The most beautiful stories in the world are those that explain the genealogy, nature and the existence of things.
We bring you today the legend that tells of the birth of coral, this living creature that gives chromatic tones ranging from what in jewelry is called angel-skin pink to deep red, typical of this element with whom we have decorated our lives since the dawn of time. In Greek mythology there were Gorgons, which represented perversions: Steno (moral), Eurìale (sexual) and Medusa (intellectual); their prerogative was to petrify anyone who crossed their eyes.
But according to the Latin poet Publius Ovidius Nasone, Medusa was a beautiful young woman whose greatest talent was to possess magnificent hair. She was so beautiful that Poseidon fell in love with her and raped her in the temple of Athena who, out of indignation, covered her face with a shield. Athena herself then made Medusa's hair, which had aroused so much passion, turn into snakes.
As we know, from school or cinematic reminiscences, Medusa was killed by Perseus, who managed to decapitate her without looking her in the eyes, but observing the image reflected in his shield.
When she escaped, the hero put the head of the Gorgon in a sack, covering it with algae and leaves which, on contact with the blood became petrified, taking on the color red.
Clio has always been inspired by ancient Greek mythology, and so last week we decided to narrate and explore the myth of Perseus and how he slayed Medusa the Gorgon.
We choose to describe and explore the story behind Cellini’s famous statue, Perseus with the head of Medusa, in Piazza della Signoria in Florence, and because of a comment on Facebook, we’ve decided to explore the argument further.
If we distance ourselves from the iconographic representation of the myth and go back to the source, we arrive in a world of myth, scorn, vengeance and wrath. Behind the myths we know and love, there is a dark side. Greek and Latin (Roman) gods aren’t perfect and are plagued by emotions just as the humans created from their image.
Good and bad aren’t separated by a definite line — heroes are often portrayed as predators willing to forsake everything for glory or country.
The mercilessness and the generosity of a god, the ugliness of ambition and pride, the unjust world that forced a woman prettier than a god or not compliant to one to become a monster.
Mythology has multiple reading codes, and as we look at it with the eyes of today, we still feel their contemporaneity. Not because we relate to the contents of it, but because they depict the crude state of human life.
So when Garbati’s 2008 take on, Medusa became associated with the #MeToo movement for reversing the roles of the scorned Gorgon with the head of Perseus, who they saw as the representation of manly greed, many critics and Greekologists tried to examine the different text imposed on the art piece and its legitimacy.
If Medusa really were to be victorious, shouldn’t she decapitate Poseidon, the one who raped her — or worse, Athena, the one that, according to the Ovidian literature, cursed her to become a monster?
We can even push it further by claiming that although the Gorgon was first a victim, she did become, willing or not, a monster. Yes, the male gaze was a curse for the scorned, but at the same time the lack of it was seen as punishment.
Medusa couldn’t be saved, but on a bitter note, she did become the savior by assisting Perseus in the defeat of Cetus, and finally, by dying, saving Andromeda, a girl who would have become the next victim of greed.
But then again, the act of taking something one does not own just to satisfy a bigger, egoistical picture is what has pushed humanity through the ages.
Machiavellianism transcends age and period, but it comes with consequences.
Just as Medusa was probably minding her own business before getting decapitated, many today view this action with postcolonial eyes and tend to identify themselves with the Gorgon rather than the daring and arrogant hero.
But the truth is that it doesn’t matter how we decide to interpret a myth. Perseus was neither good nor evil, and neither was Medusa. They were all characters representing humanity. We can relate to them because they were writing to explain and to assist humans into believing the incomprehensible.
Medusa was both victim and monster. Godmade, cursed to never feel the warmth of men, cursed to never be seen as good.
Perseus was both monster and hero: he killed a woman to save another. For him, the end justified the means.
Agree or disagree, what remains is that mythology is still actual and will always create debate.
Let’s not judge with modern eyes what humans believed in the past. Let’s learn from it and create new values, new worlds.
A world where Medusa and Perseus sat down and talked through a mirror and decided to help each other to save yet another victim.
Let’s create our own stories so that in the future, somebody can read them and find their own view reflected in them or start a new, fresh argument on the dark side of humanity.
Ayesha Dodo-Williams and Misha Capnist