Allegory in Action

The following is the result of some silliness in class.  Since my professor is a respected scholar and my classmates hope one day to be respected scholars, I respectfully leave their names out of what follows.

You may be acquainted with the myth of Perseus.  His mother is Danae, and her father had received an oracle saying that Danae’s son would end up killing him.  He was none too pleased with this, so he locked Danae in a tower where no man could get to her.

But Zeus, my friends, is no man.

In a shower of gold, Zeus rained down upon Danae and consummated his lust for her.  She became pregnant and gave birth to Perseus.  Mother and son were locked in a chest and cast into the sea.

Now, there was a pagan interpretation of this tale that said that what it really means is that the way to a woman’s heart (and other parts!) was money.  Give a woman some gold, she’ll give you whatever you want.  Women, after all, are fickle, greedy creatures with uncontrollable libido and cannot be trusted.

Another interpretation, a later Christian one, makes Danae the Blessed Virgin Mary.  No joke.  The shower of gold is the Holy Spirit overshadowing her from on high.  Perseus, then is Jesus.

This makes her father Herod the Great, unsurprisingly.  It kind of makes sense, since a King is kind of like the Father of a nation.  Being put in a chest and cast into the sea is an allegory for the flight to Egypt, of course.

Years later, as a young man, Perseus must go and get the head of Medusa.  This trial is an allegory of the testing and temptation in the wilderness, the 3 Graeae with their one eye representing the 3 temptations from Satan.  The winged sandals he gets along the way, which enable him to fly between earth and heaven are symbolic of Jesus’ nature as the God-man, as someone with both divine and human natures.  Anyway, with his winged sandals, ie. divine-human status, Perseus takes on Medusa, ie. the Devil, and defeats her, ie. does not succumb to temptation.  His sword, of course, is the Sword of the Spirit spoken of by St. Paul — the Word of God, which Jesus employs in his encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

Later in his adventures, Perseus rescues Andromeda from a monster, breaking her chains and then marrying her.  This is a clear reference to the Cross.  The monster is sin & death, and we the Church are Andromeda, his bride.  You see how clear it is?  He sets us free from the monster of sin & death.  His descent to the sea to confront the monster symbolises his descent into the Pit to defeat sin & death.

From there, he rises from the sea, from the Pit, with his new bride, and goes to his wedding banquet.  The wedding banquet is the same wedding banquet from the parables — it is the Kingdom of Heaven, it is paradise.  The killing of his enemies when they try to stop his wedding banquet — the devil and wicked people who fight against the Kingdom of God — is an allegory for the second coming, when Jesus comes as the Rider on the White Horse in Revelation.  Finally, when he destroys his grandfather with Medusa’s head, we realise that his grandfather is not truly King Herod, for King Herod himself only signifies a greater villain, who is the Devil himself.  Since Medusa is also the devil, this double-death by himself signifies that though Christ conquers the Devil at the End of All Things, it is also the case that it was truly the Devil’s own wickedness that had conquered him to begin with.

So we see that Perseus the demi-god is actually an allegory for Christ, the God-man.  Is it not abundantly obvious?

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2 thoughts on “Allegory in Action

  1. I’m with you on this one. C.S. Lewis and I think Tolkien as well saw mythology as the pagan pointers to the faith. A very interesting proposition, and this tale seems to confirm it. So what happened in class?

  2. In class, we were reading a poem by Bacchylides, the surviving portion of which is Danae and Perseus locked in the chest under the sea, and Danae talking to Perseus, then beseeching Zeus for help. Our prof asked us for context, then she mentioned the pagan interpretation of “Money gets you the girl,” and the Christian one of “Danae is the BVM.” From there, I and one or two others drew the connections that the box is the flight to Egypt and Adromeda vs. the monster is the Church vs. Sin and Death. I elaborated on those and drew out other points. One classmate said something about winged sandals, but I don’t know what. So I said they are an allegory/symbol for the God-man.

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