarded every second of the day. Also, as it was impossible to scale the chamber’s outside, Danae was locked in it forever, away from any potential suitor. The absence of a suitor meant zero chances of Danae becoming pregnant and hence, no chance of her son killing his grandfather, King Acrisius.
Interactions Between Danae And Zeus
Presumably, Danae in Greek Mythology was one of the most beautiful mortals. The fact that her father went to such extreme lengths to deny her a suitor nothing but confirms it.
As a result, when the news of her imprisonment made its way to the god of Mount Olympus, their king, Zeus, decided to descend to the Peloponnesian peninsula.
Shortly after, Zeus learned that the construction of the bronze chamber was such that even a god would be unable to enter it. Nevertheless, he was intrigued by the beauty that lay behind the door. Thus, he transformed himself into golden rain and entered the chamber via the keyhole.
But, a few records speak of him cascading through the roof of the bronze chamber, which makes considerably more sense as rain pouring down from the sky onto a roof won’t raise as many eyebrows.
Taken aback by Danae’s beauty, Zeus makes a play to woo her. As vulnerable to the charms of a god as any, Danae ends up sleeping with him and, eventually, falls pregnant. Several months go by, and the ultimate result of this union bears fruit in the form of a demi-god, Perseus.
But, a substantial number of accounts state that Acrisius’ brother, Proitos, bribed the guards with gold and forced himself upon Danae to impregnate her. Although this narrative is founded on a concrete motive, i.e., Proitos succeeded the throne of Argos after Acrisius’ grandson killed him. It fails to explain how Danae would give birth to a demi-god since Proitos was himself a mortal.
What Was Acrisius’ Second Solution?
Scared for his life, Acrisius wished to get rid of his grandson as soon as possible. However, he also feared the consequences of killing the son of a god, as only a god could have impregnated Danae.
Hence, the king decides to set Danae and her son, Perseus, adrift at sea on a massive wooden chest.
So, he took Danae and her son a few miles south of Nauplion, locked them in a box, and released the chest into the Aegean Sea. According to the king’s wits, there were only a couple of outcomes of his action. Danae and Perseus would die, which wouldn’t be his fault technically, or they would drift afar from Argos, in which case Perseus would not be able to bring him any harm.
However, such a shallow analysis by Acrisius was indicative of the immense pride mortals must carry to underestimate the power of a god.
Not much to Danae’s surprise, she had not been abandoned by Zeus. He called upon his brother Poseidon, the god of the sea, for assistance and ensured that the wooden chest containing Danae and Perseus reached the shores of Seriphos safely, an island in the Aegean.
Danae And Perseus on Island Seriphos
When the chest possessing Danae and Perseus reached the shore of the island of Seriphos, a poor fisherman named Diktys found it. Diktys was once the king of Seriphos, but he was overthrown by his twin brother, Polydektes.
Once Diktys opened the box and laid his eyes on Danae, the bewitching princess in Greek Mythology, he immediately fell in love with her.
Furthermore, he said to her, “I love you and would marry you if I could, but you are obviously a princess, and I am a poor fisherman. Still, I will protect you from all other men and raise your son Perseus as if he were my own.”
Nonetheless, Diktys couldn’t keep Danae a secret from his twin brother for long. When Perseus was twenty-one, Polydektes came across Danae and began harboring impure feelings for her. But, since he could notice from Perseus’ strength, looks, and stature that he was a god’s son, he started looking for ways to get rid of him.
As a result, Polydektes devised a plan. They announced his untrue intention to court Hippodameia, daughter of king Oinomaos of Olympia.
Subsequently, he claimed he didn’t wish to participate in a chariot race with Oinomaos, as all other suitors had lost the competition.
Instead, he asked all his subjects to give him a horse, which he would gift Oinomaos in hopes of wooing to the extent. The Olympian king would hand over his daughter to Polydektes without insisting on a race.
All of his subjects presented him with a horse except Perseus. Interestingly, Perseus tells the king, “I live with the poor fisherman Diktys, and we have no horses. But I am a loyal subject, and I would do anything for you, even bring back the head of the Gorgon Medusa.”
Unfortunately for Perseus, this is all Polydektes wanted to hear. He asked Perseus to bring him Medusa’s head, knowing that such a task would guarantee his exile and eventual death.
Perseus Manages to Saves Danae
Medusa was one of the three Gorgons, including her sisters, Stheno and Euryale. They lived in present-day Morocco, next to the paradise Garden of the Hesperides (one of the several Greek versions of the Garden of Eden).
However, Perseus was clueless about the Gorgons’ location and wandered around Seriphos helplessly until the goddess of wisdom, Athena, came to his rescue.
For the most part, Athena’s role in Greek Mythology is limited to disguising herself as a man and acting as a helper of great heroes. On the contrary, Hera, Zeus’ third wife, typically acts as their greatest enemy because most heroes are the illegitimate sons of her husband.
Athena told Perseus that the three nymphs knew the location of the three Gorgons. To this, Perseus replied, “What three nymphs? There’s a nymph for every pond and fountain, a nymph for every tree, and hundreds more in the ocean.”
Since Athena loved speaking in riddles, she retaliated by saying that the three Graiai knew which three nymphs kept an eye on the Gorgons’ home.
Specifically, Graiai took birth as old hags. They only had a single eye and a single tooth amongst the three of them. So, if a Graiai wanted to eat, she uttered, “Pass the tooth,” and if she wanted to see what she ate, she uttered, “Pass the eye.”
Upon finding the Graiai and taking away their tooth and eye, they revealed the three nymphs he should search for. Without further ado, he reached the nymphs and learned of the Gorgons’ location.
Subsequently, he flew to the Garden of the Hesperides and killed three Gorgons, including Medusa. He beheaded her and stored it in a special bag called the Kibisis. Shortly after, he returned to Seriphos to rescue his mother, Danae, from the malicious claws of Polydektes.
After securing Danae and her companion, Diktys, Perseus used Medusa’s head to turn Polydektes and his whole army to stone. Then, he restored Diktys as the rightful emperor of Seriphos and declared his desire to return to Argos to visit his grandfather.
Note: It’s important to learn that Perseus was unaware of the prophecy.
Ultimately, Danae’s time at Seriphos ended when her son, Perseus, rescued her and flew her back to Argos.
The Prophecy Fulfilled
After arriving in Argos, Perseus and Danae learn that Acrisius has disappeared, and no one seems to be aware of his whereabouts.
However, it’s rumored that when he got to know that his grandson was going around turning mortals to stone for wronging his mother, Danae. He escaped Argos and went on to live in the northern Greek city named Larissa under a made-up name.
Nonetheless, in the absence of Acrisius, Perseus assumed kingship of Argos.
Fast forward a few years, Perseus received an invitation from the kingdom of Larissa to participate in athletic games being held in honor of the fallen king. As he had recently invented discus-throwing, the audience asked him to demonstrate his skills in the new sport.
When Perseus threw the discus with the help of his godlike brute strength, it ventured far into the stands and pierced Acrisius, killing him instantly. Although Acrisius had taken extreme measures to ensure the prophecy didn’t come true, Perseus fulfilled it under the most unexpected circumstances.
The Legend of Perseus continues, but the story of Danae in Greek mythology is unfortunately ignored. In addition, there is no recorded mention of her death in Greek mythology. Nevertheless, a few claims suggest that Danae founded the city of Ardea in Latium.
Any attention that Danae receives in Greek Mythology is either due to her beauty, suitors, or son, Perseus. There’s little to no information about the person behind that gorgeous face: the person who endured the wrath of an unloving father, the darkness of the bronze chamber, the harshness of the Aegean Sea, and the lustful reaches of Polydektes.
An enthusiastic dream journaler who has connected sleep-time visions with real-life occurrences in the past and present, Karandeep believes in tapping into the subconscious and demystifying strengths, insecurities, and deep-rooted desires. Besides identifying the interconnectedness of dreams in his personalized dream journal, he continues to study the significance of celestial objects and their relation to mythological tales that keep modern society intrigued about past civilizations.