By: Mark Kodama

After the blind bard finished his tale about Perseus, we clapped and threw coins into his ceramic jar by his foot. The bard rested his left arm on his daughter shoulder as she collected coins that had spilled from the jar. With his right arm he tapped the ground with his walking stick, his vacant eyes staring blindly into the world. The crowd dispersed and made their way down from the acropolis. An old hag who had stopped to listen to the tale laughed derisively. "Ridiculous," she sniffed.

Dressed in rags, she slung the bundle of branches over her hunchback and began to walk down the hill toward the market. "You old woman, how dare you disrespect the bard," I said. "It was a great tale well told."

"I'm not disrespecting anyone," the old hag croaked, wagging her gnarled finger at me and whistling through toothless gums. She had a large raised scar under her right eye. "But I know the truth. Medusa was my daughter. I will tell you what really happened if you care to listen."

"I'm not in a mood to listen to such scurrilous lies," I said.

"And do you really believe there is such a head of a woman with snakes for hair who turns people into stone?" she cackled. "Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Hermes, gorgons and magic, puh–lease. My child if you really want to know the truth walk with me down the hill and help an old woman bring her firewood to sell at the market," she said.

Curious, I took her bundle of sticks, slung it over my shoulder and walked with her.

She squinted at me through her wrinkled face. "It all began in Argos. In those days, I was a real beauty. I'm not one to turn heads now but once the greatest heroes of Greece sought my hand in marriage. That was long ago."

I shifted the bundle of sticks from his right shoulder to his left shoulder. I was surprised how heavy the bundle was.

"I was King Acrisius's eldest daughter," she said. 'And Danae was my younger sister."

"One night my father got drunk and raped me. Nine months later, I gave birth to a daughter most deformed and hideous. She had a hunchback and a harelip. Her eyes bulged from her sockets like two chicken eggs. The gods had punished our unnatural union.

"But when I held my baby girl my heart melted for her. She was my daughter and I loved her. My father ordered me to kill the girl but I refused. I named her Medusa.

"My father scarred my face with a red hot poker so no man would ever find me attractive," she said. "He sent us to the countryside to live in obscurity with the farmer Prometheus.

"Prometheus was a distant relative of the king. He was a good and loyal man. Although he never touched me, he and his wife treated both Medusa and I like his daughters.

"Meanwhile, King Acrisius began sleeping with Danae. He soon fathered Perseus," the old crone said. "Did you really think Zeus was the father of Perseus?" She spit on the ground.

We came to a stone well. The noon sun burned my cheek and caused me to sweat. I set the bundle on the ground. I dropped a wood bucket into the well.

"You drink first," she told me, filling her wood dipper with water.

"No, mother, please" I said. "You, first."

The old hag sipped the water and then handed the dipper to me. After I dranik a sip, we continued to the agora.

"When Perseus came of age, King Acrisius sent him to kill Medusa and I," the old hag said.

"When he came to the farm, I recognized him immediately," she said. "He was the spitting image of his father King Acrisius, complete with a large birthmark on his right wrist. He was dressed in a fine linen cloak and had a fine polished bronze sword that hung from his belt."

" 'Woman, do you know of the woman Medusa?' Perseus asked."

" 'What is she like,' I asked."

" 'She is a hideous monster,' he replied."

"We do not know of any woman like that," I replied.

"The young man's flushed red in anger," he said. "He grabbed the hilt of his sword and started to draw it."

"So then I smiled and said 'Wait I may have seen her, now that you mention it.' Perseus certainly was not the sharpest tool in the shed. Perseus let his sword fall back in his scabbard. 'When was that, woman?'

" 'Maybe a year ago,' I said. " 'Let me think where. Yes, it was in a cave in the mountains.'

" 'I was gathering wood. I had heard there were three gorgons that lived a cave in the mountains. They had snakes growing from their heads instead of hair.' I trembled. His face turned white.

"As I neared the cave, there was a forest of stone statues of people and even a dog. Medus, that hideous monster, had turned all to stone.

"There was a great puff of smoke," the old hag said. "Standing before was the god Hermes – the great trickster himself.

"He gave me a polished shield and magic sword of burnished steel. He warned me not to look upon the gorgon Medusa directly or I would be turned to stone too.

The old hag cackled. "Well, you should have seen that lout Perseus! He turned white as a ghost.

"But then I told him he had nothing to fear," the old hag said. "For I had come upon the sleeping Medusa. I did not look directly at her but I used my mirrored shield to look at her while I cut her off her head."

" 'Whap! The sword cut through the scales of her neck. Her head fell to the ground with a great thud and blood spurted like a fountain from where he neck was.' Perseus blinked."

" 'Medusa's two sisters awoke,' " I said.

" 'Were they angry?' Perseus asked."

" 'They were so angry that they snorted smoke from their nostrils!' " I raised Medusa's head and they turned to stone."

" 'What happened to the head?' Perseus asked."

" 'Why I gave it to Athena, of course,' I replied. 'You know, to put on her shield.' So Perseus returned to Argos, hands unbloodied," the old hag said.

"So what happened when Perseus returned to Argos?" I asked.

'King Acrisius cuffed his head and called him an idiot."

"What happened next?"

"Perseus lost his temper and killed the king. He was exiled to Mycenae where he was made king."

"Well, here we are," the old hag said. "My stall."

I laughed. "I suppose you know my name is Perseus too. And just as dumb."

I set down the bundle of wood for the old hag. "At least I heard a great story."

As I left the agora, I passed by a young woman with a hunchback, bulging eyes as large chicken eggs and a harelip, carrying a bundle of wood.

The End


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