Dangerous Beauty : The Real Story Of Gorgon Medusa
I am a big fan of mythologies and the Greek mythology happens to be one of my favourite(s). And in the Greek mythology, one of the least appealing story I found, was that of Medusa, the crazy snake lady who turned people into stone until she was stopped by Perseus. Later she turned people into stone because Perseus told her to (if you’ve watched ‘The Clash Of The Titans’ you’ll remember).
Sorry Medusa, but that story was boring. In a world where people can turn to trees, and goddesses are birthed from heads, this was low on the excitement scale. No pun intended.
It wasn’t until I watched a YouTube video where they discuss the story of Medusa, I realized how wrong I was. In the version of the myth I was familiar with, Medusa was born a Gorgon and hated life until she had stopped living. Relatable, right?
We’ve all heard about the scary monster Medusa, with a head full of venomous snakes, and eyes that turn you to stone. We have been told countless times about the tale of Medusa and Perseus, who defeated the Gorgon by severing her head. It sounds oh, so heroic. But what we never think is what history doesn’t teach us about Medusa? What if, instead of interpreting her as a monster who tormented people, we think about her in a new light?
It’s no secret that the world we live in is structured by patriarchal values that uphold the power and heroism of men, and diminish the value of women. We see it every day: in the media, in politics, even in our own back yard. Greek mythology is no different.
What we are rarely taught about is how Medusa was made to be “Medusa”. As one of the Gorgon sisters, she was originally a golden-haired, fair maiden, beautiful and kind-natured. Medusa devoted herself to a life of celibacy in the name of her goddess, Athena. However, despite her origins of beauty, Medusa’s name quickly became synonymous with malevolence, hatred, and monstrosity.
Medusa was a priestess to the goddess Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom and battle. One requirement to be a priestess for Athena is that the young women should be a virgin and give their life to the goddess. One day, Poseidon (or Neptune), the God of the Sea and rival to Athena, saw Medusa and was mesmerized. But Medusa being a loyal priestess to the Goddess rejected him. And what does he do about it? Rape her of course! And decided to humiliate Athena by raping the priestess on the steps of Athena’s temple. Poseidon vanished after he was done and left Medusa vulnerable and weak.
Here I want to get into a little diatribe about Poseidon. I’d love to do a whole blog post about that, but I dare not. I’m sure Poseidon would not take kindly to a blog post putting him on blast and I don’t want any angry gods in my life, especially considering the recent floods. But let’s get back to Medusa.
Medusa prayed to Athena for guidance and forgiveness. After all, in those days, the gods claimed their mates as their partner forever, and Medusa was now Poseidon’s wife. Athena looked down in anger and cursed Medusa for betraying her. Medusa was sent to a faraway island and was cursed so that no man would want her. She was given cracked skin, madness, and her signature snake hair and stone eyes. Medusa was now a monster woman.
Medusa was banished from her civilization and sent to an island by herself. She was alone and only saw men trying to kill her. She looked at them in fear and saw them turn to stone in front of her. She was scared of her powers and angry at the gods for cursing her. She took her revenge on the men that were sent to kill her. Anybody who took one step on her island were marked now for death at the hands of the Gorgon Medusa.
This to me is the crux of the tale, and the main point where you sympathize with Medusa. She is of course punished by Athena for being raped. Her punishment? She is turned into a hideous woman with snakes for hair and sent into exile. On top of that to ensure that her exile is complete, anyone she looks at is turned to stone.
All of this speaks a lot about Athena’s character. She doesn’t come off as being a big women’s advocate. It troubles me that this powerful goddess was herself vain and sided with the wrong. I like to believe a modern Athena would have more sympathy for womanhood and would certainly not punish a rape victim. From another angle, there are some who argue that Athena blessed Medusa with the power to protect herself from the brutality of men.
Throughout many myths, Medusa is used as a weapon by other male heroes. There’s no other conclusion to Medusa’s story. The reader can deduce that she’s still with some hero waiting to be used as a weapon again.
The scary part of the myth of Medusa is that she’s a rape victim with no support system. It’s a story so powerful and relevant today, I couldn’t help but cry for Medusa. First, she was abused and punished for it by a woman who had the power to help her. Then she is turned into a monster and her identity was stripped off.
It’s a tragic story. It’s even more tragic that history remembers Medusa as a monster and not the victim that she was. Maybe this is fitting though. We don’t listen to victims now, much less hundreds of years ago. Instead, people turn them into something or someone they’re not.
How many times have you heard the news call a victim an instigator? We turn the people who need our help the most into monsters. But in reality, the real monsters are rapists like Poseidon, abusers like Perseus and victim-blamers like Athena. But most of all, it’s the people who actively choose to not look further into a victim’s story.
This is the primary reason why victims of abuse don’t speak up: they are afraid that people will judge them and blame them. It’s a very disturbing trend to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator.
Long story short, I have been troubled by Medusa’s plight ever since I read this version of the story. In a way, as I finished the myth, I realized that I was monstrous for not listening to Medusa’s side of the story all these years. Medusa, if you are sitting in a cave somewhere reading this, I want to say I’m sorry and I believe you.
A different angle to a known story and PaperKin is here to hear from you!
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