Perseus

Jean MONIER, “Perseus and Andromeda”
Perseus helps Andromeda chained to a rock

There is a little text at the origin of one of the representations “Perseus and Andromeda” painted by Jean MONIER for the ceiling of the King's bedroom and exposed on the second storey of the Château de Cheverny.
It has been written by a latin writter that lived during the roman empire, Ovid, and is part of Book 4 of his most famous work, the Metamorphoses. It tells how Perseus, that was passing by in the sky of Ethiopia, was astonished to find a naked young girl chained to a rock....

Perseus and Andromeda

Aeolus, son of Hippotas, had confined the winds in their prison under Mount Etna, and Lucifer, who exhorts us to work, shone brightest of all 665 in the depths of the eastern sky.
Perseus strapped the winged sandals he had put to one side to his feet, armed himself with his curved sword, and cut through the clear air on beating pinions.
Leaving innumerable nations behind, below and around him, he came in sight of the Ethiopian peoples, and the fields of Cepheus.
670 There Jupiter Ammon had unjustly ordered the innocent Andromeda to pay the penalty for her mother Cassiopeia’s words.
As soon as Perseus, great-grandson of Abas, saw her fastened by her arms to the hard rock, 675 he would have thought she was a marble statue, except that a light breeze stirred her hair, and warm tears ran from her eyes.
He took fire without knowing it and was stunned, and seized by the vision of the form he saw, he almost forgot to flicker his wings in the air.
As soon as he had touched down, he said ‘O, you do not deserve these chains, but those that link ardent lovers together.
680 Tell me your name, I wish to know it, and the name of your country, and why you are wearing these fetters.
At first she was silent: a virgin, she did not dare to address a man, and she would have hidden her face modestly with her hands, if they had not been fastened behind her.
She used her eyes instead, and they filled with welling tears.
685 At his repeated insistence, so as not to seem to be acknowledging a fault of her own, she told him her name and the name of her country, and what faith her mother had had in her own beauty.
Before she had finished speaking, all the waves resounded, and a monster menaced them, rising from the deep sea, and 690 covered the wide waters with its breadth.
The girl cried out: her grieving father and mother were together nearby, both wretched, but the mother more justifiably so.
They bring no help with them, only weeping and lamentations to suit the moment, and cling to her fettered body.
695 Then the stranger speaks ‘There will be plenty of time left for tears, but only a brief hour is given us to work.
If I asked for this girl as Perseus, son of Jupiter and that Danaë, imprisoned in the brazen tower, whom Jupiter filled with his rich golden shower; Perseus conqueror of the Gorgon with snakes for hair, he who dared to fly, driven through the air, 700 on soaring wings, then surely I should be preferred to all other suitors as a son-in-law.
If the gods favour me, I will try to add further merit to these great gifts. I will make a bargain.
Rescued by my courage, she must be mine.’
Her parents accept the contract (who would hesitate?) and, entreating him, 705 promise a kingdom, as well, for a dowry.
See how the creature comes, parting the waves with surging breast, like a fast ship with pointed prow ploughing the water, driven by the sweat-covered muscles of her crew.
710 It was as far from the rock as a Balearic sling can send a lead shot through the air, when suddenly the young hero, pushing his feet hard against the earth, shot high among the clouds.
When the shadow of a man appeared on the water’ surface, the creature raged against the shadow it had seen.
715 As Jupiter’s eagle, when it sees a snake, in an open field, showing its livid body to the sun, takes it from behind, and fixes its eager talons in the scaly neck, lest it twists back its cruel fangs, so the descendant of Inachus hurling himself headlong, in swift flight, through empty space, attacked the creature’s back, and, as it roared, buried his sword, to the end of the curved blade, 720 in the right side of its neck.
Hurt by the deep wound, now it reared high in the air, now it dived underwater, or turned now, like a fierce wild boar, when the dogs scare him, and the pack is baying around him.
725 Perseus evades the eager jaws on swift wings, and strikes with his curved sword wherever the monster is exposed, now at the back encrusted with barnacles, now at the sides of the body, now where the tail is slenderest, ending fishlike.
The beast vomits seawater mixed with purplish blood. 730 The pinions grow heavy, soaked with spray.
Not daring to trust his drenched wings any further, he sees a rock whose highest point stands above quiet water, hidden by rough seas.
Resting there, and holding on to the topmost pinnacle with his left hand, he drives his sword in three or four times, repeatedly.
The shores, and the high places of the gods, 735 fill with the clamour of applause.
Cassiope and Cepheus rejoice, and greet their son-in-law, acknowledging him as the pillar of their house, and their deliverer.
Released from her chains, the girl comes forward, the prize and the cause of his efforts.
740 He washes his hands after the victory in seawater drawn for him and, so that Medusa’s head, covered with its snakes, is not bruised by the harsh sand, he makes the ground soft with leaves, spreads out plants from below the waves and places the head of that daughter of Phorcys on them.
The fresh plants, still living inside, and absorbent, respond to the influence of the Gorgon’s head, and harden at its touch, 745 acquiring a new rigidity in branches and fronds.
And the ocean nymphs try out this wonder on more plants, and are delighted that the same thing happens at its touch, and repeat it by scattering the seeds from the plants through the waves.
750 Even now corals have the same nature, hardening at a touch of air, and what was alive, under the water, above water is turned to stone.
To the three gods, he builds the same number of altars out of turf, to you Mercury on the left, to you Minerva, warlike virgin, on the right, 755 and an altar of Jupiter in the centre.
He sacrifices a cow to Minerva, a calf to the wing-footed god, and a bull to you, greatest of the gods.
Then he claims Andromeda, without a dowry, valuing her as the worthiest prize.
Hymen and Amor wave the marriage torch, the fires are saturated with strong perfumes, garlands hang from the rafters, 760 and everywhere flutes and pipes, and singing, sound out, the happy evidence of joyful hearts.
The doors fold back to show the whole of the golden hall, and the noble Ethiopian princes enter to a richly prepared banquet already set out for them.

Ovid, “The Metamorphoses”, Book 4, 663 à 764

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