All of us love stories don't we? Books, movies, series, anime, role-playing games, all of these are such a great escape from reality. Or, is it really? In my personal opinion, a great story is made when the story has elements we relate to. Even the fantasy ones. That's why I adore Greek mythology. The Greek gods are passionate. They make mistakes. Jealousy, lust, pride, cruelty; they are not exempt from any of the negative emotions or characteristics. And sometimes, the Gods are the monsters in the story.
You must be familiar with Medusa, an ugly monster with snakes for hair who turns any man who looks at her into stone. Legend has it that the hero Perseus beheaded Medusa. Sounds like a nothing-special story doesn't it?
The Story of Medusa
Once upon a time (I have always wanted to use this clichéd beginning), there were three sisters born to Phorcys and Ceto: Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale. Stheno and Euryale were immortal while Medusa was a mere mortal.
Medusa was a ravishingly beautiful maiden. Her hair was her crowning glory and many suitors vied for her hand. However, Medusa was uninterested in them all as she devoted her life as a priestess praying to Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom and War. Hence, Medusa spent her days pious and virtuous, knowing not that a calamity was to befall her soon.
The fame of the beautiful priestess had spread far and wide. It reached the ears of the powerful sea god, Poseidon too. One of the most temperamental and greedy Gods, Poseidon set out to possess the famed beauty. Medusa being a priestess did nothing to stop him from pursuing her for there had always been a rivalry between Poseidon and Athena.
Of course, Medusa rebuffed Poseidon. The sea god was infuriated and raped the innocent girl in the temple of Athena. After all, consent is a difficult concept to understand even now for many. The very deity that Medusa worshipped with all her heart looked the other way while the heinous act was committed in front of her very statue. After all, Athena did not want to pick a fight with the powerful Poseidon and jeopardize her own standing.
Stheno and Euryale tried to stop the crime against their sister. They were, alas, too late. Once Poseidon left, Athena appeared. She could not ignore the sacrilege of her temple. So, she punished the reason for the crime. She cursed Medusa to become a Gorgon monster. The famed beauty was no more. There was instead a terrifying visage with snakes for hair. The curse did not stop there. Any man who looked her in the eye would be turned into stone. The sisters were cursed to become Gorgon monsters too for their part in the crime. Wondering what their crime was? I am too. I believe it is because they protested against the unfair treatment of their innocent sister. Wait. She is not innocent anymore, is she?
Medusa and her sisters were then exiled to live in a far-off island. Men still couldn't leave them alone. "Heroes" from far and wide tried to slay the Gorgon monsters. Unsurprisingly, all were turned into stone. Until the hero Perseus. Perseus beheaded Medusa by watching the reflection in his shield. Ironically, the shield was provided by Athena. Using her head conveniently to get rid of his enemies, Perseus then gifted it to Athena. Athena is still using Medusa's head as part of her very own weapon.
In this story, Medusa was a victim through and through. A victim of objectification, rape, victim-blaming, and persecution because of her curse. It has been argued that Athena gave the curse as a blessing, a protection against all men. Is that really acceptable? To me, it just sounds like absolving men of all their responsibilities. There is an adage in Malayalam: "Whether a leaf falls on a thorn or a thorn falls on a leaf, it’s always bad for the leaf." Here, the leaf being the woman and the thorn being the man. Cursing Medusa for something she had no control over, Athena enforces it very effectively. We may argue that the story is old, but the circumstances of modern society remain the same. When we hear rape, the reactions vary from "What was she wearing?" to "Was she out at night?".
To me, Medusa was never a monster. The real monsters were Poseidon and Athena. The perpetrator and the judging aftermath.