Thousands of years ago, in the legendary days of Ancient Greece, two brothers each wished to be king of Argos. And because they could not both be king, they made war upon each other, until one of them was defeated and forced to flee for his life.
That was how Acrisius became king, and he should have been happy, for he had the crown he wanted. But he was not happy. How could a person be happy, after making war upon his own brother?
Acrisius knew he had done wrong, and, more than that, the gods and goddesses high upon Mount Olympus knew he had done wrong.
But Acrisius was king, and he married a queen, and so now he wanted nothing more than to have a son who might become king after him. His wife gave him a fine young daughter, whom they named Dana. She was smart and good and pretty and kind, and she should have made any father happy.
But Acrisius got no joy from this wonderful daughter he had been given.
He wanted a son, and, after many years came and went and he had no son, he went to the temple of the Delphic Oracle to ask why.
The Delphic Oracle was a kind of fortuneteller, a prophet who could see into the future, and who could tell people what the gods on Olympus were thinking and planning. When Acrisius asked the Oracle what he might do so that he could have a son, she shook her head.
"The gods are angry with you, Acrisius. Because you made war upon your own brother, you will never have a son," she said. "However, you will have a grandson."
At that, Acrisius became happier, for a grandson could be king one day, after he was gone. But the Oracle kept talking.
"That grandson will one day kill you." Then she turned and walked back into the temple, leaving the frightened Acrisius trembling on the steps.
He hurried back to Argos and ordered Dana, his daughter, locked up in a room deep in the earth. If no one ever saw her, if she never had a husband, if she never knew any men at all, he could fool the gods. He would have no grandson, and then the prophecy would not come about.
Of course, he was wasting his time. The gods often fool men, but men very rarely fool the gods, and Zeus, the king of all the gods on Olympus, was not about to be made a fool of by a villain like Acrisius.
One day, Acrisius was bringing Dana her food. He always brought the food himself, because, like most people who could not be trusted, he did not trust anyone, either. He was afraid to let anyone but himself see Dana, and so he always made sure that he was the one who brought her her food, and her clean clothes and all the other things she needed.
Just as he was about to unlock the door, he heard something inside. He kept very still, and he heard it again. Then he unlocked the door and threw it open, just as Dana was tucking something in a bundle of cloth under her little bed.
And the something she was trying to hide under her bed began to cry.
Acrisius was astonished. Dana had been alone, all alone, in her room, far under the ground, for five years. And yet there it was: A little baby boy, with Dana's dark eyes, and Dana's dark hair.
Acrisius, who had so wanted a son, now had the thing he feared most: A grandson.
You would think that such an astonishing thing as this would teach Acrisius not to try to fool the gods. But it only made him more afraid, and his fear only made him more determined to try to avoid the prophecy.
Acrisius knew that, if he murdered his own grandchild, mighty Zeus would hurl a thunderbolt from Olympus and blast him on the spot. But what if the child simply disappeared? The gods could not blame him for that, the evil old king thought.
He called upon his best cabinetmaker to make a large box out of oak.
He took his daughter, Dana, and his infant grandson, Perseus, and ordered them to be put into the box, and the top nailed down tight. Then Acrisius ordered his soldiers to take the box to the shore of the great Aegean Sea and cast it into the water, so that Dana and Perseus would be swept away by the tides.
They would never be seen again, and he would not have to worry about the Oracle's prophecy.
Up on Mount Olympus, the gods and goddesses have watched for thousands of years, as people below on earth did foolish things and wicked things. But mighty Zeus, and his daughter, courageous Athena, and all the other gods and goddesses, watched that oaken box float away from Argos, tossing upon the waves, and they said to each other that this, surely, was the most foolish thing, and the most wicked thing, that they had ever seen any person do.
Next Week: The Fisherman
Text copyright Mike Peterson, 2001; illustrations copyright Christopher Baldwin, 2001