The Legend of Cassiopeia Retold
The sun was bright in the sky the day Andromeda entered this world. As many mothers do, Queen Cassiopeia looked down into her bright eyes and vowed to love her like none other until the end of time. She would travel the lengths of the world to protect her and just knew in her soul that her daughter was the most beautiful creature in all the earth, skies and sea. Her assessment of her daughter’s beauty only grew over the years and as Andromeda grew in age and maturity Cassiopeia’s claims about Andromeda’s flawless perfection became bolder and started to include herself. Soon Cassiopeia would tell anyone and everyone that they were the two most beautiful women in all the world, skies above and sea below…
Andromeda stepped out of the palace one day and looked at the city before her. It was bustling with every type of life a person could imagine, from the dirt encrusted street urchins begging or stealing whatever they could to the shining structure at her back with people rushing around in fine robes and the softest sandals talking behind their hands about her. She hung her head in frustration and embarrassment.
Mother needs to stop telling people I’m the most beautiful girl on earth or one day the goddesses will take notice she thought as she stepped away from palatial splendor and traded luxury for anonymity in the forum. She’d only brought a few coins with her but it was enough to haggle for a delicious snack on her way to the pier where she loved watching the ships come and go loaded with exotic goods from foreign lands. If the day was warm enough she would sneak down the beach a little and wade into the shimmering sea. Imagining herself to be a Nereid, she would would play in the sea and revel in the cool freedom of the water. Little did she know that the Nereid’s also loved playing on that same stretch of beach and often watched little Andromeda frolic in their water. Not bothered but in fact inspired by her innocent abandon, they gathered to watch her noticing this day that she had grown since the last time they had seen her. She was fully a woman now and indeed beautiful. They laughed and played with her, nipping at her feet and pretending to be fish.
Her head broke the surface after diving deep to see if she could find the hands that wrapped around her ankle. She new it wasn’t a fish, but loved playing with the Nereid’s and only wanted to see one- just once after all their years of unacknowledged companionship. Her head broke the glittering surface after another fruitless attempt at catching the hand of the boldest one.
“ANDROMEDA!” A shrill cry broke her frustrated reverie and she turned to the shore where her mother stood fuming and stamping her foot. Andromeda sighed. It was going to be that kind of day then, she muttered to herself.
“Coming Mother!” She called back and dove again swimming as slowly as she could toward the shore and her mother’s waiting wrath.
As she rose from the water, dressed only in glimmering droplets of Poseidon’s fabric, her mother screamed again “Andromeda!! Put this one immediately” throwing a shift toward her daughter’s dripping lithe body. “You and I are the two most beautiful women in all the land, sea and skies my daughter. No one, not even the gods deserve to see your unveiled beauty. None are worthy and none can claim the perfection we possess.” Andromeda sighed. Her mother’s claims of beauty had truly begun to take on delusions of grandeur, and if she could have said something would have told her mother that everyone knew it wasn’t true and in fact were mostly laughing at her behind her back. Talk of this kind would get them in trouble one day. Her shoulders fell as she carried the burden of foresight her mother seemed to lack. She had just wrapped the shift around her when she heard a splash behind her and turned thinking a fish was jumping. Her mouth fell open when undoubtedly the most beautiful creature she had ever seen slowly walked out of the sea. Her blue hair almost too translucent to see and her skin like that of a pearl with eyes greener than grass on a sunny day. Andromeda stared, so in awe of the beauty in front of her she failed to notice the fury so tangible the girl’s body actually steamed.
“ENOUGH!” The Nereid’s voice sounded exactly like the raging sea as it pulls a ship to it’s watery doom. The word almost indescribable amongst the raging storm. “You have made claims of unrivaled beauty once too often daughter of Coronas and Zeuxo!” The Nereid raged, but paused then spoke in a voice more like a high wind “Your own beauty is meager, and while your daughter is indeed beautiful she is by no means the most beautiful creature in land, sea and skies. We have heard your lies and even now summon Poseidon to punish you. Your land will belong to the seas soon.”
With that the creature stretched in a backwards arch and dove under the sea.
The two women stared at each other open mouthed for a moment before Cassiopeia started crying. “We have been good to Poseidon, sacrificing and honoring him in this city. I am sure his punishment will be light.” Andromeda tried to comfort her hysterical mother and gently took her arm starting to walk toward the palace. As her sandal touched the first steps of the palace she heard it. The screams echoed first, but as she turned to see what had so many people crying in terror she saw a wave the size of the palace itself building on the horizon. Smaller but still devastating waves had already started flooding the harbor flooding the lower markets.
Andromeda dragged her mother inside, ran to her father and told him what happened. Without stopping to think, he took the two women by the hand and ran as fast as his feet would take him to the Oracle housed in the palace. Pushing his shoulder into the door he burst through in a flash of panic.
“What must we do!” He cried in terror.
The Oracle looked at him for a moment before her eyes flashed white. She was silent a moment longer then the blue returned to their depths.
“Hubris is something the gods will not stand. For her prideful claims, the gods have indeed sent Poseidon to deal punishment on this land. If you want to stop this, you must sacrifice Andromeda. Chain her to the cliff and give her to the sea monster Cetus. The wave will stop when that is done.”
Andromeda stood, white as the shift she was still wrapped in then turned to her father.
“It must be done. I will not live while so many die.” Then she turned toward the guard “Gather chains and take me to the cliffs” she ordered.
Both her father and mother stood in stunned silence for a moment before her father bellowed his anger at the gods and her mother fell to the floor a broken woman. This was her fault. Cassiopeia couldn’t even raise her head to see her daughter walk out of the palace, head held high in resolution as the wave the height of the palace loomed ever closer, and lesser waves having already overtaken the lower market completely.
The guards looked torn but determined as they wrapped her in chains at the cliff’s edge. Andromeda was indeed the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen and she would die a pure sacrifice for their lives.
“May the gods grant you mercy” one young guard whispered in her ear as he hammered the final chain into the rock. Then he stepped back, kissed her cheek, turned and walked back toward the palace.
Just as Cetus raised his enormous body out of the sea to claim his prize, a Pegasus the color of purity itself dove from the sky and a young Perseus jumped from it’s back slashing the chains so recently hammered into place. He swept Andromeda off the cliff before the monster had even made it half way to his sacrifice. Andromeda was in shocked silence as she clung tight to his back. They flew into the sunset free and alive.
Poseidon saw it all an raged harder than before, but rather than destroy a whole land for one woman’s sin, he stretched out his hand to where she slumped on her throne flung her into the heavens, still seated.
“May you spend eternity looking down on an earth you can no longer claim!” Poseidon shouted and laughed to himself as he hung the chair in such a way that half the year she would have to hold on for her life being tipped upside down. It was a fitting punishment for hubris he thought and returned to the Sapphire depths to comfort his disappointed beast Cetus.
Thus Cassiopeia hangs in the sky to this day looking at the beauty she can never touch again.