De-myth-ify: Perseus and Medusa(Part Three)

Let’s talk about some classic Greek mythology, the myth of the demigod Perseus and the gorgon Medusa, today. This is the last part of a three-part series on Perseus and Medusa. If you haven’t read the previous parts, do go and read Part One and Part Two before you continue here.

Now that the story is done, let’s talk about it.

Perseus’ story is quite the rarity in Greek mythology. Heroes are usually not happy or even, you know, alive at the end of their stories. Perseus falls in love, gets to marry her, she’s not related to him, no one opposes their match, he saves his mum, settles down in his new capital, has kids and lives a long, relatively happy life. Very few heroes, if any, get that. Think of any and all heroes you can; Orpheus fails at the last minute, Achilles dies and so on. After Perseus died, he and many characters from his story were also immortalised in the night sky and were made constellations by the gods. Perseus, Andromeda, King Cephus and Queen Cassiopeia are all featured among the stars. That’s positively delightful by Ancient Greek standards.

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Oedipus’ story was clearly a tragedy, for everyone in the story. But here, the only tragic character is the apparent villain, Medusa. And hence begin my arguments to express my firm belief that Medusa was never a villain and did not deserve what happened to her. Hear me out. Medusa was born mortal and pretty, by luck. She had nothing to do with that. It was not her fault that the sea god Poseidon got tempted by her beauty. It wasn’t her fault that Poseidon and Athena had a rivalry going and thus, Poseidon decided to impregnate her in Athena’s temple to spite her. And it goes without saying that she did not deserve to be turned into an ugly monster by Athena. Neither did she deserve to die as she did or for her severed head to be used as a weapon for time immemorial.

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Medusa by Caravaggio

Some people believe that Athena turned her into a monster so no man could ever do to Medusa what Poseidon did to her. Is that fair though? Athena took away her life and eventually helped her murderer kill her. She also mounted her head on her shield after clearly ruining her life. If we look at the story from Medusa’s point of view, it’s clearly a tragedy and there are not just one but two villains: Poseidon and Athena, whose rivalry ended up ruining Medusa.

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Poseidon and Athena’s rivalry

Now that we are on the topic of the gods, this story has a lot of them being, directly and indirectly, involved in the story. Let us start at the very beginning. Zeus was capable of turning into golden sparkly rain and impregnating Danae who was imprisoned for no fault of hers, but not capable of rescuing her in the first place. He left her pregnant and trapped, alone to fend against her father who literally imprisoned her to prevent this happening. (You know, I have an idea. Let us begin a Douchebag God count. Zeus makes 1 DG.) Even when they reached Seriphus and Polydectes was after Danae, he didn’t smite him or anything and let him torture her till Perseus came back from his quest. (A Big DG move)

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Zeus by Pierre Granier

We already talked about Poseidon a bit(and enough to earn him a spot in the DG list and make it 2) so let us continue from there. Not only did he possibly rape and impregnate Medusa, but he also did it in the temple of his sworn rival, to spite her and when Medusa ended up facing the consequences of it, he did nothing and was as unbothered as can be. He also set a sea monster on a country for something as silly as a queen being vain and punished common people for no fault of theirs. (Another big DG move)

Athena we have mostly talked about, but just to refresh your memory, she made Medusa a monster for no fault of hers, she helped Perseus kill her, and she put Medusa’s head on her shield after all this, shamelessly. (And that makes 3 DGs.) Need I go on? Hermes gets a special mention because he did help Perseus on his quest with Athena, so he becomes a DG by association. And that’s 4 DGs and excellent examples of Greek gods meddling whenever is convenient for them, as opposed to, at the beginning itself to not cause the very problems that they expect heroes to fix.

This story, like Oedipus’ also began with a prophecy and here too we saw the self-fulfilling nature of prophecies. Acrisius imprisoned his daughter to prevent the prophecy from coming true and as a result, made his grandson a demigod who was trained by the very best. He escaped Argos when he heard Perseus was coming back and ended up dying because of this decision. Perhaps if he had stayed put, he would have lived longer. Perhaps if his grandson knew him all along, he wouldn’t have died at his hands. It’s a lot of if’s but that’s all they are. I know it might not have changed things, but the truth of the matter is that in this story, as well as Oedipus’, characters made choices to prevent an event that ended up making the very event they dreaded come true, in classic Greek fashion.

And with that, we come to the end of our journey with Perseus and Medusa.

Until our next Greek adventure! (Or wherever we choose to go.)

THIS POST’S QUESTION: What were your thoughts on this series on Perseus and Medusa?Which myth should I do next? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

De-myth-ify: Perseus and Medusa(Part Two)

Let’s talk about some classic Greek mythology, the myth of the demigod Perseus and the gorgon Medusa, today. This is part two of a three-part series on Perseus and Medusa.

For the previous post in this series, click here.

Let’s catch back up with our hero. Perseus has spent a few days wandering in vain on his impossible quest. Why impossible, you ask? Remember what I said about the Gorgon’s Lair that becomes relevant later? This is the later we were waiting for. No mortal knew Medusa’s location. Fortunately for Perseus, he got what few heroes were privileged enough to get before. Help from the gods themselves.

Athena(The Goddess of Wisdom and the person who turned Medusa into a gorgon) and Hermes(The God of Travellers) decided to support Perseus on his quest and told him to seek the Graeae, the sisters of the gorgons, as they were the only ones who could tell him what he needed to know to be successful. The Graeae were three grey-haired monsters who shared an eye and a tooth between them. Perseus managed to eventually track them down and steal their eye and tooth to blackmail them into divulging the information he needed. ( I know. This was as weird a sentence to write as it was to read.)

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Perseus and the Graeae, by Edward Burne-Jones

The Graeae told him how to find the Hesperide Nymphs(Nymphs who lived in the Garden of the Hesperides), from whom he could obtain objects crucial to the completion of his quest and the location of the Gorgon’s Lair. The Hesperide Nymphs were actually pretty hospitable and gave him a bag to safely hold Medusa’s severed head and more importantly, Hades'(The God of the Dead) helm of darkness which could make him invisible. They also gave him the address of the Gorgons.Zeus(His dad, if you remember and King of the Gods) gave him a curved sword to uh, decapitate Medusa, Hermes lent him his winged sandals to fly to the Gorgon’s Lair at the end of the world and Athena gave him a reflective polished shield which will go on to be the hero of Perseus’ armoury. (It is important to note that Perseus is the rare hero who had so much help. Not many were so lucky.)

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Perseus armed by Mercury and Minerva, by Paris Bordone

Now armed with his repository of godly and magical items part of the Anti-Medusa squad, Perseus headed (Read flew on his winged sandals with the helm of darkness on his head, making him invisible and terrifying to any and all birds) to the Gorgon’s Lair. When he reached their cave, he found the three sisters fast asleep. Perseus used the reflective shield as a mirror(I told you it would be the hero item) to see Medusa without directly looking into her face and you know, avoid being turned to stone and stuff. He managed to get close enough to use the curved sword to land a fatal blow on Medusa’s throat. The minute he cut off Medusa’s head, from the drops of her blood sprung the winged horse Pegasus and the Chrysaor, a giant or a winged boar. It’s believed that those two were Medusa’s children with Poseidon.

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Perseus with the head of Medusa, by Benvenuto Cellini

He put Medusa’s head in the bag and was now running to escape from her two sisters who were now awake and furious to avenge their sister. Here, being invisible and able to fly helped out a great deal, and Perseus managed to escape the angry gorgons, who eventually gave up and decided to mourn their dead sister. And with that, Medusa was dead and Perseus was off with her head to fulfil his quest.

However, Medusa’s story does not end with her death. While Perseus was flying home, he passed Ethiopia, the kingdom of King Cephus. The queen, Cassiopeia, had claimed to be more beautiful than the sea nymphs, or Nereids(As you do), so Poseidon had punished the country by flooding it and plaguing it with a sea monster. (Poseidon doesn’t look great in this story, does he?)An oracle informed the King that the ill-will on his land would cease if he sacrificed his daughter Andromeda to the monster, which he did. (I hope, reluctantly) Perseus, passing by, saw the princess chained to a rock near the sea and fell in love with her. He turned the sea monster to stone by showing it Medusa’s head and afterwards married Andromeda. (Aw look. A happy ending. And no one is married to their mom or their sibling or something.)

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Perseus and Andromeda, by Rubens

Perseus and Andromeda then headed to Seriphus where Perseus came to offer Polydectes his, “gift”, fulfilling his quest. However, when Polydectes would not tell him where his mother was, Perseus pulled out the head of Medusa and turned Polydectes and his entire court to stone, just as he learnt that Polydectes had been mistreating his mother and had thrown her in the dungeon. He freed his mother, he returned all the magical items he had been given and presented Medusa’s head to Athena, as a thank you for all her help. (I mean, she made Medusa a monster in the first place sooooo, okay I’m not saying anything) She placed it on the centre of her shield, the aegis. All seemed well. (Uh oh)

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Athena’s Aegis

Perseus, along with Danae and Andromeda decided to go to his native Argos, to make peace with his grandfather Acrisius. (Remember him?)Upon hearing this, Acrisius, still painfully aware of the Oracle’s prophecy, left Argos and went to Larisa. (This would not turn out to be a good idea)Ironically, that’s precisely where Perseus headed on his way to Argos so that he could compete in the funeral games King Teutamides held in honour of his dead father. When Perseus threw a discus, it accidentally hit an old man on the head, killing him on the spot. As you might have guessed, that old man was none other than Acrisius, his grandfather; thus, the prophecy was fulfilled. (Dun dun dun. You can’t escape prophecy in ancient Greece, you’d think they would learn.)

He consequently left Argos as he was too ashamed of the crime he had committed unintentionally and founded Mycenae as his capital, becoming the ancestor of the Perseids, including Hercules. And with that, the story of Perseus comes to an end. And a relatively happy one, from Greek hero standards. More on that next time, stay tuned.

To be continued.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: This story involves many Greek Gods.How are you feeling towards them at the end? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

De-myth-ify: Perseus and Medusa(Part One)

Let’s talk about some classic Greek mythology, the myth of the demigod Perseus and the gorgon Medusa, today. This is part one of a three-part series on Perseus and Medusa.

For the previous series of posts on Oedipus in the De-myth-ify series, click here.

This story, just like Oedipus’, is very typically Greek and begins with a prophecy. Acrisius, the king of Argos, was told by the Oracle of Delphi that his own grandson would kill him one day. (So, as you see, only a slight change in “grandness” from Laius’ predicament) Acrisius had only one daughter, Danae. Now, Acrisius was a reasonable guy and reacted reasonably, and decided to lock Danae up in a tall tower, away from the world, to ensure that there was no meeting or mating with people and consequently no childbearing in Danae’s future. (Laius understands. Family is hard, y’all. Especially in ancient Greece.)

However, it is common knowledge that Zeus has no chill. So, the king of the gods came to our damsel in distress in the most extra form of a golden shower through a crack in her roof and yet again, had a dalliance with a mortal which resulted in the hero of our story, the half-mortal half-god Perseus. Eventually, Acrisius caught on and realised that his plan of locking away his daughter forever did not work and he now had a demigod grandson to contend with. (Now now, at least Oedipus was fully mortal) He then proceeded to in the best dad move order both mother and child to be placed in a chest and thrown into the sea to die. (Seriously, this guy and Laius could have been best buds.)

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Danae,by Giovanni Battista.

Zeus, however, had no plans of letting them die and allowed the chest to reach safely to the island of Seriphus. Here, the chest was discovered by Dictys, the brother of the king Polydectes, and its occupants brought forth to him. Polydectes was not a great guy and he immediately wanted Danae to marry him and could not handle rejection. Dictys however, managed to conceal Danae and Perseus from him and allow them to stay on the island where Perseus received a hero’s education from Chiron the Centaur, teacher to heroes like Hercules, Achilles and Jason. (We like Dictys.What a great guy.)

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Eventually, Polydectes realised that Danae and Perseus had been saying in Seriphus all this time and realised that the only obstacle standing between him marrying Danae was her son Perseus, now a grown man who was very protective of her and would not allow her to be married to a god awful man like Polydectes against her will. (Seems reasonable, but we are talking about a man who refuses to see reason) Polydectes then had a genius idea that would allow him to deal with his problems once and for all, a la every teenager in a teen movie, by throwing a party.

Now, this party was not just some ordinary rager. It was a large banquet where it was customary for each guest to bring the host a gift. Perseus was unaware of this custom and asked Polydectes to name his gift and promised that he could not refuse. Polydectes finally had him in his trap and asked Perseus to bring him the head of the only mortal gorgon, Medusa. (Gasp!) And thus, Perseus set off on his dangerous quest, one which all heroes before him had been unsuccessful on and our story gets juicier.

But, wait. This is not just a one-character story, unlike Oedipus. It is now time for me to introduce the other character of our story, our “villain”, the monster Medusa. Medusa was one of the three Gorgons and the only mortal one among them. She was a beautiful woman with long flowing hair and a gorgeous face, unlike her siblings who were monsters by birth. This is the irony of the story of Medusa, for she eventually turned into the most feared and most awful monster of them all.

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Medusa was so beautiful that even the mighty sea god Poseidon could not resist her charms and impregnated her in the goddess of wisdom Athena’s temple. (Yikes.) Athena was livid and in her fury transformed Medusa into a hideous monster with bronze hands and wings of gold, like her sisters. Writhing snakes were entwining her head in place of hair. Her face was so hideous and her gaze so piercing that the mere sight of her was sufficient to turn a man to stone. (Damn Athena. You could have chilled a little.)And what of Poseidon, you ask? Nothing, he got off scot-free because he is immortal and couldn’t care less. So much for a mighty sea god, huh? Oh and also, she was confined to live in a cave with her sisters called the Gorgon’s Lair whose location was known to no mortal. (Remember this, this becomes relevant later.)

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The three gorgons at the Secession building in Vienna, Austria

And now, both our character’s timelines are caught up and here they are, Perseus on a reckless quest, Medusa with her stony gaze(Hehe) in her cave while their destinies are about to get a whole lot tangled. Get settled, the fun is just about to begin.

To be continued.

THIS POST’S QUESTION: What do you think of the characters so far? Are there any favorites or least favorite ones? Comment below with what you think about it,I’d love to hear from you!