One Does What One Must

by Mary Malinski

Athena speaks of Medusa:

She was one of my favorites. As Arachne would have been, had she not tried to set herself above me. But Medusa chose to serve, and she did it well.

Most people think I only favored men, and sided with the Gods. That’s because that’s all they tell you about. In truth, I uphold the Law, even when it is not comfortable for me to do so.

Athena_aegisShe was beautiful. She could have had any husband she chose. She was also clever. She kept them all close enough to think they had a chance, yet far enough away to keep her vows. Men came back with offerings more frequently than they needed to just to see her face, and so the temple prospered. They made up questions and petitions just to speak with her. And still she was a faithful priestess. She was very much like Penelope in that way. I liked her, too…

Then my uncle, Poseidon, who almost always found quarrel with me in some way, heard of Medusa’s beauty. He would have her, priestess of mine or no. As with all others who courted her, she refused his advances. But one cannot always deny the Gods. He forced himself on her. To add insult to injury, he raped her in my temple.

Though it cost me much, I had to uphold the Law, the very Law that I had handed down that said all vows are sacred and breaking them must be punished.  If only she had taken other vows…Some of my priestesses were married women.

Since I could not seek revenge on my uncle directly, though I very dearly wanted to, I made sure that he would never touch Medusa again, by turning her into a Gorgon whose very gaze turned all that she looked upon to stone.

At first, in her anger, she sought men out and turned them to stone. Eventually, in her grief, she exiled herself, and found company with the other Gorgons, the only creatures not affected by her deadly stare. She became a story mothers told their children to frighten them into doing as they were told, and a prize for men who wanted an unbeatable weapon, though none of them succeeded in obtaining it.

Medusa tired of constantly being hunted. I took pity on her, and so it was I who whispered to King Polydectes the prize he should require of young Perseus as a wedding gift. I gave Perseus my shield, and asked father for his and Hermes’ aid. I told Perseus how to approach Medusa by looking only at the reflection in the shield. And I guided his hand, so that Zeus’s sword struck true to end Medusa’s suffering. Once Perseus had his justice with lecherous Polydectes, he returned her head to me. I placed it on the aegis, to keep her close to my heart, in gratitude for her faithful service.