In honor of the release of the Snakes and Stones Anthology, I’m focusing on Medusa for this week’s mythology. Check out an excerpt from my version of Medusa below and an in-depth look at the myth.
Snakes & Stones
A myth that has withstood the sands of time tells of a beautiful woman turned hideous beast.
Some say she was punished because of the lust of a man. Others believe it was her own beauty that brought on the curse.
However, there are some who believe her curse was actually a gift.
Hear the story of Medusa as told by six popular young adult authors: Christina Benjamin, Kaitlin Bevis, Susan Burdorf, Erin Hayes, Suzanna Lynn, and Ali Winters
All proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go to loveisrespect.org
What was once my hair shifted and writhed atop my head. I squeezed my eyes shut and buried my face farther in my arms doing my best to ignore the augmentations my body suffered. The salt of my tears hissed as they touched my flesh.
Gods, was every piece of me poison? I already knew no one could so much as look upon me and survive. Upon hearing my horrified screams as Athena’s curse took root, a villager had rushed to my aid. Poor man. Remembering the look of terror in his eyes as his skin hardened to stone sent a shudder through me.
Athena had rushed me inside and deposited me where I now lay curled against a cold marble wall, tucked in the space between two large columns of lined white stone. Beyond the columns, the room formed a long hall, coming to an end at a vast golden statue created in Athena’s likeness. Tall, hard, and unyielding. Standing beneath her likeness, the Goddess of Wisdom argued with the Lord of the Underworld, a dark-haired deity, in raised tones that bounced off the intricately decorated ceiling tiles to crawl down my spine.
In an attempt to huddle into an ever smaller bundle, I hunched over my knees and did my best to tune out the gods discussing my fate. What did it matter what happened to me now? I was ruined.
“Why did you call me here?” Hades’s voice rang down the long hall, laced with ill-disguised rage. Hours ago, hearing the raised voice of Hades himself would have been the most terrifying thing I had ever experienced. Now my dread at his rage barely registered, I felt so numb. “The girl still lives.”
Everyone was so angry with me for surviving. Part of me wanted to rage at the injustice of it all, the rest of me just wished I had not—not survived Poseidon’s attack; not survived Athena’s curse; not survived my already broken life up to tonight. I was so tired of surviving. How much easier would it be to just crumble to pieces and die? At least then I wouldn’t have to keep living through this nightmare.
“She does still live.” Athena’s voice sounded calm in comparison to the Lord of the Underworld, yet it still echoed off the marble walls. Sound carried in her temple. She never spoke very loud but volume had never much mattered in this temple of cold cut stone. “I would like you to fix that.”
Though I did not look up, I could picture the Goddess of Wisdom studying Hades with her dispassionate gray eyes, dark hair wound back so tight it pulled at her skin. She always wore her robes in an unflattering, shapeless cut. Though long, they made no sound when she walked. The older priestesses had warned me when my sisters and I first arrived at the temple that I would never know which corner she would be behind. Always assume she was watching, listening.
Athena was beautiful, anyone with eyes could see that, but she buried her beauty under a layer of harshness like a weakness that needed to be armored. This room of beautiful yet cold and unyielding stone suited her.
I was beautiful once. The fairest in my village, or so I had often been told. A distinction I gave little thought to since my sisters and I devoted our lives to Athena over a decade ago. We were desperate. Our mother died while birthing my youngest sister, and my father took to the jar and traveled down into the depths of despair where we could not follow. So rather than giving in to my despair, I packed my younger sisters up and took the long, arduous journey to the nearest temple accepting new devotees. Not an easy task for a trio of young girls, one not yet walking, but well worth it. Everyone knew temple girls always had food, shelter, and protection.
And here I had thought gods could tell no lies.
Enjoy what you’ve read? Check out the myth below, then head on over to Amazon to buy Snakes and Stones today and if you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Aphrodite while it’s on sale for .99 cents. That’s two Daughters of Zeus stories for $2.00!
There are few creatures featured in mythology as instantly recognizable, or controversial, as Medusa. She’s the woman with snakes for hair that turns men to stone with a single glance. But how did she get that way?
That’s up for some debate.
Part of the controversy is that there are multiple origin stories for Medusa in mythology. In the earliest versions of the myth she was always a monster, born and raised in a small cave near the Underworld. Medusa and her sisters (Stheno, and Euryale) were known as the Gorgons, and were either the daughters of Phorcys and Ceto, Gorgon and Ceto. Medusa was the only mortal of the sisters, and as such a logical choice for a quest kill.
It wasn’t until Ovid came around that she got a more sympathetic story. In Ovid’s version, she was a beautiful human girl until Poseidon raped her in Athena’s temple. Athena, angry her temple had been defiled, cursed Medusa to life as a monster.
There are variations within this version. She had an affair with Poseidon. She didn’t. She ran to Athena’s temple for help, it was just a convenient empty space. Either way, Ovid’s version of the story was further popularized by Clash of the Titans, and is one of the better known interpretations of the myth.
All sources agree she was beheaded by Perseus in his quest, and her head was used as a weapon thereafter until it was given to Athena to decorate her sheild. Since Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon at the time of death (presumably in horse form), Pegasus and Chrysaor, a giant wielding a golden sword, sprang from her corpse after death. Her head was used to turn Atlas to stone and to create coral in the Red sea. Poisonous snakes were also created from drops of the severed head’s blood.
Obviously I went with Ovid’s interpretation of the myth, Medusa as a victim, when I wrote my own version of Medusa because it’s the one that felt like it fit with my takes on the myth. The gods were vengeful and petty and when they crossed paths with mortals, it never ended well for them. A monster who was born a monster and had no motivations for being a monster in truth, not just appearance, is a lot less understandable than a hurt woman hiding in a cave and turning men to stone.