MYTHIC THEMES CLUSTERED AROUND:
(i.e., Pegasus, his mother Medusa, and her Gorgon
her slayer, Perseus, his mother Danae,
his wife Andromeda, and her parents)
The Greek series, "Mythic Themes Clustered
Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena,
Centaurs, Demeter & Persephone,
Hecate & Other "Dark" Goddesses, Icarus, Medusa & Pegasus, Pan
[others are forthcoming -- for a complete listing, check my Home Page]
http://www.dibonsmith.com/peg_con.htmPegasus was my first love in Greek mythology. As a child, my feet could fly and I used to pretend that I was both Pegasus as well as Princess Andeomeda being rescued by him (I conveniently forgot Perseus' role in this rescue since I found the winged horse so much more interesting).
Pegasus on Mount Helicon
Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Hiroshima Museum of Art, Hiroshima, Japan
I also loved the fountains he churned up -- those fonts from which the Muses drank for inspiration. Bursting with childhood's creativity, I too laid claim to those wellsprings and found the Muse-realm a familiar place.
As much as I loved Pegasus, I was terrified by snakes -- thus it was a shock many years later to discover that Pegasus' mother was the snake-tressed Gorgon, Medusa. But she is -- and in the way in which she has been demonized, her voice brutally silenced, we can learn much about how patriarchy devalues the creativity of "dark," earthy, untamed women, and what a tragic price we've paid for their loss.First, however, let us begin with Medusa's mute child, Pegasus. . . . . . .
From the "Constellations Web Page" by Richard Dibon-Smith comes this story of Pegasus and Bellerophon, a grandson of Sisyphus (see below under Perseus, et al. for more on this site).http://users.cwnet.com/xephyr/rich/fantasy/Pegopedia.html:
This is Rich's Pegopedia, a skillfully illustrated site on Pegasus and other winged horses (from India to Ireland). It's a terrific site, covering everything from ancient art and mythology to modern advertising icons of a winged horse (e.g., Mobil Oil, Reader's Digest, Tristar) as well as contemporary cartoons, movies, TV, sci fi. Rich has gathered an astonishing collection of facts and images with fervor and intelligence. Since it began as a hobby, he rarely provides sources, so tread somewhat cautiously if you're doing research (or else e-mail him directly, since he states that: Upon request I can supply what resources I am familiar with). If you just want a good "read" on the wonders of winged horses, however, this is a perfect site.http://members.tripod.com/~Rgez/pegasus.html
(Detail of Pegasus, winged & feathered: © by Sue Dawe & used with her kind permission)
(Note -- 10/25/02: an alert reader has finally provided the artist's name:
originally, source was not identified -- see directly below...)
[Added 10/24/01]: This page has minimal text but good images (see feathered Pegasus directly above) and an interesting link to Ellie's Crystal Links' lore and metaphysics connected to Pegasus (see directly below).http://www.crystalinks.com/pegasus.html
[Added 10/24/01]: From Ellie's well known Crystal Links site comes an intriguing metaphysical interpretation of the white horse, Pegasus:http://sunblind_dragon.tripod.com/plore.html...Pegasus is the white horse that caused the fountain of the Muses to activate. This was on Mount Helicon. Consider meditation and the spiral energy called Kundalini or the coiled serpent which rises up from the base of the spine to the Pineal Gland of the brain. Now consider the fact that the word Helicon which is the sacred mountain of the Muses, means spiral. So Helicon the sacred mountain of the Muses is the spiral energy which rises in meditation to bring us to the place of enlightenment....
[Added 10/24/01]: From "Sunblind" comes a lengthy & good re-telling of the Pegasus myth. The page includes a lovely graphic showing the constellations of Pegasus and related personae.http://www.eliki.com/ancient/myth/pegasus/:
From Eliki's large myth site comes this page on Medusa's orphaned foal-son. The text is entry level but well done; there are also several good images.
One of Medusa's Gorgon Sisters
Eleusis, c. 670 BCE
(Photo from Francis Huxley, The Eye, Thames & Hudson, 1990, p.78)
Author's Note:This is one of Medusa's sisters. In later Greek times these Gorgons would be portrayed as monsters, but in more ancient times they were powerful goddesses. Notice that this Gorgon's serpent-encircled head is shaped like a pot with a cut-away portion extending from the crown to the third-eye chakra. The pot looks as if it's filled with a miniature ocean, but it's really Gorgon blood, which could kill, but could also restore the dead to life. This head holds a compact little universe filled with power. In its way, I see this as an early Grail.
From the Perseus Project comes this scholarly page on "Gorgon, Gorgons, Medousa, Medusa." You'll find primary sources as well as images of sculpture, vases, and coins here. (If you haven't already read them near the top of my main Greek page, check my experiences with several awkward features of this site or you may find this page overly frustrating.)http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/imageswomen/papers/kottkegorgon/gorgons.html
This is a well thought out and nicely illustrated little paper called "The Gorgons" by Amanda Kottke. She wrote it for an Art History Honors Seminar and submitted it to the seminar's website: Images of Women in the Ancient World: Issues of Interpretation and Identity. (Note: the seminar's website, compiled and largely written by Professor Chris Witcombe at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, is excellent -- if you have time, you might wish to explore it. He provides good overviews as well as images of women in various ancient cultures from pre-history onwards. Since the site is in frames, I can't extract the specifically Greek-themed pages for you but the navigation tools are good and you'll find them easily.) Kottke also includes a fine bibliography at: http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/imageswomen/papers/kottkegorgon/gorgonbibliography.htmlhttp://www.liberalmafia.org/darkgoddesses/gorgons.html
This page by Robin M. Weare is a brief, entry level look at the Gorgons. I'm adding it to this section because it includes a good quote from Ellen D. Reeder's brilliant work, Pandora: Women in Classical Greece. There's also a short quote from Barbara Walker. (For those interested in her unidentified opening image, see below for another version of this image, with better data.)http://www.loggia.com/myth/gorgons.html
[Added 10/25/01]: From Mythography comes another entry-level page on the Gorgons:http://www.messagenet.com/myths/bios/gorgon.htmlThe Gorgons were a trio of monsters in Greek mythology. They were sisters who were legendary for their horrible faces (and bodies), and ancient Greek artists seemed especially fond of depicting the Gorgons as grotesque creatures. And because of their terrifying appearance and abilities, these mythic monsters were the perfect beings to play evil enemy to a host of Greek heroes....
This is another brief, plain page with an entry level look at the Gorgons. It also includes a few references to passages in Hesiod and the Iliad.http://tqjunior.thinkquest.org/5830/demons.htm
If you follow the Home page link at the bottom, you'll reach an intelligent little essay on Greek myth; another such essay for those new to Greek myth is on the "Welcome" page; there are also pages on Greek vs. Roman names for deities and an alphabetized listing of a great many "Immortals" -- click on those that interest you and you'll find well written mini-essays (of varying lengths), often with many references to passages in the Iliad (e.g., Ares is provided with a huge number of references to the Iliad.).
For young visitors, there's a "Fun Fact Quiz" page (which turns out to be solid and not as painfully cute as it sounds).
This appealing page looks briefly at various "Demons of Greece." It includes well-chosen art but, unfortunately, neither artists nor sources are credited. The page begins with the Gorgons, Medusa, and Pegasus (no reason is given for including Pegasus among the "demons"). It then continues with Cerberus, Centaurs, Cyclops, the Minotaur, Argus, Hydra, Harpy, and the Griffin.http://www3.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/1790/topic21b.html:
The four creators of this page also have pages on the Gods, Demigods, Other Immortals (Muses, Graces & Fates), and Nymphs. Due to all the art, the pages load a bit slowly but I found the results pleasant enough. For four youngsters (I assume they're young) to care enough about mythology to collect all this data and imagery is heartening.
[10/24/01: dead link -- but try this one, which gives more accessible versions of the images mentioned below: http://www.pixelworks.com.ph/klimt/salphaimgs.html]
This page from a Manila site dedicated to the art of Gustav Klimt shows a closeup of the three Gorgons from Klimt's "The Beethoven Frieze: Hostile Forces" (1902). These Gorgons are shown as nude femme fatales, with pouting faces, anorexic bodies, and luxuriantly teased hair with a few golden serpents wandering through the dark tresses. (Note: Klimt also painted Danae, the mother of Perseus [see section on Perseus & Danae below] -- the work's erotic sensuality is unlike any other Danae you'll probably ever see, but you'll have to find your way to the Site Map if you wish to view it.)
Danae pleading for her life and that of her infant son, Perseus, but her father, King Acrisius, is deaf to her plight: he orders them shut into a chest and consigned to the stormy seas. [From Hotel Asteri: artist not identified]
http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/imageswomen/papers/kottkegorgon/gorgonmyth.htmlWe cannot consider the Gorgon Medusa without her murderer, the "hero" Perseus. An oracle had told his grandfather, King Acrisius, that the king would die at the hands of his daughter's son. The king promptly imprisoned his beautiful daughter Danae in a tower, where she was to remain until she was past the age of child-bearing. Perseus was conceived when Zeus fell as a shower of golden light around the walled-in youngster. When her pregnancy was discovered, her furious father nailed both mother and grandchild into a chest and threw it into the sea, expecting them to drown. Instead, aided by Zeus, the sea carried them safely to an island, where they were rescued by a fisherman.
Perseus was raised by a vulnerable single mother who was probably, and understandably, embittered. To protect her, the adult Perseus would fulfill a challenge from an unwanted but powerful suitor. Perseus would capture the head of Medusa, thereby blighting the childhood of Medusa's two children, sea-sired by Zeus' older brother, Poseidon. Thus, the circle of abuse and violence perpetuated itself.
This is Amanda Kottke's "The Myth of Perseus and Medusa," an illustrated and well-researched addendum to her paper on the Gorgons (see above in the Gorgon section). Despite the title, the paper's real focus is on Perseus' story, and Kottke tells it well. At the bottom is a very brief section on Medusa, and another on Pegasus (with a lovely little unidentified image of him -- for a larger version, also unidentified, see the feathered Pegasus image in my first section above). Note: Kottke also includes a fine bibliography at: http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/imageswomen/papers/kottkegorgon/gorgonbibliography.htmlhttp://www.asteri.gr/perseas.htm
This is another good retelling of Perseus' story, this time by Carlos Parados (see his huge site listed on my main Greek page) for Hotel Asteri on the Cycladic island of Serifos, which is where Danae and her infant son were rescued by a fisherman, brother to the local "king" who lusted after her. This illustrated re-telling also includes the story of Perseus' rescue of his future wife, the princess Andromeda, after he slew Medusa. (Note: if you go to the Asteri's home page, you can find a link with views of this fascinating island. In my mind, I'd always pictured it as a miserable, barren little place -- it's not!)http://www.dibonsmith.com/cep_con.htm
This is a related story to the above, only from the point of view of Andromeda's father, Cepheus, King of Joppa, who eventually becomes a constellation in the heavens (along with his wife, Cassiopeia, and their daughter). Technical data on the constellation's stars is included since they are the focus of this "Constellations Web Page" by Richard Dibon-Smith. The myth is engagingly told.http://www.dibonsmith.com/cas_con.htm
The Constellations of Cassiopeia and Andromeda
Philippe La Hire, 1705
[Note: click on hypertext in brief 2nd paragraph]
Also from the "Constellations Web Page" comes this companion piece to the above. This time it's on Cassiopeia, Andromeda's vain mother who causes all the trouble that results in the princess' being offered as a sacrifice to Poseidon. Even after Perseus rescues her daughter, the Queen tries to prevent their marriage until Andromeda insists that she'll have no one but Perseus. When a battle erupts, Perseus uses Medusa's head to turn his in-laws to stone. Poseidon then sends them to the heavens, but punishes Cassiopeia's vanity by giving her a throne that hangs upside down for six months of the year.http://www.dibonsmith.com/and_con.htm
This is Andromeda's page, from the same "Constellations Web Page." When she dies, it's Athena (Perseus' patroness and half-sister, since Zeus fathered them both) who turns her into a constellation. (Note: my Star Lore page has more intriguing images of Andromeda from several centuries ago.)http://www.dibonsmith.com/per_con.htm
The Constellation, Perseus
Philippe La Hire, 1705
And, finally, this is Perseus' constellation page.Note: If you're interested in tracking more of the Greeks who wind up connected with the heavens, the site offers this useful chart at: http://www.dibonsmith.com/mythname.htm
Listings are somewhat quirky -- if you click on Pegasus, for example, you'll get Perseus. If you click on one of the listings for Perseus, you'll get Pegasus. Keep trying -- the pages are nice.
A powerful Gorgon Goddess, Medusa,
holding her son, Pegasus, under her right arm --
notice their matching wings.
Note: there's no Perseus in this early Medusa's story.
(Terracotta relief: circa 625-600 B.C.
Museo Archeologico Regionale di Siracusa )
Author's Note:Finally, we come to Medusa, who was probably a Moon-goddess (or the goddess' priestess), originally from Libya in northern Africa. According to some myths, she lay on the floor of Athena's temple with her lover, blue-maned Poseidon, horse-lord of the sea. She was beautiful and powerful then, but that would soon change.
We tend to think of her death in terms of a beheading -- but the site-of-injury was her throat -- her voice. We don't know what her voice sounded like but it must have been strong -- the probable root of Gorgon, garj, suggests the sounds of thunder, roaring, growling (see A. David Napier's Masks, Transformation, & Paradox, UC Press, 1986:88). Her shrieks as she died, and those of her grieving Gorgon sisters, would ever afterwards be commemorated in the flute-wail of ancient Greece (see, for example, Pindar's Pythian 12 Ode, or J. Fontenrose's Python, UC Press, 1959:303).
Dead, she survives in eerie, mournful music and art.
[Added 10/25/01]: This is Mythography's brief, entry-level page on Medusa:http://www.fjkluth.com/medusa.html: [Link updated 8 March 2004]...in works such as the Medusa Rondanini, Medusa has the face of a beautiful woman. It is only her expression of deep sorrow - and the intertwined snakes around her head - that hint that this is a representation of the monster of myth and legend. This manner of depiction reveals that Medusa was originally a lovely woman....There's a link at the bottom to a "gallery" of two images. One is of the aforementioned "Medusa Rondanini." Unfortunately, both are only thumbnails and not clickable.
"Medusa and the Image of Rape" by F. John Kluth is a too brief little essay on the prettiness of rape in mainstream Western art. To get at the real horror of the experience, the author suggests that one has to look at art depicting a beautiful woman's brutal murder, not her rape. Images of Medusa thus become especially powerful. The author wanders off-topic at times (Cellini's statue of Perseus holding Medusa's too-beautiful head makes even murder aesthetic and thus seems a poor example of Kluth's central point), but he returns to it satisfactorily at the end when he writes:
http://www.otal.umd.edu/~eshevlin/mcgann.htmlIn the story of Medusa, Perseus stalks Medusa and finds her asleep. He then attacks her even though she has done nothing to him. This is the story of a beautiful, but innocent woman, who is attacked and killed. There are many rapes which have this aspect. Sex is a minor issue. A beautiful person is often destroyed.The essay is flawed but at least Kluth is going for something of real importance in the field of art history. If you're new to this kind of insight, you might wish to take a look. [Update: 10/24/01: portions of the original essay now seem to be missing, replaced by a long series of Q&A -- links are good and some answers are fine, but many are simplistic: be cautious.]
This paper is entitled "The Beauty of the Medusa: A Study in Romantic Literary Iconology" by Jerome J. McGann from the University of Chicago. It looks at how Medusa was treated by various Romantic poets -- Goethe, Shelley, Swinburne, Pater, William Morris, Rossetti. Near the end McGann quotes a famous and disturbing passage from Poe:http://www.otal.umd.edu/~eshevlin/mitchell.html. . . Poe speaks for all Romantics when he says that "the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world."For me, that sums up the problem I have with this paper -- each of the poets discussed turns Medusa into their Muse. She becomes a private guide into their dark places, their revolutionary hopes, their vision of what life should be. Thus, transfixed by how beautiful and terrible she is in death, these men claim her as their aesthetic property -- and McGann helps them to do so by too lucidly and uncritically examining the process for us.
Men wonder why feminists get so upset with the male-oriented literary canon. It's because of poets and papers like this, well written, but forgetful of the fact that at the core of Medusa's story lies a savage murder cunningly inflated to make her killer sound "heroic."
She never chose to be a guide for these esteemed literati. Nor did she want an artist painting her with snakes skittering out of her brain and vapors rising from her dead mouth (the paper includes a link to a 17th century Flemish painting, which Shelley and others of his time mistakenly thought had been painted by Leonardo -- Shelley called the mist rising from her mouth a "thrilling vapour"). Medusa never asked to be slain while she slept. She never sought to be anyone's muse. She wanted to live her life. Didn't Perseus notice that she was pregnant and very near her time? She wanted to raise her two sons by the sea, near blue-maned Poseidon; she wanted to move in the wind and let her voice sound like thunder over Poseidon's waves; she wanted to watch wondrous African sunsets in the apple gardens of the Hesperides. She wanted her name never to appear in writings by men who have cowardly joined Perseus in beheading her repeatedly, valuing her only for her death.(Note: I realized only after I read this paper that it was originally published nearly 30 years ago in Studies in Romanticism XI : 3-25. The world was very different in 1972 and knowing when the piece was written makes me more tolerant of its author. His perspective, however, remains far from obsolete in the academic world. My comments stand.)
Medusa / The Apple Tree
© 1999 by Sandra Stanton
[Note: Sandra did this painting, and is doing many more, for my forthcoming book,
The Green World Oracle.
For an enlargement of this painting as well as Sandra's notes, please click on the image.]
From the same electronic journal as the above paper comes "Ekphrasis and the Other" by W. J. T. Mitchell, excerpted from Picture Theory published by The University of Chicago Press (note: originally the paper appeared in South Atlantic Quarterly XCI [Summer 1992]: 695-719).
I found this paper thoughtful and useful. On Medusa, for example:
http://www.otal.umd.edu/~eshevlin/gscott.htmlMedusa was, as Neil Hertz has shown, a popular emblem of Jacobinism and was often displayed (figure B) as a figure of "French Liberty" in opposition to "English Liberty," personified by Athena, the mythological adversary of Medusa. The choice of Medusa as a revolutionary emblem seems, in retrospect, quite overdetermined. To conservatives, Medusa was a perfect image of alien, subhuman monstrosity--dangerous, perverse, hideous, and sexually ambiguous: Medusa's serpentine locks made her the perfect type of the castrating, phallic woman, a potent and manageable emblem of the political Other. To radicals like Shelley, Medusa was an "abject hero," a victim of tyranny whose weakness, disfiguration, and monstrous mutilation become in themselves a kind of revolutionary power.On Achilles' shield in Homer:. . . the shield is now understood as an image of the entire Homeric world-order, the technique of "ring composition" and geometrical patterning that controls the large order of the narrative . . . . Indeed, the shield (and ekphrastic hope along with it) may have even more grandiose aspirations than this sort of synecdochical representation of the whole in the part, for the shield represents much more of Homer's world than the Iliad does. . . . The entire universe is depicted on the shield: nature and man; earth, sky, and ocean; cities at peace and at war; plowing, harvest, and vintage; herding and hunting; marriage, death, and even a scene of litigation, a prosaic alternative to the settlement of disputes by war or blood revenge. Achilles' shield shows us the whole world that is "other" to the epic action of the Iliad , the world of everyday life outside history that Achilles will never know. The relation of epic to ekphrasis is thus turned inside out: the entire action of the Iliad becomes a fragment in the totalizing vision provided by Achilles' shield.Finally, the shield reveals:. . . the gap between a historical epic obsessed with war and a vision of the everyday, nonhistorical order of human life that provides a framework for a critique of that historical struggle . . . .Unlike the first paper, I didn't read this one thoroughly but was impressed with what I saw and will return to it at a later date.
Medusa's mate: Poseidon, the Horse-lord god of the sea
Mosaic, early 3rd century AD: Tunisia in Northern Africa
(This comes from the well written & illustrated TimeLife series,
MYTH & MANKIND: Titans & Olympians, 1997:49)
This is a third paper from the above-mentioned electronic journal. It is entitled "Shelley, Medusa, and the Perils of Ekphrasis" by Grant F. Scott (originally published in The Romantic Imagination: Literature and Art in England and Germany, ed. Frederick Burwick and Jurgen Klein; 1996: 315- 332). Again, I didn't read this thoroughly but saw enough to enjoy the biting wit and careful nuancing. For example:http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/6193/feac66med.html. . .The remainder of the myth, however, is designed to assuage this sense of male powerlessness and inadequacy. As soon as Medusa is beheaded, Perseus is rewarded with a winged and glorious white horse, who leaps from the Gorgon's spilled blood like a kind of jubilant phallic trophy. As an image of masculine resurrection and reassurance, Pegasus cannot be bettered in all of mythology. The horse immediately gives Perseus a freedom to move about in space and time that dramatizes the exact antithesis of the fate suffered by his predecessors. After he has escaped Medusa's oppressive den, he soon meets up with Atlas and roundly defeats him (aided, of course, by Medusa's head). As if this instance of wish fulfillment were not enough, Perseus shortly comes across Andromeda in a scene that further restores his confidence and compensates for his fear before the Medusa. Naked and chained to a rock, she presents the image of an ideal doll that Perseus may caress and fondle in safety; for she is at once immediate, beautiful, and harnessed. She offers no threat, bound as she is, but exists as an object already under control, an object straight out of Perseus's most vivid fantasies of female bondage and submission. Since masculine and feminine roles have been at last realigned -- Andromeda is now the figure who is properly static, paralyzed -- Perseus can claim her and reestablish a degree of comforting patriarchy.I found the ending unsatisfactory because, as in McGann's 1972 work, Medusa is turned into a foil for the male psyche:The rift in her sexuality healed, the Gorgon becomes less a dangerous and uncontrollable figure of subversion, than a radical with a legitimate cause. In the end, Shelley makes Medusa's defiance his own.Nevertheless, the paper's author has much to offer (including a fine ear for quotes from other literary critics) and I recommend this one.
From an entirely different source comes this brief but interesting (and nicely illustrated) little site on Medusa's appearance on ancient Greek and Roman coins.
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Page split off from the main Greek page 28 August 2000
[all links checked];
24 October 2001, 4:16am (Nedstated due to unexpectedly heavy traffic the past few weeks;
checked all links and added a few new ones); 25 October 2001 (added 2 links + minor updates).
25 October 2002 (added Sue Dawe's name to lovely feathered Pegasus image after I got an e-mail today identifying it);
15 November 2002: "reversed" Sue Dawe's feathered Pegasus to her original orientation & provided its title.
10 March 2003: removed 2 heading lines -- no longer appropriate, esp. for this page!
15 May 2005: updated Rich's Pegasus site, finally! Glad to have it back.
17 September 2009: updated Nedstat/Motigo.