Perseus and the Graiae

Perseus and the Graiae by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt ARA (1833-1898). Oil on canvas. 1892. [Number 2 in the Perseus Cycle]. Staatsgallerie Stuttgart.

This picture, like other members of the series, draws upon the version of the Perseus legend that appears in the following passage in William Morris's "The Doom of King Acrisius" from The Earthly Paradise.

       So having entered, through a cloister grey
With cautious steps and slow he took his way,
At end whereof he found a mighty hall;
where, bare of hangings, a white marble wall
And milk-white pillars held the roof aloft
And nothing was therein of fair or soft;
And at one end, upon a dais high,
There sat the crones that had the single eye,
Clad in blue sweeping cloak and snow-white gown;
While o'er their backs their straight white hair hung down
In long thin locks; dreadful their faces were,
Carved all about with wrinkles of despair;
And as they sat they crooned a dreary song,
Complaining that their lives should last so long
In that sad place that no one came anear,
In that wan place desert of hope and fear;
And singing,still they rocked their bodies bent,
And ever each to each the eye they sent.

       Awhile stood Perseus gazing on the three,
Then sheathed his sword, and toward them warily
He went, and from the last one snatched the eye,
"Who, feeling it gone from her, with a cry
Sprung up and said: "O sisters, he is here
That we were warned so long ago to fear,
And verily he has the eye of me."
       Then those three, thinking they no more should see
What feeble light the sun could show them there,
And that of all joys now their life was bare,
Began a-wailing and lamenting sore
That they were worse than ever heretofore. . . .

       Then Perseus cried, "Unseen I am indeed,
But yet a mortal man, who have a need
Your wisdom can make good, if so ye will;
Now neither do I wish you ill,
Nor will I keep this treasure from you.
If you tell me what I needs must do. — "The Doom of King Acrisius," I, 253-55


Löcher, Kurt. Der Perseus-Zyklus von Edward Burne-Jones. Stuttgart: Staatsgallerie Stuttgart, 1973.

Morris, William. "The Doom of King Acrisius" in The Earthly Paradise. 5 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1896.

Last modified 12 June 2020