Beltaine 2020: Medusa by Ellen Perry
“Perseus told of his long journeys, of dangers that were not imaginary ones, what seas and lands he had seen below from his high flight, and what stars he had brushed against with beating wings. He still finished speaking before they wished. Next one of the many princes asked why Medusa, alone among her sisters, had snakes twining in her hair. The guest replied, ‘Since what you ask is worth the telling, hear the answer to your question. She was once most beautiful, and the jealous aspiration of many suitors. Of all her beauties none was more admired than her hair: I came across a man who recalled having seen her. They say that Neptune, lord of the seas, violated her in the temple of Minerva. Jupiter’s daughter turned away, and hid her chaste eyes behind her aegis. So that it might not go unpunished, she changed the Gorgon’s hair to foul snakes. And now, to terrify her enemies, numbing them with fear, the goddess wears the snakes, that she created, as a breastplate.’”
from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, 8th century (trans. A.S. Kline, 2000)
My name is Medusa, guardian and protector. I was once most beautiful. Now I am a fearsome, dead thing, snaky and wild, for all of eternity. As punishment for being raped in her sacred temple, the goddess Minerva turned my golden locks to serpents. I lived like this, tortured and hideous, until a man asked for my head; Perseus began his quest, found me asleep, and murdered me. It was as simple as that. I gazed out lifeless at any number of enemies, turning them to stone on command. Finally, in order to protect herself, Minerva placed my head on her shield, the first but not the last woman to betray me.
Women betray me still when they turn from my face, the face of endless trauma and violence. The ugliness hurts their pretty eyes. Modesty prevents them from looking at me without wincing, or fainting, or screaming. These women are too delicate and pure of heart to face the brutality of a predator-god who stalked me when I was a girl, innocently worshiping a goddess in her temple. I became a monster not after Minerva cursed me with serpents but during Neptune’s attack. I became monstrous because I was mortal, after all. Had I been divine, I could have become Pegasus myself rather than birthing him from my bleeding neck. But it’s always the men who fly off with ease and who tell the tale later around a blazing fire; they tell my story for me, and the women turn away.
Look at me: my name is Medusa. I was once most beautiful. And now I am the Gorgon who turns your heart to stone.