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Medusa - Once Beautiful
In mythology, Medusa is portrayed as a hideous, grotesque and evil figure. With a head covered in snakes, and looking like a decaying corpse, men who looked upon her face were immediately turned to stone. Upon the island where she had been banished to, Medusa had a garden full of stone men who once came as heroes to kill her and take her powers. Yet, there was a time when Medusa was beautiful and sought after by gods and mortal men. What horrendous deed did she do to deserve her ill fate?
The ancient scholars of Greek mythology gave us a very enigmatic woman in the character of Medusa. She was one of three who were called the Gorgon sisters. Their parents were Phorcys, a primordial sea god, and his sister Ceto, primordial sea goddess. Stheno and Euryale, Medusa's sisters, were born grotesque monsters with fangs that were sharp and hair that was living snakes instead of lovely tresses. These two were immortals, but Medusa was different. Medusa was mortal and beautiful, with long beautiful hair that caught the eye of every man -- and every man who saw her wanted to possess her. It is not clear as to why Medusa was so different and not immortal like her parents and sisters.
Being possessed was not one of Medusa's wishes for her life. Instead, she chose to become a priestess in the temple of Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom, strategy, justice in warfare, arts, crafts, and skill. So, it is clear that Medusa had higher goals for herself beyond the life of being part of a family of monstrous creatures and following in their footsteps. She took her vows of chastity in the temple of Athena and most likely would have stayed there her entire life, if not for her glorious beauty and the lustful god Poseidon.
Poseidon, of the Olympian pantheon, was the god of the sea. Poseidon and Athena were always in fierce competition with each other and Athena often won due to her intellect and strategy. Yet, Poseidon was powerful in his own right.
There are different versions of the story of Medusa and how she came to be the monster that she was famous for. The version most often remembered is that Poseidon found Medusa in Athena's temple and forcibly took her virginity from her.
When Athena found out about the seduction and desecration of her temple, she knew she could not punish Poseidon due to his powers that could come back on her. So, Medusa, the victim, was punished instead and made yet another victim of cruelty. Athena turned Medusa into a hideous Gorgon like Stheno and Euryale -- then Medusa was banished to the caves where her sisters lived.
Over the years, many would-be heroes went in search of Medusa to claim her head as a formidable weapon in battle. None succeeded and ended up as stone statues in Medusa's garden. Then came Perseus on his own quest to save his mother, Danae, from the clutches of Polydectes, King of the island of Seriphos.
Since Perseus was not rich and had no powers to save his mother from marriage to Polydectes, he found another way, at the risk of his own life -- he promised Polydectes the head of Medusa.
Perseus had no decent weapons of his own, so he went to Athena seeking help. Following Athena's instructions, Perseus received a special sack for Medusa's head from the Hesperides, nymphs of the world ocean. From Zeus, he received a sword made of very hard material that cut swiftly and true. Hades gave Perseus a helmet of darkness which would make him invisible. Sandals with wings to enable him to fly came from Hermes, son of Zeus. Athena gave Perseus a shield of highly polished metal.
The journey to the caves where Medusa lived was fraught with peril, yet Perseus made it through. Once within the caves, he searched for Medusa and found her. Using his shield to catch reflections, Perseus backed his way to Medusa who lay sleeping. Gauging distance and angles by looking in the shield, he closed his eyes, quickly turned and swung the sword, his aim true and swift.
Medusa's head fell and Perseus, not looking at the grotesque thing, put it in the protective sack and fled the caves, with Medusa's sisters in hot pursuit as he flew over the seas.
Arriving back on the island of Seriphos on the day of the wedding of his mother to Polydectes, Perseus was just in time to step up on the ceremonial platform. He faced Polydectes and pulled the head of Medusa from the sack. Polydectus was turned to stone as Perseus and his mother looked away.
Perseus gave the head of Medusa to Athena, who placed it on her breastplate, as protection in battle.
Content copyright © 2013 by Phyllis Doyle Burns. All rights reserved.
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