Over the course of his many years of life, Tiresias had been accustomed to the immanence of the Gods. But here, in this land, he felt almost nothing of their presence. Somehow, the Gods seemed just beyond his reach, as if purposely receding from his grasp. He called, and yet they remained silent. And yet, something was leading him on. What, Tiresias did not know. Only that he felt compelled to travel ever further into the deep silence.
Tiresias reckoned that he must be far from the lands of Hellas by now. He wondered if he were on the edges of Hades’ realm. Ordinarily, when traveling alone, Tiresias would have listened to the birds to guide him along. But here, he heard nothing. No sounds of life at all, in fact. He guessed he was in some sort of forest, for he could hear the wind passing through the trees around him. But it was a dry and brittle sound. No birdsong. No crickets, or bees. No cries of wolf or bear, no footfall of deer, or even the scampering of rabbits. He felt chilled at his soul.
Tiresias decided to try to follow the wind. It took him through the forest, through dead bracken and branches and leaves. As he traveled toward what he guessed was the center of the woods, he started bumping into large rocks. From the roads skirting the forest, and the well-used roads through the outer reaches of the forest, they grew in number the further in toward the center he seemed to go. At first, the old blind prophet was puzzled by the stones. But when he paused to touch them, he realized that they were statues.
An old memory stirred in his mind, then. An old prophecy he shared with an old woman, many years ago, in Sparta. Tiresias trembled in fear, and tried to turn around. But the woods were easier to enter than to leave. He began to lose his way, and began to wander aimlessly, now truly frightened that he might never find his way out of this place again.
Pausing, Tiresias stood still, forcing himself to be calm. When his spirit was still, he again felt that odd, faint compulsion, leading him on to– He didn’t know where. But he followed dutifully. But without the presence of the Gods, he fought to maintain his courage.
Eventually, Tiresias stumbled down, as it were, a bank. It was a slope that went down to, perhaps, twice over the height of a man. At the bottom, he picked himself up, bruised, but not seriously injured. Here the land felt open. A meadow, he guessed. He walked onward, impeded regularly by more statuary. And then, he seemed to hear something. A low, soft wailing, hissing sound. It sounded mournful and monstrous. Like crying serpents and crocodiles. It was a sound of great pain, and it was terrifying.
The blind prophet followed the sound to a cavern entrance there in the meadow. There was a curtain of dead and dried creepers over the mouth of the cave. Shaking, Tiresias pushed through into the huge gallery within. The sounds were subsiding now into quiet, almost human-like, sobs. They were coming from deep within the cave. Tiresias wanted to run. But instead, he pressed onward.
After several long minutes of walking, he came upon a huge gallery. He could hear a bubbling, spring-fed pool in front of him. And off to his left, as he entered, he heard a rumbling, hissing, sibilant growl.
“Who are you?” Medousa growled fearsomely.
Tiresias said nothing, but shook in terror, wanting to flee, but rooted to the spot. There was something familiar about the presence he sensed.
“Look upon my face and die, then,” Medousa sighed wearily.
But of course, Tiresias could not.
“Who are you?” Medousa asked again, curious. “How is it you still live in my presence?”
“I am but a blind old man, Mistress,” Tiresias stammered. “I lost my way and came to this cave.”
Medousa sat up on her slab. Tiresias could feel her eyes upon him.
“And who are you, Mistress?” he asked. “I feel as though we have met before.” He searched around for an old memory.
Medousa snorted. “If we have met before now, it would have been fifteen years or more ago. Who are you? That you are blind explains why you still live. But I still don’t know your name.”
“I am called Tiresias, Mistress.”
Medousa pondered. Before she could fully remember, the man spoke her name– “Medousa…? Who was once also called Chrysanthe?”
Medousa caught her breath sharply.
“How could you know that?” she said in a brittle, hissing chorus.
“Some seventeen years ago, Mistress. In Sparta, at the Temple of Apollo. During the Karneia.”
Medousa suddenly remembered.
“Tiresias? The prophet?”
“The same, Lady.”
“You are the first company I have had in many years,” she thought out loud. “And I am not convinced that I am not simply dreaming that you are here.”
“I am sorry, Medousa.”
“’Sorry?’ For what?”
“For the fate you were unable to avoid.”
“Did you know this would happen to me when you first saw me?” Medousa demanded, fearful of the answer.
Tiresias made no answer.
“You did know,” the Gorgon accused.
“I only suspected the possibility,” Tiresias pleaded. “It wasn’t certain…”
“And why are you here?” Medousa asked again. “Did Poseidon or Athena send you here to torment me further? Are my victims out there not sufficient?”
“I– I– I don’t know, Mistress,” Tiresias confessed, hanging his head.
“Go,” Medousa told him. “Build yourself a fire, and sit, and talk to me for a while. Even if it is only a dream.”
Soon, Tiresias had a small, cheerful fire going by the edge of the pool. Medousa reclined on her slab against the far wall, half insane from hunger, and loneliness, and guilt.
She sighed deeply, almost weeping.
Medousa began to sob, and hissed at Tiresias, “Did you see all those statues out there, Oracle? Why could I not have died for those children? They were innocent! Their lives stretched out before them until I ended them in horror and fear. Why could I not have died with my father and brothers? Why could I not have been slain with my mother? Why could I not have been still- born? Instead, I have been afflicted with life. I live, who long only for death.”
Her voice rose, echoing throughout the galleries of the cave. Medousa sat up, still leaning against the wall.
Tiresias, his voice full of sympathy, called across the cavern to her. “Oh, my child! It hurts me to see you like this– To be so broken and tormented. How you have suffered….”
Medousa said nothing, but fought to control her tears.
“Please, Medousa–May I speak? Would you listen to my counsel? I know you are in pain; but isn’t your innocence of some comfort? Doesn’t your righteousness offer you hope? When have the innocent ever suffered as you do? Can one experience what you are experiencing, yet without fault or cause? Good is rewarded, Evil is punished. Trust the Gods; why would they afflict you unjustly? Beg Athena to restore you. Recognize and repudiate your hubris, and repent. Put away your resentment and wrath.”
“No,” Medousa muttered. “You’re not real. You can’t be real.”
Tiresias rose from the fire and moved toward Medousa.
“NO!” Medousa barked fearfully, facing the blind prophet. “My anger and my grief are justified!” She trembled, shivering with rage and self-pity.
“Athena persecutes me! I am kept alive to suffer for my impurity, an impurity inflicted upon me by Poseidon! Nearly twice ten winters have I seen here; how long will be enough? What have I done wrong?
“Unwelcome visitor in Athena’s temple, the Earth-Shaker wanted my flesh. Promachus raged in jealousy, brutally punishing me! Mortals cannot fight against the Gods; I was abandoned to my fate–How was it my fault? I screamed– to my shame–yet help never came to me.”
Medousa’s speech became wilder and wilder, even as Tiresias remained serene. The Gorgon stood, unsteady, shouting to the ceiling.
“Alalkomeneis! Where were you? I cried and I called!”
Medousa sat back down on her ledge, heavily. Tiresias spoke again.
“As afflicted as you are, Medousa…Stop talking like this. If you were innocent, you would not suffer so. Go on,” Tiresias continued. “Cry out your rage; but who will answer? Pour out your sorrow; which of the Gods will you implore? Hubris does not emerge from barren soil. Hubris sprouts from the hearts of mortals.”
“Please…” Medousa begged, sliding off her slab and falling to her knees before the prophet.
“You could not prevent Poseidon from taking you; but it was your beauty that provoked him. You could have taken Athena’s sword when she offered it to you. Repent to Tritogeneia; she may yet forgive you and allow you to die.”
Medousa collapsed, moaning, praying for this vision to leave. But to no avail. Tiresias seemed perfectly real. Perhaps she wasn’t hallucinating, after all.
“I know what you say is true,” Medousa spoke. “How can a mortal call down a God to judgment? Poseidon, the great God, mover of Earth and Sea, God of the Deep, who is also lord of Helicon and wide Aegae– A two-fold office of Godhood was allotted to him, shaker of the Earth, tamer of horses, savior of ships. And Athena–the Glorious Goddess, grey-eyed, inventive, unbending of heart, pure virgin, savior of cities, Tritogeneia– Wise Zeus himself bore her from his awful head, arrayed in warlike arms of flashing gold. And awe seized all the Gods as they gazed. But Athena sprang quickly from the immortal head, and stood before Zeus who holds the Aegis, shaking a sharp spear; great Olympus began to reel horribly at the might of the bright-eyed Goddess, and Earth round about cried fearfully, and the Sea was moved and tossed with dark waves, while foam bust forth suddenly; the bright Son of Hyperion stopped his swift-footed horses a long while, until the maiden Pallas Athena had stripped the heavenly armor from her immortal shoulders….
“How could I even hope to triumph? They destroyed me without cause! Yet, there was no fault in me! What was my crime? That Poseidon lusted for my beauty. But see what measure of punishment, for that, I must endure!
“For I, a mortal, could not just challenge them. I cannot say to Athena, ‘Come to court with me!’ But if there were an arbiter between us to lay his hand on both of us, to make her take her hand from off me, so that she could no longer terrorize me; then I could speak without fear of her.
“I am fed up with my life! Do not condemn me, Parthenos! Just tell me what the accusation is! Do you get pleasure from harassing me, whom once you guided and protected? Do you enjoy crushing me beneath your foot? Your shining eyes–do they see as mortal eyes do? Is the span of your life the same as any human’s? Do you now delight to seek out my every sin, ascribing hubris to me, and leaving no fault of mine unpunished, knowing that I have done nothing truly wicked but that I fell into Poseidon’s hands?
“I see how your mind works! When I am afraid, or confused, or commit error, you keep your grey eyes on me, and you would never clear me of my guilt! If I do wrong, too bad for me! Yet even though I may be guiltless, I cannot raise my head, for I am filled with shame and soaked in misery.”
Medousa rose again and began to pace about the cavern. Tiresias tried to stay clear of her. Medousa hardly seemed to notice his presence.
“Are you pleased with yourself for what you’ve done to me, Athena? All life around me withers! Innocent lives that have no part in our quarrel go down to Hades because of me. You give me stone to eat, and my own tears for drink. I have no companion to whom I can pour out my pain. How long has it been? Five and ten winters? A full twenty? Leave me alone, that I might have a small measure of peace before I must go down myself to Hades’ strong house!”
“Medousa, please,” Tiresias said worriedly. “You’re not–”
Medousa shivered in fear and frustration.
“Let me go!” she shrieked.
“You talk too much,” Tiresias snapped suddenly, trying a different approach. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You think you’re so innocent; but you’re not. Would the Gods torment an innocent woman? It was you who tempted Poseidon’s lust. It was you who had an imperfect heart before Athena–Tell me; Did you want to serve the Goddess? Or did you want to stay with your lover? And when you were with your lover, did you not go sniffing after Ajax? Athena is all-wise, and full of counsel; did you think she didn’t notice? Repent whole-heartedly, and perhaps she’ll allow you to end your misery.”
Medousa stopped, and slumped down again. She closed her eyes, sobs wracking her body.
“How long will you torment me?” she cried softly. “How long will you crush my heart with your words? You treat me coldly…shamelessly…. But is it really all my own fault? If you will sit in judgment of me, then understand–Poseidon, behaving crookedly, got his net around me. So I cried out ‘Rape! Violence!’ But Athena answered not. I called upon her for help, but got no justice.
“He hedged in my path so I could not pass, and covered me in darkness, and crushed me. He stripped me of my dignity and took away my position. Then Athena tore me down from every side until I was gone, and only the Gorgon remained. She carried off my hope like so much straw. She fanned her rage against me, treated me like an enemy. She took away my great beauty.
“Because of those two, I am made an alien to my people, and my friends are all estranged from me. I have nothing left but death, death of which I cannot partake, but inflict on all who look upon me. I do not even have left the flesh and bone with which I was born!”
Medousa looked up, pleading. Did she even notice Tiresias? He wondered whom she did see.
“Oh, my friends, my friends! Pity me! Pity me, I beg you! Where is my avenger? Will not Nemesis or the Erinyes come to my aid, to plead my case? Is there to be no comfort for me?”
Tiresias tentatively approached Medousa as she cowered, covering herself with her arms, and tattered wings. He rested a gentle hand on her head. She tried to choke back her sobs as Tiresias spoke again.
“Oh, my poor child! Now I know why I found my way here. And if I could, I would plead your case at the knees of Zeus himself. But Athena, perfect in wisdom and counsel, has brought all this upon you. And who can challenge her judgment? Whether it was your fault or not, yours is the defilement to accept, and you must accept responsibility for it. Mortals cannot fight against the Gods; you cannot be innocent.”
Medousa lay there, curled up, and keening pitifully.
“Are you all against me? Is there no hope? Am I truly at fault? Then at least let me die! Please, let me die! My judgment is more than I can bear! I have lived as long under my curse as I had lived before disaster came upon me–Is there to be no mercy?”
Medousa looked up through her tears to find herself alone. She raised her face to the gallery ceiling and howled as the distant rumble of thunder seemed to laugh at her.
Tiresias, frightened, and resentful of whichever God or Goddess had sent him here, looked back at the sound, and then quickly slipped out of the cave. He staggered along as quickly as he could to escape the forest and the monster who was once a favored child.