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Andromeda (1869) Edward Poynter

Andromeda was a princess from Greek mythology who, as divine punishment for her mother's bragging, was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster. She was saved from death by Perseus, her future husband. Her name is the Latinized form of the Greek Ανδρομέδη (Andromédē). The etymology of the name is "to think of a man," from ανδρός (andros) "man" combined with μήδομαι (mēdomai) "to think, to be mindful of."

The subject has been popular in art since classical times. In the Christian period the subject was converted into the legend of St George and the Dragon, but from the Renaissance interest revived in the original story, typically as derived from Ovid's account.

Contents

Myth

Giorgio Vasari, Perseus and Andromeda, 1570

In Greek mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, king and queen of the kingdom Ethiopia.

Her mother Cassiopeia bragged that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, the nymph-daughters of the sea god Nereus and often seen accompanying Poseidon. To punish the Queen for her arrogance, Poseidon, brother to Zeus and God of the Sea, sent the sea monster Cetus to ravage the coast of Ethiopia including the kingdom of the vain Queen. The desperate King consulted the Oracle of Zeus, who announced that no respite would be found until the king sacrificed his virgin daughter Andromeda to the monster. She was chained naked to a rock on the coast of Jaffa.

Perseus, returning from having slain the Gorgon Medusa, found Andromeda and slew Cetus. He set her free, and married her in spite of Andromeda having been previously promised to her uncle Phineus. At the wedding a quarrel took place between the rivals, and Phineus was turned to stone by the sight of the Gorgon's head (Ovid, Metamorphoses v. 1).

Andromeda followed her husband to Tiryns in Argos, and together they became the ancestors of the family of the Perseidae through the line of their son Perses. Perseus and Andromeda had seven sons: Perseides, Perses, Alcaeus, Heleus, Mestor, Sthenelus, and Electryon, and one daughter, Gorgophone. Their descendants ruled Mycenae from Electryon down to Eurystheus, after whom Atreus attained the kingdom, and would also include the great hero Heracles. According to this mythology, Perses is the ancestor of the Persians.

After her death, Andromeda was placed by Athena amongst the constellations in the northern sky, near Perseus and Cassiopeia. Sophocles and Euripides (and in more modern times Corneille) made the story the subject of tragedies.

Constellations

Vase from ancient Corinth.

Andromeda is represented in the northern sky by the constellation Andromeda which contains the Andromeda Galaxy.

Four constellations are associated with the myth. Viewing the fainter stars, visible to the naked eye, the constellations are rendered as:

  • A large man wearing a crown, upside down with respect to the ecliptic. (The constellation Cepheus)
  • A smaller figure, next to the man, sitting on a chair. As it is near the pole star, it can be seen by observers in the Northern Hemisphere through the whole year, although sometimes upside down. (The constellation Cassiopeia)
  • A maiden, chained up, facing/turning away from the ecliptic. (The constellation Andromeda), next to Pegasus.
  • A sea monster just under the ecliptic. (The constellation Cetus)

Other constellations related to the story are:

Portrayals of the myth

A small Roman fresco from Pompeii.

Sophocles and Euripides (and in more modern times Corneille) made the story the subject of tragedies, and its incidents were represented in numerous ancient works of art. Jean-Baptiste Lully's opera Persée also dramatizes the myth.

Andromeda has been the subject of numerous ancient and modern works of art, including Andromeda Chained to the Rocks (Rembrandt), one of Titian's poesies (Wallace Collection), and compositions by Joachim Wtewael (Louvre), Veronese (Rennes), Rubens, Ingres and Gustave Moreau. From the Renaissance onwards the chained nude figure of Andromeda was typically the centre of interest, and often she was shown alone, fearfully awaiting the monster.

The 1981 film Clash of the Titans retells the story of Perseus, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia, but makes a few changes (notably Cassiopeia boasts that her daughter is more beautiful than Thetis as opposed to the Nereids as a group). Thetis was a Nereid, but also the future mother of Achilles. Andromeda and Perseus meet and fall in love after he saves her soul from the enslavement of Thetis' hideous son, Calibos, whereas in the myth, they simply meet as Perseus returns home from having slain Medusa. In the film, the monster is called a Kraken, although it is depicted as a lizardlike creature rather than a squid; and combining two elements of the myth, Perseus defeats the sea monster by showing it Medussa's face, turning the monster into stone. Andromeda is depicted as being strong-willed and independent, whereas in the stories she is only really mentioned as being the princess whom Perseus saves from the sea monster. Andromeda was portrayed by Judi Bowker in this film. Also, the subplot about Thetis' son Calibos was added to the plot of the film. However, he more closely resembles Caliban from Shakespeare's Tempest than any creature truly found in Greek myth.

At the port city of Jaffa, Israel, an outcropping of rocks near the harbour is reputed by local legend to have been the place from which Andromeda was rescued by Perseus.

Theme in art

Sources

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