Sunday, 19 January 2014

Medea

I've been watching Jason and the Argonauts. The 1963 one. Not once, but repeatedly because it's my daughter's current obsession.  I've got nothing against that. I love Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans was the first and foremost reason I chose to study classics) and I love seeing how myths are retold in different generations.
No 60s film is complete without an exotic dance or two
Jason is of particular interest though because it features my Favourite Greek Myth Figure of all time: Medea, a woman I find endlessly fascinating. Not because she murders her kids. But because she crosses all sorts of boundaries between divine and human and no one seems to notice.


Except in this film. In this film Medea - retold from an early 1960s point of view - is no longer the daughter of Aeetes and grand-daughter of Helios, the son. She's a love sick priestess with great 60s make up and a neat line in exotic dances. She doesn't tackle monsters. She doesn't slay people (especially not her brother). She clings to trees, waits for her man to save her, and always ensures she looks foxy. Even drowning doesn't make her eyeliner run.  Need I go on?  Well yes, but not here and not today. I'll save that for Searching for SuperWomen.

Just drowned, still foxy

But that's not my Medea. No sir, no way.

This is.

Medea


I still hear his cries, sometimes. Not the sounds he made whilst he was dying. When I sliced his throat he was silent. It was a painless death, I think. I have power enough for that.

No, it’s a night long ago that I remember, a night so far in the past that it belongs to the oddity of childhood. 
A night before the Thessalians came, bringing the fever of desire and madness.

It is midsummer, and even in the still of the night the air sticks close to my skin. A pregnant moon hangs low over Colchis, Hecate’s Moon. The time to cut sacred herbs, to brew poisons.  

My moon.

I am six, the granddaughter of the Sun, dedicated to a goddess who haunts the darkness. I am a creature of two faces, of between places. Other. Already, eyes slide away from me and parents warn their children to stay away. I am not a playmate, I am a priestess. The mark of Hecate lies upon me like a brand. To touch me without my consent is a profanity and they know it. Already they can feel my power.

But he is a baby still. His fists curl, sweaty in the night and downy hair clings to his flushed round cheeks. He whimpers, and the whisper turns into a cry.  The nursemaid does not stir and his cheeks grow red. His chest rises, puffs out. I sense the storm swelling inside him. In a quick movement I am there, my hands on his arms.

“Shhh, shhh,” I whisper. Seeing me, his smile breaks out, a sun exploding through the darkness of the night.  
It is in Absyrtis that the traces of our grandfather Helios glimmer, in his golden hair and the warmth radiating from his skin. His emotions blaze, scorching rage and violent love. He is my opposite.  His warm hands clutch at my long black hair and he laughs out loud.  “’Dea!”

“You must go back to sleep,” I whisper to him. “It is the middle of the night.”

“’Dea!” He says again. “Out!

I hear the sounds of the night, the low soft call of birds that hunt in the darkness.  It sounds like a summons and it is. For tomorrow I leave the nursery and the warmth of my brother’s company and become wholly of the Goddess.

So I stagger back, pulling him from the cradle and set him on the floor. “Dea!” He holds his arms up again. Crouching, I press my finger to his fat cheek. “Medea,” I correct him, sternly.  “You should not be awake.”  But I let him pull my hair, and play peek a boo whilst the nurse slumbers on. In the morning they find us curled up together like puppies and Absyrtis cries when they lift him away.

It is that cry that echoes through my waking dreams. My brother stretching his arms held out to me, screaming, “’Dea! ‘Dea!” But rosy-fingered dawn had streaked the skies, heralding the ascendancy of our grandfather the sun. The Goddess waited, still and dark in the shadows of the temple.

I turned away so that I could not see his frantically waving arms. The same arms that I sawed from his body with the swift, brutal blows of a butcher. The same arms that I cast, bloodied and torn, into the wine-dark sea for my father to find; grisly mementoes of the desire and desperation that had propelled me on my headlong flight from Colchis.

“’Dea! ‘Dea!”

If they had kept us together, could I have done what I did?  If we had grown up side by side? If I had watched him totter to me, full of trust and love?

But I didn’t grow up with Absyrtis. I grew up with the witch goddess, Hecate. Apart. In the shadows. Until the fierce warmth of my brother’s love faded from my mind and all that was left was shadows in the night.

And then Jason.  

4 comments:

Diane J. Reed said...

I'm always completely in awe of your writing, Meg. The power, passion and precision are breathtaking. I hope this will be part of a novel! Even though I love those hold Harryhousen movies (and the women whose makeup & eyeliner never seemed to smear), this is truly a refreshing and more accurate portrayal of these mythical muses. Bravo!

Meg McNulty said...

Aw, thanks Diane. It's nice to be writing again! :-)

Sophie Moss said...

This is awesome, Meg. As always. You have such an amazing voice and knowledge of Greek myths. I want to read a Greek myth-retelling romance from you one day!! I especially loved the lines, "A pregnant moon hangs low over Colchis, Hecate’s Moon. The time to cut sacred herbs, to brew poisons. My moon."

Meg McNulty said...

Thank you Sophie :-)