#MeToo & the Significance of “Medusa with the Head of Perseus”
“Meanwhile go on dancing, drunker and drunker.
‘Shagadam magadam – Darkmotherscream.’
Don’t forget – Rome fell
not having grasped the phrase: Darkmotherscream.”
— Andrei Voznesensky
In modern fairytales, it seems that the monster gets to finally sleep with the princess. And while a story like Beauty and the Beast may quickly flash by the reader’s mind, let us remind him that in its French original of 1740, the Beast was actually a prince, transformed into a hideous monster by a jealous witch, and finally rescued by his Beauty, the courageous hero of this romantic tale. But in recent years, monsters are given the chance to follow some ‘new-Age’ advice, and just “be themselves!” Shrek, the giant green ogre whose toxic gas emissions are enough to kill swamp-fish inside his little mud-pond (which he then proceeds to eat) appears to have this ‘certain something,’ enough for a princess to fall in love, while her ‘prince’ is presented as an obnoxious, power-hungry midget-pretender to the throne. But the biggest surprise in this animated film comes at the very end, as instead of the monster being turned into a man, it’s the princess who is given back her ‘true form’ in the shape of an ogre: a monster that, according to the story, she always was.
In yet another and more recent example, Guillermo del Toro’s live-action film The Shape of Water, monster-love is taken to another level of realism, while, following the erotic scene of the protagonist with her barely-human amphibian lover, we are finally presented a closing that is all-revealing about the true nature of this strange phenomenon: the emergence of a new god, one who’s been suppressed for thousands of years since the male-oriented warrior culture of the Indo-Europeans conquered the Continent.
But nothing perhaps is more telling than a new statue now placed across the street from the Manhattan Supreme Court. Much like the films cited above, the sculpture is based on the inversion of classical myth, as the snake-tressed gorgon, Medusa, is presented holding the severed head of Perseus, the male hero who in Greek legend had killed her. The artwork, an obvious reference to Benvenuto Cellini’s masterpiece — where the original version of the myth was retained — was created by Argentine-Italian sculptor Luciano Garbati, whose imagination never ventured further than naming it Medusa With The Head of Perseus.
Following the obvious nature of its title, the site where this new sculpture is placed leaves no room for metaphor either. Because this marble tribute to gender violence — that was originally created back in 2008, and slowly gained momentum online in the wake of the #MeToo movement — was erected across the Court where none other than Harvey Weinstein stood for trial. Taken by itself, the artwork is nothing but a statement of victory, and just a victory at that. But seen together with films like the Shape of Water, and like the minor tremors that signify a coming earth-quake, changes like these cannot but signify some major shifts in our collective unconscious. With the erection of this statue, the reference to an emerging god (that was only implied in del Toro’s Oscar-winning film) becomes explicit, as Medusa, an actual daemon from ancient Greek mythology, is now made victorious against the male (Apolonian) hero, Perseus.
But who was Medusa, and what does she has to do with modern culture?
For starters, Medusa was not alone but a part of a much larger set of chthonic symbols found scattered across Greek mythology — symbols that betray a certain syncretism that happened just when classical Greece was coming to life, and out of two distinct cultures: the Indo-European warrior culture that came forth out of the Eurasian steps around the 2nd millennium BC, and another, more ancient, centered around the rites of the cultivated earth, standing in contra-distinction to the ascending ‘solar’ ways of these nomad warriors. A world of a Great Mother Goddess that represented the eternal fertility of the earth, whose sacred animals were Bull and Snake, while the blood of a young sacrificial (male) victim flowed downwards in great yearly festivals to renew the earth’s fertility.
In Greece, such a culture was represented by the Minoans of Crete, unearthed during the summer of 1900 by one Sir Arthur Evans, who quickly saw in his new discovery a peaceful world of feminine mystique, one that had flourished almost 2,000 years before the Parthenon was built on the hills of Athens. Finding no weapons, Evans concluded that his Minoans waged no physical wars: their dominance achieved through a complex of peace treaties that spread their influence as far as modern Spain. Yet, the Greeks who succeeded them at the dawn of their history told a different story: that of a subterranean monster, the Minotaur, half-bull and half-man, who devoured young men sent as tribute from Athens, a vassal state to the ruthless kingdom of Crete.
Through and through, Greek mythology is filled with the fragments of snake-affiliated women and bull-monsters, that most scholars of myth now believe to have been parts of earlier mythology that stood in sharp contrast to the war epics of the classical Greeks. The Minotaur, for example — a true product of ‘monster-love,’ as he was born out of the lustful union of Pasiphaë, queen of Crete, and a divine bull sent by the sea-god Poseidon — is thought to be a distant echo of archaic fertility rites performed in Crete, where a temple priestess was symbolically ‘wedded’ to a sacred bull, the animal whose strength renews the earth’s fertility through plowing.
But in the Greek imaginary, this feminine ‘lunar’ aspect of divinity was quickly demonized, and the sacred bull was changed into the monstrous Minotaur, while a male (‘solar’) hero, Theseus, had to be sent to redeem the kingdom of Crete by killing the mighty beast and rescue the princess. In yet another case of Aryo-Minoan syncretism, a young maiden, Medusa, raped by Poseidon — the same sea-god who had sent the sacred bull to Crete — was cursed to become a hideous monster, a Gorgon, with poisonous snakes instead of tresses and the power to turn men into stone with her gaze. Luckily for the Greeks, the hero Perseus came to the rescue, and advised by the goddess Athena to look away from the monster, he used his shield to catch Medusa’s reflection just before the attack, surprising the daemon with a quick slash of his scimitar as perfectly depicted in Cellini’s original sculpture.
Following these clues, we can see how stories like these work on many different levels at once. Apart from reinforcing the controlling values of Indo-European culture — such as fierceness in battle, self-sacrifice, and the importance of marriage — they offer a glimpse into the world that these nomadic warriors conquered, pouring their poetic imagination over pre-Hellenic deities; ‘demoting’ great goddesses into water nymphs; temple priestesses into lustful, monster-mating maniacs. On the level of collective psychology, therefore, the world of Minoan Greece together with its bullfights and snake-dancers sunk into lower significance, where the official culture of Classical Greece remained Indo-European in aspect while through its cracks, the old, ‘Minoan layer’ stuck its ugly head, once beautiful, but deformed through the male-dominant gaze of Aryan Greeks.
When heroes like Jason and Odysseus take to the seas seeking adventure they are often depicted as entering a strange world of feminine powers, where powerful witches like Circe, Calypso and Medea appear as if in a deep (and very Greek) dream. And just like in the Odyssey, the new shapes that spring ‘out of the waters’ of our modern imagination — like in del Toro’s aquatic romance (to quote the movie’s ending) — “truly are gods”, ones of an order that had remained unseen in the West for millennia.
It’s from these psychic layers that our Goddess, as presented in the statue of Medusa, might be making her triumphant return. For those with eyes un-blinded by scientism, everywhere around us appear signs of change. It’s no secret that #MeToo (the movement the statue celebrates) and the Green New Deal appeal to the same Left-leaning, social justice types. It’s been a trope of the Right to judge the Green movement as socialist, even Marxist… but that is only a surface phenomenon. Because while it’s true that, for the immense construction plans that are being proposed by these movements an equally massive government intervention is needed, their actual ideology is far from ‘Marxist’.
According to Marx, Man is the pinnacle of existence — the measure of everything. In his works, Mankind takes center stage while nature is virtually absent. But in the new Green movements — now increasingly pushed by various power structures through the (unrelated) pretext of Covid — it’s the industrial revolution itself, hailed by Marx as the pinnacle of human progress, that is the actual problem responsible for the destruction of our planet. If the fact that man-emitted CO2 is the problem, then Man is the problem, and he must be dealt with — perhaps even sacrificed to the Great Mother Goddess.
Cover collage by Mark Granza
Michael Michailidis is a Greek author of fiction and cultural theory. He is the writer, presenter, and co-producer of Ancient Greece Revisited.
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