Most of you will be familiar with the legend of Medusa and her snakeyfied locks with a look that could turn men to stone. But are you aware of how she came by her serpenty hairdo? Well, wonder no more.
With the exception of the poet, Sappho, most ancient Greek scribes were men. And, as is typical of most men, women don’t fair too well in their myths and fables. This is my attempt to redress the balance a little bit.
The Alternative (and true) Legend of Medusa and Perseus.
By David Milligan-Croft.
Perseus crept stealthily through the tunnels of Medusa’s grim cave, sword extended before him, eyes peeled wide over the rim of his shield trying to absorb as much light as possible. He clung to the mirrored shield Athena had given him to protect against the serpent-headed monster. Perseus brushed against something solid. It felt like a statue. But on closer inspection it was the petrified figure of another warrior seeking fame and glory.
Perseus had been sent on his quest by King Polydectes of Seriphos in order that he might fail and leave his mother free to marry the king. However, King Polydectes had not counted on divine intervention from the goddess Athena. “Do not look directly into Medusa’s eyes,” she had warned him. “Otherwise, you will be turned to stone just like the countless others who have tried before you. Use the mirror to see where she is, then cut off her head. But, be careful, Perseus, she is wily and cunning and will use all her powers to trick you.”
The orange glow of a torch began to illuminate the far end of the tunnel. Cautiously, Perseus edged towards the light. The closer he got, he began to hear the sound of sniffling. Closer still, he detected the sound of a woman crying. He could see that the tunnel opened into a cavernous space. Perseus turned around and held the mirrored shield before him so that he might see behind him into the cavern. He angled the mirror and saw a woman seated at a dressing table with her head in her hands, weeping.
“Have you come to kill me?” came a muffled voice.
As he adjusted his grip on the mirror, Perseus saw the serpents slowly uncoiling. “I am Perseus, of Mycenae. I mean you no harm, good lady. I am a weary traveller and merely seeking shelter until the storm passes.”
The hunched woman chuckled. “‘You mean me no harm, is that so?” she said. “Then why do you approach with your sword drawn?”
“It pays to be cautious when entering an unknown labyrinth such as this, my lady.”
“Well, as you can see, I am quite alone. You may sheath your weapon now.”
Perseus scanned the cave for Medusa’s two monstrous sisters, Stheno and Euryale, but they were nowhere to be seen.
Medusa straightened herself up and looked in the burnished mirror of her dresser at Perseus, who flinched, stealing himself against attack. “You need not worry, brave Perseus,” she mocked. “My reflection cannot harm you. Only if I stare directly into your eyes will you become petrified. But then, you know that already. Otherwise, you would not be approaching so covertly with your own mirror.”
“It is Athena’s mirror,” he said, proudly. “The goddess is my protectress.”
“Ah, the goddess Athena,” Medusa said wistfully. “It was she who cursed me to be like this.”
“You defiled her temple by fornicating with the god Poseidon!” Perseus exclaimed.
“Is that what she told you?” Medusa let a wry smile cross her lips. “Poseidon raped me in Athena’s temple whilst I was making an offering to her.
“When he took my virginity, he took my ability to serve as her priestess, so she cast me out!
“And yet, she took no action against her uncle. Nor sought reparation from her father, Zeus. Instead, she chose to punish me with these accursed snakes!”
“I … did not know that,” Perseus said. “I’m sure the great, benevolent goddess had her reasons,” he said, composing himself.
“Yes, jealousy being one of them.”
“Why would a goddess be jealous of a lowly mortal such as you?”
“When I begged Poseidon to intercede on my behalf, he said it was because of my beauty. She wanted to make it so that no man could ever look upon me with desire again without facing instant death.”
Perseus studied her face in the reflection of his shield and tried to visualise her without the hideous snakes for locks. Instead, he imagined long golden curls cascading about her shoulders, framing her oval face. She was more than a match for any divinity. It was not difficult to see why the gods would be envious of her.
“But you could help me, Perseus,” she pleaded.
“Help you how?” he inquired.
“Take me to Lesbos! It’s an island populated only by women. My curse does not work on women – it only petrifies men.”
“Why only men?”
“Because women don’t try to rape me or cut off my head!”
Perseus shifted uneasily. “What would be in it for me?”
“Hundreds of warriors have come here to claim my head as a prize and all have failed. The treasure from their abandoned ships would be yours.” Medusa said.
Perseus contemplated the vast wealth within his grasp.
“Plus, everyone knows you defeated the Minotaur of Crete, you are already a legend. Perhaps you will also be famous for your compassion as well as bravery.”
“But it was Athena who gave me this mirrored shield. She said you would try to trick me!”
“Trick you how? It was she who turned me into this monster in a fit of rage, when it was I who was wronged!” Medusa sobbed. “I do not wish to live if this is how I am to be. Skulking in dank caves for eternity, fending off assassins like you trying to claim my head as a prize. You may as well take it now!”
Perseus saw his chance and raised his sword. Medusa instinctively spun around and, before Perseus could swing his blade, she was upon him, her snakes coiled around his throat. Medusa stood behind the great Perseus as he gasped for air. He looked at her reflection through his bulging eyes and saw torment and despair in her face. A snake slid down his sword arm and wrapped itself around his wrist, squeezing until he was forced to release his grip and it hit the rock floor with a clang.
“You know,” she whispered in his ear. “I could force you to look into my eyes.” A snake began twisting Perseus’ neck around toward her. He squeezed his eyes tightly. “Perhaps the gods don’t want me revealing the truth about what they’ve done to me?”
“I’ll take you!” Perseus yielded.
Medusa sensed deception.
“I give you my word,” Perseus gasped. “I shall surrender my weapons to you for the duration of the voyage if you give me your word you will not petrify my crew and I.”
“And what of Polydectes? He will need a head.”
“We could trick him.”
“You mean, murder an innocent maiden?”
“No, no! One recently deceased. We could thread snakes through her skull.”
“The skull would contain no power, unlike mine.”
“I could say it was a myth. Once you had been decapitated all your powers died with you.”
Medusa walked slowly back to her dresser, her head bowed in contemplation. Perseus glanced at his sword lying on the ground, but dismissed the treacherous thought. “You could live out the rest of your days in the light. Without the need to hide in the shadows, nor fear trophy-hunting men.”
“Like you?” she smiled.
“Like me,” Perseus bowed his head slightly.
“There is something you should know before we set sail on the high seas.”
“What is it?”
“I am pregnant with Poseidon’s child,” Medusa said. “If he finds out while we are at sea, he may not take kindly to you and your crew aiding me.”
Perseus picked up his sword. Medusa flinched as he walked toward her. But Perseus got down on one knee and offered up his sword in his palms. “Then we shall have to be cautious and travel in disguise. Wear a hooded cloak and veil. Your sisters can act as your attendants.”
It’s unknown whether Perseus delivered Medusa to the Isle of Lesbos. Legend would have us believe that Perseus sailed to Seriphos with what he claimed was Medusa’s head and presented it to King Polydectes shortly before chopping off his head. In the ensuing commotion the head was conveniently lost, or so it seems.
Sailors who unloaded their cargo at Lesbos heard tales that Medusa was befriended by the great poet Sappho and gave birth to Poseidon’s children – Pegasus, the winged horse who was seen flying above the island’s mountains before departing for Mount Olympus to be by Zeus’ side. And his twin brother, Chrysaor whom Medusa and Sappho raised as their own child until he was old enough to be called a ‘man’ and had to leave the island for his own safety. Whereupon, he was known as Golden Sword and travelled to far off lands in search of his own fame and glory.
At first, Medusa wore a headscarf and veil when she ventured out on the streets of Lesbos. But Sappho, and the other women, begged that she take them off and let the world see her for who she really was: Medusa – the woman, whose beauty, even the gods were afraid.
At least, that’s what Google translate tells me. It could say ‘f*ck you’ for all I know. Which would work just as well.
Saying farewell to the year in a foreign tongue has become a bit of a custom for reasons I shan’t go into right now.
Greek mythology and the divine muses have been pretty prominent for me in 2022, so it seems quite appropriate.
This year, I’ve managed to paint lots of pictures, visit lots of the Peak District and write lots of poetry. So much so, I’m hoping to publish my second collection of poetry, “Go tell the bees” some time in 2023. (I’ve even been dabbling with a book cover design for it.)
To see out the year, I thought I’d leave you with a few samples of abstract doodling which I’ve been doing quite a bit of lately. It’s a very cathartic and mindful exercise if you want to give it a go. I’ve even tried it with patients on the ward and it went down really well. (Remember, it’s about the process of doing art rather than the end result.)
It just remains for me to say, thank you for visiting my blog, your support is very much appreciated. I hope you have a very happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2023.
Keep being creative and tell those closest to you that you love them.
Extreme Doodling is not doodling whilst snowboarding down the lava doused slopes of an erupting volcano. It’s a tad more sedate than that. It’s doodling with purpose.
Like my previous post about abstract doodling, this exercise is mindful and relaxing.
Simply take your pen or pencil and take it for a stroll around the page.
Don’t think about it. Just spiral around, looping up and down, over and under, without lifting your pen off the page.
Next, (this is the ‘purpose’ part), fill in the shapes that you have created. As you can see above, I have used similarly spaced lines at varying angles, but you could fill each shape with a different design or pattern, as below.
Something like this would lend itself to being filled in with colour – felt tips, pencil crayon, watercolour…
You could even add more geometric elements to it.
There’s no right or wrong.
Nor is there any pressure on it having to be any ‘good’. By ‘good’ we usually mean in the eyes of others. Or, worse still – by yourself!
This is for you.
For you to spend some time relaxing whilst doing art.
It is the process not the result.
I could go on – I’ve got millions of the little blighters. But you get the idea.
I usually do them when I’m out and about and having to wait for something or someone (hence them always being black and white). So it’s a great way to pass time and not get frustrated about having to hang about.
Anyhoo, thank you so very much for taking the time to read/look at my blog. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it, and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
Here’s a little abstract doodling exercise that anyone can do.
Simply divide a page of your sketchbook up into four with masking tape. (Don’t use cello tape as it will tear the paper when you remove it.)
Next, take a pencil and randomly scribble around the four boxes. Then, do the same with a felt tip pen.
For the colour, I used a combination of oil and chalk pastels. (Mainly oil.) But you could use watercolour paint, acrylic, markers – whatever you feel like using. Just don’t try to think about it too much. Let your subconscious do the work.
Remember, this exercise is about the process of doing art as a mindfulness activity, not the result.
You don’t have to divide your page into four. Do as few or as many shapes as you want.
When you feel you’ve finished, gently peel off the masking tape and – Ta-daaahhh! Behold your masterpiece. Guaranteed to give you a little dopamine hit. (The pleasure/reward chemical in your brain.)
It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s extremely relaxing and gratifying.
Your finished work may not get hung in the Tate Modern, but that was never the objective in the first place. Doing art for its own sake and the mental wellbeing it brings was.
The Legend of the Patron Saint of Knitting and the Sheep Girl.
By David Milligan-Croft.
A long, long time ago, there was a young girl, about 14-ish, who was a shepherdess. She was a diligent girl who worked hard for her family and was thankful for the meagre things she had. If she had one tiny flaw, it was that she was slightly envious of other girls’ names. Ones who had names that meant things like ‘starlight’ or ‘princess of flowers’. Because pretty much everyone called her ‘sheep girl’. Apart from that, she was happy enough looking after her woolly friends.
After the sheep girl had tended her flock and safely rounded them up for the night she would spend the evening with her mother knitting in front of the hearth. She loved to knit with the fleece from her flock. She made clothes for all the family and for most of the villagers too.
Then, one day, a rider came galloping through the valley hailing that he had important news. Sheep girl hurried home as fast as she could, (with the sheep scampering behind her). All the people of the village were gathered around the fountain in the square, where the rider was breathlessly proclaiming the news that a vast army was approaching from the west. That it grew in size and wealth after each town and citadel that it sacked and plundered. No one knew why it was coming, or why it was gobbling up everything in its path, and either killing or enslaving everyone, but coming it was. And it was unstoppable.
The only good news the rider brought, was that the invading army was still many miles away and there were lots of towns, villages and citadels in the way of the behemoth before it reached their paltry village.
The sheep girl wanted to help her village, but she felt powerless, so she carried on the business of tending her sheep while wracking her brain for ideas until, one day, one of her flock went missing. She searched all over the valley but could not find the stray anywhere. Next, she tried the slopes of the valley, to no avail. She climbed higher up the mountain until the ground became so rocky and spartan that she needed her staff to gain purchase on the skittery rocks. Eventually, she came across the mouth of a cave with an eerie yellow glow emanating from within. Tentatively, she walked inside, and there was her missing sheep, Mathilda. But her fleece shone with the brilliance of gold. As she approached the nonchalant sheep, she realised that its fleece was, in fact, actual gold! So fine and delicate was the thread it felt like silk.
The sheep girl knew of a legend from her childhood that a great warrior would come down from the mountain one day to save the village from calamity. Was this a sign, she thought. That the hero was indeed about to appear before her? And was this sheep a portent to his impending arrival? Then, she was struck with the idea of how she could help the village and the great would-be saviour. She would knit him a suit of golden chainmail armour so strong that it would be impenetrable to arrow, axe or sword! She sheared, spun and knitted all day and all night until the gleaming suit of chainmail was complete.
Then she waited.
But the hero did not come.
And the billowing plumes of smoke from sacked cities on the horizon grew closer day by day.
She stared down at her village from the mouth of the cave as she absentmindedly ran her fingers through the shorn fleece of Mathilda. Then she felt the sheep’s head pull away. The sheep girl looked down at Mathilda who gently nudged her hand with her head. Then she turned and trundled back into the cave, stopping occasionally, to check whether the sheep girl was following her. Mathilda stopped before the golden mail neatly folded on the rock. When the sheep girl arrived next to her, Mathilda pushed the mail toward her with her nose. Sheep girl laughed, ‘I can’t wear it, Mathilda. It’s for the great warrior who’s coming to save us!’ But Mathilda trotted behind the sheep girl and butted her toward the suit.
‘Well, I guess there’s no harm in trying it on, little miss bossy britches,’ she said to Mathilda. The sheep girl lifted the hauberk over her head and found that it was surprisingly light for a shirt made of precious metal. Next, she pulled the coif over her head, neck and shoulders so that only her resplendent face was visible. She held out her arms and turned around. ‘What do you think, Tilda?’ she asked. ‘It fits pretty well, even if I do say so myself.’
Mathilda bowed her head and stroked the ground with her hoof.
‘Alas, I have no sword to smite my enemies,’ she joked. Then she noticed her staff leaning against the cave wall and another idea fell upon her. She took up her knitting needles and sharpened the points of them with her shears until they were sharp enough to pierce the mountain itself. Then she attached them to the head of the staff with golden thread.
Outside, the wheels of war grew ever louder as the mighty trebuchets of the invaders drew closer. Great columns of dust rose behind the cavalry as their hooves thundered across the plain. Drummers beat a rhythm for the massed ranks of infantry to march to. Buglers trumpeted the impending triumph of their mighty army. Heraldic banners fluttered in the wind. Sheep girl’s heart began to race as she paced the cave. Slate grey storm clouds gathered overhead and the tumultuous air was charged with electricity.
The sheep girl stepped out of the cave with her bident held aloft and beheld the vast invading hoard below, stretched out as far as the eye could see. What could she, a mere shepherdess, do against such a foe? Just then, the clouds began to part and a great beam of sunlight burst through and illuminated the sheep girl in her golden chainmail. The light refracted off the individual chinks and split into a myriad of shards of light, blinding the soldiers below and burning out their retinas. Those that were not blinded either fell prostrate before the angelic warrior from the heavens or turned and fled the battlefield in fear of the gods’ divine retribution. Then, a terrifying bolt of lightning cracked from the sky connecting to the sheep girl’s bident and the landscape turned a scintillating white. And, just like that, she disappeared.
Nothing was ever found of the shepherdess, except for her charred golden chainmail and scorched bident. In the years that followed, people from all over the land went on pilgrimages to the mountain to pay their respects to their saviour. Theologians and philosophers came from far and wide to beatify her in some form or another and bickered over how best to honour her name. Even though she was the golden warrior of light and had conquered the greatest army the world had ever seen, it was her dedication to her flock and her love of knitting that she would be remembered most, as La Cher, the Patron Saint of Knitting.
Apparently, when the monarch dies, the royal beekeeper has to go and tell the bees of their passing. They have to ask the bees not to fly away and to keep making honey. Because, a new monarch will be along shortly who will look after them just as well as the last one. True story.
Anyway, I thought I’d write a poem about this bewildering event. And, in doing so, may have inadvertently stumbled across the title of my next collection of poetry!
I found one the other day, while I was emptying boxes, that an old girlfriend had made for me in the 90s. I couldn’t play it, of course, as I don’t have a tape deck anymore. Or a record player. Or a CD player. In fact, I don’t ‘physically’ own any music. It’s all in the ether. Intangible. Owned by Apple, Spotify, Youtube or some other super corporation.
It got me thinking about how I would go about making one now, if I felt the urge to translate my love through the medium of music to my new-found paramour.
So I wrote a poem about it. As you do.
Then I had an epiphany!
Why not go ahead and actually make the mix tape as part of the poem.
For ‘mix tape’, I mean playlist, obviously. So, here you are.
(The link to the playlist is at the end.)
By David Milligan-Croft
Don’t talk to me about love;
I was making mix tapes before you were born.
Speaking of which, just how old are you?
I may look old, but inside, I feel 33 1/3.
It was easier to record from vinyl.
That way you could avoid abrupt endings.
Fade in, fade out, like a Grandmaster Flash.
If you were slick, you might include excerpts
Of dialogue from old movies,
Or from great speeches like- ‘I have a dream!’
…That one day you’ll kiss me!
(Not sure that’s what MLK had in mind.)
Recording off the radio was an art form.
You’d need the dexterity of a nuclear fission scientist
And a Watergate wiretapper to operate
Play, pause and record simultaneously,
Before some schmaltzy DJ chimed in with his drivel.
And if your tape got chewed up
From too much stopping and starting,
You’d have to pull it all out until you found the kinks,
Straighten it, then stick a pencil in the spool
And rewind it all back in again.
Praying it doesn’t happen while she’s listening to
Je t’aime moi non plus.
I hope you like it.
It took me a whole weekend to put together.
Quite good fun though. Reminiscing, and all that.
I imagine you listening to it in your bedroom.
Lying on your bed, looking up at the ceiling.
Your long, velvet hair cascading over the pillow,
Thinking of me, thinking of you.
Except we’re not Gainsbourg and Birkin.
The lyrics say things I never could,
Would or should. And are more self-indulgent
Than a box of Thorntons. But what can I do?
I’m just a 20th Century Boy in love with a 21st century girl.
Sally Mann is an American photographer who courted controversy with her ‘family life‘ series, due to nude depictions of her children growing up at their home in Virginia. And whether the photographs overtly sexualised children.
I haven’t included those shots here, but if you want to, you can see them by visiting Sally Mann’s website. In my opinion they are beautiful and sensitive. And many of us will recognise moments like them from our own children growing up. The controversy isn’t really about child nudity but more about consent to put them in the public domain.
Regardless of this, Mann’s work is challenging, provocative and defiant. And her compositions raise more questions than answers. Below is a selection of powerful shots I wanted to share with the class.