Andromeda and the Sea Monster Cetus

21April 2011

Once again, here is my retelling of the story of Andromeda…

BitTorrent #10 “Andromeda”
Oil on linen
24″ x 36″

Here is the sculpture that I studied for composition and content…

Andromeda and the Sea Monster
Domenico Guidi (1625-1701)
Italian (Rome), 1694

These are mostly my notes in my sketchbook that I took as I was learning about the character Andromeda as fully as I could.  Any conclusion as to the impact her story has on our culture today is completely conjecture and the opinions of a very eccentric man.  
The story of Andromeda is well known in our modern world, as it has been retold countless times with each retelling being slightly different.  If you are in my generation, you remember the 1981 movie “Clash of the Titans,” and the unfortunate remake in 2010.  Regardless of the variations of her tale, the basics within the character and events of Andromeda’s myth have remained the same.

Let us first take a look at the etymology of her name to get a basic understanding of her story, as the meaning of her name does have an impact on the meaning of the tale.  The literal meaning of any name of a character of a story gives us a peek into the intention of the story.  And with a basic understanding of the weltanschauung (world view) of the time and culture where the story was first told, we can then see its truth.  There is a bit of truth to all myths, and we only need understand our own myths and truths to see that of the past.  
Andromeda is taken from the Greek word Andromédē (Ἀνδρομέδη), which means “to think of a man,” and comes from the combination of two words.  The word andrós, or anēr (ἀνδρός, or ἀνήρ)  which means “man”, combined with the word mēdomai or medesthai (μήδομαι) “to think on and/or to be mindful of” and/or medea meaning “counsels, cunning, devices, and plans” depending on the context of the usage. 
Therefore, the name “Andromeda” means “to think of a man,” and as strange as that seems, it gives us a decent idea of Andromeda as a descriptive word in the story, and not just a name as a context for understanding.  Say it this way; “to think of a man was chained to a rock as a sacrifice for her mother’s sins.”  Regardless of what we think, we know of the mind of the ancients that told this story, we can reason that the etymology of Andromeda was basic understanding at the time as it was a common name. 
The basic story…
Within the story of Andromeda, we can see the etymology of her name take center stage.  Andromeda was the princess of Ethiopia, daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia.  She was chained to a rock on the coast as a sacrifice to a sea monster after her mother committed hubris by saying she was more attractive than the Nereids, who were a portion of the family line of the Sea God Poseidon.  (There were many of the nereids and they were all beautiful as goddess should be.)  To punish her mother for thinking she was greater than the gods, Poseidon sent Cetus the sea monster to destroy the kingdom of Ethiopia (and not the Kraken you child of the 80’s, which is just a legendary classification of sea monsters made famous by Alfred Tennyson, 1830).  The only way to stop the Cetus was to sacrifice her virgin daughter to him.

Andromeda was saved by Perseus, who slew Cetus with the head of the gorgon Medusa, which turned him to stone.  He then married Andromeda.  Keep in mind that Perseus was simply flying by and saw Andromeda chained to the rock, he found her attractive and went to her parents and asked if he could have her if he saved the city.  He was already in possession of a weapon, the gorgon Medusas head, that could save the day.  So Perseus’ offer to save Andromeda and the city from the sea monster is purely more for the reputation he would gain.  Hearing this play as an audience in ancient Greece or Rome, we know Andromeda was already promised to wed Phineus.  Starting a fight over her and her wealth, Phineus and his followers were killed at the wedding of Perseus and Andromeda by Perseus’ use of the gorgons head.  Andromeda moved to Tiryns in Argos with Perseus and they became the ancestors of the Persians.  
When she died, Andromeda was given the gift of immortality by the goddess Athena, and turned into a constellation next to Perseus and Cassiopeia.  
The whole damsel in distress archetype can be seen over and over again as one of the most common archetypes in myth.  The damsel is always young, attractive, and incapable of saving herself, regardless of what her distress is.  For a large portion of history we could simply see this as the differences between the genders and subsequently how gender is applied socially, as stories are a social affair.  As the era of the helpless woman is long gone, we see the role of hero and helpless switch genders, but the concepts of each remain the same.  If myths are an interpretation of our selves and how we see our identity, our place socially, and our potential, then we are always in need of saviors.  I could go on and on about the human condition and our need to fulfill certain roles regardless of gender, but I will simply state that we, mankind that is, have always been as we are.
For the most part, this is just a great soap opera that pleases everyone, although it has a bit of who we were and possibly still are in its telling and retelling over the last 2000 years.  Even if this is a trite and meaningless discussion, we gain an understanding of ourselves by understanding myths as our fantasies… or at least I gain another piece to the puzzle (that I have been creating for myself) that mankind is.