Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Medusa: Monster or Misunderstood?

(image from nienor)
Once upon a time...

There was a woman whose beauty rivaled that of the Goddesses themselves. She could have had any many she wanted, but she rejected them all choosing instead to pledge herself to the service of the virgin Goddess Athena. They all took the hint. Poseidon didn’t. One day when she was serving in Athena’s temple he came for her, and he didn’t take no for an answer.

When Athena discovered Poseidon and the woman had defiled her temple her vengeance was swift. Casting the young priestess out wasn’t enough for the Goddess. Instead Athena stripped her of her beauty and cursed her to live out the rest of her life as a Gorgon. With snakes for hair, skin as rough and cracked as that of a snake, and eyes so hideous gazing into them was enough to turn a man to stone the young woman was banished to a distant island where she would live out her life in solitude.

However, people, being stupid as usual, continued to seek her out, and the result was always the same. They'd look at her, she'd look at them, and they'd turn to stone. Finally, sick of all of the trouble Medusa caused her Athena was compelled to help Perseus end Medusa's life to save the rest of Greece from her uncontrolled wrath.

This unfortunate soul was none other than the legendary Medusa.

But, in truth, Medusa’s story didn’t start with my “once upon a time” and in many cases it didn’t have the tragic ending the Ancient Greeks gave it. In Ancient Europe she was considered the embodiment of girl power with a voice that could charm the snakes themselves, and instead of snakes sprouting from her head they twined all over her, including through her gorgeous locks.

In Africa she was revered as a Goddess herself, and regardless of the medium her face was always covered for a glimpse of her face would show the viewer the moment of their own death. To the Amazons of Libya she was the serpent Goddess, Athene. In other parts she was past, present, and future. She was both the giver and taker of life straddling the gaps between heaven, earth, and the underworld.

The woman who would one day become Medusa started down the path to the dark side when men began to gain power over women. That marked her decent from Goddess to monster, from beautiful to hideous, and from force of nature to victim.

But when good Goddesses go bad someone has to stop them, and in this case it was Perseus. With the help of Athena and Hermes Perseus realized that the, fairly obvious, key to hunting Medusa, or any Gorgon was in not to make eye contact. The minute anyone looked into those baby blues they’d be dead, without Medusa even having to strike a blow. In order to defeat a Gorgon the attacker had to shield their eyes while simultaneously chopping the Gorgon’s head off, but even once the head is detached the eyes of a Gorgon still have the power to turn both the mortal and the immortal to stone in an instant, making a Gorgon head the ultimate weapon.



K.T. Hanna said...

I don't know. I've always thought she was badly done by. Considering she was forced and then she was punished? Seriously?

But that's just me. I've always loved Medusa. Come on, haven't we all wanted (at some stage) to be able to turn a guy to stone just by looking at him?

E. Arroyo said...

I too thought her tail/tale was tragic. But, hey, she did get some revenge...well, before they cut her head off. =)
Nice post! Some great info!

Sommer Leigh said...

I love the Medusa story because of its tragedy. I didn't know that her story popped up in other cultures though. I love hearing about alternative mythologies based on similar tales. Wonderful post!

Jamie B said...

Thank you for this post.... very interesting. I never heard about some of these other cultures versions of her. I especially like the African one.

Anonymous said...

Great post--and you know, the potential to be a sympathetic character. Er, until she turns you to stone!

S. L. Hennessy said...

Great post! I LOVE Medusa (and mythology in general). I always felt kind of bad for her though. Sure she turned people into stone, but its wasn't ENTIRELY her fault.
Love the clips!

Michael Offutt said...

Poor Medusa. Kinda sucks what happened to her.

Mel Corbett said...

Yeah, I always felt sorry for Medusa. She got raped, then punished for it. The ancient greek myths are full of blame the victim/punish the victim stories.

I didn't know about medusa in the other cultures though. That's kind of fascinating and the way that the patriarchal culture corrupted her story is interesting as well.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Medusa's story has always been sad and interesting. I guess if the perpetrator is another god, you can't really punish them, though.

I had never heard of the similar stories in other countries; very interesting! I love how mythologies and theologies tend to cross into many different cultures.

Anonymous said...

Why do you think they used her visage to mark women's shelters?