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Andromeda: An Erased Ethiopian Princess

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Greek mythology, especially when represented in paintings, has a history of white-washing its characters. The story of Andromeda, a beloved constellation, is perhaps the most dramatic example.

"Perseus and Andromeda", Titian

Before European painters got their hands on Andromeda's story, she was worshipped just as she was: African, not European. Andromeda was born to a lavish lifestyle in Joppa (modern-day Ethiopia). Her father was King Cepheus, her mother Queen Cassiope. From the minute she first opened her eyes, Andromeda was known as the most beautiful girl in the kingdom of Joppa, if not in all of Palestine (the name of the land at the time). Dripping in gold and jewels, Andromeda was brought up as the definition of royalty. Her mother leaned into this attention and took pride in her daughter's beauty. She began to croon that her daughter was the most beautiful in the world, topped by not even a nymph or goddess- especially not another mortal.

However, praise for the princess' beauty was not well-received for long. News of the "most beautiful girl" reached the ears of the Nereids, Greek sea nymphs known for their vanity. As a group, they were furious that there was anyone being named more gorgeous, more tangible, than they were. In a fit of rage, they used their influence to send a sea monster to attack the kingdom of Joppa.

As exemplified by numerous myths -from Greece to China to Africa- one of the only known ways to appease a beast of high nature was by a meaningful sacrifice. In order to save the thousands of citizens of the kingdom, Cepheus decided to chain Andromeda to a boulder to await her death; a sacrifice of utmost prestige and beauty. This harrowing image of a young girl chained to a boulder soon became the body of her constellation, as seen below.

Andromeda's constellation is also known as "The Chained Maiden". Once again, in this depiction, she's displayed distinctly white/European.

Just as Andromeda stopped struggling -gave up fighting against her restraints- a passerby became her greatest hope. Perseus, a Greek slayer known for his murder of Medusa, was coincidentally flying by on Pegasus, his winged stallion. Of course, this sounds ridiculously premeditated, though in the world of myth it's an exceptional chance. Upon seeing Andromeda laying limp in the chains, her beautiful body curled around a boulder, Perseus swooped down and slew the monster to save her.

The "Happily Ever After" is evident. However, the larger monster in the story is how Andromeda's intense beauty was washed away by mid-century racism. When ancient mothers told this story to their children, Andromeda would be portrayed exactly as she was: African, with distinctly African features. Today, though, the only visual representation of Andromeda as an African woman that exist are twentieth-century drawings by artists wanting to make it right. One can only infer that a racist's discomfort with the story would come from the aspect of Andromeda being named "the most beautiful", as white Europeans often thought themselves to be the definition of beauty. However, that is precisely why it's so valuable to tell this story exactly as it was intended to be told: racism is taught, not naturally occurring. Andromeda, to both Ethiopians and Greeks, was the essence of youthful, perfect beauty.


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