The meaning of the dream symbol: Perseus

Perseus had no human father. He was directly descended from Zeus (metamorphosed into a shower of gold) and Danae. Danae’s father, Acrisius, however, had been told by an oracle that he would be killed by his grandson and, in his fear, set Danae adrift on the sea in a wooden chest with her baby. They reached an island, where Perseus grew up and became famous for his great deeds. It is pointless in this context to explain the myth in elaborate detail, it suffices to observe that, as Paul Diel explains, it symbolizes the simultaneous existence in each individual of two images of the father.

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The first of an overbearing and hostile person, the second of a man of sublime and generous nature, the first being no more than a perverted image of the second. The negative aspect might be regarded as that of ‘the old Adam’, responsible for Original Sin and for all the ills and weaknesses and painful duties which are consequent upon it and, on top of all this, swollen with self-conceit. The positive aspect is that of the father as symbol of the spirit which enlightens, and of the strength which creates, shares and comforts. Which of these two fathers was he to kill? That is to say, which was he to choose? The myth is as it were a symbol of choice.

Perseus was, however, also the conqueror of Medusa, Queen of the gorgons, thanks to pegasus, the winged horse which had enabled Bellerophon to overcome the Chimera. If Medusa stands for an exaggerated image of guilt, cutting off her head is decisively to master exaggerated, paralysing and morbid feelings of guilt and to gain the strength to see oneself undistorted by belittlement or self-aggrandisement. This is clearsightedness without the distorting mirror reflecting the morbid world of sin. In this repect also, Perseus symbolizes a choice between standing as if turned to stone before the image of sin distorted by the seductions of self-conceit, or cutting off the head of that image by overcoming self-conceit through the exercise of a balanced judgement and with the sharp sword of the truth.

As a reward for overcoming self-conceit and the monsters of his own creation, Perseus at Zeus’ command became one of the heavenly constellations. He symbolizes the realization of an ideal at the cost of hard struggle and courageous and careful choice.