In Book IV of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Perseus relates his resourceful strategy for the killing of the gorgon Medusa. This strategy saves him from a stony fate and separates him from the many victims who had come to gaze upon Medusa’s once beautiful face.
”And everywhere in fields and by the road,
He saw the shapes of men and beasts,
all changed To stone by glancing at Medusa’s face.
But he, he said, looked at her ghastly head
Reflected in the bright bronze of the shield
In his left hand, and while deep sleep held fast
Medusa and her snakes, he severed it
Clean from her neck…”
Perseus refuses to fall victim to Medusa’s reign of stony terror through the pragmatic use of his shield as a mirror, held in his ‘left hand’ a detail that makes his actions seem very real to his audience. Interestingly Medusa has the capacity to share sleep with her ‘snakes’ a revelation that seems a left over behavior from Medusa’s originally human life and context. Perhaps Medusa’s sleep reveals her vulnerability as well as the knowingness of Perseus’s strategic plan. For after all Perseus had been advised by the goddess Minerva, a goddess keen to revenge herself on Medusa yet again for the latter’s violation in her temple.I do wonder too at the importance of metonymy in considering Medusa. For if it is her gaze by itself that causes stoniness, then it is as if the gaze has a strange life of its own. For the head of Medusa contains the eyes and these eyes operate separately from the rest of her body, a metonymical shift that produces a keen sense of alienation and estrangement…
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