Song Portrait #2: Medusa


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!