Medousa has returned, and is again available for purchase! Critiques have been heeded, beta readers had been solicited, and now, a vastly improved novel has resulted. Weak plot threads have been snipped. There is more brutality. There is more emotion. Goddesses! Amazons! Lesbians! Trans-Species Geriatric Smut! Forbidden Love across class lines! ALL THIS AND MORE– in Medousa! All that you could ever hope for in a female-driven Fantasy Novel, presented here in print for your delectation and delight!
All joking aside, though, I am pleased to have been able to write such a book. I would like to point out at this time, as a disclaimer, that Medousa is a work of High Fantasy. While I have attempted to be as archaeologically and historically accurate as necessary to ground the story in the time period I wanted for it. While the book does have numerous references to the history and legends of ancient Greece, a lot has been sacrificed for the dramatic effect of the story itself.
Scholars of ancient Greece will notice numerous little things, from my implied descriptions of the interior architecture of a grand house, to how people would behave with one another in public, to how the Spartan agoge was truly conducted. Similarly, sharp-eyed readers might notice that the military tactics I ascribe to the Hittites are actually ancient Persian battlefield tactics. In fact, in the original draft of the novel, I had intended to use the Persians, but later decided that it placed the setting too close to ‘modern’ times.
Now, of course, I hope to do better in promoting and marketing my novel. If you purchase a copy, read it, and enjoy it, please leave a review on Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk, or Amazon.com.fr., and tell your friends about it1 If you purchase a copy, read it, and don’t enjoy it, please tell your friends that, at 662 pages and 2.4lbs in weight, it makes a perfectly charming doorstop, and will keep your outdoor privy supplied with plenty of paper.
Comparable novels might include Juliet’s Nurse, by Lois Leveen, Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Wicked, by Gregory Maguire. Each of these books focuses on a character from an older story, whose role might have been incidental, or whose role could have been that of the villain, and re-tells that story through their eyes, giving us a fresh perspective on a story we thought we already knew. And, just for your possible interest, I will again post the Afterword to Medousa here:
The story of Medousa, from her own point of view, was one I had wanted to write for many years. The first scene I had actually conceived was that of Stheno and Euryale trying to chase down Perseus, in agony over the slaying of their sister. It came to me while reading one of the last story cycles of Neil Gaiman’s superlative Sandman series, The Kindly Ones. There was a scene in which a woman was searching for her child, and was wandering around the city, either delusional, or seeing beyond reality to the narrative underpinnings of reality. She ran into two women, who turned out to be Stheno and Euryale; and while they could not help her with her personal quest, they invited her to live with them, and let them look after her. “Would you like to be our sister?” they asked her. “There should be three of us. You could be the mortal one.” They implored her to become their third, and that she should be their sister. It occurred to me then how much Stheno and Euryale loved Medousa.
Another of my inspirations for this book was the graphic novel Epicurus the Sage, by William Messner-Loebs and Sam Keith. Two things stood out for me in that comic. There was the overall theme of mixing historical figures with the mythical, and the idea that those stories of myth and legend with which we think ourselves so familiar, are not quite true. Furthermore, Messner-Loeb was able to give us a more personal and intimate look at the warts and wrinkles of the Gods and their unsavory doings without actually doing damage to the old stories at all. This inspired me to do two things.
First, I decided to try to remove as much of the fantastic as I could from my story, without completely divorcing it from Fantasy. I wanted to bring the story as close to “reality” as I could. Of course, I really couldn’t get away from the fact that I was writing about Gods, Goddesses, fabulous creatures, monsters, and heroes, so I contented myself with trimming some of the excess as I thought appropriate. For example, when I describe Alkyoneus, rather than giving him serpents for limbs, as in the old sculptures and paintings, I described him as having markings on his arms and legs that might make them resemble serpents. Likewise, with Campe, rather than give her the dozens of animal heads ringing her waist, I described her as having stylized tattoos about her torso, instead. And I gave the Gorgons skin, as well, but skin beneath which their scales could be seen, leading to the legends that their bodies were covered in gold scales. I gave the immortals, if not needs, then indulgences, like eating and bathing. You get the idea.
Second, I worked with the conceit that the ancient myths were not quite what they seemed. My idea was to change the stories with a gentle touch, so that the usual order of the cosmos—Gods are the “good guys,” Titans are the “bad guys–” could be inverted. This I found I was able to do without significantly changing any of the myths. The old stories were much more context-dependent than I had realized. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “…Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” And I liked the idea of doing a story that, in the tradition of Philip Jose Farmer, essentially said, “You’ve always heard this version of the story; now let me tell you what really happened.”
And so, what I gained from Gaiman and Messner-Loeb, was the understanding that Medousa was very much loved and valued by those who knew her, and that the Gods were in fact far more cruel and unjust than their stories might indicate at first glance.
In contemplating the old stories of Medousa, I had been under the impression that most people only remembered Ovid’s tale of a vain young woman who was so proud of her beauty, and especially of her golden hair, that Athena herself punished her by making her a Gorgon. But in the older stories of Hesiod and Apollodorus, we learn that Medousa, a priestess of Athena, was raped by Poseidon, in Athena’s temple. And it always struck me how unjust it was. Medousa herself, punished for being the victim of a violent crime, because it somehow defiled Athena’s temple? Why didn’t Athena defend her priestess? Why didn’t she bring complaint against Poseidon? Why did Medousa have to be destroyed because of what was done to her? Hadn’t her rape been enough to suffer through, but that she had to be driven from mortal lands, a monster, living in lonely desolation? Of course, later on, as I began to write, I found that there were many writers and artists that portrayed Medousa as victim, rather than monster.
And this same type of injustice is something we still see today. A woman is sexually assaulted, and she bears the stigma, while her attacker is protected. The woman is expected to take responsibility for protecting herself, but we do not teach our boys not to rape. Men with vast sexual experience, consensual and not, are respected, but women who even express interest in sex, are shamed.
In America, a girl is raped, but the boy goes free because “He just made a mistake,” or “We don’t want to ruin his entire life over one moment of poor judgment.” In central and south Asia, a woman is raped, and then she herself is punished for bringing “dishonor” upon her family, while her attackers go free. Women around the world are assaulted, but say nothing, because they know that there will be shame and stigmatization, but no redress of injustice.
And in these women’s lives, Medousa’s story continues. Every time a woman is attacked, and then–if she survives–is herself blamed for it…Every time a devout believer is not only abandoned by, but attacked by, the god, goddess, or gods (or, more accurately, its self-appointed representatives) s/he had been dedicated to… Every time a woman is cast out of her community for being who and what she is, through no fault of her own…With every ‘honor killing…’ With every rape cover-up…With every one–Medousa’s story continues.
But Medousa will not be silent; her cry of rage will echo throughout history for as long as her story is repeated in the human saga.
And so, I wanted to write Medousa’s story. Of course, we all know how her story ended, and I felt that I couldn’t change that ending, as tragic as it was. But I don’t want Medousa to be remembered as a mindless monster, preying on the innocent, as she has so often been portrayed in modern popular culture. I cannot think of Medousa as malevolent, or ill-intentioned. She was, rather the victim of a horrible crime, and she suffered for it. To be sure, there were several versions of the Medousa Myth; there are numerous versions of most of the myths we think we know. And the story of Medousa has certain elements that might afford a very different tale indeed–For example, serpents, and mortals being turned into stone, are elements of Athena’s history; I could have as easily written a tale in which Medousa was Athena’s High Executioner and cultic guardian. Perhaps I will write such a story one day. But again, here, my aim was to show that Medousa herself was not a monster, but a tragic heroine. She was a young woman with her own life, and dreams, and hopes, and loves.
Medousa is full of anachronisms. It is set in a time when reliable historical records were not kept, but oral literature thrived. There is Medousa, herself a mythic figure who would have existed perhaps two or three thousand years BCE, before the rise of Hellenic civilization. There are Aias, the legendary warrior of Salamis, known to us through Homer’s “The Iliad,” along with Helen of Sparta. And there is Cynisca, the first woman in history to have won Olympic gold, who lived during the fourth century BCE. We see Athens and Sparta, at a time before any animosity existed between to two states, and yet, Spartan society, as I describe in the book, post-dates the fall of Troy by five or six centuries. Helots did not even exist until after 1100 BCE with the Dorian conquest of Sparta, and were even then communally held slaves of the State, precluding the brutal kidnapping of Medousa as a child; after all, she would already have been a slave of the polis. And the biggest anachronism at all would be the decision to include the Amazons at Troy; for Medousa’s slayer was Perseus, who afterwards went on to become the father of Greek civilization. Homer repeatedly calls Troy’s besiegers “Danaeans.” Children of Danae, Perseus’ mother. It seems a very long time between Perseus and the rise of the Hellenic people, does it not?
There are many other inaccuracies as well; slaves were expected to forage for their own sustenance, and find their own places to sleep. Young boys would never have sneaked out of their barracks for personal or family business, and their upbringing was in fact far more brutal than I describe. And the Spartans would regularly humiliate Helots to keep them in their place– a favorite technique was to force them to drink until thoroughly drunken, and then parade them around in public for the Spartan children to see. They were ridiculed and held up as object lessons. Furthermore, while beatings like the one Medousa received were common (a slave would be beaten daily, for no other reason but “discipline”), being strung up was not something that would have happened. That said, a slave or Helot as beautiful as the myths say Medousa was, would never have been beaten that way, because it would have marred her beauty and thus damaged her value. She would almost certainly have been trained as a courtesan for the royal household.
But wherever the needs of the story clashed with proper archeology, I exercised my poetic license.
Regarding Medousa’s “golden hair.” While many have taken the description to mean that the likes of Medousa, or Helen of Sparta, had yellow blonde hair, some have argued that the ancient Greeks considered “gold” a particular shade of reddish-gold colored hair that would indeed glow a golden color in the Mediterranean sunlight. It is this particular shade of “gold” that I had in mind when describing Medousa.
Many of the source myths I decided to use for my novel are not the conventional ones, but lesser known alternates. For example, I do not describe Medousa as a daughter of Phorkys and Keto as Stheno and Euryale are; I instead make her utterly mortal, as in Ovid’s late tale of Medousa as a young woman, without any ties to the Titans. I use Apollodorus’ alternate genealogy for Echidna, as a daughter of Gaia and Tartarus, and mother to Keto, thus making her at once grandmother and great aunt to the Gorgons. And while most myths tell of the Gorgons living on the isle of Sarpedon, I decided to place my Gorgons on the isle of Cerna in the Gorgades. And although the Gorgades generally refer to a tribe of wild women covered in hair, Diodorus and Palaephatus note the island Cerna in a small group of islands called the Gorgades situated in the Western Ocean. Commentator Henry T. Riley (Ovid, The Metamorphosis, ISBN 978-1-4209-3395-6) associates the island group with the Azores.
It is only recently in human history that the subject of history became concerned with the accurate recording of ‘exactly what happened,’ in ‘exactly what place,’ at ‘exactly what time,’ and ‘involving which persons.’ Until the late Victorian era, most histories were written in order to illustrate moral lessons, or to indulge in poetry and florid prose, or to attempt to explain why things were so, or to create foundation myths for peoples and tribes. History was treated as Midrash–a narrative constructed to convey the lessons of history, as opposed to history itself. My book is written in those terms, rather than as a piece of real historical fiction. It fails as a piece of real historical fiction.
But then, of course, this isn’t History; it’s Fantasy.
I owe a great debt of gratitude to my dear friend Robert Dorf, who acted as my editor, helping me to construct an emotionally true narrative, and kept me focused on the heart of the story, giving it its soul, and who would not allow me to quit.
Many thanks also to Joseph and Jeannie Michel, who despite having read many early drafts of this book, insisted that I complete the story and publish it.
Thanks also to Amy Myers, who actually prodded me to begin this project in the first place.
And thanks, again, to Ross Watson and Jennifer Rehnay, who most generously shared with me their knowledge and experience in preparing a book for publication.
And special thanks to Dr. Deborah Kamen, Associate Professor of Classics, Adjunct in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, who very graciously took the time to answer my queries regarding the world of Ancient Greece, who recommended to me a wonderful translation of the poet Sappho of which I had been unaware, and whose excellent translation of an ancient contract of manumission I adapted for this story. And very special thanks to Анастасия Суворова, who graciously allowed me to use her exquisite portrait of Medousa for the cover illustration.
Some notes on measurements—I have used ancient Greek units of measurement wherever possible:
Pous—Approx. equal to 31cm
Pechys—Approx. equal to 46cm.
Haploun Bema—Approx. equal to 77cm
Bema—Approx. equal to 1.5m
Akaina—Approx. equal to 9.5 m2
Hektos—Approx. equal to 158.3 m2
Plethron—Approx. equal to 31m or 950 m2
Stadion—Approx. equal to 185m
Schoinos—Approx. equal to 7.4km
Stage—Approx. equal to 29.8km
To put some of this in perspective, Ajax would have been about 6’4”; Medousa before her transformation, 5’10” and after, 7’6”; Stheno and Euryale were each about 9’; Alkyoneus 13’; and Campe is about 10’6” from her forefeet to the top of her head, and between 50’ and 60’ in length.
Some of my sources, for the curious:
Sappho, trans. by Stanley Lombardo, copyright 2002, Hackett Publishing Co.
Hypomnemata, Borimir Jordan, Servants of the Gods, copyright 1979, Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, Gottingen
Fall of Troy, Book I (abridged), Quintus Smyrnaeus, trans. by Way, Greek Epic C4th AD
Hesiod, trans., intro., & notes by Apostolos Athanassakis 1983, 2004, The Johns Hopkins University Press 2004
Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae, trans., & intro. by R. Scott Smith and Stephen M. Trzaskoma, Hackett Publishing Co.
The Iliad, Homer, trans. by Richmond Lattimore, University of Chicago Press 1951, 2011
Medusa In the Mirror of Time, David Leeming, copyright 2013, Reaktion Books Ltd.
Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, Stephen R. Wilk, copyright 2000, Oxford University Press
The Book of Job, Translation, Introduction, and Notes by Raymond P. Scheindlin, copyright 1998, W.W. Norton & Company
Slaves and Religions in Graeco-Roman Antiquity and modern Brazil, “Manumission, Social Rebirth, and Healing Gods in Ancient Greece,” Deborah Kamen; D. Geary and S. Hodkinson, eds; Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars: 2012, pp. 174-194.
If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, Anne Carson, copyright 2002, Vintage Books, a division of Random House.
I have a much better flair for literary “adaptation” than creativity. To forestall accusations of partial or minimalistic plagiarism, these are the sources I used for particular parts of the novel. I did adapt them to the context of the story, in the spirit of “Here are some recently-discovered ancient manuscripts that tell the full story of X.” I have in no way attempted to plagiarize any of these works. And so, by way of disclosure:
I quoted and misquoted extensively from Sappho, as translated by Stanley Lombardo, for the sweet nothings and poems exchanged between Medousa and Cynisca
In the retelling of the Amazons at Troy, I quote and misquote from the Fall of Troy, Book I (abridged), by Quintus Smyrnaeus, as translated by Way; throwing in many descriptions of battle from The Iliad by Homer, as translated by Richmond Lattimore. Here, even the tone of the narrative changes, as I attempted to present this part of the novel as a classical record.
I used the translations of Safer Iov from The Book of Job, with Translation, Introduction, and Notes by Raymond P. Scheindlin, in my dialogue between Medousa and Tiresias, and the argument between Medousa and Athena. I adapted much of it to fit ancient Greek myth as opposed to ancient Mesopotamian myth.
Finally, for the scene of Medousa’s manumission, I copied, as I noted above, the superb translation of an ancient contract of manumission from “Manumission, Social Rebirth, and Healing Gods in Ancient Greece,” by Deborah Kamen, from Slaves and Religions in Graeco-Roman Antiquity and modern Brazil, adapting the specifics of the contract to Medousa’s situation.”