Copyright

Greek Myth of Perseus and Medusa: Summary, Lesson & Quiz

  • Lesson
  • Quiz
  • Like?
Taught by

Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Explore the tale of a young hero, Perseus, who sets out to defeat the terrifying monster, Medusa, who could turn any man into stone. Learn about the birth and adventures of this famous hero and explore the lessons learned from the stories that surround him.

We also recommend watching Greek Myth and Religion and Lincoln's Ten Percent Plan: Summary, Lesson & Quiz

The Story of Perseus and Medusa

The tale of Perseus, a handsome young prince and Medusa, a terrifying monster, displays several common characteristics of Greek myths. In many Greek stories, a father is fearful of his male descendant, a beautiful woman causes strife, a king attempts to thwart fate, and a young hero succeeds in his adventures. The tale of Perseus contains each of these elements and helps illustrate several important lessons to the Ancient Greeks and the modern reader.

Terracotta Statue of Perseus on Horseback, from the British Museum
Terracotta Statue of Perseus on Horseback, from the British Museum

The Birth of Perseus

In order to tell the tale of Perseus and Medusa, it is first necessary to tell the story of Perseus' birth. Acrisius, the king of the Argos, had only one daughter, a beautiful girl named Danae. As Acrisius grew older he became worried that he had no sons, and he consulted the oracle at Delphi to ask if his children would inherit his kingdom. The oracle revealed that Acrisius would have no sons; however, his kingdom would pass to his grandson, the child of his daughter, Danae. She also revealed a dark and deadly secret. Acrisius was fated to die at the hand of his grandson.

Acrisius became fearful of this future event and so he locked the lovely Danae in a tower and refused to allow any men to see her. He hoped that by denying his daughter a husband, Acrisius could avoid the dark fate the oracle had promised. However, despite the precautions Acrisius took, he could not hide his daughter's loveliness from the Greek god, Zeus. Zeus spotted Danae from the clouds and he appeared to her in a shower of gold.

When Acrisius realized that his daughter was pregnant as a result of the god's visits, he sealed Danae and her baby, Perseus, into a wooden chest and set it out to sea. Acrisius believed that both the mother and the infant would be drowned in the water or crushed against the rocky sea shore. But Danae and Perseus did not perish in the cold sea water; instead, their wooden chest washed up in the kingdom of King Polydectes. A fisherman discovered the pair and brought them to the king who was immediately entranced by the lovely young mother.

Danae and Perseus lived happily in the court of King Polydectes for many years and Perseus grew into a young man. When Perseus reached adulthood, the King, who had long loved his mother, proposed that he marry Danae and make her his queen. Perseus did not like this idea and refused to consent to his mother's marriage.

Statue of Perseus in Boboli Gardens
Statue of Perseus in Boboli Gardens

Perseus and Medusa

The cunning king hatched a plan to rid his kingdom of the troublesome young man so he might marry the beautiful Danae. One day, he suggested that Perseus set out on a grand adventure to defeat one of the fearsome Gorgon sisters, terrible monsters who terrorized the Greeks and defeated many would-be heroes. Eager for adventure, Perseus agreed to seek and defeat one of the Gorgon sisters, Medusa, a horrible monster who had the power of turning anyone who saw her into stone. Polydectes rejoiced that the youth would probably never return from his travels and concluded that he could marry Danae without difficulty.

Fortunately, Perseus was beloved of the gods. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and Hermes, the Greek god of mischief, appeared to the young man early in his travels. Athena provided the hero with valuable wisdom and advised him to seek out the Graeae, three old women who guarded valuable treasures that would help Perseus to defeat Medusa. Hermes gave the young hero a magic looking glass, which would allow him to see the monster without looking into her eyes.

Perseus found the three old women; however, they would not give up the treasures. Perseus noticed that the three sisters all shared one eye, passing it between them. The nimble young man snatched up the eye and demanded that the sisters give him three things: a magic helmet that would make him invisible, a pair of winged sandals that would allow him to fly, and a magic bag that would safely contain Medusa's head. In addition, Perseus forced the Graeae to tell him where the Gorgon sisters lived.

Unlock Content Over 8,500 lessons in all major subjects

Get FREE access for 5 days,
just create an account.

Start a FREE trial

No obligation, cancel anytime.

Want to learn more?

Select a subject to preview related courses:

Start your free trial to take this quiz
As a premium member, you can take this quiz and also access over 8,500 fun and engaging lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Get access today with a FREE trial!
Free 5-day trial
It only takes a minute to get started. You can cancel at any time.
Already registered? Login here for access.


  • History Courses
  • Supplemental Lessons
  • Popular Articles

Search Our Courses

Did you like this?
Yes No

Thanks for your feedback!

What didn't you like?

What didn't you like?

Education Portal Video Lessons

The smarter way to study Short videos, Real results
  • More affordable than tutoring
  • All major high school and college subjects
  • Unlimited access to all 8,500+ video Lessons
  • Study on your own schedule
Try it Free