Page:The Mythology of the Aryan Nations.djvu/335

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303
HERAKLES AND PERSEUS.


to the race of Perseus, and as being by the arts of Here brought CHAP. II. into the world before his cousin, that Eurystheus becomes the tyrant of Herakles. Yet the story of Perseus is essentially the same as the story of his more illustrious descendant; and the profound unconsciousness of the Argives that the two narratives are in their groundwork identical is a singular illustration of the extent to which men can have all their critical faculties lulled to sleep by mere difference of names or of local colouring in legends which are only modifications of a single myth. In either case we have a hero whose life, beginning in disasters, is a long series of labours undertaken at the behest of one who is in every way his inferior, and who comes triumphantly out of these fearful ordeals, because he is armed with the invincible weapons of the dawn, the sun, and the winds. Nor is there perhaps a single feature or incident in the whole myth to which a parallel is not furnished by other Hellenic, or even other Argive, legends. Before his birth, Akrisios, his mother's father, learns at Delphoi, like the Theban Laios, that if his daughter has a child, that child will be his destroyer. At once then he orders that Danae shall be shut up in a brazen tower, an imprisonment answering to that of Persephone in the land of Hades, or of Brynhild in Niflheim. But here, as with them, a deliverer is wanted; and this deliverer is Zeus, the lord of the life-giving ether, who had wooed Leda in the form of the white swan, the spotless cloud, and who now enters the dungeon of Danae in a golden shower, the glittering rays which herald the approach of spring with its new life for the trees and

flowers. Thus in his mother's dreary prison-house the golden child[1] is born; and Akrisios in his wrath decrees that his daughter and her babe shall share the doom of Oidipous and Dionysos. Like Semele, she is placed with the infant in a chest or ark, which is thrust out into the sea, and carried by the waves and tide to the island of Seriphos, vhere the vessel is seen by Diktys, who of course is fishing, and by him Danae and her child are taken to the house of his brother Polydektes, the chief of the island, a myth which we have to compare with those of Artemis Diktynna and Persephone. Throughout the story, Diktys is the kindly being whose heart is filled with pity for the sorrowing mother, while Polydektes, a name identical with that of Hades Polydegmon, is her unrelenting persecutor. He is thus a champion of the lord of light, which is reflected in his name as in that of Diktynna and the Diktaian cave in Crete; and the equivocation in the one case is precisely the same as in the other. Polydektes now tries all his arts to win Danae, and his efforts at once recall the
  1. ' XpvaoTraTpos, llie Gold Child, in Grimm's collection of Teutonic stories.