May 06, 2014

Serifos and the Mycenaen world

The Lion's Gate to
the Mycenean acropolis
Remains of the complex of
houses at Mycenae

Travels to the ancient archeological sites took us to Mycenaean treasures and a civilization that evolved between the 16th and 12th centuries BCE.  That's pretty old.  The excavations suggest that the dynasty associated with Perseus, the founding father of Mycenae, were also present here.  This culture is my strongest gut connection and stirred me the deepest even though Olympia, Delphi, and Athens were astounding. At Mycenae we saw the tomb of Agamemnon within the walls of the Mycenean acropolis, and the tomb of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus outside the great Cyclopean fortress.  The walls of this acropolis are called "cyclopean walls" because the stones are so large that only the Cyclops could have lifted them.

At Agamemnon's burial site some believe
 that the distant mountain is
the outline of Agamemnon lying in state.
Agamemnon's Burial Site
The reason I'm excited about it is that Serifos is where Perseus and his mother Danae landed when they were abandoned by Danae's father who was told by the Oracle at Delphi that his grandson would kill him.  So, he set them adrift in a wooden chest not wanting to kill them since Perseus was also the son of Zeus.  On Serifos, they were taken in by Dictys who helped raise the boy to manhood.  Dictys was the brother of Polydectes, the King of Serifos.

Oh goodness, the mythology is so complex.  When Perseus was grown, Polydectes fell in love with Danae but Perseus did not trust him and prevented the union.  Polydectes tried to remove Perseus by challenging him to bring back the head of the Gorgon, Medusa.  You remember, Medusa slept with Poseidon in the Temple of Athena, Athena got offended and turned Medusa's hair to snakes.   To keep the story short, Athena agreed to help Perseus by giving him a polished shield.  From Zeus he received an adamantine sword, from Hades a helmet to be invisible, from Hermes he received winged sandals, and from the Hesperides he received a satchel to carry Medusa's head after holding the eye of the Graeae for ransom to learn of Medusa's location.  When Perseus found the sleeping Medusa, he looked in the reflection of the shield and thus was not turned to stone by the eyes of Medusa as he used the sword to cut off her head.

On the way back to Serifos, Perseus rescued the beautiful Andromeda by slaying the sea monster Cetus.  Andromeda's mother Cassiopeia had made the claim that Andromeda was as beautiful as the Nereids, the sea nymphs, and this made Poseidon angry, and Andromeda, tied naked to a rock, could not be released until Cetus was slain.  The story has many more angles to it, but Perseus does return to Serifos and learns that his mother Danae has been the victim of violent advances for her hand by Polydectes, so he turns Polydectes to stone by showing him Medusa's head.  Dictys who had raised Perseus, becomes the King of Serifos with Danae his consort.  Perseus eventually becomes the founder of Mycenae and lives with Andromeda until they die and are placed into the constellations near Cassiopeia.  The Greeks do believe that Perseus was an authentic human and that he is the founder of Mycenae.

So that is my excitement about having been to Mycenae, seen the ancient ruins, and then to come to Serifos.  The mythic subject of Serifos is exile.  The Romans too exiled people to Serifos.  And exile is the subject of The Odyssey and Joyce's Ulysses, both texts that have been central in my reading.