The Victory of Medusa: Correcting the Record
LEGEND CARRIES FALSEHOODS OF MY DEATH. Lore was written by the gods, and therefore was written by alcohol-soaked ink and sex-crazed confusion.
It is true that Perseus came to me at Sarpedon all those years ago. He was desperate to remove my head. It was the kind of desperation a man feels only when the happiness of his mother is at stake. King Polydectes was set on marrying the poor woman. I could understand her dread, but sympathy was a stranger to me. I had been cursed by a goddess for being raped by her lover. I understood the plight of women, but not enough to allow that pompous child, Perseus, to remove my head to solve his own problems.
The gods had heard that their dear Perseus was preparing to behead me. They had given him many gifts in the hopes that he would win. And, why not? I was a nuisance. Athena’s curse to turn anyone of any birth into stone had backfired drastically. I used my curse to hurt as many god-lovers as possible. My garden is full of their eternal bodies, frozen in a state of wonder, fear, confusion, but never repose. The gods couldn’t touch me. They feared my curse. And certain as the sun rises in the east, I would add their petrified corpse to my garden if they dared come near me.
The battle of Perseus and I was not one of the sword and blood. It was a battle of words. Oh, Perseus, you mortal fool. You could not know the suffering of my sisters and I. We three Gorgons, beautiful in our own way, stronger than a simple man could imagine. Stheno, the eldest of us, was as strong as a mountain and as cold as the highest peak. She wished to kill Perseus as soon as he stepped foot on Sarpedon. But it was sweet Euryale who realized the true potential of our situation.
Euryale. Oh, poor sister! For me, my stone-gaze was a curse I had to learn to live with. But for Euryale, who was born with that terrible power, carried the guilt of her gaze for her entire life like a cloak of iron chains.
But Perseus brought with him her freedom.
We brought the youthful hero to our disheartened sister. We asked him, with all of his god-given gifts, to take her head for his needs and leave me to live. He shrunk from Euryale, at first. She had let herself waste to nothing. The serpents of her head hissed in agony, with no strength to move. She was a sight less pleasant than a sheep carcass half-pecked by vultures. She begged him for release.
Stheno threatened him. She could have crushed him, but then what of poor Euryale? I knew the way to win over a hero. Bribery. So, I brought forth a creature I had captured in the wilds. A creature not even the gods could corrupt. I called it Hargathus, but Perseus exclaimed “Pegasus!” upon the sight of that lovely creature. And so, legend remembers my gentle beast as Perseus’ beloved pet Pegasus.
To gain Pegasus from me, Perseus removed the head of my sister, Euryale. He flew away on the back of my beast and into many adventures. Atlas attempted to dual with him, but Euryale’s eyes were turned to him and he was vanquished by her stone-gaze. King Polydectes suffered the same fate, and so Perseus’ mother was freed.
But the most bitter of all was Perseus gifting the head of my sister to Athena with boasts of how he slaughtered me. Athena, never caring for any creature besides herself, took one look at Euryale and believed her to be me. She mounted my sister’s head to a shield and they celebrated many victories won by the power of Euryale’s eyes.
Did I turn Perseus into stone? No. That would not be fair.
Success and fortune favored Perseus. He married Andromeda and she bore him children. Statues were made of him. Most were of him holding my head aloft. Paintings depicted him riding Pegasus into the heavens.
I was not the only one bothered by them.
Perseus was a man who lied and took credit where none was due. He was immortalized for all the wrong reasons. And it ate at him.
After the birth of his ninth child, the hero returned to Sarpedon. He arrived on the back of Pegasus. He was still young, but I could see how much he’d aged. He was strong, but burdened. He approached me and asked for a fair fight.
I sent my sister, Stheno, away, to ensure she would not intercede on my behalf. A fair fight with Perseus meant he used no god-given weapons. Just a single sword against me. Though I am a Gorgon, death could indeed befall me from a swipe of a mortal sword.
Did I turn Perseus into stone? No. That would not be fair. I ran at him. I ducked, avoiding a slash at my throat. I rolled my body into the mighty Perseus. He fell and lost his grip, stunned by my ferocity. I got to the sword first and, with a mighty kick to his stomach, he was curled on the ground before me. A lamb for the slaughter. I stood above him, sword aloft. Just as he had done for my sister, and just as he meant to do for me, I beheaded the hero Perseus.
And that is how it happened. I buried his body and his head separately. I did not hold it up on high for the gods to gawk. I did not fly on Pegasus throughout the lands to showcase the undignified death I had given. I certainly did not mount his head on any shield. I spoke of it only to Stheno, who helped me put his body in the ground. The grass eventually reclaimed the dirt above him.
FOR GENERATIONS, EURYALE'S HEAD was claimed as mine. For so long, I thought I’d be trapped in the legend. But Christianity came and began to wipe the gods clean of the earth. With their believers faded and gone, their power became nothing more than bothersome smoke. The entrance to Olympus was sealed and they now sleep. Possibly forever. Stheno, missing Euryale too deeply, stood at the shore, looking out at the skyline, and stopped moving. Slowly, she turned to stone and there she remains. Strong forever, despairing forever.
Alone, I have remained on Sarpedon. Time passes like a flowing river. I tried to turn to stone as my sister had, but the weeds were growing over me by the time I gave up. Not long ago, my serpentine hair began to fall out. Just yesterday, the last viper turned red and slithered into the ocean. Now my head is as bare as a newborn’s.
And I feel newborn.
My gaze still transforms foolish mortals to stone, but I shall walk the earth with my eyes downcast if need be. I shall move away from this island that has been my living cemetery. I shall taste the richness of culture, of music, of the heat of touch. Life, peppered with hate and ignorance, cruelty and exuberation, shall belong to me once again. I remember the heartbeat of Poseidon, the rage of Athena, and the taste of Perseus’ blood. I shall set right the legend and carry my heart of stone inside me like a babe beloved.