Although Greek mythology had a long list of heroes, many constellations still carry names from the Perseus myth. The feats of Hercules for example, also relate to the twelve constellations. But Perseus was the great-grandfather of Hercules. In other words, his stories are probably older.
For ancient Greeks, the name Perseus simply meant “Persian”. Apparently, even the Persians were aware of this fact. Xerxes used it in his negotiations with the Argives. But modern scholars know better than the people who created the myth. Apparently, most of the characters around Perseus have Greek names, so his name must be Greek too. This assumption is also false, as we will soon see. Apart from Andromeda, most of the names of the Perseus myth were probably not Greek.
The birth of Perseus
Perseus was born in the city of Argos, on the Greek Peloponnese. This city has traces of continuous habitation for the last 7,000 years. There are a few etymologies of its name, but most probably it meant “white” ie “white-city”. The Argives were famous since antiquity, and even Alexandar the Great comes from this dynasty.
However, the story of Perseus is a myth, and as such it has many supernatural elements. For example, his mother was Danae. Her name is also not Greek and there is no etymology for it. She was impregnated by Zeus, in the form of the golden rain. The myth does not explicitly state that Danae was a virgin, but the similarities with the Christian story are probably not a coincidence.
His grandfather, Acrisius, knew of an old prophecy that said that he will die by the hand of his grandson. Therefore, he decided to banish Perseus and Danae from his kingdom. He put them in the wooden chest and sent them down the river. Here again, we see the familiar narrative – the birth of Egyptian Osiris, and later Moses, both found in a basket floating down the river.
The basket (or casket) with Perseus washed ashore on the island of Seriphos. A fishermen Dictys (meaning fishing net) rescued them. Perseus stayed on this island until he reached maturity.
The birth of Perseus as an astronomical allegory
The idea of an immaculate birth resonates in many Indo-European star myths. In all cases, they relate to the constellation of Virgo. Virgo dominated the night sky during the spring equinox of the last four millennia. As the spring marks the new cycle of seasons, the ancients saw it as the birth (or rebirth) of the new Sun.
But that Danae is really a representation of Virgo is also clear from ancient Greek art. Very often there is a cup next to her – just like constellation Crater stands next to Virgo.
Identifying Danae as Virgo helps us to determine the part of the sky that myth talks about. And really, the constellation Libra can look both, like a fisherman holding his fish on a stick, or simply as a fishing net. This is a very interesting discovery, as Libra marked the equinox only for the last two millennia BC, hence the ancients saw it as scales. It is quite possible that before this they saw it as a fishing net.
If we imagine that Hydra is a river and Crater a wooden chest, we can see how Danae (Virgo) and Perseus (Bootes) come out of it. At the time of the myth, the equinox was between Crater and Virgo. Next, the fisherman Dictys, as the Libra constellation, saves them. In Greek myth, Dictys was also the name of a centaur impaled on the ash tree (Ophiuchus) and a sailor whom Dionysus turned into a dolphin (Dolphinus).
The birth of Perseus story – and its Vedic origins
The motif of a child in the basket was also very popular in ancient India. Krishna himself had the same destiny. But even before Krishna, ancient texts mention other heroes who had a similar fate. Mahabharata for example, speaks of Karna, who was the son of Surya, the Sun. The name Karna means literally “ear of grain”. It is a clear reference to the “ear of grain” that Virgo holds in her hands. Therefore, Karna was the son of Virgo and the Sun.
Karna was conceived when the Sun god Surya came to his mother Pritha in the form of a “golden glow”. After that, he was abandoned by his mother. He floated down the river in a basket, until another family rescued him and raised him. Sounds familiar?
But there is more. The name of Danae, mother of Perseus, sounds similar to Danu. It was the name of a female deity, known in the earliest of Vedic times. She was the goddess of water, and her name meant “rain, liquid, river”. To this date, Dewi Danu, the goddess of water, is the most worshiped deity of Bali. Even the very name of Bali comes from the prince Bali, the offspring of the goddess Danu.
Her statues are very common all over the Indo-Asian region. And almost exclusively, Danu has the same body posture as the constellation Virgo in European art. Also, she often stands on the dragon. In Indo-European myth, the constellation Hydra was sometimes seen as a river (hence the water goddess) and sometimes as a multi-headed dragon.
Perseus and Andromeda story – and its Vedic origins
Perseus grew older and became a true hero. He first slew the Gorgon Medusa, by cutting her head off. From the neck of Medusa came out the flying horse, Pegasus. After that, Perseus saved Andromeda from the sea monster.
Andromeda was the daughter of Ethiopian King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. The word Ethiopia in Greek means “burned face”, relating to the darker skin of its inhabitants. Its true location was unknown and for most of the later Greek authors, it meant Africa. However, some saw it more to the east, perhaps even in India.
In the following image we can see how the Perseus myth influenced the naming of the constellations. We didn’t change them to this day.
Now, the name Cassiopeia (Kasiope) does not have a clear Greek etymology. Just like in the case of Perseus, there are many ridiculous attempts to explain it, but I will not waste time on them. In fact, this name sounds very close to Vedic Kashyapa – the husband of goddess Danu. His name simply means “turtle”. Its Avestan version was Kasiiapa. I believe that the “turtle” could be a reference to the lizard (Lacerta) on the staff of Cepheus, or perhaps even the Cepheus constellation itself.
The name Cepheus is also not Greek, and there is no etymology for it. I guess that it could relate to the star Beta Cassiopeiae – called Caph, and meaning “hand”. But my interpretations could only be true if the ancients Greeks mixed up the names of these two constellations. Originally, Cepheus would be the sage Kasiiapa, turtle, and Cassiopeia, looking like a zig-zag watery pattern – his consort Danu. (representing Virgo in the opposite part of the sky).
Dating of the myth
There was definitely some confusion in the naming of the constellations. Namely, the myth states that Pegasus came out of the neck of Medusa. And yet, we see it coming out of the neck of Andromeda.
During the spring equinox in Taurus (4,500-2,000 BC) the Sun would be positioned right where the Perseus holds the head of Medusa. Indeed, the head of Medusa is nothing but the Sun. This is clear from many ancient depictions, both in Europe and Asia. Therefore, Andromeda probably used to represent Medusa in the original myth. We will soon see where was the real Andromeda.
Draco and Cetus – Rahu and Keto of Vedic astronomy
Cetus constellation represents the dragon that Perseus slew in order to free Andromeda. Interestingly, his name sounds very similar to Ketu of Vedic astronomy. Vedic Ketu is also a dragon.
The story goes like this – sage Kashyapa’s daughter married a demon. They had a child Swarbhanu. This child drank the nectar of immortality using trickery. For this reason, god Shiva decapitated him, just like Perseus decapitated Medusa. His head and serpent tail, now immortal, continued to circle the sky, trying to swallow the Moon and Sun, and causing eclipses. These two parts are Rahu and Ketu.
For Hindus, Rahu and Ketu are not planets or constellations, but lunar modes. They relate to the specific moment when the paths of the Moon, Sun, and Earth aline. Moreover, Rahu and Ketu are separated for 180 degrees, just like Draco and Cetus constellations. (!)
The path of Rahu and Ketu is complex and it takes 18 years to complete the cycle. During this period, they change places, depicting a snake-like pattern (or more precisely double snake, as in DNA helix). However, the similarity of the names, as well as the position of these two constellations hints that the ancient astronomers did see a connection here.
In Hindu art, the decapitated body of Ketu has the same posture as that of Andromeda. It comes out of the fish mouth, just like Andromeda “comes out” of the Pisces. And the name Ketu is almost the same as that of Cetus. Coincidence?
I believe that this was the real meaning behind the Medusa myth, but already in ancient Greece, it was forgotten. Medusa became Andromeda. In reality, Andromeda probably represents the Ophiuchus constellation. Ophiuchus is a person tied to a pole, tree, or cross in various stellar myths. It stands next to the Draco constellation – sounding similar to Vedic Rahu. Shiva beheaded Svarbhānu with a very long weapon, like a spear. And Bootes holds a spear and stands right next to the dragon.
This theme was very popular in antiquity. In Egypt, Horus slays the Apep dragon with a long spear. In Christianity, St. George slays the dragon, and St. Demetrius stands above the body of a man. This is the same dualism that we see in the original, Vedic myth. Ketu represents the body and Rahu represents the head.
A summary of Vedic parallels in the Perseus myth
To clarify all the facts presented so far, here is a small chart:
|PERSEUS MYTH||VEDIC MYTH||CONSTELLATION/STAR|
|Danae, mother of Perseus||Danu, river goddess||Virgo|
|Zeus, as golden rain, father of Perseus||Surya, as golden fog, father of Karna||Sun|
|Casket floating in the river||Casket floating in the river||Crater/Hydra|
|Cassiopeia/Cepheus, Ethiopian royal couple||Sage Kashyapa, husband of Danu||Cassiopeia/Cepheus|
To these, clear similarities, I would like to add my interpretations:
|PERSEUS MYTH||VEDIC MYTH||CONSTELLATION/STAR|
|Medusa/Cetus||Ketu (offspring of Danu goddess)||Andromeda/Cetus|
|Dragon||Rahu (offspring of Danu goddess)||Draco|
|Perseus (slaying dragon)||Bootes|
Tracing the source of the Perseus myth
The river Saraswati dried out between the third and second millennia BC. Many ancient civilizations of the area ceased to exist. The best example is the Indus Valley civilization. The river dried out due to climatic changes, and as we know, famine creates wars. For this reason, there were large migrations during the second millennia BC, and they are well documented in the archaeological record.
Danavas were a Vedic tribe. They considered themselves as offsprings of Danu, which could be another name for the Saraswati river. But regardless of their mythological origins, they really existed. Numerous Vedic texts speak of them, and many of their names are known. However, Vedas considered them as foreigners, and sometimes they labeled them as Kushanas or Tukharas (Turks). Kushans lived in Kashmir, and Kashmir is named after the sage Kashyapa. This is how strong was the myth in this part of the world.
The kingdom of Kush and Kashmir had very close relations with ancient Persia, and this is where the name “Perseus” may come from. Danavas probably migrated in all directions, as we see that they left traces as far as Bali. But a large group migrated westwards. Scholars agree that the main rivers of Europe – Don, Dnieper, and Danube, all have the root *danu – river.
We know that the Perseus myth arrived in Greece before Xerxes, or in other words before the 5th century BC. We also know that Greeks related Perseus to Egypt too. Based on this information, and the astronomical dating, I would guess that the Vedic Danavas are the same as the Denyen – people of the seas in the Egyptian records. They appeared out of nowhere, attacking Egypt in the 14th century BC.
A few centuries later, Homer calls them Danaans (Danaoi). They attack and destroy Troy. The Hebrews know them as Tribe of Dan, attested in the Old Testament. They might have influenced the Egyptian myth of the period, as some ideas like Horus and Apep did not exist previously. Or the story of the floating casket adopted first by Osiris, then Moses. And finally, a part of them might have sailed to Ireland, where they are remembered as Tuatha de Danann.
Indeed, this important episode of Greek mythology belongs to Homer’s Dananas. And it matches specifically that of the Vedic Danavas. Both astronomy and historical records point to the second millennium BC.
Vedic astronomy is extremely ancient and very sophisticated. Calculations of the positions of Rahu and Ketu are difficult even for the modern man. It is not surprising that the meaning was quickly distorted, and some of the key points were forgotten. However, the genius of the ancient rishis left us with enough symbols to reconstruct this sacred knowledge.
I am so amazed by your account of Perseus and the Danaans that even half way through I must make some comment. I am astonished to read in your article that In Bali, next door to Australia, they worship the Goddess Danu, exactly so named, the Earth-Mother and Supreme Being of my distant native-Irish ancestors, whom I was taught to revere during my childhood in one of Her last strongholds in Kerry.
‘Kerry’, which you will find on maps, in Gaelic ‘ is ‘Ciar-raige’. ‘Raige’ is the same word as the Germanic ‘Reich’ meaning ‘Kingdom’, obviously a very ancient Indo-European word. ‘Ciar’ is the colour of a beetle’s shiny-black wing-case, hence ‘the Kingdom of the Black-haired People’. The Kerry people routinely refer to their county as ‘the Kingdom of Kerry’. And ‘the black-haired people’? More on that later.
I appreciate that in Bali Danu is the Goddess of water rather than of the planet. Water was worshipped as sacred in the old society, Ireland is still full lof ‘holy wells’ decorated to this day with ribbons and medals so Her Balinese persona is not a significant demotion. I am just flabbergasted to find Her worshipped on opposite sides of the world. I know you have, as yet unread by me, an article on the ties between the Slavic world and ancient India but this goes well beyond that. I have something on that also, but substituting Celts and pre-Celts for Slavs. More in good time.
There are worlds of human history and cognition to be explored. It will take some time to do so. Single words can be like shards of pottery dropped by a long-gone voyager or a civilisation, to be discovered to general amazement and re-interpretation of history. Archaeologists dig up pot-sherds, you and I dig up ancient words that link distant cultures. A myth can be a temple or a settlement, it cannot be transported like a single word. I feel like an explorer hacking his way through the Guatemalan jungle who has come across the ruins of a Mayan city. Thank you for the information.
I notice that in your diagram of the astronomical constellations there is an insert of Danae in Virgo with what appears to be a shower of gold descending into Her lap. A gentleman admirer named ‘Zeus’ calling?
That is correct. The illustration is from a Greek vase and depicts the moment when Zeus came to Danae in the form of the shower of gold. I believe that this is an allegory for the equinox in Virgo. The “shower of gold” are the rays of the Sun.
amazing content , really insightful.