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Greek Mortal

Andromeda

Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, was a beautiful princess of Ethiopia. Offered up as a sacrifice to Poseidon as punishment for her mother’s foolish boasts, Andromeda was rescued from death by Perseus, who took her back to Greece to be his queen.

By Avi Kapach7 min read • Last updated on Apr. 13th, 2022
  • Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the king and queen of Ethiopia.

  • In some traditions, Andromeda was betrothed to another man before Perseus came to Ethiopia; however, all sources agree that she married Perseus after he rescued her from Poseidon’s sea monster.

  • Andromeda was a princess of the mythical land of Ethiopia. Unlike modern-day Ethiopia, this was a vaguely defined region, located by the earliest authors in the most remote corner of the earth, near the rising and setting of the sun. Though the Ethiopians were generally imagined as having dark skin, ancient sources are ambiguous and inconsistent on whether Andromeda herself was light-skinned or dark-skinned (a trend that has continued in modern adaptations).

Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the king and queen of mythical Ethiopia. Andromeda and her mother Cassiopeia were renowned for their beauty; but Cassiopeia’s excessive boasting soon angered the gods. As atonement, Cepheus and Cassiopeia were ordered to present Andromeda as a sacrifice to Poseidon’s sea monster.

Chained to a rock and left on the seashore, Andromeda would have been killed had it not been for Perseus, the slayer of Medusa, who passed by at just the right moment. In return for saving Andromeda, he was awarded the princess’s hand in marriage. Together, Perseus and Andromeda traveled to Greece and began the powerful Perseid dynasty. 

#Etymology

The name “Andromeda” (Greek Ἀνδρομέδα, translit. Andromeda) is a compound of two Greek words: anēr, meaning “man,” and medō, meaning “rule over.”

#Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Andromeda

    Ἀνδρομέδα (translit. Andromeda)

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [an-DROM-i-duh]

    /ænˈdrɒm ɪ də/

#Attributes, Ethnicity, and Iconography

Andromeda was known for her remarkable beauty. As she was a princess of Ethiopia, it is reasonable to assume that she was black; indeed, it seems that ancient authors took it for granted that the mythical Ethiopians had dark skin.1

Yet the question of Andromeda’s ethnicity is more complicated. First, the exact location of mythical Ethiopia is unclear. In the Odyssey, Homer says that the Ethiopians “dwell sundered in twain, the farthermost of men, some where Hyperion [i.e., the sun] sets and some where he rises.”2 Some later sources—for example, the fifth-century BCE historian Herodotus—identified Ethiopia with the ancient Kingdom of Kush, just south of Egypt, and therefore viewed the Ethiopians as black Africans.3 Others, however, located Ethiopia near India in the east—close to where the sun rises every day.4

To complicate matters further, another tradition had emerged by the first century BCE that identified the site of Andromeda’s binding and rescue as Jaffa (also called Joppa, Iope, and Yaffo), a port city that is now part of Tel Aviv, Israel.5 In this case, Andromeda and her parents would have been ethnically Phoenician, rather than black Africans.

As a result, some ancient authors described Andromeda as black6 while others imagined her as white.7 In ancient art, likewise, Andromeda could be depicted as either black or white.8

Red-figure pelike showing the binding of Andromeda, Niobid Painter (ca. 450–440 BCE).

Red-figure pelike showing the binding of Andromeda, attributed to the workshop of the Niobid Painter (ca. 450–440 BCE). Though the Ethiopian slaves binding Andromeda are represented as black, Andromeda herself has the light-skinned complexion of a European (though she is outfitted in clothing which, from a Greek perspective, would have been regarded as distinctly foreign).

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Public Domain
Gaziantep Zeugma Museum Andromeda mosaic

Mosaic discovered at the "House of Poseidon" in Zeugma, Turkey showing Perseus with a darker-skinned Andromeda (2nd or 3rd century CE). Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Gazientep, Turkey.

Dosseman / CC BY-SA 4.0

Over the centuries, however, it became standard to portray Andromeda as white. There are a few exceptions—for example, Abraham van Diepenbeeck’s The Rescue of Andromeda—but most European artists who painted the scene of her captivity (including Rembrandt, Rubens, Poynter, and Doré) represented her with light skin. The same trend can be detected in other media: in the 1981 film Clash of the Titans, for example, Andromeda is played by white actress Judi Bowker.9 

Engraving after Abraham van Diepenbeeck, The Rescue of Andromeda (1632–1635), from M. de Marolles, Tableaux du Temple des Muses (Paris: Nicolas L'Anglois, 1655).

Engraving after Abraham van Diepenbeeck, The Rescue of Andromeda (1632–1635), from M. de Marolles, Tableaux du Temple des Muses (Paris: Nicolas L'Anglois, 1655).

Flickr Commons / Public Domain

#Family

Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the king and queen of Ethiopia. After Perseus rescued Andromeda from Poseidon’s sea monster, the two were married. Sources vary on how many children they had. According to the most common tradition, they had six sons (Perses, Alcaeus, Sthenelus, Heleus, Mestor, and Electryon) and one daughter (Gorgophone).10 But other traditions also included among their children two sons named Aelius and Cynurus11 and a daughter named Autochthe.12

#Family Tree

  • Parents
    father
    mother
    • Cepheus
    • Cassiopeia
  • Consorts
    husband
  • Children
    sons
    daughters
    • Perses
    • Alcaeus
    • Heleus/Aelius
    • Mestor
    • Sthenelus
    • Electryon
    • Cynurus
    • Gorgophone
    • Autochthe

#Mythology

#Perseus

Andromeda was born to Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the king and queen of Ethiopia (or, according to some sources, of Jaffa in modern Israel; see above). Andromeda and her mother Cassiopeia were blessed with remarkable beauty. But this beauty would prove their undoing. In a moment of unforgivable hubris, Cassiopeia boasted that she (or Andromeda—there are different versions)13 was more beautiful than the Nereids, the daughters of the sea god Nereus.14 

This angered Poseidon, the supreme god of the sea. To punish Cassiopeia, Poseidon sent a sea monster (named Cetus in some sources) to ravage the shore of her and her husband’s kingdom. Cepheus eventually learned that the only way to get rid of the monster was to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda to it. Thus, Andromeda was bound to a great rock on the shore and left to die.

As Andromeda was awaiting her fate, Perseus happened to pass by on his way home from killing the Gorgon Medusa. When he learned what was happening—that the beautiful girl bound to the rock was to be sacrificed to Poseidon’s sea monster—Perseus made Cepheus and Cassiopeia an offer: if they promised him Andromeda’s hand in marriage, he would save her life. Cepheus and Cassiopeia agreed (apparently not considering that killing the sea monster might further anger Poseidon).15

Andromeda and the Sea Monster MET

Andromeda and the Sea Monster by Domenico Guidi (1694).

Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain

Perseus was still armed with the divine weapons the gods had given him for his battle with Medusa: a helmet of invisibility, an adamantine sword, and winged sandals. He also had the head of Medusa, which turned all those who looked upon it to stone. With this arsenal he was able to kill the sea monster and rescue Andromeda.

The wedding ceremony of Perseus and Andromeda was interrupted, however, by Phineus, Andromeda’s former fiancé. A struggle ensued, in which Perseus ended up killing Phineus and his companions. In the wake of this carnage, Perseus and Andromeda left Ethiopia.

#Greece and the House of Perseus

Andromeda followed Perseus back to Greece. The newlyweds stopped first on the island of Seriphos, where Perseus had been raised, so that he could save his mother Danae from the unwanted advances of King Polydectes. Perseus then took Andromeda to his ancestral kingdom of Argos on the Greek mainland.

Peter Paul Rubens - Perseus and Andromeda (Hermitage Museum)

Perseus and Andromeda by Peter Paul Rubens (ca. 1622). Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

After Perseus accidentally killed his father Acrisius (as an old prophecy had predicted he would), he gave up the throne of Argos—though he didn’t abandon royal life altogether. Instead, he became the king of Tiryns and Mycenae and made Andromeda his queen.16 Together, Perseus and Andromeda had many important children and began the Perseid dynasty, or “House of Perseus.” Among their famous descendants was Heracles, perhaps the greatest hero of Greek mythology.

#Constellation

After her death, Andromeda was transformed into a constellation, along with the other characters of her myth (Perseus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Cetus, etc.).17 The Andromeda constellation contains the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way.

#Pop Culture

Andromeda has appeared in several modern adaptations of the Perseus myth, including the 1981 film Clash of the Titans and its 2010 remake. 

Andromeda has also given her name to various fictional characters and entities, among them the protagonist of Jodi Picoult’s novel My Sister’s Keeper (2004), the Harry Potter character Andromeda Tonks, Michael Chrichton’s novel The Andromeda Strain (1969), and a ship called the Princess Andromeda in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

#Further Reading

#Primary Sources

Greek

  • Euripides: Euripides’ tragedy Andromeda (fifth century BCE) tells of how Perseus saved Andromeda from the sea monster. Unfortunately, this work survives only in fragments.

Roman

  • Ovid: Andromeda’s rescue by and marriage to Perseus are described in Books 4 and 5 of the Metamorphoses (ca. 8 CE).

Mythological Handbooks (Greek and Roman):

  • Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History: A work of universal history, covering events from the creation of the cosmos to Diodorus’ own time (mid-first century BCE). The myths of Perseus and Andromeda are described in Book 4.

  • Apollodorus, Library: A mythological handbook from the first century BCE or the first few centuries CE. The myths of Perseus and Andromeda can be found in Book 2.

  • Hyginus, Fabulae: A Latin mythological handbook (first or second century CE) that includes sections on the myths of Perseus and Andromeda.

#Secondary Sources

  • Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

  • Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

  • Harder, Ruth Elisabeth. “Andromeda.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e121390.

  • Hartland, Edwin. The Legend of Perseus. 3 vols. London: Nutt, 1894–96.

  • McGrath, Elizabeth. “The Black Andromeda.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 55 (1992): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.2307/751417.

  • Ogden, Daniel. Perseus. New York: Routledge, 2008.

  • Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

  • Rose, H. J., and Jenny March, “Andromeda.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 85–86. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

  • Schauenburg, Konrad. “Andromeda I.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 1, 774–90. Zurich: Artemis, 1981.

  • Smith, William. “Andromeda.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed July 19, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DA%3Aentry+group%3D23%3Aentry%3Dandromeda-bio-1.