Friday, January 28, 2011

Affairs of the Gods: No Sex in Athena's Room!

(As a special treat today, I offer you a most excellent guest post, written by the fabulous Valerie of As The Moon Climbs! You can check out her poetry and flash fiction on her blog, and I trust that you are all already following her on twitter? RIGHT? If not, after this post you will be persuaded, I'm sure.)

It's easy to talk about the many, many, MANY times that Zeus fooled around and got some poor girl in trouble--forget a little black book, the guy needed a whole set of encyclopedia-sized tomes to keep track. But by no means was he the only god sowing his wild ambrosia whenever, however, and--unfortunately--wherever he darn well pleased.

Museo civico archeologico di Bologna nettuno1
Poseidon's Backside
While not as, ahem, prolific in his conquests as his brother, Poseidon did his fair share of getting around. Most famously, he fathered Polyphemus, the Cyclops that Odysseus blinded, and who called on his dad for revenge and basically caused the rest of the Odyssey to play out as it did. Whoops! Moral of the story: don't mess with the dude whose dad controls 2/3 of the planet.

But a tale from Ovid's Metamorphoses gives a twist to another story by explaining how it all began, namely the tale of Medusa and her sibilant snaky locks. You probably know about how Perseus borrowed a shiny shield, snuck into her cave and tricked her into turning herself into stone by looking at her own reflection. But where did she get that snake hair in the first place? Let's go to the source:

"Medusa once had charms; to gain her love 
 A rival crowd of envious lovers strove. 
They, who have seen her, own, they ne'er did trace 
More moving features in a sweeter face. 
Yet above all, her length of hair, they own, 
In golden ringlets wav'd, and graceful shone."

So she was totally smokin' hot at one point, with the kind of hair that most people can't get with a closet full of beauty products. No snakes in sight. What happened?

"Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir'd, 
Resolv'd to compass, what his soul desir'd."

Oh, Poseidon, you sly dog. But just gettin' your freak on with a lady usually wasn't enough to get her punished, right?

"In chaste Minerva's fane, he, lustful, stay'd, 
And seiz'd, and rifled the young, blushing maid."

Ah, there it is, in 17th century Olde Timey Speak: they did the dirty deed in Athena's temple. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want my uncle putting the moves on someone in my room, either. And Medusa was supposedly a priestess of Athena at the time, which of course only made the problem worse, what with the whole mandatory virginity clause. So what did Athena do?

"The bashful Goddess turn'd her eyes away, 
Nor durst such bold impurity survey; 
But on the ravish'd virgin vengeance takes, 
Her shining hair is chang'd to hissing snakes. 
These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear, 
The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare, 
Than they did lovers once, when shining hair. "

And there you have it. Because Poseidon couldn't keep his trouser snake in his, er--well, he probably wasn't wearing anything because he was god of the OCEAN, but you get the point--poor Medusa ended up with snakes on her head. She then experienced what is arguably the longest pregnancy ever because it wasn't until Perseus cut off her head that two kids jumped out, one of which was the fabled Pegasus.

On the plus side, she got to grace Athena's shield as a really creepy emblem. The downside: obstacle course of statues whenever she had to leave her cave to potty.

Meanwhile, Poseidon was off catching some gnarly waves en route to his next conquest. He may or may not have high-fived a few dolphins along the way, but Ovid is suspiciously silent on the subject so we'll just have to imagine it.


  1. I've always felt a little bad for Medusa, but then she just becomes nasty. On the plus side, I think it's pretty cool that my four-year-old monkey knows who she is.

    I think I'll wait a few years before filling her on the whole myth as it's not exactly rated G.

  2. Hahahaaa, brilliant guest post! I never knew the snakes were a PUNISHMENT. Mannn. And all because Poseidon was a play-a too.

    On a lighter note he does have a very nice beehind. I see years of being the god of the Ocean did wonders for his skin. It's not even wrinkly from being in the water or anything.

  3. Stephanie: I think I'd become nasty if I was doomed to never be able to look at anyone without turning them to stone too :-/ I mean, that's a lonely long life when it isn't REALLY even her fault.

    Mia: I totally just died laughing. Died. I am now dead, and speaking to you as a ghost.

  4. Damn Poseidon had a big butt. Gotta cut back on them oysters.

  5. Great post. And don't forget, Pegasus the flying horse was born from poor Medusa's bleeding neck after Perseus offed her.

    Still, not to get too political about it, we sure can see how we came by "blame the woman" for rape thing. As if Medusa coulda stopped him!

    It's Poseidon who shoulda been punished! It would be funny if it weren't so sad that so many cultures STILL punish the woman who is raped rather than the assailant.

  6. Nick: I think he's just pretty huge in general.

    Vicky: Yeah-- That Pegasus link is there, I guess, but it seems to me it gets blown way out of proportion in art. Wasn't it Bellerophon who actually rode him?

    And absolutely! The gods are never punished for the mess, it's always the mortals, and in cases like these, always, always the women. "She was too beautiful." "She was flaunting herself" "She asked for it" are all excuses I would have NO difficulty believing Zeus or Poseidon spouting.

  7. To be fair, Poseidon could probably kick Athena's ass if he really wanted to, so she's probably deliberately not messing with him directly.

  8. Poseidon was punished, and the rest of us, too. To be robbed of Medusa's beauty, to witness her pain and suffering, to inherit this "blame the woman" mentality - all poison and loss.

    I suspect Poseidon suffers still. See how diminished he is? How...nearly irrelevant? He's like a "B" movie star. Last big hit: "The Poseidon Adventure", 1972.

    How far he has fallen, and how much karma is his to work off. Don't let the "God" thing fool you. The bill must be settled. Nobody gets off easy in the end.

  9. Damn, that's a bad break. Fuck being a mortal with those deities around


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