P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses Book 4, 754
View the Perseus Text

The hero washes his victorious hands
in water newly taken from the sea:
but lest the sand upon the shore might harm
the viper-covered head, he first prepared
a bed of springy leaves, on which he threw
weeds of the sea, produced beneath the waves.
On them he laid Medusa's awful face,
daughter of Phorcys;--and the living weeds,
fresh taken from the boundless deep, imbibed
the monster's poison in their spongy pith:
they hardened at the touch, and felt in branch
and leaf unwonted stiffness. Sea-Nymphs, too,
attempted to perform that prodigy
on numerous other weeds, with like result:
so pleased at their success, they raised new seeds,
from plants wide-scattered on the salt expanse.

Even from that day the coral has retained
such wondrous nature, that exposed to air
it hardens.--Thus, a plant beneath the waves
becomes a stone when taken from the sea.

Three altars to three Gods he made of turf.
To thee, victorious Virgin, did he build
an altar on the right, to Mercury
an altar on the left, and unto Jove
an altar in the midst. He sacrificed
a heifer to Minerva, and a calf
to Mercury, the Wingfoot, and a bull
to thee, O greatest of the Deities.

Without a dower he takes Andromeda,
the guerdon of his glorious victory,
nor hesitates.--Now pacing in the van,
both Love and Hymen wave the flaring torch,
abundant perfumes lavished in the flames.

The houses are bedecked with wreathed flowers;
and lyres and flageolets resound, and songs--
felicit notes that happy hearts declare.
The portals opened, sumptuous halls display
their golden splendours, and the noble lords
of Cepheus' court take places at the feast,
magnificently served.

After the feast,
when every heart was warming to the joys of genial Bacchus,
then, Lyncidian Perseus asked about the land and its ways
about the customs and the character of its heroes.
Straightway one of the dinner-companions made reply,
and asked in turn, "Now, valiant Perseus, pray
tell the story of the deed, that all may know,
and what the arts and power prevailed, when you
struck off the serpent-covered head."

"There is,"
continued Perseus of the house of Agenor,
"There is a spot beneath cold Atlas, where
in bulwarks of enormous strength, to guard
its rocky entrance, dwelt two sisters, born
of Phorcys. These were wont to share in turn
a single eye between them: this by craft
I got possession of, when one essayed
to hand it to the other.--I put forth
my hand and took it as it passed between:
then, far, remote, through rocky pathless crags,
over wild hills that bristled with great woods,
I thence arrived to where the Gorgon dwelt.

"Along the way, in fields and by the roads,
I saw on all sides men and animals--
like statues--turned to flinty stone at sight
of dread Medusa's visage. Nevertheless
reflected on the brazen shield, I bore
upon my left, I saw her horrid face.

When she was helpless in the power of sleep
and even her serpent-hair was slumber-bound,
I struck, and took her head sheer from the neck.--
To winged Pegasus the blood gave birth,
his brother also, twins of rapid wing."

So did he speak, and truly told besides
the perils of his journey, arduous
and long--He told of seas and lands that far
beneath him he had seen, and of the stars
that he had touched while on his waving wings.

And yet, before they were aware, the tale
was ended; he was silent. Then rejoined
a noble with enquiry why alone
of those three sisters, snakes were interspersed
in dread Medusa's locks. And he replied:--
"Because, O Stranger, it is your desire
to learn what worthy is for me to tell,
hear ye the cause: Beyond all others she
was famed for beauty, and the envious hope
of many suitors. Words would fail to tell
the glory of her hair, most wonderful
of all her charms--A friend declared to me
he saw its lovely splendour. Fame declares
the Sovereign of the Sea attained her love
in chaste Minerva's temple. While enraged
she turned her head away and held her shield
before her eyes. To punish that great crime
minerva changed the Gorgon's splendid hair
to serpents horrible. And now to strike
her foes with fear, she wears upon her breast
those awful vipers--creatures of her rage.