Gift Not a Curse

Rebekah Pouw

‘My lady Athena, please help me!’

A flash of light revealed Athena in all her terrifying glory. The goddess turned, glowering in revulsion and fury at the scene before her.

Poseidon, of all the gods, was standing with a smug look on his face, cornering a trio of women. Athena recognised Medusa, one of her priestesses; the other two she recognised as Stheno and Euryale, Medusa’s sisters. Athena glowered at Poseidon, angry towards his appearance in her temple. The bitter history between them caused hatred to rise, an emotion that only increased at the sight of her priestess slumped on the floor, her body shaking as tears dripped from her eyes.

‘May someone tell me what has happened in my temple?’ Athena demanded.

Stheno and Euryale, who were comforting the weeping Medusa, immediately stood up.

‘My lady, Poseidon… h-he assaulted our sister after she refused his affections!’ The ground began to shake at Stheno’s accusation.

‘Silence mortal! Athena, your little priestess here chose to sleep with me. After all, what mortal can resist a god?’ The disdain in Poseidon’s voice as he addressed the goddess was something Athena expected. But the look of cruel amusement in his eyes as he leered at Medusa and her current state, daring her to say otherwise, was something completely out of character for the sea god.

Athena turned to the priestess, whose face was heartbroken and full of fear.

‘You lay with Poseidon in my temple? You betrayed me?’

Medusa frantically shook her head despite the powerful god that towered over her and her sisters, his shadow swallowing them in darkness. ‘He raped me. I rejected his advances, and he raped me! Right on your steps! He did it to defile your temple as a place of sanctuary! Please believe me, my lady.’

The look of pure terror on Medusa’s face, alongside her sisters’ looks of fear and hatred that they hurled at Poseidon from Medusa’s side, was something that made Athena reconsider her accusations. Athena turned her attention again on her fellow god, who stared back at the goddess in contempt.

‘Does the mortal speak truthfully, Poseidon?’

‘Of course not, she lies to cover her whoring.’

A distraught cry that was quickly stifled and replaced with shushing sounded from Medusa in response to Poseidon’s declaration. Medusa’s cry reminded Athena of a wounded animal.

Specifically, a wounded animal that has lost all hope.

‘Lady Athena, please, protect our sister!’ Stheno cried.

‘Goddess, Medusa would never go against you. You are her patron goddess, her deity!’ Euryale proclaimed.

The mortals looked beseechingly at the goddess, but Athena could only look back in despair.

‘Please my lady, I beg you. I did nothing wrong!’ Medusa’s grief-filled pleading combined with her sisters’ defensive affirmations.

But Athena knew what the law of the gods demanded.

‘I believe you, Medusa.’

The look of joy and love that the mortal gave to Athena was one she’d never forget. And that made her next words even more heartbreaking.

‘But I have no choice. In the eyes of Zeus and the law, you must be punished for this act.’

‘But, my goddess, I did nothing wrong!’

Medusa clung to her garment scraps, attempting to protect what was left of her stolen dignity, her sisters holding her up with pained expressions directed at the goddess. Athena came forward, bending to look Medusa in the eye, regret in her expression. Poseidon had a triumphant look on his face as he looked down upon the mortal.

‘My child, please…’

‘I would never betray you!’ Medusa’s anguished cries echoed across the empty temple as she clung to her sisters, eyes focused on Athena, begging the deity to reconsider. Athena closed her eyes, unwilling to gaze upon Medusa as she raised her hands, golden light slowly gathering.

‘Trust me!’ Medusa pleaded.

Athena’s golden light filled the temple, pushing Medusa’s sisters away whilst encircling the mortal, hiding her from both the gods’ eyes. Athena turned her head away from the glittering light, her heart breaking, but she knew that Medusa would benefit from the curse that she was forced to give.

As the light faded, the present audience looked at the creature that had once been the mortal Medusa. Once pale, unblemished skin was now scaled and shiny; cloth that resembled melted silver dressed the girl, and she now had golden bat wings protruding from her back. But her most distinctive change was her hair. Medusa’s hair that had once fallen along her shoulders in waves was now a twisting nest of vipers, each one’s fangs gleaming with heart-stopping venom.

‘Wow, Athena. I always knew there was a reason I never trusted you.’ Poseidon laughed, his merciless voice ringing around the temple. The sea god had, upon seeing the result of the curse, found it upon himself to circle the poor creature as he began to judge her new features.

‘Look at what your goddess did with your trust, whore!’

Athena gritted her teeth as Medusa’s sisters did their best to return to her side.

‘Sister, are you ok? Does it hurt anywhere?’ They asked.

‘My dears, please avoid gazing upon your sister, for this curse that I created for Medusa could accidentally affect you both.’

Clear disbelief was present in the eyes of Stheno and Euryale, but whether it was out of obedience or fear, the two women closed their eyes.

Medusa slowly opened her now-slitted eyes, gazing over her new scaly skin before she looked hopelessly over at Athena, looking to her lady for answers.

Athena smiled sadly at the woman.

‘I give you not a curse, but a gift, Medusa. A gift that will allow you to punish any that try and do the same thing that Poseidon dared to do to you. Within you is now the power to pacify those who have wronged you. Whoever dares to cross you, look upon them and turn them to stone.’

Athena turned her attention to the waiting sisters, hands glowing golden again.

‘As for you, Stheno and Euryale. I have seen how you were willing to protect your sister, to defend her word against one of the gods. But as the law of the Olympians states, I must punish those who speak against us. I grant you both a version of this “curse”. Similar to Medusa you both shall be, but your gaze will not petrify. However, the vipers that adorn your heads will kill those who dare try and assault you.’

The golden light covered Stheno and Euryale, softer than it was for Medusa. When it vanished, two more snake-like creatures stood where the sisters had been, their new hair of vipers hissing viciously. Athena then turned back to Poseidon, all her rage and hatred back in full force.

‘As for you, Poseidon, I’m sure your loving wife, Amphitrite, would be delighted to hear about this latest “incident”. Or maybe you’d prefer me to pay a little visit to your general, Delphin? I’m sure your favourite general would be a reasonable exchange for my priestess, wouldn’t you agree?’

The male winced at the mention of his naiad spouse and at the threat to his general. He shot Medusa and her sisters scathing glares, both at their new appearances and Medusa’s rejection at his affections that began this incident. Athena watched as he childishly stomped away from her, angrily pushing the temple door open before disappearing in a splatter of sea spray. She turned to the trio of sisters.

‘I am truly sorry Medusa. What Poseidon has stolen from you… I know no one can ever return or heal that pain. I am sorry that I am bound by law to curse those who only try and defend themselves against what they do not desire.’

Medusa looked tearily at Athena.

‘You could’ve seen the assault that Poseidon did to me as an act of sacrilege. Instead, you believed me; you stood up to Poseidon. My lady, I thank you. It is as you said: what you have given us is not a curse. It is a gift. A gift that will protect us forever.’

Author: Rebekah Pouw is a 3rd-year creative writing student. She loves writing stories especially in the fantasy genre. She also loves dabbling in mythology, writing stories based on them.

Artist: Isabelle Heaton is a Brisbane based portrait painter. Her emotionally evocative paintings frequently reference the female nude and the self, exploring concepts of abject feminism and the mortal fragility of the body. Her visceral painting technique evokes this bodily intent, with red paint splatters referencing blood and violence, the canvas itself becoming a body undergoing trauma. Heaton aims to manipulate these ideas in her work to become a strong feminist Australian portrait artist creating artwork that represents the female as a subject undergoing multitude of emotional and physical experiences. Additionally, Heaton cofounded art collective Your Pals in an attempt to platform emerging artists and establish a friendly community determined to divert the pretentious exclusivity of the art world.

Editors: Brock Scholte and Fernanda Bustos Venegas