Medea, according to the play by Euripides, killed her two sons to exact revenge on Jason (yes, thatJason—of the Argonauts fame) when Jason spurned her to marry a princess, because he thought it would look better for him to be married to a Greek princess, not a barbarian princess. And, Jason tells Medea all of this AFTER Medea helps him complete all the tasks necessary to win the Golden Fleece and he then takes Medea from her homeland to a place where she is a stranger in a strange land.
Jason: O children, what a wicked mother Fate gave you.
Medea: O sons, your father’s treachery cost you your lives.
Jason: It was not my hand that killed my sons.
Medea: No, not your hand; but your insult to me, and your new-wedded wife.
Jason: You thought that reason enough to murder them, that I no longer slept with you?
Medea: And is that injury a slight one, do you imagine, to a woman?
Ummmm, Jason…you’re an idiot.
Older myths have the people of Corinth killing Medea’s children and blaming her. Euripides, of course, has Medea killing her own two children.
Medusa was a priestess of Athena and almost as beautiful as the goddess she served. Unfortunately for Medusa, Athena was “one of the guys.” Remember, Athena sprang from Zeus’s head, fully formed, without a mother. She was girl in form only. When Poseidon saw Medusa and wanted her, Medusa said “No” because she was bound to remain virgin if she was in Athena’s service. Poseidon wasn’t about to take “no” for an answer and he raped Medusa in Athena’s temple. Now, did Athena get angry at her uncle and demand Poseidon’s proverbial head on a platter for debasing one of her priestesses, in her own temple? Hell, no! Athena was furious with Medusa. Athena is the one who turned the beautiful Medusa into a Gorgon, complete with hissing hairdo and the original “looks that kill.”
Western myth is full of wronged women, unjustly condemned just because they were beautiful, smart…and all the gods forbid…WOMEN! But, it’s the myths of Medea and Medusa that I relate to the most. I’ve never quite understood why, but those tales resonate deep within me. Maybe it’s because I try to put myself into the mindset of each of the characters that I write that I can empathize with Medea and Medusa.
Imagine that you’ve met the love of your life. He’s smart (as guys go), the gods know he’s got brawn and bravado (he better, or he isn’t going to last five seconds in this crazy, bloody world of the Greek gods and demi-gods), and he’s drop dead gorgeous. Now, you’ve got the goods he needs to be able to defeat a fire-breathing bull, a field full of soldiers who pop up out of the ground, and a dragon who never, ever sleeps. You promise to help him on one condition: he take you far, far away from this little backwater place and marry you. Even though your daddy is the king here, and that makes you a princess—this isn’t the happening place. So, this guy agrees to your terms, and you proceed to defy and betray king and kingdom to follow your heart. And, once he’s got what he wants—the Golden Fleece and you’re now in a strange land, hated by everyone around you—this guy tells you, “Gee, honey, it’s been great. Thanks for giving me two kids, but I’m a Greek hero. I need to be married to a Greek princess, not a barbarian princess.” (To the Greeks, anyone who wasn’t a Greek was a barbarian.)
HELLO??????? Frankly, Jason should be really, really thankful all Medea did was poison his new wife and father-in-law. Myself, I would have castrated the philandering jackass and then killed him.
And, then there is Medusa…my heart aches for Medusa. Sworn priestess to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and by all accounts of the myth, Medusa was devoted to her goddess. Medusa was a stunning beauty, but she took her responsibilities—including remaining virgin—seriously. Enter the God of the Sea, Poseidon, Athena’s uncle. He sees Medusa and tries to seduce her. Medusa tells him to go soak his head. This doesn’t play with a god who fooled around almost as much as his brother, Zeus. Like Zeus, he doesn’t take “no” for an answer. Apparently to these guys, “no” didn’t mean “no.” So he chases Medusa into Athena’s temple, corners her, and rapes her.
Athena comes totally unhinged. Instead of comforting her priestess, instead of smacking the crap out of her uncle, instead of demanding Poseidon make retribution to this poor woman, Athena blames Medusa for being raped. Remember when I said Athena was “one of the guys”? Trust me on this. This was a goddess in name only. She wasn’t a female in her thought patterns, actions, or emotions. Perhaps, because Athena didn’t have a mother…but whatever the reason, Athena thought and acted like one of the guys. Can’t you just see her sitting down to the Saturday night poker game with these boys on Mount Olympus?
Athena is so furious with Medusa for allowing herself to be raped, she curses this beautiful woman to a fate worse than death. She changes her into a Gorgon—Medusa’s hair becomes a writhing mass of serpents and her very gaze turns all she looks on into stone. And, then, Athena banishes Medusa to solitary confinement (as if her new state of being wasn’t solitary enough) on a deserted island. Can you imagine what that must have been like—as everything you look at turns to stone and the island becomes quieter and quieter as every living thing turns to stone when you look at it? And, the rock garden continues to grow with every want to be hero arriving, trying to kill you? I’d imagine that death, when it finally came in the form of Perseus, was welcomed and a blessing.
And, I’m thinking, somewhere in these myths, is the kernel of another romance. Dangit, dear Muse, can we work on one thing at a time?