Δανάη Danaē Danaë Danae

[WARNING: This blog entry contains artistic representations and discussion of female nudity and sexuality.  If the topic offends you or the standards of your community, you continue reading entirely at your own risk;  if you are under 18 years of age, you must not continue reading.]


For whatever reason, Danae has long exercised a peculiar fascination for me.  I am not sure why.  In any event, I decided to explore in desultory and informal fashion some of the literary and icongraphic material in which this unhappy heroine appears.

Danae (Δανάη Danaē Danaë) [cf. Harder] appears only once in the Iliad

HARDER Ruth E.  1997.  “Danae,”  Der Neue Pauly 3.305-306.  [eds. Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider]  (Verlag J. B. Metzler.  Stuttgart, Weimar).

and the Odyssey, and is presented to us there as well-known:  Zeus lists her as just another in a catalogue of familiar (e.g., Europa, Semele, Demeter) conquests for whom his passion could not compare to that which he now feels for Hera (Iliad 14.319).  Here there is no reference to his coming to her in a shower of gold, and the only elaboration of her name is the epithet καλλισφύρου kallisphurou ‘with the beautiful ankles’ (which occurs 3 times in the Iliad and twice in the Odyssey) and a patronymic Ακρισιώνης Akrisiōnēs ‘daughter of Akrisios (Δανάης καλλισφύρου ᾿Ακρισιώνης), as well the birth of her famous son Perseus 320: ἣ τέκε Περσῆα πάντων ἀριδείκετον ἀνδρῶν ‘who gave birth to Perseus the most celebrated of all men’).

But her connection with gold was no doubt common coin and of great antiquity (cf. Janko  203 ad 319-320).

JANKO Richard.  1992.   [G.S. Kirk general editor].  The Iliad: A Commentary Vol IV: books 13-16.  (Cambridge University Press).

Hesiod definitely knows of Danae (frg. 129.14), and, it certainly seems he was also familiar with the gold-conceiving connection (135.1-5, my bold) [throughout, the fragmentary nature of the recovered texts renders some of my translations somewhat problematical, nor do they make any pretense to literary polish]:
….. …..]῎Αβας· ὃ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Ακρίσιον τέ[κεθ’ υἱόν.

                   Abas;  he had a son Akrisios …
….. … Πε]ρσῆα, τὸν εἰς ἅλα λά[ρνακι

Perseus,whom into the sea in a chest
….. …. ἀ]νέτειλε Διὶ χρυσει[

            ?she? golden raised up for Zeus … ?

….. …].η Περσῆα φίλον τ[

dear Perseus

Simonides, an older contemporary of Pindar (c. 522–443 BC), has (PMG 543) a longish fragment in which Danae, asea with her infant son, is complaining about her desperate plight – Zeus is asked for help, but we find nothing about his appearance to Danae, either as gold or anything else.  But Pindar himself knows the traditional story involving the shower of gold, as is clear from Pythian 12.17-18:

… υἱὸς Δανάας, τὸν ἀπὸ χρυσοῦ φαμὲν αὐτορύτου
… the son of Danae who, we claim, came from

                        a shower of gold

Similary, Pherecydes (of Athens [fl 5th B.C.]) frg 26.8-17 obviously had knowledge of the narrative that involved Zeus’ appearance to Danae in the form of gold (descending through the roof) after her father had hidden her away with her nurse:
… ῾Ο δὲ ἐπανελθὼν εἰς ῎Αργος, θάλαμον
ποιεῖ χαλκοῦν ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ τῆς οἰκίας κατὰ γῆς, ἔνθα

τὴν Δανάην εἰσάγει μετὰ τῆς τροφοῦ, ἐν ᾧ αὐτὴν ἐφύ-
λασσεν, ὅπως ἐξ αὐτῆς παῖς μὴ γένηται. ᾿Ερασθεὶς δὲ
Ζεὺς τῆς παιδὸς, ἐκ τοῦ ὀρόφου χρυσῷ παραπλήσιος
ῥεῖ· ἡ δὲ ὑποδέχεται τῷ κόλπῳ· καὶ ἐκφήνας αὑτὸν ὁ  Ζεὺς τῇ παιδὶ μίγνυται· τῶν δὲ γίνεται Περσεὺς, καὶ
ἐκτρέφει αὐτὸν ἡ Δανάη καὶ ἡ τροφὸς, κρύπτουσαι

Returned to Argos, Akrisios made a brass chamber in the court-yard of his house beneath the ground.  Here he puts Danae with her nurse. In it he kept guard on Danae so no child would be born of her.  But Zeus passionately desired his daughter,

and from the roof he flows down in the likeness of gold

and she receives him in her womb.  He showed himself to the daughter and has sex with her.  From these doings is born Perseus, and Danae and the nurse rear him, hiding him from Akrisios.



In the Catasterismi pseudo-Eratosthenes (3rd-2nd centuries B.C.) cites information about Danae and golden Zeus from the Phorkides, the first play in a Perseus-trilogy by Aeschylus (?525 – d. 456 BC).

… Περσέως.  περὶ τούτου ἱστορεῖται ὅτι ἐν τοῖς ἄστροις ἐτέθη διὰ τὴν δόξαν. τῆι γὰρ Δανάηι ὡς χρυσὸς μιγεὶς ὁ Ζεὺς ἐγέννησεν αὐτόν.

… of Perseus.  The account about him goes that he was placed

among the stars because of his reputation – for Zeus fathered

him by having sex with Danae in the guise of gold.

The tragedian Sophocles uses the story as part of an exmeplum (which suggests its long-established status in the tradition) in a choral song in the Antigone (944-950):
῎Ετλα καὶ Δανάας οὐράνιον φῶς
ἀλλάξαι δέμας ἐν χαλκοδέτοις αὐλαῖς·
κρυπτομένα δ’ ἐν
τυμβήρει θαλάμῳ κατεζεύχθη·
καίτοι <καὶ> γενεᾷ τίμιος, ὦ παῖ, παῖ,
καὶ Ζηνὸς ταμιεύεσκε γονὰς χρυσορύτους.

Even beautiful Danae endured giving up

heaven’s light in the bronze-fettered chamber.

Hidden away in a sepulchral wedding suite

she was bedded (lit: yoked) down, and even though

of noble line she – dear, dear daughter! — became repository

for the seed of Zeus that flowed down as gold.



And a papyrus fragment (Fragmenta papyracea 2.12) of Euripides (b. 480s – d. after 408) speaks to the same point:
Δανάης δὲ Περσεὺς ἐγένετ’ ἐκ χρυσορρύτων
σταγόνων, ὃς ἐλθὼν Γοργόνος καρατόμος
Αἰθίοπ’ ἔγημεν

the son of Danae was born of

gold-flowing drops, Perseus who

cut off the Gorgon’s head and

married Aithiopē.

Herodotus (c. 480s – 420s BCE) mentions Danae five times but has nothing to say of the appearance of Zeus disguised as gold.  A generation later, Thucydides has nothing at all about Danae, nor does Plato (c. 424-347).  In the fourth century the orator Isocrates lists Danae among three other conquests (Alcmene, Nemesis, Leda) of Zeus in his Helen at §59, and he acknowledges the violating Zeus as gold:  …

χρυσὸς δὲ ῥυεὶς Δανάῃ συνεγένετο … .

He flowed down gold and had sex with Danae …

In the third century BCE Theocritus and Callimachus are silent, and Apollonius Rhodius has a single throw-away reference to her as an abused daughter (Argonautica 4.1091).

In the Greek Anthology Danae is introduced in some not entirely favorable contexts, as follows:
Antipater Thessalonicensis  (1st B.C.)  [A.G. 5.31.5]:
Νέστωρ ἡ Παφίη. δοκέω δ’, ὅτι καὶ Δανάῃ Ζεὺς
οὐ χρυσός, χρυσοῦς δ’ ἦλθε φέρων ἑκατόν.
?Nestor … the Paphian [lady/goddess]?

I don’t think Zeus came to Danae as gold

but came bearing a hundred coins of gold.

Parmenion  (1st B.C.)  [A.G. 5.33 & 5.34]:

᾿Ες Δανάην ἔρρευσας, ᾿Ολύμπιε, χρυσός, ἵν’ ἡ παῖς
ὡς δώρῳ πεισθῇ, μὴ τρέσῃ ὡς Κρονίδην.

Olympian, you flowed into Danae as gold to sway the daughter

with a gift and she not tremble before the son of Kronos.

῾Ο Ζεὺς τὴν Δανάην χρυσοῦ, κἀγὼ δὲ σὲ χρυσοῦ·
πλείονα γὰρ δοῦναι τοῦ Διὸς οὐ δύναμαι.
Zeus ?made of gold? went for Danae,

and I too of gold am going for you:

for I cannot give more than Zeus did.

Julius Leonidas  (1st A.D.)  [A.G. 12.20]:
῾Ο Ζεὺς Αἰθιόπων πάλι τέρπεται εἰλαπίναισιν
χρυσὸς Δανάης εἵρπυσεν εἰς θαλάμους·
θαῦμα γάρ, εἰ Περίανδρον ἰδὼν οὐχ ἥρπασε γαίης
τὸν καλόν. ἢ φιλόπαις οὐκέτι νῦν ὁ θεός;

Again, Zeus delights in the banquets of the Ethiopians

?or as gold crept into Danae’s bedroom chambers.

So it would be wondrous strange if on seeing Periander

he did not snatch this earthly beauty – or is it the case

that now the god no longer likes the young?
Vergil mentions Danae in passing once in the Aeneid (7.10), and Ovid (Metamorphoses 4.611) adds the detail of the golden rain (Acrisius, father of Danae & grandfather of Perseus, is the subject of putabat ‘he used to think’):

… neque enim Iovis esse putabat
Persea, quem pluvio Danae conceperat auro.

For he didn’t use to think that from Zeus came Perseus

whom Danae conceived in a shower of gold.


And at Metamorphoses  6. 110-113 Ovid has Arachne include this detail in the design she is weaving in her contest with Athena:
addidit ut …
Iuppiter …

aureus ut Danaen … luserit
… she added how golden Jupiter deceived Danae

Apollodorus (1st-2nd century C.E.) the mythographer reports at 2.35.1 that some people say …
… Ζεὺς μεταμορφωθεὶς εἰς χρυσὸν καὶ διὰ τῆς ὀροφῆς
εἰς τοὺς Δανάης εἰσρυεὶς κόλπους συνῆλθεν.

Zeus changed shape into gold and flowing through the roof

into Danae’s lap got it on …

Strato of Sardis  (2nd C.E.)  [A.G. 12.239] offers the following meretricious association:
Πέντ’ αἰτεῖς; δέκα δώσω, ἐείκοσι δ’ ἀντία ἕξεις.
ἀρκεῖ σοι χρυσοῦς; ἤρκεσε καὶ Δανάῃ.
You want five? I’ll give you ten but? you’ll have twenty.

Golden, is he enough for you?  Well, he was even for Danae.

Leontius Minotaurus  (6th C.E.)  [A.G. 16.285] finds the character still productive, as his audience must have:

Οὔ τις ἐπ’ ᾿Ανθούσῃ χρυσὸν βάλεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτῇ
ἀμφεχύθη Κρονίδης ὡς τὸ πάρος Δανάῃ·
σώματι δ’ οὐκ ἐπέλασσεν, ἐπεὶ νόον ἔλλαβεν αἰδώς,
μή τινι Μουσάων μίσγεται οὐκ ἐθέλων.

Nobody threw gold at Anthousē but he poured himself

around her just as the son of Kronos did of old with Danae.

He avoided her body, for shame took hold of his thinking

?and he was not willing to have sex with any of the Muses.?

[μή … μίσγεται is puzzling, unless μίσγεται is a short-vowel subjunctive!]
Anonymous  [A.G. 9.48]:

Ζεὺς κύκνος, ταῦρος, σάτυρος, χρυσὸς δι’ ἔρωτα
Λήδης, Εὐρώπης, ᾿Αντιόπης, Δανάης.

Zeus (was) a swan, a bull, a satyr, gold because of passion

for Leda, Europa, Antiope, Danae.
This survey offers a reasonable picture of the literary currency of the Danae story for over a millennium from the time of Homer down into late antiquity and, even, the very early Middle Ages (Leontius Minotaurus in the 6th century C.E.).  This span of some 1200 centuries separating Homer from Leontinus is longer than that which separates Leontinus from the pictorial representation of Gossaert in the sixteenth century.  Although I have not been able to find either literary or pictorial representation of any kind of the Danae story during that interval, it would indeed be astonishing if the narrative had lain dormant for the roughly thousand years that separate the two.  It is hard for me to believe that she did not show up in some of the early European vernaculars.

But before looking at the art, let’s consider a summary of the classical and post-classical vocabulary that addresses the relevant themes of the narrative:







8th BC



8th/7th BC



6th/5th BC




5th BC




5th BC




5th BC





5th BC





4th BC





1st BC



1st BC




1st AD


(εἵρπυσεν εἰς)


1st BC/AD





1st BC/AD



1st/2nd AD




2nd AD



6th AD








On this basis, at least, it appears that the story had a lot more to say to the Greeks than it did to the Romans, and the thematic vocabulary appears to be rather consistently deployed across the centuries.

One would have thought, then, that the artistic representations would be equally common, but such is, apparently, not entirely the case.  To be sure, there is a fair number of representations on vases of Danae and Perseus in the box in which Acrisius set them adrift.  But when I availed myself of the searchable (through a number of filters, including names) Beazley Archive, although Danae appears on vases, I found only four [see listing at end of this essay] representations of Zeus visiting her in that famous shower of gold which, as we saw in the table just above, was quite well represented in the literary testimonia from antiquity.  I have not searched for mosaic or mural depictions of the theme, but these venues may well have supplied more iconographic evidence from antiquity.

The iconography of the ‘shower-of-gold’ aspect of the story seems to find its full flowering only in the Renaissance and forward.

Now, let’s look at some of those ‘modern’ paintings.

Jan Gossaert (1478-1532) in his version from 1527 seems to reflect the ancient literary evidence in the matter of that shower of gold.  We see it clearly pouring down from a hole in the roof (cf. Apollodorus) of some kind of open structure.  Through the ‘windows’ are visible other towers, and I assume that the painter is following that tradition which put Danae in a tower (not explicitly mentioned in any of the above testimonia) rather than some underground chamber (as in Sophocles and Pherecydes).

GOSSAERT Jan  1527  (1478-1532)

Corregio and Titian eroticize the visual versions in a way that is more suggestive of the explicit language several of the ancient writers used.  Although Gossaert’s painting appeals to the tacit prurience of the sexual encounter in progress or about to take place, the exposed breast and slightly but suggestively parted legs are a milder version of the naked sensuality we find in both Coreggio and Titian.  In the former, the Cupid helping Danae expose herself sexually to the gilded cloud hovering over her seems to be without prototype in the passages adduced;  I would suggest he is a displaced form of the nurse with whom (μετὰ τῆς τροφοῦ ‘with her nurse’) Danae was shut away in the Pherecydes fragment, a nurse whom Titian in fact makes explicit (as do Wtewael and Genitleschi in their equally erotic renditions).

All four of these artists offer what amounts to a kind of soft pornography of longing sexuality on the part of the waiting Danae.

CORREGIO  c.1531  (c.1489-1534)

TITIAN  1553-4(c.1485-1576)

WTEWAEL Joachim  ?  (1566-1638)

GENTILESCHI Artemisia c. 1612 (1593-c.1651)

Rembrandt, too, has the nurse.  We see her peeking in through the curtain to the left of Danae, and her positioning as more of an on-looker than a facilitator (as in the four previous artists) lends the visual narrative an element of voyeurism that perhaps reflects some thought about the viewer’s own possibly excitable interest in observing the consummation.

REMBRANDT van Rijn  1636  (1606-1669)

This cranking up of the erotic, if one can speak of it as such, comes out in the general feel of Tieplo’s baroque elaboration of the incarnate deity approaching while a Cupid looks on and seems to be helping to arrange things.

TIEPOLO Giovanni Battista  1736  (1696-1770)

Coming into our own century, the ‘normative’ eroticism of earlier centuries seems at times to verge into direct autoeroticism.  It is certainly suggested in Klimt’s cuddled version with the presumably busy hand hidden behind a voluptuous thigh whose apex points at a beautiful face reflecting onanistic ecstasy.

KLIMT Gustav  1907-8  (1862-1918)

And in both Corinth and Von Stuck it seems beyond subtlety.  Corinth in particular shows us a woman fully given over to her solitary self-pleasuring with what looks very much like a writhing face, and her arched back with the legs spread receptively for the down-pouring (picking up on the heavily emphasized ρυ- ‘flow’ verbals in the ancient texts) shower of gold leave little to the eroticizing imagination.

CORINTH Lovis  1920  (1858-1925)

Von Stuck achieves a very similar effect, and with the woman’s hand thrown across her face one can almost see her tossing it back and forth in ecstatic abandon as the shower of gold, clearly visible above her pubes and separated legs, comes raining down and the winged lad hovers attentively above her.

VON STUCK Franz  1923  (1863-1928)

German Symbolist

There is nothing striking about this little journey through text and paint of a given character, Danae.  Nor do I in any sense pretend to be exhaustive on the subject.  After all, I am just pursuing a private favorite heroine for my own amusement here.  But I think it does demonstrate how productively, in both word and art, a character and her narrative may move the imagination of creative artists across the millennia.

I bring evidence to bear on this very thesis from the oil painting by Stone Roberts that appeared under the title Danaë in the February 2002 issue of American Artist on page 25. Unhappily, my three efforts to contact this magazine and secure permission to show the painting on this site have met with continuing and obdurate silence – and our litigious age being what it unhappily is, my impulse to post Roberts’ version of Danae anyway has yielded to a prudent if uninteresting and pusillanimous caution.  Fortunately I did find a copy you can link to here:  look at it for yourself in the context of the above remarks beginning with Homer some 3000 years ago, and note that the impregnating gold has been modulated to a golden blanket that embraces the sleeping nude.  I’m sure you can understand it against the lengthy literary and iconographic background I have adduced above.  Roberts’ work is both a tecnically very skillful and a traditionally highly intelligent painting.

Danae is obviously an enormously perdurable vision, as subject to artistic metamorphosis as was Zeus himself corporeally.

A final question remains, as yet not fully answered in my own mind.  Why the gold?  The normal modality for Zeus in these encounters – whether of rape or consensual sex — is, after all, more commonly theriomorphic (cf the anonymous citation above: Ζεὺς κύκνος, ταῦρος, σάτυρος …).  Gold had been around for some time in Greek and earlier cultures, and as a glittering valuable it might perhaps have suggested itself as a worthy shape for Zeus to don in yet one more of his quests.  I could not, however, help but wonder if there is any phonically explanatory connection here between the Greek word for ‘gold’ χρυσός khrusos and the verbal root ρυ– ‘flow’ so very commonly used in the literary references to describe the epiphany of Zeus (there is no etymological connection whatsover).  The adjective χρυσορύτους ‘poured as gold, gold-pouring’ geminates the central syllable of gold (χ‑ρυ-σός) in ρυ-σ and ρύ-τ, and the participles εἰσρυεὶς, ἔρρευσας, and ῥυεὶς (from lemmatized ῥέω) likewise harbor that syllable in exact or modestly disguised form: εἰσ-ρυ-εὶς, ἔρ‑ρ(ε)υσ‑ας, and ῥυ‑εὶς.  Perhaps a reason, then, that the story was not so big among Latin writers is that the Latin stem aur- ‘gold’ and the stem plu- ‘rain’ offer no paronomastic possibilities on the happy scale that Greek does.

These observations probably reveal more about my own unbridled phonic obsessions than they do about any ludic teleology on the part of ancient writers.  Besides, which would have come first:  the pluvial flow [those two words are etymologically related] (ῥυ‑εὶς) or the auric allure (χ‑ρυ-σός)?  Still … there ρυ is!

It’s been – really! — a great deal of fun.

[In addition to the two references early in the discussion, of great usefulness for researching this article have also been the following resoures:




The TLG CD-ROM ( http://www.tlg.uci.edu/ ) and
PHI CD-ROMs ( phi@packhum.org )
have also proved of great value in this connection, as has the
MOUSAIOS ( http://www.musaios.com/) search engine.]

The Beazley Archive:

5858, ATHENIAN, RED-FIGURE, HYD, HYDRIA, Perhaps, KLEOPH, KLEOPHON P, VERMEU, VERMEULE, 0, DANAE AND THE GOLDEN RAIN, WITH HERMES AND WOMAN, 1, BOSM, Boston (MA), Museum of Fine Arts, 68.18, BurlMag, Burlington Magazine, 112 (1970), 630, FIGS.100, 102, 0, N
6560, ATHENIAN, RED-FIGURE, LEKS, LEKYTHOS, SQUAT, LIBYA, CYRENAICA, 0, DANAE AND THE GOLDEN RAIN, WOMAN AND EROS, 1, LONB, London, British Museum, E711, LIMC, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, III, PL.244, DANAE 7, 0, N

41126, ATHENIAN, RED-FIGURE, PYX FR, PYXIS FRAGMENT, ATHENS, AGORA, -450, -400, 450-400, LD, DANAE AND THE GOLDEN RAIN, EROS, WOMAN, 1, ATHA, Athens, Agora Museum, P20297, LIMC, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, SUPPLEMENTUM 1, PL.71, DANAE ADD.2, 0, N

203792, ATHENIAN, RED-FIGURE, KCA, KRATER, CALYX, ETRURIA, CERVETRI, -500, -450, 500-450, TRIPTO, TRIPTOLEMOS P, BEAZLE, BEAZLEY, B, MAN WITH STICK AT CHEST, DANAE AND THE INFANT PERSEUS, OLD MAN, DRAPED WITH SCEPTRE (AKRISIOS), 1, LENH, St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, 1602, LIMC, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, III, PLS.243, 247, DANAE 1, 48 (PARTS OF A & B), St. Petersburg 637., RF calyx krater. From Cerveteri. Triptolemos Painter. First quarter fifth. Ca. 490 (Howe, Peredol’skaya)., A: Danae seated on a couch; the golden rain. B: the chest., A: to right of Danae’s mouth, slightly curving downward: Δαναε{1}. B: hο παις καλος{2}. Ακρισιος., = inv. 1602. = St. 1723., {1} see the ph. in KAV, pl. 30,2, and pl. 169,8. {2} wrongly placed upside down in KAV, pl. 170,1. Peredol’skaya does not have an inscription Ακρισιος in the facss., 7352, Photo (A). — Howe (1953), 272, pl. 76, fig. 1 (bibl.). — ARV[2] (1963), 360/1, 1648. — Peredol’skaya (1967), 45/42, pls. 30, 169,8 and 170,1 (facss.) (vast bibl.). — Para. (1971), 364, 512. — D. Williams (1976b), pl. 9, fig. 11. — Jenkins–Williams (1985), 415 and n. 25, pl. 46, fig. 12 (after Gerhard (1854a), pl. 1, dr.). — Add.[2] (1989), 222 (much bibl.)., Images100/203/203792.B/, b, 0, 11 UK 1007 4653, N

This entry was posted in ART, CLASSICA. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Δανάη Danaē Danaë Danae

  1. sex dating says:

    Keep up this good work, you have a nice blog over here with much good information! When you post some new stuff, I’ll visit your blog again and I’ll follow it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s