Today’s mythical person is the Gorgon Medusa, the lady with the snaky hair. You probably know that story about Perseus killing her, but did you know there were three Gorgons? Medusa and her sisters Stheno and Euryale were the daughters of sea gods Phorcys and Ceto, as were the three Graeae, the sisters with one eye and one tooth between them, who also come into the story of Perseus.
Two of the three Gorgons were immortal; Medusa was the poor sod who got stuck with mortality and so was the subject of young heroes trying their luck at slaying a monster.
In most stories Medusa was punished by Athene for having sex with Poseidon in her temple. Poseidon may have been getting back at Athene for winning the job of patron of Athens. It was rape, according to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so not her fault, but Athene must have found it easier to get revenge on Medusa than Poseidon, so turned the beautiful girl into a monster with snakes for hair; anyone who looked into her face turned to stone.
Her sisters were there at the time, so were also turned into monsters, but remember, they were immortal.
Poor Medusa! Stuck with those snakes for hair and taking refuge in a cave, she surely wasn’t harming anyone where she was, but the same sort of young heroes who, centuries later, would be chasing dragons, came charging up to her cave to slay her and ended up as sculptures.
And lying there asleep, minding her own business, she wakes up to find another one of these heroes getting ready to lop her head off, and this time he has equipment to help him finish her, supplied by the gods, including Athene, who was responsible for her troubles in the first place! Furious? You bet! I would be too.
Medusa has been the inspiration for a lot of creativity. Did you know there is a Gorgon on the flag of Sicily, by the way?
British horror film, The Gorgon, was made in 1964, starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, with a future Time Lord(Patrick Troughton)as a police inspector. The Gorgon of the title is in human form most of the time, in between turning into a snake-haired being turning people into stone. This Gorgon is called Megaera and is supposed to be a sister of Medusa.
There is a short story by an Aussie author in which Medusa is still around and making a living as a sculptor, though she cheats by taking men home, petrifying them and selling them as art works!
The Medusa scene in the 1981 Clash Of The Titans is breathtakingly scary. It was stop motion master Ray Harryhausen’s last film and while the story was pretty silly, there is no doubt the Medusa scene is a classic to stand alongside the same artist’s skeleton scene in Jason And The Argonauts(which, by the way, is up on YouTube if you want to see it). Medusa is a snake herself, though with a human face and torso under the hissing snakes of her hair. It’s hard to believe she was ever beautiful or even human.
Here is a link to that scene on YouTube.
Look it up and enjoy. There is a 2010 remake, which has a cheeky reference in one scene to the original, and it’s fun, but nothing can beat the artistry of Ray Harryhausen.
Tomorrow, we meet Narcissus and Nausicaa!