Cody Delistraty wrote about monsters and their “more nuanced” nature. Are they misunderstood and capable of teaching us more than their evil existence lets on?
Though Freud posited that Medusa’s hair represented sexual repression, a symbol of castrated genitalia and the madness to which that might lead a person, the poet Ann Stanford, in her “Women of Perseus,” unpacks the more nuanced psychological effects of Medusa’s rape and the complications it adds to understanding her. Commenting on Stanford’s work, the poet and scholar Alicia Ostriker notes in her article “The Thieves of Language” that “the trauma ‘imprisons’ Medusa in a self-dividing anger and a will to revenge that she can never escape, though she yearns to.”
Consumed by this vengeful desire, Medusa might be not so much a monster as a tragic figure. Given the way her story as a “monster” has been told over the last few centuries, however, you’d be hard-pressed to know it.
When depicted as wholly and unchangeably evil, the classic monsters of literature and myth help make sense of a complex world, often with Biblical clarity and simplicity. The existence of pure evil implies the existence of pure good. Heaven or Hell. The Light Side of the Force or the Dark Side. Mount Olympus or Hades. The idea is that though we must choose a direction, it’s a straight and clear path.
While the article centres on monsters and evil entities as a whole, I believe this argument is acutely accurate for female monsters such as Medusa. And it’s always men who write about them in this way. I’ve never really seen Medusa as a monster really; if anything, I’ve quietly cheered her on whenever she’s turned a dude into stone. We could do with more of that in the modern world.
Monster-related: Venom, the symbiotic supervillain – good or evil?