Monday 6 May 2019

Rape and Victim Blaming: “Medusa” by Luciano Garbati

I recently ran across an interesting piece of art. In investigating the artist, I discovered a curious twist on an old story. The more I know, the less I know. It's a big world, and there is much in the world I know nothing about.

Quartzy - Oct 3/2018
The story behind the Medusa statue that has become the perfect avatar for women’s rage by By Annaliese Griffin
Maybe you’ve seen her in your social media feed. A woman in the midst of an unsavory, unrequested task, she stands naked, her hair a tangle of serpents, a sword in one hand, a severed head in the other. Her gaze is not triumphant, exactly, but resolute.

This vision of a re-imagined Medusa myth is a sculpture by Luciano Garbati, a 45-year-old Argentine-Italian artist based in Buenos Aires who has watched in amazement lately as a piece of art he made in 2008 has gone viral across social media, as the perfect avatar for a moment of female rage.

“Medusa” by Luciano Garbati

The original Greek myth of Medusa offers plenty to be angry about. The monstrous being with snakes for hair starts out as a human woman, who Poseidon rapes in Athena’s temple. The goddess then punishes Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon and exiling her. Perseus is later sent on an errand to bring Medusa’s head to King Polydectes. Equipped with a mirrored shield, winged sandals, and a special sack for her head, Perseus creeps up on Medusa while she lies sleeping, cuts off her head, and then uses it as a weapon for turning enemies into stone.

Garbati came to question the characterization of Medusa as a monster, pointing out that she was “raped and cursed and killed.”

My Research
As you can see from the above Quartzy article, Mr. Garbati has created an interpretation of Medusa that has caught the eye of feminists and the #MeToo movement. I became curious at his questioning "the characterization of Medusa as a monster". I realized I knew little or nothing about Greek mythology.

Below, I link to several sources I consulted — Wikipedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, and Classical Wisdom Weekly — trying to confirm the full story of this mythical figure. The following is based on the writings of Ovid (43 BC - 17/18 AD), a Roman poet. Athena is an ancient Greek goddess associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare.

Classical Wisdom Weekly: Medusa: Sympathy for a Monster
According to Ovid, Medusa was born human and grew into an excruciatingly beautiful woman. Every man who saw her face and her gorgeous, silken hair immediately asked for her hand in marriage—all but one. The sea god, Poseidon, fell for her amazing looks but instead of asking for her hand, took her virginity—raping her inside the sacred sanctuary of Athena.

Athena, as the virgin goddess, was incredibly enraged by this defilement of her temple and chose to punish Medusa for her part in the whole affair—she cursed Medusa’s beauty. According to this version of the myth, it’s at this point that Medusa’s beautiful hair becomes a tangled mass of snakes, and she is cursed with her deadly power—the ability to turn whoever looks upon her to stone.

It’s important to stress here that Medusa has no control over this ability—should anyone at all look upon her face, they’ll be instantly transformed. In essence, Athena dooms Medusa to a life of solitude, a life in which Medusa will never have the comfort of looking at another human face without destroying it—all for the crime of being raped. After years of this torture, Perseus’ sword must have come as a welcome deliverance.

The important point is this: Athena punishes Medusa for being raped. Yes, you read that correctly. As one commentator wrote in a user group discussing this myth, "classic victim-blaming". Athena doesn't hold Poseidon responsible for raping Medusa, she holds Medusa responsible for being raped. The criminal isn't responsible for committing the crime; the victim is responsible for being the target. And you will note that the person inflicting the punishment is a woman, not a man. A woman holds another woman responsible for being raped.

Athena is angry that her temple has been defiled by the rape, but why does she hold Medusa responsible for this defilement, not Poseidon the perpetrator?

It's beyond the scope of this article to delve into the psychological aspects of this story. — Wikipedia has articles on victim blaming and rape myth for further study. — My point is that Medusa is always considered horrible, and Perseus beheading Medusa is seen as good triumphing over evil. But behind this common telling is another story.

Over the years, I discovered this: Happy people are kind, generous, and sympathetic, if not empathetic. Unhappy people are mean, cruel, and always find fault with everybody else, never with themselves.

In other words, supposedly bad people may have a reason for being bad. Now don't get me wrong, some bad people can't be rehabilitated, and like a rabid dog, must be put down and locked up. Forever. — If I could go back in time, would I kill baby Hitler? (Wikipedia: Grandfather paradox)

My point is this newly discovered (well, for me) backstory to Medusa. Poseidon rapes her, and the goddess Athena holds her accountable.

In Ovid's telling, Perseus describes Medusa's punishment by Minerva (Athena) as just and well earned. (Wikipedia)

Now, I'm curious: In the Wizard of Oz, why are the Wicked Witch of the East and the Wicked Witch of the West wicked? (Yes, the plot of the 1995 novel Wicked by Gregory Maguire and the subsequent musical.)

official web site: Luciano Garbati

MWTH Project (Medusa With The Head)
MWTH (Medusa With The Head) is an exhibition entangled in the narrative habits of classical imaginaries, their foundational role in present culture and visions of the future. MWTH seeks to reorient androcentric lore, to queer iconography, and to re-reformulate antiquity’s heroic center and its modes of (re)production. Through stories that are told and retold over centuries, our iconography shapes our ideology.

Twitter: luciano garbati @GarbatiLuciano

Facebook: luciano garbati

Wikipedia: Perseus with the Head of Medusa
Perseus with the Head of Medusa is a bronze sculpture made by Benvenuto Cellini in the period 1545-1554. The sculpture stands upon a square base with bronze relief panels depicting the story of Perseus and Andromeda, similar to a predella on an altarpiece. It is located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy. The second Florentine duke, Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, commissioned the work with specific political connections to the other sculptural works in the piazza. When the piece was revealed to the public on 27 April 1554, Michelangelo's David, Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus, and Donatello's Judith and Holofernes were already erected in the piazza.

The subject matter of the work is the mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa, a hideous woman-faced Gorgon whose hair was turned to snakes and anyone that looked at her was turned to stone. Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, triumphant on top of the body of Medusa with her snakey head in his raised hand. The body of Medusa spews blood from her severed neck. The bronze sculpture and Medusa's head turns men to stone and is appropriately surrounded by three huge marble statues of men: Hercules, David, and later Neptune. Cellini breathed new life into the piazza visitor through his new use of bronze in Perseus and the head of Medusa and the motifs he used to respond to the previous sculpture in the piazza. If one examines the sculpture from the back, you can see the self-image of the sculptor Cellini on the backside of Perseus' helmet.

Wikipedia: Medusa
In a late version of the Medusa myth, related by the Roman poet Ovid (Metamorphoses 4.770), Medusa was originally a ravishingly beautiful maiden, "the jealous aspiration of many suitors," but because Poseidon had raped her in Athena's temple, the enraged Athena transformed Medusa's beautiful hair to serpents and made her face so terrible to behold that the mere sight of it would turn onlookers to stone. In Ovid's telling, Perseus describes Medusa's punishment by Minerva (Athena) as just and well earned.

Ancient History Encyclopedia: Medusa
Ovid relates that the once beautiful mortal was punished by Athena with a hideous appearance and loathsome snakes for hair for having been raped in Athena's temple by Poseidon.

The Odyssey Online: The Horrible Tale of Medusa
One of the most popular beings from Greek mythology is not even a god or a monster; she is actually a cursed woman who is a victim to a horrendous crime. Her name meant "guardian" and "protectress." Her tale shows the cruelty of the Greek gods and how mankind is nothing but items to the gods. Medusa is known as a woman with snakes for hair and a gaze that turns men into stone. But who knows the truth behind this woman? This is her story.

Medusa was a priestess to the goddess Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom and battle. One requirement to be a priestess for Athena is that the young woman must be a virgin and give her life to the goddess. One day, Poseidon, the god of the Sea and rival to Athena, saw Medusa and decided to humiliate Athena by raping the priestess on the steps of Athena's temple. Poseidon vanished after he was done and left Medusa vulnerable and weak.

Medusa prayed to Athena for guidance and forgiveness. After all, in those days, the gods claimed their mates as their partner forever, and Medusa was now Poseidon's wife. Athena looked down in anger and cursed Medusa for betraying her. Medusa was sent to a faraway island and was cursed so that no man would want her. She was given chicken legs, giant metal wings, cracked skin, madness, and her signature snake hair and stone eyes. Medusa was now a monster woman.


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