5. The Gaze of Medusa: Petrification and Entrancement
Gina Bevan [+]
Cardiff University (PhD student)
Sight is an integral theme within ancient Greek religion. The gaze denotes boundaries and has apotropaic functions. The myth of Actaeon and Artemis, where the hunter observes the naked goddess, is an example of the potency of the gaze. In this myth, it is sight which separates the mortals from the gods as Artemis turns Actaeon into a stag for gazing, without permission, upon the divine. Sight also signifies the boundaries between death and living and Actaeon looks at his transformation in the water’s reflection just before he is torn apart by his own dogs that confuse him for prey. Sight is the harbinger of death and thus why mirrors have been repeatedly found in Greek tombs. The Gorgon Medusa embodies the threat of the gaze as she petrifies anything she looks upon. She is also an apotropaic figure who wards away evil and in myth her head is placed on Athena’s aegis to petrify the goddess’s enemies. Medusa’s story has been retold to a modern audience in Clash of the Titans (1981, 2010). Using feminist film theory it is evident that Medusa’s possession of the gaze also signifies the transgression of gender boundaries. To gaze is a male attribute and thus Medusa’s head must be removed by Perseus. The mythology of the lesbian vampire similarly transgresses gender via the gaze. In Dracula’s Daughter (1936), the Countess entrances her victims with both her eyes and her ring. The sense of sight (the gaze) emanates from the head but also other senses of taste and sound (speech) reside there. The female vampire has an oral sexuality and takes the active position of penetration to feed from her victim’s blood. Thus sight and the head more generally, signify the transgression of gender in the mythologies of Medusa and the lesbian vampire.