Few other women have received so much praise for their beauty as Andromeda in Greek and Roman Mythology. Andromeda was a legendary Ethiopian princess who was saved by the Greek hero Perseus from a terrible sea-monster. Together, Perseus and Andromeda lived a happy life until they became constellations in the sky.
Andromeda In Greek And Roman Mythology
Andromeda in Greek mythology was a woman of exceptional beauty and the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the King and Queen of Ethiopia. Andromeda’s mythology is interwoven with the story of the Greek hero Perseus and a beast named Ketos. In fact, Andromeda’s story seems to be an extension of Perseus’ quest for Medusa’s head.
The myth of Perseus and Andromeda was very popular amongst the Greeks and later the Romans. Sophocles and Euripides, the Greek drama-writers, both wrote plays called Andromeda as well as many other ancient and modern authors and artists extending all the way to the present.
Andromeda’s legend survives in the starts. If you look up in the sky at night, you will be able to see Andromeda’s constellation containing her Galaxy, but more on that later.
The Controversies Surrounding Andromeda’s Mythology
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Worth noting is the controversy regarding the ethnicity and skin color of Andromeda. Most ancient authors agreed that she was from Ethiopia but not all Greeks agreed on where Ethiopia was exactly. Generally, the term ‘Ethiopian’ referred to people of dark skin from North Africa to India but more commonly referred to those living in the Kingdom of Kush on the south of Egypt.
To this tradition fits a 5th century BCE vase depicting Andromeda with dark-skinned servants. However, the vase presents Andromeda as white which certainly contradicts her Ethiopian ethnicity.
This contradiction becomes stranger once we take a look at ancient sources. For example, Philostratus the Elder (Imagines 1. 29) wrote that Andromeda “is charming in that she is fair of skin though in Ethiopia.” Ovid presented another narrative:
“Cepheus’ Andromeda was fair in Perseus’ eyes, though dusky with the hue of her native land. Besides, white pigeons oft are mated with those of different hue.” (Heroides 1535 ff)
Another issue is that many notable authors of the Roman period traced Andromeda’s home in Joppa, in modern-day Israel. Nevertheless, this was established during Roman times to entertain tourists visiting Joppa.
Black or white, Ethiopian or not, Andromeda was a fictional character. She had as many different ethnicities and looks as people reading mythology throughout time and space. Some Greeks or Romans took comfort in the idea of a white royal family ruling over a foreign land like Ethiopia. Others let their imagination explore a reality where a man from their part of the world falls seeks adventures and marries an exotic black princess.
Perseus’ Adventures Before Meeting Andromeda
The story of Andromeda’s myth is part of the story of Perseus’ quest to kill Medusa. Perseus the son of Zeus and Danae had sworn to bring Medusa’s head as a gift to the marriage of the king of Seriphos, Polydectes. The latter had practically tricked Perseus into promising him such a gift with the hope that the hero would fail. Polydectes hoped that with Perseus dead, he could forcefully marry Danae.
In his quest, Perseus received help from Athena who guided him to the Stygian nymphs who possessed a series of magical artifacts; an adamantine sickle, a kibisis (a bag or wallet to place Medusa’s head), the helmet of Hades, which could make its wearer invisible, and, finally, a set of winged sandals.
Equipped with these magical items, Perseus reached the secret location where Medusa and her sisters, the Gorgons, lived.
Knowing that Medusa’s eyes turned whoever looks at them into stone, Perseus used his shield as a mirror to approach Medusa who was sleeping peacefully.
With the sickle, Perseus beheaded Medusa, placed her head into the kibisis, then wore Hades’ helmet to become invisible, and finally escaped the Gorgons chasing after him with his winged sandals.
Apparently, Medusa’s lair was somewhere far away because Perseus on his way back went through North Africa. There he found the great Titan Atlas who offended and attacked Perseus. The Greek hero took out Medusa’s head and turned the Titan into stone, thus creating the Atlas Mountains that are shared between Morocco and Algeria.
Perseus And Andromeda Meet
Flying across North Africa, Perseus went beyond South Egypt into the land that the Greeks called Ethiopia (Ethiops in Greek means a man with a (sun)burnt face).
While flying over the vast land, Perseus noticed a woman of astonishing beauty standing naked with her hands bound on a rock. In the view of the woman, Perseus was astonished:
When Perseus her beheld as marble he would deem her, but the breeze moved in her hair, and from her streaming eyes the warm tears fell. Her beauty so amazed his heart, unconscious captive of her charms, that almost his swift wings forgot to wave.
Perseus landed, approached the woman, and asked her:
“O fairest! whom these chains become not so, but worthy are for links that lovers bind, make known to me your country’s name and your’s and wherefore bound in chains.’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses 5)
The woman was Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, King and Queen of Ethiopia. Then, the princess told her story to Perseus, who had already fallen madly in love with her.
Cassiopeia’s Hubris And Andromeda’s Sacrifice
Andromeda, the princess of Ethiopia was a woman of exceptional beauty, which was the source of her troubles.
In fact, her beauty exceeded human standards to the point that her mother, Cassiopeia, dared to say that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, the female companions of Poseidon. If you have read Greek Mythology before, you will know, that if the Greek gods hate one thing, that is mortals contending with them.
Poseidon learned about Cassiopeia’s statement and was offended at once. Besides, no mortal had the right to claim to be better than a god at anything. Poseidon could not allow this hubris to go unpunished, so he sent a gigantic sea-monster called Ketos (a word used in Greek to describe large sea creatures) to destroy the kingdom of Ethiopia and punish Cassiopeia’s arrogance.
Cepheus consulted the oracle of Ammon who advised the king that the only way to stop the destruction was to sacrifice his daughter to Ketos. So Cepheus obeyed and had Andromeda chained on a rock next to the sea where Perseus found her.
Perseus Saves Andromeda
After hearing Andromeda’s story, Perseus decided to help the beautiful maiden. However, the moment he freed her, the earth shook and the gigantic monster Ketos rose from the sea.
Without losing a second, Perseus attacked the beast. He climbed on its back and pierced the skull of Ketos with his sickle. After a while, Poseidon’s sea monster was dead.
In another version of the myth, Perseus killed Ketos using Medusa’s head to turn it into stone. There is also a 6th century BCE Corinthian vase showing Perseus throwing rocks at Ketos which clearly shows that at that point in time, the myth had not been crystallized. Nevertheless, the outcome remained the same in all the different versions; Perseus killed the monster and freed Andromeda.
“Red water, in color like blood, is found in the land of the Hebrews near the city of Joppa. The water is close to the sea, and the account which the natives give of the spring is that Perseus, after destroying the Sea-Monster, to which the daughter of Cepheus was exposed, washed off the blood in the spring.” Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 35. 9
Perseus And Andromeda’s Red Wedding
According to the version of Apollodorus, Perseus had promised to kill Ketos in return for Andromeda’s hand. However, in the most popular version of Ovid, Perseus first killed Ketos and then took Andromeda back to Cepheus’ palace where he asked to marry her.
In any case, Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the parents of Andromeda agreed with the union of Perseus and Andromeda who were madly in love after meeting each other a few hours earlier.
The marriage took place in the palace, but the happy occasion quickly turned into a bloody encounter. Cepheus and Cassiopeia had gladly accepted Perseus’s request for the hand of Andromeda. However, they had forgotten one tiny detail; Andromeda was already betrothed to her uncle, Phineus.
When the marriage began everyone was celebrating. Everyone except for Phineus who gathered a group of friends and followers and attacked Perseus. His aim was simple, kill Perseus and take back Andromeda.
Perseus fought and killed a few of the aggressors before raising the head of Medusa and turning Phineus and his followers into stone.
In the end, Perseus and Andromeda were free to live their love. Andromeda was free from the wrath of Poseidon and an arranged marriage. Now she was ready to follow her new husband to new adventures in faraway lands.
Perseus And Andromeda Become Constellations
After leaving Ethiopia, Perseus and Andromeda traveled together until they reached Seriphos, where Danae, Perseus’s mother lived. Perseus and Andromeda found Danae seeking refuge at a temple after being abused and threatened by Polydectes, the king of Seriphos. Perseus punished the king and his loyal nobles by showing them the head of Medusa and turning them into stone.
Having freed his mother of Polydectes, Perseus was now also free to roam Greece with Andromeda. Perseus founded the city of Mycenae where he ruled with Andromeda on his side.
Upon her death, Andromeda was honored by Athena who placed the beautiful Queen on the sky as a constellation to be looked at forever. Next to her, Athena placed her beloved husband, Perseus, and her parents, Cepheus and Cassiopeia. There also constellations representing Pegasus, the winged horse that jumped from Medusa’s body when Perseus beheaded her, and Ketos.
The Offspring Of Andromeda In Mythology
The offspring of Andromeda in Mythology are many. During her reign as queen of Mycenae and wife of Perseus, Andromeda gave birth to Perses who, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, became the descendant of the Persians.
Perseus and Andromeda also produced five sons, Alcaeus, Heleus, Sthenelus, Electryon, and Cynurus, and two daughters, Autochthe and Gorgophone. Hercules, one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology was also their descendant as his mother was a daughter of Electryon.