Edith Hamilton “Mythology” Character analisys of “Perseus.”
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Almost all heroes follow a formula. This framework is subject to some degree of variation, but it holds true to many of Hamilton’s stories retold in Mythology. The three stages of a hero, the separation, the initiation, and the return, are demonstrated in the story of Perseus.
The separation is the begging of the quest. This starts with the heroes decision to depart from the known world, or him being forced out of his usual realm. In the case if Perseus, he is forced out of a world he never knew. When Danae gives birth to a son, Perseus, Acrisius, Danae’s father, locks Danae and Perseus in a chest and casts it out into the sea. Danae and Perseus wash up at the home of Dictys. Note- Hamilton hints that The Fates or Zeus might have willed their safe journey. Most heroes have powerful friends that help them. Perseus is a model hero and demonstrates the separation.
Beyond the threshold the hero enters a new world. The initiation is the period of nonentity. The enemy or task is usually introduced here. In Perseus’ case, Polydectes wants to get rid of Perseus so he can marry Danae. Polydectes convinces Perseus to try to kill Medusa, an impossible feat for a mortal. The gods favor Perseus, however. As in most heroes, they usually have a magical helper. He receives a shield from Athena, a sword from Hermes, and information about the location of the nymphs, the only ones who know how to kill Medusa. As Hamilton points out, Perseus’s story is almost a fairy tale. Hermes and Athena tell Perseus almost precisely what to do. Once Perseus locates the Nymphs, he is given winged sandals that allow him to fly, a wallet that will hold anything, and a cap that makes its wearer invisible, more magical aids.
His success will be due entirely to these. Perseus, now having almost as much power as a god, chops off Medusa’s head and puts it in his wallet. As most heroes do, Perseus now flees. On his way back he encounters a damsel in distress, another mythological motif, named Andromeda. He saves the girl and takes her as his wife. The initiation struggle is far from over. Perseus had unknowingly acquired another weapon upon killing Medusa, her ability to turn people to stone. He reveals the head and turns the men holding Dictys and his mother into stone. Perseus is has now been separated.
The final work is that of the return. Perseus has the exception of not having a large return. His motivation was simple, self preservation and the desire for a beautiful wife. One he accomplishes this, he almost completely disappears from out view. With the exception of fulfilling the oracle’s prophecy. At a discus throwing contest, Perseus hits an unlucky spectator, unbeknownst to him, it was his grandfather. Perseus fulfills the return and lives happily ever after, just as in a fairy tale.
Perseus demonstrates the three stages of a hero. Even though some heroes don’t play by the rules, most follow the basic formula of separation, initiation, and return.