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Danaë

Danaë

In Greek mythology Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius, the king of Argos. An oracle told Acrisius that Danaë's son would someday kill him. To prevent the prophecy from coming true, Acrisius had his daughter imprisoned in a bronze tower. There the god Zeus* went to her in a shower of gold, and she became pregnant with a son, the hero Perseus. When Acrisius learned of the baby's birth, he ordered Danaë and her son locked inside a chest and set adrift at sea.

The chest reached the island of Seriphos, where it was discovered by a fisherman named Dictys, whose brother Polydectes was king. Dictys helped Danaë raise her son on the island. When Perseus was grown, Polydectes fell in love with Danaë, but she did not love him in return. Believing that he could pressure Danaë into marrying him if her son were absent, Polydectes sent Perseus on a quest for the head of Medusa*. Some sources say that Danaë went into hiding during Perseus's absence, others that Polydectes locked her away In any event, Danaë resisted Polydectes' advances.

When Perseus returned, he saved Danaë by turning Polydectes to stone with the head of Medusa. Dictys became king, and Danaë and Perseus returned to Argos. According to some writers, she went on to found the city of Ardea in Italy. The original prophecy was fulfilled, however, when Perseus accidentally killed Acrisius with a stray discus during some athletic games.

oracle priest or priestess or other creature through whom a god is believed to speak; also the location (such as a shrine) where such words are spoken

prophecy foretelling of what is to come; also something that is predicted

discus heavy, circular plate hurled over distance as a sport

Ovid refers to this myth in his Metamorphoses *. Many artists, including Titian and Rembrandt, capture the story of Danaë in their paintings.

See also Greek Mythology; Medusa; Perseus.

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Danaë

Danaë (dăn´āē), in Greek legend, daughter of Acrisius. When it was prophesied that Danaë's son would kill Acrisius, her father imprisoned her in a bronze tower. However, Zeus came to her in the form of a shower of gold, and she bore him a son, Perseus. Acrisius put Danaë and Perseus into a chest and threw them into the sea, but they floated safely to land and the prophecy was eventually fulfilled.

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Danae

Danae in Greek mythology, the daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos. An oracle foretold that she would bear a son who would kill her father, and in an attempt to evade this, Acrisius imprisoned her. Zeus visited her in the form of a shower of gold and she conceived Perseus, who killed Acrisius by accident.

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Danae

Danae •Danae • filariae • torii • differentiae •prima facie • facetiae • reliquiae

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Danaë

Danaë

Nationality/Culture

Greek

Pronunciation

DAN-uh-ee

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

Ovid's Metamorphoses, Hyginus's Fabulae

Lineage

Daughter of Acrisius and Eurydice

Character Overview

In Greek mythology , Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius (pronounced uh-KREE-see-us), the king of Argos. An oracle, or person through which the gods communicated with humans, told Acrisius that Danaë's son would someday kill him. To prevent the prediction from coming true, Acrisius had his daughter imprisoned in a bronze tower so she could not marry. There the god Zeus , smitten by her beauty, went to her in a shower of gold, and she became pregnant with a son, the hero Perseus (pronounced PUR-see-uhs). When Acrisius learned of the baby's birth, he ordered Danaë and her son locked inside a chest and set adrift at sea.

The chest reached the island of Seriphos, where it was discovered by a fisherman named Dictys (pronounced DIK-tis), whose brother Poly-dectes (pronounced pol-ee-DEK-teez) was king. Dictys helped Danaë raise her son on the island. When Perseus was grown, Polydectes fell in love with Danaë, but she did not love him in return. Believing that he could pressure Danaë into marrying him if her son were absent, Polydectes sent Perseus on a quest for the head of the gorgon Medusa , whose gaze could turn men into stone. Some sources say that Danaë went into hiding during Perseus's absence, while others state that Polydectes locked her away. In any event, Danaë resisted Polydectes' advances.

When Perseus returned, he saved Danaë by turning Polydectes to stone with the head of Medusa. Dictys became king, and Danaë and Perseus returned to Argos. According to some writers, she went on to found the city of Ardea in Italy. The original prophecy was fulfilled when Perseus accidentally killed Acrisius with a stray discus—a heavy disc thrown for sport—during some athletic games.

Danaë in Context

According to myth, Danaë becomes pregnant after Zeus visits her in the form of a shower of gold. However, she is just one of many women in Greek mythology reported to have had an unusual encounter with Zeus. The god transformed himself into a swan to seduce Leda (LEE-duh), the Queen of Sparta. He appeared to Antiope (an-TYE-uh-pee) in the form of a satyr, half human and half goat, in order to seduce her. Alcmena (alk-MEE-nuh), a lady of Thebes, was deceived by Zeus when he took the form of her husband and seduced her. The nymph Callisto was loved by Zeus after he appeared to her in the form of her master, the goddess Artemis . These many stories of Zeus's exploits with women indicate that virility, or male fertility, was respected by the ancient Greeks. Fathering many children would be considered a sign of manliness. Danaë's story points to the Greek belief in the power of fate. Despite the pains he takes to protect himself, Acrisius cannot thwart destiny.

Key Themes and Symbols

Danaë is portrayed as a victim of fate. She is imprisoned by her father because he fears death at the hands of her future child. She becomes pregnant after a mysterious visit by Zeus over which she has no control. She is protected by her son from a dangerous king against whom she cannot defend herself In this way, Danaë symbolizes innocence and helplessness.

Danaë in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Though Danaë is not as well known as other characters of Greek mythology, several artists, including Titian, Rembrandt, and Gustav Klimt, have captured the story of Danaë in their paintings: Titian's Danaë (1554), Rembrandt's Danaë (1636), and Klimt's Danaë (1907). She is nearly always pictured at the moment Zeus visits her in the form of a shower of gold.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

In the myth of Danaë, she becomes impregnated by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold—a mysterious and unavoidable form of sexual reproduction. How do you think myths such as that of Danaë reflect ancient understanding about human reproduction? Compare the myth of Danaë to modern belief in the story of the Virgin Mary. How are the stories similar?

For centuries, the biological processes involved in reproduction were not considered appropriate subjects for people to study. By contrast, modern supporters of sex education aim to inform students about sex so that it is not viewed as mysterious or beyond their understanding. Do you think that offering facts about the reproductive process is an effective way of dealing with issues like teen pregnancy and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases? Or do you think examining such topics in detail might encourage sexual behavior?

SEE ALSO Greek Mythology; Medusa; Perseus

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