Jesus, Meet Perseus

Nov 17 2020

Greek mythology has seen a resurgence in cinema over the last few years with the adventures of Perseus and Percy Jackson among other films.

Perseus is a fascinating character because his origin is both historical and mythological.

Herodotus,  who wrote around 450 BCE, investigated the history of the Greeks and Persians and their wars. In his study of Greek kings, he writes,

…what I write I follow the Greek report, and hold that the Greeks correctly recount these kings of the Dorians as far back as Perseus son of Danae—they make no mention of the god [Zeus]—and prove these kings to be Greek; for by that time they had come to be classified as Greek. (Hdt. 6.53)

Herodotus, in fact, goes on to say that he can’t find the name of Perseus’ father at all.

So Perseus is one of the first Greek kings at a time when the Greek civilization was forming out of cultures like the Dorians. This is really ancient history!

Where Perseus’ origin gets interesting is in the book about the Persians where Herodotus mentions Perseus again, this time “the son of Danae and Zeus” (Hdt. 7.61). Yes, that’s the Greek god Zeus. While this passage has some chronological issues, suffice it to say that legend had developed around Perseus’ origin.

To the modern ear, son of god has a distinctive ring, reserved among titles. To people in the first century, the concept was still unique, but Perseus was one relevant example among several.

Herodotus, trans. by A. D. Godley. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920. Last Accessed: 10/23/2013.

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