As a child, I had read the story of the hero Perseus. In this story, Medusa was introduced as the huge, evil, ugly, monster, with deadly wriggly snakes for hair. She was so evil we were told, that one look at her, would turn any man or woman into stone! It was Perseus’ heroic task to chop the ugly monster’s head and bring it back to the King of Seriphos. The story ended with Perseus, accomplishing his dangerous mission and doing a few more heroic deeds on the way back. As a child, I was a little in love with the hero Perseus. As an adult, when I revisited the story of Medusa, this is what I found.
Medusa was the beautiful mortal child of the two immortal siblings Phorkys and Keto, and the granddaughter of Gaea and Oceanus … As a baby, she was so beautiful, that her mother found it difficult to move about in public spaces, for the immortals would gather around the pram and admire the baby for hours. Thus little Medusa grew up, loved by family and friends, admired by both mortals and immortals. When she grew into adolescence, many a youth vied for her attention and many a heart broke. Medusa refused her many suitors, waiting for the man of her dreams to come along, with whom she imagined she would live happily ever after.
All that changed one day. Medusa had been out, walking for a while, when she became aware of Poisedon, following her. Poisedon was the powerful God of Sea, Earthquake and Horses. He also was a close ally and brother of the great Zeus. The brothers were known for their lustful ways and young Medusa was scared. She walked faster, and then started running, hoping to shake Poisedon off. But Poisedon, easily kept up with her in big wave like steps. At last the hapless girl dashed into the temple of Athena and hid there, for she was sure that Poisedon, would do nothing wrong in the temple. She was wrong. Poisedon followed her, pinned her down and raped her in the temple of the Goddess Athena.
Athena, heard the commotion, and came running into her temple, and caught Poisedon in the act. She waited for him to finish, zip up and leave and then turned her wrath on the shivering raped child-woman. The Goddess screamed and ranted and blamed Medusa for desecrating her precious temple. As if this was not enough, she put a curse on Medusa and turned the beautiful young girl into a huge, hideous monster, with blotchy wrinkled skin, red fierce eyes and wriggly poisonous snakes for hair. The final curse, was that anyone who looked at her would immediately be turned to stone. Medusa heart broken and wretched hid herself in the far away island of Sarpedon, with only her two sisters for company.
You would think, that the poor girl, would be left alone. Wrong again. Every now and then, some young man would feel the need to be a hero, or be sent on a hero’s quest for various ulterior motives of those in power. Medusa’s head was often the coveted prize. Many young hopefuls landed on the island of Sarpedon, but one look at Medusa and each one was turned to stone.
Perseus (a son of Zeus) was one such hero, and his stone likeness too would have adorned the island of Sarpedon, had he not had the unfair advantage, that the Gods had provided him with. The God Hephaestus gave him a mighty sword, Athena (yes, her again) gave the young hero a mirrored shield, Hermes gave him winged sandals and Hades the God of the underworld, gave him the cloak of darkness. Armed with these gifts, the hero travelled to the island of Sarpedon on winged sandals, moved around invisible covered in his cloak of darkness, waited for Medusa to fall asleep, looked at her through the mirrored shield and chopped of her head with the sword of Hephaestus. He then put the chopped head in a bag, and escaped. Thus ended the story of a beautiful girl whose name was Medusa.
This story is a timely reminder, of the importance of revisiting the stories of our childhood and looking afresh in the light of our ever expanding understanding and compassion at the heroes and villains, Gods and demons that we had created with the limited understanding that we had as children.