Garner's Greek Mythology

EP 24: Medusa and Perseus - Bad Hair Day

June 21, 2021 Patrick Garner
Garner's Greek Mythology
EP 24: Medusa and Perseus - Bad Hair Day
Show Notes Transcript

… Welcome to Podcast 24. This episode excavates the story of Medusa. I say ‘excavate’ because today we think of Medusa as a monster whose glance could turn men to stone. 

But there’s much more to her story. It’s been buried. So first we shovel aside the stones and debris. What do we find?

Before she was a monster, she was a beautiful girl. While a temple attendant, she was seduced by one of the gods. She was punished for the indiscretion, while the god who seduced her got away scot-free.

Medusa was an innocent. We’ve seen this before. Zeus was the worst at taking young girls, then turning his back on their fate. Here he fathers the Greek hero, Perseus. Perseus eventually kills the innocent girl-become-monster Medusa.

However horrendous all this is, then Perseus becomes one of Greece’s most famous heroes. Of course there are back stories, prophesies, kings and princesses ...

This episode is narrated by mythologist and best-selling author, Patrick Garner. His Garner's Greek Mythology is unlike any other Greek history series. Here the Greek gods are viewed as if they were anything but mythical...

If you love these podcasts, you'll also enjoy Garner's novel Homo Divinitas, now available as an audio book on Amazon.com and Audible.com. Hear new stories about the gods.

Support the show

PODCAST #24 ... MEDUSA AND PERSEUS- BAD HAIR DAY

IN ANCIENT GREECE, WOMEN ALMOST ALWAYS GOT THE SHORT END OF THE STICK. 

THE GODS TOOK WHAT THEY WANTED & IF WOMEN WERE INVOLVED, THEY WERE — HOWEVER INNOCENT — INVARIABLY PUNISHED.

IN THIS EPISODE WE LOOK AT THE TRAGEDY BEHIND ONE OF THESE MANY INFATUATIONS, & LEARN THE BACKSTORY OF THE GIRL WHO WAS TURNED INTO A MONSTER.

WHAT HAPPENED? VERY EARLY IN GREECE'S HISTORY, A BEAUTIFUL YOUNG WOMAN NAMED MEDUSA WORKED AS AN ATTENDANT AT ONE OF ATHENE'S TEMPLES.

THE HEAD PRIESTESS REQUIRED HER ATTENDANTS TO BE VIRGINS. THEREFORE, WITHIN THE COLUMNED WALLS OF THE TEMPLE, PURITY RULED.

ATHENE HERSELF WAS A PROUD VIRGIN & EXPECTED VIRTUOUSNESS IN HER SANCTUARY. BUT THERE WERE ATTENDANTS WHO FAILED THIS EXPECTATION. 

AND MEDUSA? SHE WAS LED ASTRAY BY AN OLYMPIC GOD.

ONE DAY POSEIDON, ZEUS' BROTHER, SPOTTED HER GOING ABOUT HER DUTIES. HE VOWED TO SEDUCE HER ... AND SO BEGINS OUR STORY.

THIS IS EPISODE 24 OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. WE HAVE LISTENERS FROM 127 COUNTRIES & COUNTING. WELCOME TO EVERYONE, WHEREVER YOU ARE.

I'M YOUR HOST, MYTHOLOGIST & BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, PATRICK GARNER. 

THESE STORIES ABOUT THE GODS HAVE BEEN TOLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. BUT NOW THERE ARE NEW STORIES THAT ARE AS COMPELLING.

IF YOU HAVEN'T DONE SO ALREADY, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GODS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. 

YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT THEM & THIS PODCAST AT PATRICKGARNERBOOKS.COM. 

AND AS ALWAYS, THIS PODCAST WILL FOCUS ON ONE THING ... GREEK GODS, OF COURSE.

HERE THE ANCIENT GODS ARE NOT CONSIDERED IMAGINARY. HARDLY. INSTEAD, THEY, LIKE YOU, ARE HERE, NOW ...

MEDUSA WAS AN INNOCENT WHO HAD NEVER EXPERIENCED LOVE. POSEIDON DISGUISED HIMSELF AS A TEMPLE SUPPLICANT, APPEARING BEFORE HER WHEN SHE WAS ALONE.

HE WAS MADDENINGLY HANDSOME, HIS MUSCLES OBVIOUS EVEN THOUGH HE WAS CLOAKED. HIS HAIR FLOWED IN CURLS & HIS EYES DANCED AS HE SPOKE.

HE USED DIVINE PERSUASION TO CONVINCE HER THAT SHE SHOULD ... SPEND TIME WITH HIM.

SHE SUCCUMBED. BUT THEY WEREN'T ALONE. HARDLY. 

LITTLE DID MEDUSA KNOW THAT ATHENE HERSELF WAS THERE, INFURIATED AT THE VIOLATION OCCURRING WITHIN HER SACRED WALLS.

AFTER HE HAD HAD HIS WAY WITH THE GIRL, POSEIDON VANISHED AS SUDDENLY AS HE APPEARED.

IN HIS PLACE, ATHENE REVEALED HERSELF IN ALL HER MAJESTY. HER FACE SHOWN LIKE A SUN & HER EYES WERE TERRIBLE TO BEHOLD.

MEDUSA KNELT, TEARS FLOWING DOWN HER CHEEKS. SHE WAS STILL ENTHRALLED FROM HER LIASON, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME TERRIFIED AT ATHENE'S APPEARANCE.

SHE KNEW SHE HAD BEEN WRONG TO VIOLATE THE TEMPLE'S RULES. YET SHE HAD FALLEN INSTANTLY IN LOVE.

SHE LOOKED INTO ATHENE'S EYES & PLEADED, "COULD EVEN YOU, GODDESS, HAVE RESISTED HIS BEWITCHING WORDS?"

MEDUSA'S GOWN LAY CRUMBLED ON THE FLOOR. PERHAPS ANOTHER GODDESS WOULD HAVE FELT PITY AT HER INNOCENCE.

BUT NOT ATHENE. HER FURY DOUBLED AT THE GIRL'S IMPERTINENCE. IN HER RAGE SHE TURNED MEDUSA INTO ... A MONSTER CALLED A GORGON.

IN A MERE INSTANT THE BEAUTIFUL GIRL WAS TRANSFORMED INTO A THING WITH A PIG'S TUSKS, LARGE STARING EYES, A WIDE TOOTHED MOUTH & A LOLLING TONGUE.

WRITHING SNAKES WERE IN HER HAIR. WORSE, ANY MORTAL WHO LOOKED INTO HER EYES WOULD INSTANTLY TURN TO STONE.

ATHENE BANISHED HER FROM THE TEMPLE, SENDING HER TO LIVE WITH TWO OTHER GORGONS, WHO, ANCIENT WRITERS SAY, LIVED ON AN ISLAND NEAR LIBYA.

THOSE TWO WERE IMMORTAL, BUT ATHENE CHOSE TO KEEP MEDUSA MORTAL.

AS HER FAME GREW, SHE SHRUNK FROM CONTACT WITH MANKIND. YET MANY MEN SOUGHT HER OUT, LANDING ON THE ISLAND IN SEARCH OF ... GLORY.

THEY STALKED HER THROUGH HER GARDENS, SPEAR OR SWORD IN HAND. YET ONE BY ONE EACH WAS TURNED TO STONE. 

AS TIME PASSED HER HEART HARDENED & SHE EMBRACED HER ROLE. SHE BECAME INCREASINGLY VICIOUS ... EVEN ATHENE LAMENTED CREATING THE GORGON.

AND WITH THAT BACKGROUND, WE INTRODUCE PERSEUS, THE GREAT GREEK HERO, WHO ARRIVED LIKE DEATH ON CAT'S PAWS TO END MEDUSA'S LIFE.

WHAT HAPPENED? YOU MAY RECALL A KING'S DAUGHTER NAMED DANAE FROM ANOTHER EPISODE IN THIS SERIES.

DANAE WAS ACCLAIMED AS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL OF ALL MORTALS. AS YOU KNOW BY NOW, IN ANCIENT GREECE OVERWHELMING BEAUTY COULD BE A CURSE ...

IT WAS AS PROBLEMATIC AS THE GRIM PROPHESIES KINGS SO FREQUENTLY HEARD ABOUT THEIR FUTURE.

DANAE'S FATHER HAD RECEIVED A PROPHESY THAT IF SHE CONCEIVED A SON, THE BOY WOULD GROW UP TO KILL HIM.

CONSEQUENTLY, THE KING CREATED A BRONZE CHAMBER BELOW THE GROUND & CONDEMNED DANAE TO LIVE THERE. GUARDS WERE STATIONED AT ITS ONE DOOR DAY & NIGHT.

HIS PLAN SEEMED INGENIOUS. NO MAN WOULD EVER SEE HER & THE KING COULD LIVE WITHOUT FEAR.

YET, THE FATES HAD OTHER IDEAS. ZEUS GOT INVOLVED. HE HAD GLIMPSED DANAE BEFORE HER ENTOMBMENT & WAS LOVE-STRUCK.

UNABLE TO RESIST HER, HE WAITED UNTIL DANAE WAS SAFELY LOCKED AWAY.

A SINGLE SLOTTED WINDOW HAD BEEN BUILT INTO THE CHAMBER TO ALLOW FRESH AIR & SUN TO ENTER. BUT IT WAS SO NARROW THAT EVEN ZEUS COULD NOT SLIP THROUGH.

AS DANAE SLEPT ONE NIGHT, ZEUS TRANSFORMED HIMSELF INTO A SHOWER OF GOLD & CASCADED SILENTLY THROUGH THE NARROW SLOT. HE TOOK THE GIRL AS SHE SLEPT.

INEVITABLY, DANAE GAVE BIRTH TO A BOY & SHE NAMED HIM PERSEUS. WHEN THE KING LEARNED WHAT HAD HAPPENED, HE KNEW HE WOULD PUT HIS LIFE AT RISK IF HE KILLED ZEUS' OFFSPRING. 

YET HE WAS HAUNTED BY THE PROPHESY. HE RESOLVED HIS FEARS BY SETTING DANAE & THE BOY ADRIFT AT SEA IN A LARGE WOODEN CHEST.

THE KING BELIEVED THAT EITHER THE CHEST WOULD SINK, OR THAT THEY WOULD COME ASHORE SOMEWHERE SO FAR AWAY THAT HIS OWN LIFE WOULD NOT BE AT RISK.

BUT HE FOOLISHLY DISCOUNTED ZEUS' INTEREST IN THE GIRL. AND POSEIDON RETURNED TO PLAY A ROLE.

ZEUS CALLED ON THE SEA-GOD TO PROTECT DANAE & ENSURE THAT SHE & PERSEUS SURVIVED THE JOURNEY.

POSEIDON DID JUST THAT, STEERING THEM TOWARD THE CYCLADIC ISLAND OF SERIPHOS. THERE THE CHEST WAS FOUND BY A FISHERMAN WHEN IT WASHED ASHORE.

TAKEN ABACK BY THE WOMAN'S BEAUTY & HER SON'S PERFECTION, HE GAVE THEM FOOD &  SHELTER.

WAS THIS THE END OF THE STRANGE SAGA? HARDLY. DANAE'S BEAUTY WAS QUICKLY REPORTED TO THE LOCAL KING, WHO CAME TO SEE FOR HIMSELF.

THE KING WAS STUNNED BY HER APPEARANCE. AT FIRST HE TRIED TO SEDUCE HER, SHOWERING HER WITH JEWELS & COMPLIMENTS.

BUT SHE REJECTED HIS EFFORTS ... THEN, IN DESPERATION, HE PROPOSED MARRIAGE. BUT DANAE FELT BETROTHED TO ZEUS, & REPEATEDLY REJECTED HIS OFFERS.

EVENTUALLY, HER SON GREW STRONG ENOUGH TO ACT AS DANAE'S PROTECTOR. AWARE OF PERSEUS' ALMOST DIVINE STRENGTH, THE KING MADE NO ATTEMPT TO OVERPOWER HIM.

INSTEAD, HE TRIED TO OUTWIT HIM. HE PROMISED THAT IF PERSEUS BROUGHT HIM THE HEAD OF MEDUSA, HE WOULD MARRY ANOTHER WOMAN & LEAVE DANAE IN PEACE.

PERSEUS ACCEPTED THE CHALLENGE, WHICH SET MT. OLYMPUS ABUZZ. AS THE SON OF THE GREATEST OF THE OLYMPIANS, HE WAS AIDED BY SOME OF THE GODS AS HE BEGAN HIS QUEST.

ZEUS ORDERED THEM TO OUTFIT PERSEUS IN PREPARATION. HADES GAVE HIM A CAP OF INVISIBILITY. HERMES GAVE HIM WINGED SANDALS. 

ATHENE BESTOWED A REFLECTIVE SHIELD. AND HEPHAISTOS, THE GREAT CRAFTSMAN, GAVE HIM A RAZOR-SHARP, UNBREAKABLE SWORD.

FLYING SWIFTLY ON HERMES' WINGED SANDALS, PERSEUS FOUND THE CAVE WHERE THE GORGONS LIVED.

HE WAITED PATIENTLY UNTIL ALL THREE SLEPT, THEN SLOWLY ENTERED, TAKING CARE NOT TO WAKE THEM. 

USING ATHENE'S REFLECTIVE SHIELD LIKE A MIRROR TO LOCATE MEDUSA, HE THEN STEPPED BACKWARDS TOWARD THE SLEEPING GORGON.

HADES' CAP ALLOWED HIM TO BE INVISIBLE. HE MADE SURE NOT TO VIEW MEDUSA EXCEPT IN THE SHIELD, KNOWING THAT EYE CONTACT WOULD TURN HIM TO STONE.

AS HE CREPT CLOSER, HE TURNED SUDDENLY, SWINGING HEPHAISTOS' SWORD IN AN ARC & BEHEADED HER AS SHE SLEPT.

HER EARLIER UNION WITH POSEIDON DID NOT RESULT IN OFFSPRING UNTIL NOW. AS HER HEAD WAS LOPPED OFF, TWO CHILDREN LEAPT FROM THE OPENING & FLED.

PERSEUS, STILL CAREFUL NOT TO VIEW THE HEAD, STUFFED IT INTO A BAG WHICH HE TIED OFF. RISING INTO THE AIR ON HERMES' SANDALS, HE TURNED TOWARD HOME.

BUT AS HE NEARED HIS DESTINATION, HE CAME ACROSS A STRANGE SIGHT. A WOMAN WAS STRUGGLING TO FREE HER LEGS WHICH WERE EMBEDDED IN A STONE BESIDE THE SEA. 

HE STOPPED, ASKING, "WHO DID THIS TO YOU?" THEN PAUSING, HE ASKED, "AND WHAT IS YOUR NAME?"

"MY NAME IS ANDROMEDA & I WAS PROMISED IN MARRIAGE TO MY CHILDHOOD SWEET-HEART. THEN, I WAS CAPTURED BY A SEA MONSTER WHO TAUNTS US BOTH. 

"NO ONE CAN FREE ME. AND, WORSE, THE MONSTER VOWS TO EAT ME AT ANY MOMENT."

PERSEUS STRUCK THE STONE WITH HIS SWORD, SPLITTING IT WITH A SINGLE BLOW. ANDROMEDA STEPPED FREE.

AT THAT VERY INSTANT, THE MONSTER ROSE FROM THE SEA, SCREECHING & HURLING WATER IN ALL DIRECTIONS. 

AS IT CLAWED AT THEM IN ITS FURY, PERSEUS AGAIN DREW HIS SWORD & KILLED IT. 

THEN ON A WHIM, PERSEUS PROPOSED MARRIAGE TO ANDROMEDA.

BEFORE SHE COULD ANSWER, HER BETROTHED APPEARED. SEEING PERSEUS, HE DEMANDED, "WHO ARE YOU? STEP AWAY FROM MY BRIDE-TO-BE!"

"I AM PERSEUS," HE ANSWERED. "& OBVIOUSLY STRONGER THAN YOU, AS I HAVE FREED THE GIRL, & KILLED THE MONSTER."

THE MAN LUNGED AT PERSEUS BUT PERSEUS STEPPED ASIDE & DREW MEDUSA'S HEAD FROM HIS BAG. THE GROOM-TO-BE LOOKED AT IT & WAS INSTANTLY TURNED TO STONE.

IT WAS CLEAR TO ANDROMEDA THAT SHE LIVED SOLELY DUE TO PERSEUS' INTERVENTION. 

WE KNOW THAT THE GIFTS FROM THE GODS HELPED HIM PREVAIL AGAINST THE GORGON, BUT HIS INNATE DECENCY & COURAGE HAD SAVED ANDROMEDA FROM CERTAIN DEATH.

SHE EXTENDED HER HAND TO ACCEPT HIS OFFER OF MARRIAGE. AND WITH THAT, PERSEUS & ANDROMEDA LEFT FOR HIS HOME. 

THEY WOULD SHOW THE KING THE GORGON'S HEAD & SAVE HIS MOTHER.

SO WHAT HAPPENED WHEN PERSEUS RETURNED TO THE KING WITH HIS PROOF OF SUCCESS? WAS THE KING PREPARED TO MARRY ANY WOMAN OTHER THAN DANAE?

NO ... TO PERSEUS' SHOCK, THE KING HAD ONLY INCREASED HIS PURSUIT OF DANAE. SHE HAD BEEN FORCED TO SEEK SANCTUARY IN A TEMPLE.

PERSEUS SPOKE SECRETLY TO HIS MOTHER, THEN — WITHOUT ANNOUNCING HIS RETURN — BEGAN TRACKING THE KING & BIDING HIS TIME.

AT LAST WHEN THE KING & HIS MOST LOYAL FOLLOWERS WERE GATHERED IN A LARGE ROOM, PERSEUS ENTERED. 

HE THUNDERED, "GREETINGS! I HAVE RETURNED FROM MY ASSIGNMENT."

THE KING, TAKEN ABACK AT HIS APPEARANCE, SAID CONFIDENTLY, "YOU HAVE COME TO REPORT THAT YOU FAILED TO OBTAIN MEDUSA'S HEAD."

"ON THE CONTRARY," PERSEUS SMILED.

"IMPOSSIBLE," THE KING RETORTED. "I SENT YOU ON AN IMPOSSIBLE MISSION BUT I'M PREPARED TO FORGIVE YOUR FAILURE.

"THAT IS, I AM PREPARED TO FORGIVE YOU IF YOUR MOTHER AGREES TO BECOME MY WIFE."

WITH THAT FINAL CONFIRMATION OF THE KING'S TREACHERY, PERSEUS PULLED MEDUSA'S HEAD FROM HIS BAG.

THE KING & ALL ASSEMBLED STARED AT WHAT PERSEUS HELD HIGH. AND EACH INSTANTLY TURNED TO STONE.

BEFORE WE CAN WIND UP THIS FAMOUS TALE, LET'S RETURN TO DANAE'S FATHER. REMEMBER THE PROPHESY HE'D RECEIVED?

THE ORACLE WARNED THAT DANAE'S SON WOULD KILL THE KING. TO PROTECT HIMSELF, HE PUSHED THEM OFF INTO THE SEA, HOPING THEY WOULD PERISH ... OR LAND IN SOME FAR AWAY LAND.

AS IT WAS, THE PROPHESY WAS FULFILLED. YEARS LATER AS PERSEUS COMPETED IN AN ATHLETIC CONTEST, THE DISCUS HE THREW WAS CAUGHT BY A GUST OF WIND.

IT SPUN OUT OF CONTROL & HIT DANAE'S FATHER WHO, UNBEKNOWNST TO PERSEUS, WAS IN ATTENDANCE. THE BLOW KILLED HIM ON THE SPOT ... 

ESCAPING THE FATES WAS AN IMPOSSIBILITY.

AND WHAT HAPPENED TO ANDROMEDA? SHE & PERSEUS HAD MANY CHILDREN. ONE OF THEIR GRANDCHILDREN BECAME AS FAMOUS AS PERSEUS. 

YOU'VE HEARD HIS NAME. I REFER TO THE FAMOUS HERACLES, WHO INHERITED HIS GRANDFATHER'S STRENGTH & BRAVERY ...

AT THE END OF ANDROMEDA'S LIFE, IN DEFERENCE TO PERSEUS, ATHENE FLUNG HER INTO THE HEAVENS WHERE SHE BECAME THE ANDROMEDA CONSTELLATION ...

AND DANAE? WE DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HER. SOME SAY SHE FOUNDED HER OWN KINGDOM, WHILE OTHERS CLAIM SHE TRAVELED WITH PERSEUS & ANDROMEDA.

AND IN THE END PERSEUS LOST HIS LIFE TO A MAN NAMED MEGAPENTHES, WHO HIMSELF SIMPLY ACTED TO FULFILL THE GREAT MORAL DICTATE AGAINST KILLING A PARENT ...

EVEN IF BY ACCIDENT,

YET IN THE END, PERSEUS, LIKE ANDROMEDA, WAS GRANTED ETERNAL FAME. HE TOO BECAME A CONSTELLATION, HOVERING IN THE NIGHT SKY BESIDE HIS WIFE

WHAT CAN WE CONCLUDE FROM THIS STRANGE TALE? THE STORY OF PERSEUS RECOUNTS ONE MAN'S CHARACTER, BRAVERY & WIT. 

BUT IT ALSO STARKLY ILLUSTRATES THE CRUEL FATE OF MANY WOMEN ... THE BEAUTIFUL MEDUSA, SEDUCED BY POSEIDON, WAS, IN HER INNOCENCE, PUNISHED BY ATHENE.

TRANSFORMED INTO A MONSTER, MEDUSA LIVED LONG ENOUGH TO BE HOUNDED BY GLORY-SEEKERS & BEHEADED BY PERSEUS. 

WAS HE, IN TURN, PUNISHED FOR KILLING THIS ONCE-NAIVE, ONCE-BEAUTIFUL WOMAN?

NO. INSTEAD, HE BECAME ONE OF GREECE'S MOST FAMOUS HEROES. 

AND THE GODS, IMMORAL AS ALWAYS, SIMPLY WATCHED ...

JOIN ME ... FOR THE NEXT EPISODE OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. THIS IS YOUR HOST, PATRICK GARNER ...

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