|Art Nouveau Medusa, 1911, Wikipedia|
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Perseus, after being equipped with tools and slicing off Medusa's head, flies away on Pegasus (with a short stop to rescue the beautiful Andromeda) to Seriphos, where his mother had taken refuge in a temple, the unfortunate Danaë having been pursued and amorously abused by King Polydectes. When the king refuses to believe that Perseus has completed the terrible task assigned to him, Perseus lifts the head of Medusa and turns the king and his nobles to stone. I've added a few other figures, as often little people are caught up in dramatic events.
The treasures Perseus received from the gods were a shield like a mirror from Athena, a sword from Hephaestus, winged sandals from Hermes, and the helm of invisibility from Hades. The shield is important here.
The Stone Court
I didn't meet the terror's lightning-strike,
Jag-necked Medusa whom the painters praise
With heads that show a severed life can prick
Its serpent hair to hissing, howl the mouth
In everlasting No! against the world:
My eyes were dwelling on the stranger's eyes,
Reflected from the hero's godborn shield--
Long-throated head, the twist of gleaming hair,
The moony skin as luminous as pearl.
I hadn't known that I was beautiful.
A horse that sprang from blood unshipped its wings,
The hero thumped Medusa's head in a bag,
Chucked it across his shoulder and flew away.
My mother's brother, come to plead a cause,
Stiff with anger . . . I kissed his limestone cheek,
Was glad of wine and barley flatbreads tucked
Inside a cloth, and thieved the king's own knife--
He'd have no further clasp on weaponry
But would forever claw a flea born itch
Beneath a cloak of stone. A tippler's mouth
Was plugged, a snatched caress was tombed in rock:
The figures looked too real: impossible,
A little corny, certainly not art
Or worth my grief. I hardly felt the loss
Just then, drifting in the cloud of knowledge
That was my youth, a shield around my limbs,
Though floating motes once dust were adamant
To sting my face to tears. I threaded paths
Between arrested courtesies of court
And stared as dazzle of a shield and horse
Made starfalls retrograde. Though sapphire sky
Slanted a jeweled lid above the stones,
I never feared but walked a thousand steps
Before the world began to yield to green.
I bore a light-drenched memory of me,
A soft and yielding vision, stream of flame
Or water welling in a fresh-dug pit,
And slowly realized the morning's truth:
The power of my gaze protected me.
The island's edge came curling to my feet,
I walked in brightness like a springtime sun,
Carrying myself as one who witnessed
The dangers burning from a woman's face.
I bore myself like glory in a cloud
As I moved swiftly over hills to home,
Goatherds called me by the name of Ceres
And begged me make the ground grow deep with grass,
And country people knotted near the path
To see the goddess green the early fields.
Though all the flame was vigor of my youth
And borrowed magic of a fearsome sight,
I came in after-years to meditate
How I alone escaped the pitiless
And wondered that the innocence of youth
And joy could blunt the edge of brute demand,
Declaring by mere thoughtless going-on
That life was far too vigorous to end.
- originally published in Mezzo Cammin
- reprinted in The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012),
- now in second printing; available Stanza, Amazon US, UK, etc.