The Gorgon Medusa as our Protector Against the Evil in Ourselves

We know the version of the Greek myth in which Perseus kills the Gorgon Medusa: the creature whose hair was venomous serpents and who had the power to turn to stone anyone who looked at her.





Toni Morrison in 1997.  Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and published recently in the NY Times




This myth, like so many of the Greek myths, was adapted over time to historical events in Hellenic culture, and to changing sensibilities. 


It is believed that this myth dates to the Neolithic when the Mother Goddess ruled.


One interpretation of Perseus’ action is the historical overturning of the Mother Goddess cult by the Hellenic version of divine and human patriarchy in Greece and its islands.





Andrea Modica published recently in the NY Times



When Perseus cut Medusa’s head off, he continued to use that head to protect himself.  And after, he surrendered the head to his great protectress, the goddess Athena.


From earliest times, however, the Gorgon Medusa was in a category of ideas translated into images and myths which protected people from the evil in themselves and not just from ambient evil.



Andrea Modica published recently in the NY Times




So fearless is Toni Morisson’s imagination and so fearless are the words she used to describe evil and its consequences, that she has been to me a Gorgon: a person whose art has ensured that I cannot now not know the range and extent of the evil that was done during American slavery. 


Of evil.


What that evil means in human lives. What corrosion and distortion that evil brings to human actions. 

What the consequences are for generations.


And what empathy means. What empathetic action means.


(Nor am I implying in any way that the victims of slavery and their descendants are in any way responsible for the catastrophe that befell them and befall them to this day.)



So that we can understand the urgent necessity of protecting ourselves from the multiform evil within us: us as individuals and us as communities, institutions and the specific ways they operate; values, laws.


And, in so doing, protect others.  









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