What do you think of when you visualize a beautiful woman? You may see strength, physical appeal, or a seductive demeanor. Yet, each one of these character traits may not matter once this particular woman turns you to stone! Yes, I am talking about the infamous greek mythology monster known as Medusa, but what makes her such a monster anyways? She was viewed as an innocent pure priestess to the goddess of war, Athena, who held the highest respect for her. That is… until she got taken advantage of by Poseidon in Athena’s temple. If there was such a thing as men entirely respecting their fellow female acquaintances, there would be no absolute need for Athena to curse Medusa into shedding her beauty for a wretched appearance trading her luscious locks for living snakes as strands of hair. Though none of this was her fault! Take a moment to step back and envision yourself in Medusa’s shoes. How could you have possibly prevented yourself from getting in this position and why do people categorize you as a vicious monster? It’s only a given that you might feel puzzled towards making the answers of these questions. This popular greek myth has been passed generation-to-generation it was born from someone’s combination of fear, desire and fantasy. The myth of Medusa also holds the ability to ask us in reevaluating our cultural assumptions about gender, sexuality, our perception of differences, etc. So in effort of providing a well thought through evaluation of Medusa, there is much more to learn from the trivial life that Medusa lived involving violent rape, being torchered against her will, and to live her life in isolation of no love due to her curse.
Initially, Medusa was viewed as a beautiful priestess of purity in the eyes of greek goddess Athena. Athena held such high respect towards her, that she ordered her to remain unmarried in order to stay devoted to the virgin goddess, reason why remaining virginal is so that her followers could pour all their energies into serving the goddess without worrying about their extra baggage being their husbands and children. In complete disrespect of the vow of chastity that Medusa made in service to Athena, Poseidon, the god of the sea makes the decision in raping her. Shortly after being raped, Athena found out what happened and this left her fixed on an initial feeling of betrayal and treachery against her once so “innocent” priestess, Medusa. This easily captures the core essence of Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Culture because by one’s normal feelings, this story goes into the depth of how one’s emotional impacts, experiences, and fear can figuratively or realistically create the embodiment of a beast through those initial aspects. Referring back to “Thesis 1: The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body” of Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Culture, this is the depiction of how Athena built up all these feelings of her own fear, betrayal, and anxiety and placed a curse on Medusa giving her a painful transformation from a beautiful maiden into a hideous monster with cracked up flesh whose once beautiful then transformed into slithering poisonous snakes. To top it off, Athena wasn’t just done there, she also made sure that man from then on who decided to gaze at Medusa was turned to stone! This is a prime example of how the monstrous body is of pure culture, Athena wanted to make a point of that is men couldn’t learn to respect this woman in particular, they shall get punished as well! Medusas constructed body is a projection of how women are done with the ongoing disrespect and will make it a priority to teach men a cold lesson. In the pure theme that Medusa’s wretched body was solely created out of her former goddess’s anger, this does not seep far away from the fact that Medusa is a strong figure who can return at her own willingness to come and confront Athena in her decision of eternally cursing her to everlastingly suffer the consequences even though SHE was the once sexually taken advantage of and this how she will force Athena to realize she’s the one that’s created this monster who will always return.
Furthermore, Medusa is a mental figure of Athena’s frustration when brought to light, so this ultimately falls back on the greek goddess herself. Athena’s reasoning for cursing Medusa is due to her own selfishness in wanting all plans to go her way. The thing is, no matter what type of harsh punishment she has placed upon Medusa will not let her rest with peace. According to “Jeffrey Cohen’s Thesis 7”, states that, “monsters are our children… they can be pushed to the farthest margins of geography and discourse, but they always return.” Cohen symbolizing how Medusa is an essential creation of what Athena has released into the mythological world to return and almost haunt her in capability of desiring answers such as “why have you created me?” to “for what purpose must I need to live a life as torcherous and twisted as this one you’ve supplied me with?”. Forcing a curse as such on Medusa provides her with an unmatchable degree of power against her oppositions, but you see she can only rest her case once the goddess who’s cursed her, Athena, grants her answers to these questions she seeks. In hopes of having Athena reevaluate what she’s done to Medusa, til then will she entirely understand her doings in capturing her “perception of difference, gender and sexuality”, in referring back to thesis 7. Even so, what does the curse of Medusa say about the way society views powerful women? As a blessing or a threat? You decide!
Consequently, When you envision a monster, why is it that you can’t feel sympathy on any level towards that monster? The idea for centuries has been that monsters are born having hate towards everyone and anything in their way. Yet we don’t ever take the chance to realize that monsters are not born hating everything. They are rather molded and impacted in a certain light by someone who has created this figurative mold of a beast combined of hate and an infectious disgust towards every single aspect of life. It’s insane to think that Athena the virgin goddess was incredibly enraged by the defilement of her temple and where Poseidon raped her of her purity. so medusa who was born completely mortal is punished by Athena who turned her into an ugly monster with derailed cracked skin and excruciatingly horrendous snake hair even though she was the victim of the rape! Now to see how Medusa is viewed as a monster goes into depths outside her mastery of aptitudes. According to the article, “Medusa: Sympathy For A Monster.” By Nicole Saldarriaga, states that,” it’s important to stress here that Medusa has no control over this ability— should anyone at all look upon her face, they’ll be instantly transformed. In essence, Athena dooms Medusa to a life of solitude, a life in which Medusa will never have the comfort of looking at another human face without destroying it—- all for the crime of being raped.” The reality of the situation is that Medusa never asked for this life that she cannot change, for this life as a fearsome monster. She was a victim of pure heart and intent, still Athena felt no pity towards her in punishing her. This was an act of woman on woman crime when in actuality women should be helping one another out due to the pressures of masculinity clashing with femininity for generations by male counterparts.
For centuries, it’s been an issue of accepting strong women for who they are and what they are capable of due to the male community that continues to push doubt upon females. The women who embody certain characteristics that may take away from male attention of the spectrum. According to Tasnim Amin’s article, “The Medusa of Shakespeare”, he states, “Medusa, the mortal gorgon from Greek mythology- both contradicts the weak and submissive roles that most female characters seem to be placed in archetypal presentation. Her character in general, her manipulating power and her overall existence emerged to be a threat to the egotism of the patriarchal tyranny.”, in a brief explanation. There you have it! These men who have written these stories since way back in time carried egotistical problems, and could never let a female be viewed simply as strong without tainting the image and making her seem monstrous. SO WHAT if a female plays a strong independent role?! That should not make her image into a killer. Medusa’s powers were born due to someone else’s (Athena’s) mindstate of fear, her body being made up of pure culture due to someone else hate. Rather than trying hate and look down upon Medusa for her powers, men need to see the beauty of a “rose that grew through concrete”. Medusas powerful abilities include the will to ask man to reevaluate cultural assumptions about gender, sexuality, and his perception of differences. To understand the bare fact that this world is ruled by not just man, some strong ass WOOOman too!
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Theses 1 & 7
Medusa (2015). Directed by Jorge Ameer. Film. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/medusa_2015
Saldarriaga, Nicole. “Medusa: Sympathy for a Monster.” Ancient Wisdom for Modern Minds, 22 Sept. 2015, Article. classicalwisdom.com/mythology/monsters/medusa-sympathy-monster/.
The Medusa of Shakespeare, Helen Cixous and Greek Myth. Amin, Tasnim. ASA University Review. Jan-June 2017. Article. Ebscohost.com