“…the Gorgon was made out of the terror, not the terror out of the Gorgon.”
-The Odyssey, as translated by Jane Ellen Harrison
A gorgon on a wooden door. Thomas Regnaudin circa 1660
This is the first of a series of posts about gorgons. Medusa is the most famous of gorgons, and in fact the only one by most accounts. She has snakes for hair and the sight of her face (or arguably her gaze) turns men to stone. She some accounts add two immortal sisters under the same curse, but they aren’t particularly significant in mythology and were probably added later to satisfy the Greek need to make triads out of mythological females.
As for Medusa herself, there are (at least) two versions of how she came to be. One is that she had sex with Poseidon in Athena’s temple. Athena took offense and punished Medusa by turning her hair to snakes and cursing her looks. The other version holds that Poseidon raped Medusa in Athena’s temple and, since she couldn’t punish Poseidon (him being a god and all) she cursed Medusa instead.
In classical mythology her head serves the purpose of helping Perseus defeat Cetus (a sea serpent) and saving his mother being forcefully wed to an evil king (which would be interesting if you subscribe to Medusa’s rape origin). Perseus thanks Athena by giving her Medusa’s head, which she puts on her shield. Medusa is the source of a powerful magical artifact.
In ancient and renaissance European architecture, Gorgon’s faces were carved on gates and doors, to ward off evil. Medusa is a trap.
In older Greek art, Medusa is depicted as hideous, and it is her hideousness that turns men to stone. Medusa is a monster.
In later depictions, Medusa is beautiful. It was Athena’s curse that changed her hair and caused her still-beautiful face to turn men to stone. Medusa is a curse.
Medusa’s blood is said to have transformed into giant scorpions and Pegasus, while her unborn son, the demigod Chrysaor, was born through her neck stump. Chrysaor went on to become king of Iberia and father Geryon. Medusa is a mother and grandmother.
Here’s some ideas based on the above:
In some parts, every door has a non-magical Gorgoneian ward–a carving, painting, mosaic or other depiction of Medusa. The magical version of such a ward will turn a creature into stone if it approaches a door with intent to enter, bypass, open or otherwise enter and is looking at the door. Anyone touching the door risks a poisonous bite from the ward’s snakes (save or die, attack with same HD as level of the ward’s creator). Approaching the door wearing a blindfold avoids the petrification problem but is guaranteed a poison bite. A mirror might save the day. These wards can be created by mages or by clerics of an appropriate pantheon (say, Greek).
This is a sexually transmitted disease that suddenly turns men to stone about a week after infection.
A woman (or man) under a gorgon’s curse leads a life of loneliness and frustration. The victim of this most serious of curses does not have snakes for hair, nor a garden of petrified guests. Her curse is more subtle:
First, she emits an aura that charms anyone with whom she has contact (no save).
Second, she emits an aura that cases paralyzing fear, dread or insanity (33% chance each) in anyone spending more than an hour within a quarter mile of her (save vs. magic). Even those who make their save will feel compelled to leave the area as soon as is convenient.
Third, she has a 20 percent chance of being charmed by any intelligent creature she meets in person.
Fourth, she does not age.
A Gorgon’s Head
The severed head of a gorgon can be used as a weapon. Any creature that looks at it from a distance of 30 feet or less must save at -4 or be turned to stone immediately, along with any clothing or belongings on his or her body. From past 30 feet, the effect is lesser and leads only to paralyzation for 2d6 turns. Past 60 feet, creatures must save or flee in fear.
More to come this week.