Medusa Reinvented

Can you though? Can you reinvent Medusa?

Of course you can. Whether you should: that is up for debate.

Snake headed horror, if you stared into her eyes – went the Greek myth – you would be instantly turned to stone.

Cycle back to the opening of Medusa’s life and some would be surprised to know she was stunningly beautiful, despite having a fearsome family. It does not do to be too ridiculously good looking in Greek mythology because those Greek Gods, they are narcisssistic self-serving politicking powermongers.

Athena , despite being the goddess of wisdom, seems to have had a hand in Medusa’s downfall. Some stories have Medusa boasting of her own powers;other simply say she was too darn beautiful. She was taken by Poseidon in one of Athena’s temples and with a flick of Athena’s wrist, the third gorgon was just that. Medusa was hideous to behold, with a tusk coming from her forehead , fanged teeth and a lolling tongue and a gaze so hideous it would turn a man to stone.

Most of us remember her as Perseus’s challenge, by which time she was viewed as a hideous, dangerous hag. He dispatched her using her own reflection and a sharp sickle.

Can you have a retrospective of Greek mythology? It’s a little distant for that. But at an art gallery in St Albans, UK, someone seems to be having a good try. Rewriting the storybooks. Making us check Perseus and his vanquished harridan out in a new way.

Susie MacMurray is an artist and sculptor. I happened to wander into the gallery at St Albans this summer and there was Medusa as I have never seen her before. This is a forties glamour-Medusa, a copper-chain-mail demonstration of va-va-voom.

Headless, admittedly, she is a glorious tailor’s dummy in a fishtail creation to die for-the very last word in tentacled couture.

No one in the gallery could keep their eyes off her. She stands proud:McMurray has her portrayed as a classical and wronged heroine.

Am I right to think this is a post modernist approach to the old Greek favourite? A move to distrust the conclusions drawn by those Greek storytellers of old?

Certainly this beauty, standing tall and graceful in the gallery, made us think. And absolutely, this is a free country and if anyone wants to reinvent Medusa, they should have the freedom to reinvent Medusa.

I suppose I would feel compelled to go back and find out – what is it those Greek myths, those powerful, complex, deeply inequitable tales, told and retold – what is it that retelling achieved? And if we treat Medusa with saccharine and excuse her latter day murderousness because of early misfortune, how are we changing the narrative?

Just asking, is all. Do you like your Medusas as wronged heroine or malevolent hag?

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16 thoughts on “Medusa Reinvented

  1. I absolutely do not have an answer to your query, Kate. But you have me wondering and thinking! Since it seems we are daily challenged to consider “alternative facts” in our revisionist current events and historical observations, maybe I would like to rewrite mythology to fit a personal narrative. I’m not sure! But I’ll be thinking about this for days, so thank you for the challenge. And this artist’s product is indeed sensational!

  2. Each age reinterprets ancient legends in its own way—and this exhibition, Kate, is certainly a stunningly individual interpretation—but I’m always interested in archaic visualisations of mythic archetypes.

    Thus of the early gorgoneion that I’ve seen images, all are in no way surreal versions of the ideal classic female figure. They are monstrously distorted human shapes, typically tusked (as you mention), lion-maned, goggle-eyed.

    They may also have sticky-out tongues, claws, tails, even beards! And they frequently are in pursuit of a victim.

    Warrior maiden Athena’s breastplate and/or shield depict Medusa’s head displayed—the gorgoneion—as a trophy. The famous bearded face from Sul Minerva’s temple in Bath, sometimes mistaken as a Celtic male divinity, is actually Medusa, as the four snakes in her labyrinthine hair and the vestigial wings clearly indicate.

    Crucially, Gorgons are psychological emanations from our minds—nightmare creatures, temptresses or hunters—with hypnotic snake-like eyes, or vampiric teeth, or grasping claws. They’re the psychopath we fear, the friend who bullies us, the looming disaster that threatens our wellbeing. How we each picture that is our personal Medusa, I suspect!

  3. That looks as though it took a great deal of knitting!

    I like the imaginative version that has Athena unwarily wandering into her best stony stare and having the wisdom to agree to re-beautify her in return for the ossification being undone.

    1. I do love a happy ending, Col 😀 Now I can’t get the image of the artist with a huge pair of knitting needles. It would be wonderful to find out how she made the sculpture in reality.

  4. I did feature a gorgon in one of my stories, once. Of course, she was named Zola. She turned things into cheese, and had a greater following of mice than the Pied Piper.

    1. Amongst which I would be marching, Col, cheese is one of my great Achilles’ heels. After half a century searching I have found a diet which will let me eat as much and whatever cheese I desire. Gorgonzola included. Sounds a fabulous read!

  5. Dear Kate, today my brain’s a little woozy and so I’m not going to challenge it with thinking of the questions you ask. Instead I’ll simply say that I’m working on a novel that is somewhat a revisionist way of looking at the Oedipus cycle. I”m eager to see where I go with this.

    More important today, I’d like to express my condolences for the loss of Macauley. I went back and read your posting about his death. To lose a member of our family can devastate us and Macauley certainly was one of our family. When Dulcy, the cat with whom I lived for 17 1/2 years died, she gave me these words, “At the end, all that matters is love. My love for my human and hers for me. I have planted the memory of our life together in her heart. She will find them there when I am gone, and they will comfort her.”

    Her words extended into a book that was her final gift to me. (“A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story.) In it, she shared the story of our relationship and our deep and abiding love for one another. I so hope that your many memories of Macauley comfort you and your family. Peace.

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