Song Portrait #2: Medusa

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This is the song that started my series of mythology songs. I have been intrigued by the character of Medusa for a long time. Twice I have spent a good chunk of the afternoon entwining rubber snakes in my hair to dress up as Medusa for Halloween. I guess I really am a snake lady. The process of researching the myth and writing the song was so interesting and enjoyable that I decided to write an entire series of songs based on Greek and Roman mythology.

I love these stories because the characters and the lessons are so universal and timeless. It was also interesting to revisit many of these stories as an adult. When we learn myths and fairy tales as children a whole lot of sex and violence is left out – and it should be. Just last week I checked out a children’s version of Snow White from the library. Upon reading it, I decided it was too scary for my toddler. It was, by far, not the most brutal version of the story.

Medusa’s story is particularly brutal, making the children’s version one of many misconstrued details and omissions. I have heard two of these versions. In one, Medusa is an extremely vain woman and Athena punishes her by turning her in to a hideous monster. The moral of the story is that beauty is temporary and skin deep. There is another junior version of the story that is not so kind to Athena. In this version Athena is in love with Poseidon and Poseidon is more interested in Medusa. Athena turns the beautiful Medusa into a hideous monster out of vengeance.

When I revisited this story I found that there are many variations. The following is the version I based the song on:

Medusa was an extremely beautiful woman who was pursued by many men. Despite her line of admirers, she chose a life of service as a priestess in the temple of Athena. Poseidon, the god of the sea, was attracted to her. She rejected him. She was then raped and impregnated by Poseidon. Athena was furious. Fornication was a violation of sacred service, and by some accounts Athena was in love with Poseidon. Either way, Medusa was the one who was punished. Athena turned her in to a hideous monster with hair made of venomous snakes. Anyone who looked directly at her would be turned to stone.

Ultimately Medusa’s secluded and lonely life was ended when she was slain by Perseus. With the aid of Hermes’ winged sandals, Hades’ cap of invisibility, and a mirrored shield provided by Athena, Perseus beheaded and killed Medusa. When she was beheaded , her fully grown offspring, a unicorn and giant warrior named Chrysaor, sprung out of her neck. The head of Medusa was given to Athena and attached to her shield. The head continued to turn onlookers in to stone.

Medusa’s name means “guardian” or “protectress”. The timeless and universal question in Medusa’s story is that of victim or villain. In my song she is clearly a victim. The relationship between her and Athena is that of women perpetuating a cycle of victimization instead of empowering each other. I could go on for a long time (a really long time……) about the symbolism in this song, how timely it is, how it relates to my own life, and meanings of specific word choices – but I am going to just shut up and let the song speak for itself. Enjoy!

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Song Portrait #1: God of the Underworld

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For about three years I have been working on a series of songs based on Greek and Roman mythology.  Three of them have entered my regular repertoire and there are many more that are works in progress.

I have been fascinated with mythology, Greek mythology in particular, since I was a child.  At my elementary school we had a “myth lady” who came in regularly the year I was in fifth grade.  The tales she shared with us were filled with magic and gore.  The characters were villains, heros, and monsters with great depth.  They were loving and deceitful, beautiful and vengeful, and wise and foolish all at the same time.  I went to Catholic school, so my early education was filled with relics of saints and their stories.  It was common place to hear adults say that we should call on a particular saint for whatever we needed at any given moment.  That said, the polytheism found in Greek mythology was not a far stretch from the religious beliefs we were already familiar with.  It can easily be argued that the incorporation of saints in to early Christianity was a way of Pagan Europe keeping their multitude of deities, most importantly the Virgin Mary as a representation of the their goddesses.  My favorite story was the tale of Persephone, Demeter, and Hades, which explains the changing of the seasons.  It is still my favorite.

I started writing this song shortly after my son was born in the spring of 2011.  Being a new mother, I thought the story would be told from the perspective of Demeter, but the song led me in a different direction.  I found that I had equal empathy toward Persephone and Hades.  I can relate to both the protective mother and the rebellious daughter.  I can also relate to the misunderstood creature of the underworld who has acquired a certain type of night vision that allows him to see beauty in what others view as ugliness and filth.  I house all of these people within me: the earth mother, a naive girl, the god of the underworld, the bride of Hades, and the avenger.  This is a song about balancing all of these personas.