I was introduced to Greek mythology as the result of a Frankenstein Complex. As a kid, I would swap the heads and bodies of my paper dolls. These attempts to create the perfect cardboard woman resulted in beauty pageants, in which my older brother was forced to serve as judge. He grew tired of the endless (and rigged) competitions. As a diversion, he told me a tale about a beauty contest involving three Greek goddesses. I was particularly taken with Athena, the goddess of wisdom, but she lost out to Aphrodite, goddess of love, who provided a bribe that appealed to the hormones of the judge. This was a turning point in my young life; I identified with the smart entity rather than the pretty one.
The paper dolls got set aside, replaced by reading Greek myths. Empowered females factored into my fascination with the stories. There was Circe, the sorceress who turned men into swine, and Medea, who helped adventurer Jason obtain The Golden Fleece. She was a priestess of the goddess Hecate, which boiled down to being a witch. Her powers subsequently turned malevolent years later, with Jason experiencing firsthand that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
My favorite was Medusa. This chick had a visage so hideous that it turned men to stone. Perhaps because she was antithetical to my paper doll creations, I found her monstrousness attractive. And having snakes for hair made her even more accessible: females of every age are unhappy with their hair. As an adult, I purchased the DVD of Hammer Films The Gorgon, and was pleased to discover that Medusa had lost none of the charms that so ensnared me as a child.
Arachne was another monster who made an impression. Half-woman and half-spider, she was the recipient of Athena’s wrath. Arachne had boasted of being a better weaver than the goddess. This fable fed my fascination with spiders, and confirmed my distaste for sewing.
Two other gals who infuriated deities made imprints on my youthful psyche: Pandora and Echo. Pandora was the Greek equivalent of Biblical Eve: She defied an interdiction, thereby causing the ills of the world to be unleashed. Even for a kid like me, it was easy to see the parallels between parables. What really made my young blood boil was the assignation of gender. Why is a curse on mankind brought about by a woman? And wasn’t there a subtext by denoting curiosity as a negative? Not the best message to send to a feisty little girl who was curious by nature.
Echo’s story was guaranteed to irk this budding feminist. Because of alienating the goddess Hera, Echo was relegated to parroting the words of others; never able to speak of her own volition. She became enamored of Narcissus, who was besotted by his image in a stream. He had never beheld so perfect a being before. His monologues to his beloved were turned into dialogue courtesy of Echo. While Echo had a bit of my sympathy because of what Hera had done to her, I profoundly questioned her choice in men, and she seemed to be a dim bulb. Since Narcissus died because of his obsession with himself, I felt there was at least some poetic justice. But, overall, neither character garnered my sympathy. Unrequited love struck me as silly.
Something I could relate to in those formative years was the bond between mother and daughter. When I read the myth about Demeter, the earth goddess, losing her daughter Persephone, I felt bad. Persephone caught the fancy of Hades, god of the underworld. He abducted the girl and made her his consort. Crops withered due to Demeter’s despondency and lack of interest. Distraught Persephone refused the food of the underworld, because she feared partaking would forever bind her there. In a fit of hunger, she ate six pomegranate seeds. From that it was determined she could return to earth for six months each year; the other six to be spent in the underworld. Hence, the explanation for earth’s seasons. I liked this tale not only because of the relationship between parent and child, but also because pomegranates were, and remain, my preferred fruit. Seguing to another probable reinforcement from the myths, Athena had an owl companion, and I did (and do) adore owls.
Despite my female-centric take, there are some damn fine beastie boys such as Cyclops, the Minotaur, and Cerberus, the three-headed-hell hound. And the male human-animal hybrids, the satyrs and centaurs, have kinky appeal.
In retrospect, it’s quite easy to trace my love of horror back to the early exposure to Greek mythology. The move from Pantheism to Paganism is not a big leap. Within the realm of gods and monsters, it makes perfect sense.