Perseus was the son of Jupiter and Danae. His grandfather Acrisius, alarmed by an oracle which had told him that his daughter’s child would be the instrument of his death, caused the mother and child to be shut up in a chest and set adrift on the sea. The chest floated towards Seriphus, where it was found by a fisherman who conveyed the mother and infant to Polydectes, the king of the country, by whom they were treated with kindness. When Perseus was grown up Polydectes sent him to attempt the conquest of Medusa, a terrible monster who had laid waste the country. She was once a beautiful maiden whose hair was her chief glory, but as she dared to vie in beauty with Minerva, the goddess deprived her of her charms and changed her beautiful ringlets into hissing serpents. She became a cruel monster of so frightful an aspect that no living thing could behold her without being turned into stone. All around the cavern where she dwelt might be seen the stony figures of men and animals which had chanced to catch a glimpse of her and had been petrified with the sight. Perseus, favored by Minerva and Mercury, the former of whom lent him her shield and the latter his winged shoes, approached Medusa while she slept, and taking care not to look directly at her, but guided by her image reflected in the bright shield which he bore, he cut off her head and gave it to Minerva, who fixed it in the middle of her Aegis.
Milton, in his “Comus,” thus alludes to the Aegis:
“What was that snaky-headed
That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin,
Wherewith she freezed her foes to congealed stone,
But rigid looks of chaste austerity,
And noble grace that dashed brute violence
With sudden adoration and blank awe!”
Armstrong, the poet of the “Art of Preserving Health,” thus describes the effect of frost upon the waters:
“Now blows the surly
North and chills throughout
The stiffening regions, while by stronger charms
Than Circe e’er or fell Medea brewed,
Each brook that wont to prattle to its banks
Lies all bestilled and wedged betwixt its banks,
Nor moves the withered reeds ...
The surges baited by the fierce North-east,
Tossing with fretful spleen their angry heads,
E’en in the foam of all their madness struck
To monumental ice.
So stern, so sudden, wrought the grisly aspect
Of terrible Medusa,
When wandering through the woods she turned to Stone
Their savage tenants; just as the foaming Lion
Sprang furious on his prey, her speedier power
Outran his haste,
And fixed in that fierce attitude he stands
Like Rage in marble!”
—Imitations of Shakspeare.