A Victim of Propaganda by Maureen Bowden

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A Victim of Propaganda by Maureen Bowden
Illustration by Sue Babcock

I, Medusa, must admit I was having a bad hair day. A girl’s bound to look dishevelled after fighting off the advances of a frisky sea god on the floor of Athena’s temple, but snakes? I think not. As for turning men to stone, well, I have been known to add a degree of rigidity to a particular area of the male anatomy, but it doesn’t take a gorgon to do that.

The clanging of chain mail, breastplate and other military accoutrements, interrupted my tussle with Poseidon for what remained of my honour, and signalled the appearance of Athena herself, dressed for battle. The goddess of war, wisdom, justice and mathematics, to name just a few of her portfolios, said, “What the Hades is going on here?”

My suitor was temporarily indisposed, due to his nether regions having made contact with my knee, so I took the opportunity to state my case. “Mighty Athena, goddess of justice etcetera, I, your humble servant, Medusa, come here to beg you to persuade your illustrious uncle, currently whimpering in a foetal position, to withdraw his attentions from me, forthwith.”

She sighed. “Drop the legal jargon, girl. You want the old sea dog to leave you alone. Right?”

“Right,” I said. “He’s already caused me to give birth to a winged horse, which was no picnic, I can tell you. Enough is enough.”

The goddess winced. “Makes my eyes water just to think of it.” She turned to Poseidon. “Uncle, if I were to whisper in your good lady, Amphitrite’s, ear, that you’ve been on the nymph hunt, your domestic bliss would be seriously disrupted, and she’d find something creative to do with your trident. You are never to go near this girl again. Do we understand each other?”

He hissed his assent before turning to me. “I promise you this, Medusa. Nobody else will ever go near you again, either. One more thing: you look a mess. Do something with your hair.” Leaving behind the stench of kelp and shark breath, he vanished.

Poseidon exacted his revenge by getting the media on his side. For the promise, no doubt, of a few Olympian baubles, the Oracles spread lies about my supposed transformation into a monster. It was the ruination of my social life. Nobody wants to be turned to stone by a snaky-haired lady. I faced the prospect of a lonely life, until Perseus turned up.

I was sunbathing outside my cave, while my equine son, Pegasus, preened himself, in case any winged lady horses should come flying by. He too was lonely. A golden-haired youth, slogging up the mountainside, caught our attention. He was carrying a sword, a highly polished shield, and a bag. I recognised the signs. “Here comes a hero on a quest, Peg,” I said. He whinnied a greeting to our visitor, and I smoothed down my hair.

The youth approached me, flung his possessions on the grass, and dropped to his knees, fighting for breath. “Greetings, fair nymph,” he said. “I am Perseus, on a quest in the name of Polydectes, King of Seriphos. This mountain is steep. May I rest awhile in your company?”

“Lie back and kick off your sandals,” I said, but turn your shield face-downwards, before the sun’s reflection starts a fire.”

He blushed like a dithering dryad. “I acknowledge that the dazzlement is somewhat inconvenient, but it has a purpose to serve.”

Before he could elaborate, Pegasus trotted towards us, leaned over the reclining hero, and nuzzled his ear. Perseus ruffled my son’s mane. “What a magnificent beast,” he said. “Where did he come from?”

“Trust me. You don’t want to know.”

“He must be the gift of a god.”

“In a manner of speaking.”

After an hour or so of recuperation, the hero pulled himself to his feet, stretched, yawned, and laced up his sandals. “I feel much rested, fair nymph, and I regret that I must leave you and continue my quest. Could you direct me to the cave of the gorgon, Medusa?”

I nodded towards the cave’s entrance behind us. “There it is.”

He paled. “Is she at home?”

“She’s not gone far. Why do you seek her?”

“Polydectes requires me to take him her severed head.”

“That explains the sword and the bag, but what is the purpose of the highly reflective shield?”

“If I carry it in front of my face it will prevent me from seeing her, and when she catches a glimpse of her own reflection she’ll turn to stone.”

He was as dim-witted as any other muscle-bound glory seeker. “I can see a couple of flaws in that plan,” I said. “If you carry the shield in the manner you describe, you won’t be able to see where you’re going. You may fall and break your neck. Also, deep inside the cave there’s no light. She won’t see her reflection unless you carry a torch, and you don’t have enough hands.”

He sighed, and sat down again. “I have failed. I cannot kill a creature with hair of snakes who can turn a man to stone with one glance.”

“She’s no more a monster than I am, Perseus. Who told you this rubbish?”

“The Oracle of Apollo.”

“Oh, her. The Olympians call her the Orifice of Apollo. What does that suggest to you?”

“That she talks through her-”

“You got it.”

“How can I be sure?”

“Because I am Medusa. We’ve been looking at each other since you dragged yourself up the mountain, and if any part of you has turned to stone, you’re keeping it well concealed.” He blushed again.

Over the next few weeks we became close. We cavorted through the woodlands, rode Pegasus through the summer skies, and lay in each other’s arms watching the sunset over the Aegean Sea. Perseus was fond of me, but I suspected that he was even fonder of my son. I’d once dreamed of settling down with a nice boy, and raising a couple of children, although preferably with hands and feet, rather than wings and hooves. My dalliance with the golden-haired hero was the closest I’d ever come to that dream.

One morning we were awakened early by the clatter and clang of Athena’s armour. She called into the cave, “Out here, both of you. Now!”

We obeyed, and Perseus prostrated himself before her. “Mighty goddess, pray give us your blessing.”

“On your feet, laddie,” she said. “Your destiny is upon you. There’s a princess waiting to be rescued from a sea monster. Say goodbye to the nymph and be on your way.” She turned to me. “I’ll deal with you later. You look a mess. Do something with your hair.”

Perseus’s voice rose by a couple of octaves, in panic. “Merciful Athena, I fear the wrath of Polydectes. I am pledged to bring him a gorgon’s head.”

“Use your imagination, boy. Go kill a few snakes, while your comely but untidy friend searches for a boulder the size of her head.”

I found one near the entrance to my cave, and while we waited for Perseus to return, I asked the goddess what she intended to do with me.

“When you fought off Posiedon, you gave other nymphs the courage to do the same to Zeus,” she said. “The gods are not getting all their own way these days, and they blame you. They make powerful enemies. You need help. I’ll give you a new identity and a new life.”

Perseus, returning with an armful of dead snakes, interrupted us. We put the boulder in his bag, and threw the snakes on top of it. “If you keep the bag closed, the shape’s convincing enough,” Athena said, “and the king won’t want to make a close inspection.”

He looked uncertain. “Polydectes wants his army to use it as a weapon.”

“I don’t think he’s thought through the logistics. A genuine gorgon’s head would turn his warriors to stone unless they were blindfolded when they carried it into battle.”

“I see why you are the goddess of wisdom, mighty Athena,” he said.

“Quite. Anyway, I intend to have a little fun with him. When you present him with the bag, I’ll turn up, snatch it, and tell him I want to hang it upon my shield. I doubt if he’ll argue. You can go now.”

Pegasus trotted towards him, and Perseus buried his face in my son’s mane, wrapping his arms around the stallion’s neck. “Take him,” I said.

He turned to me with tears in his eyes. “Thank you, fair nymph.” He leaped onto Pegasus’s back. We handed him his sword, shield and bag, and they flew into the sky to make their own legend.

We watched until they were beyond our sight, and I noticed a line of strange, spiralling cloud formations, approaching from the horizon. “What are they?” I asked.

“They’re the Mists of Time,” Athena said. “They’ll take you wherever you want to go. I suggest you travel a few thousand years into the future. Women will be throwing off the shackles of male domination. You’ll fit right in, and you could help them to do it.”

“Will I be demonised again?”

She shrugged. “Probably. Will you let that stop you?”

“No chance.”

“Good girl.”

“Athena,” I called, as the mists folded around me, “when the age of the Olympians is over, why don’t you join me?”

She grinned. “Sounds like a plan. Let’s do it.”

 

BIO: Maureen Bowden  is a Liverpudlian, living with her musician husband, in North Wales. She has had fifty-nine stories and poems accepted for publication by paying markets. Liquid Imagination nominated one of her stories for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize. She loves her family and friends, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Shakespeare, and cats.