Storytelling Origins: In The Stars

Picture this: The Ancient World. 1322 BC.

According to ancient Greek myths, Cassiopeia married King Cepheus and becomes queen over the vast lands of Aethiopia. Presumably, the king is quite powerful and rich beyond belief. Let’s just say that she had it pretty good.

The happy couple was blessed with a daughter, Andromeda. No other children are mentioned in the story, so one would imagine that Andromeda was the light of their life.

Enter the Nereids. These young ladies were sea nymphs, often seen with Poseidon, the god of the sea. The Nereids were known for both their kindness and their loveliness. They sang. They danced. They were always represented by their great beauty, often pictured in white, gold-trimmed, robes.

Queen Cassiopeia, proud of her daughter’s own beauty, compared Andromeda to the beauty of the Nereids. In what is perhaps her not-so-finest moment, the vain Queen proclaims that the beauty of both her and her daughter is even greater than that of the Nereids.

Enraged at this outrageous and conceited claim, Poseidon sends the sea monster Cetus to attack the royal city. The only way for the royal family to prevent the death of the innocent residents was to sacrifice Andromeda to the monster.

Picture this: Andromeda is chained to a rock, awaiting the wrath of the sea monster and her own impending death. Her parents wait, horrified. Then Perseus arrives on the scene, legendary hero and slayer of monsters. Killing Cetus, Perseus frees Andromeda, marries her, and becomes hero to the people.

The basic story here is pretty familiar. In fact, it is very possible that the Andromeda/Perseus story is the very basis of the “princess and the dragon” legend that has been told by many cultures. Their story has lived on in various formats for centuries.

Characters in stories leave legacies. They live on in our minds and are passed down to other generations. So what was the legacy of Cassiopeia?

Her story does not end with the happily-ever-after marriage of her daughter and safety of her people. Greek legend has it that Poseidon was so enraged, he banished Cassiopeia to the heavens, where she still remains today. Star-gazers can see her constellation near the north star. Some drawings depict her chained to a chair as punishment and others show her with a mirror, a symbol of her vanity.

Good or bad, the stories we tell and the stories we are a part of live long after the events are told.

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(c) 2018, 2020 Craig Wingerson, Storyteller

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