[The AMAIC considers the Middle East – West comparisons of John R. Salverda as interesting, with some of them we think being very likely. But we do not necessarily agree with all of the following]
John R. Salverda
The main monster in the story of Perseus is Medusa, one of the three Gorgons. It occurs to me that the most likely origin for the Greek name “Medusa,” is that it derives from the Hebrew word that has come down to us as, “Mitzwah,” which means, “commandments.” There were a lot of commandments (a figurative mountain of laws) but it was the head of Medusa, that symbolized the cut out tablets of the ten commandments, as opposed to the rest of the commandments, ordinances and judgments. The head of Medusa, was carried in a magic container which was plated with a precious metal, and was the Perseid equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant. “‘the head of the monster, the dreaded Gorgo, and the bag floated about it, a wonder to look at, done in silver, but the shining tassels fluttered, and they were gold, …” (Shield of Heracles 220-237) The special attribute of this magic container was that it could contain anything, no matter how great, within its space, without increasing in its bulk. This was probably in reference to the unbelievable fact that the ALMIGHTY spoke from the relatively tiny Ark. Medusa’s head was kept in its magic container because no one could look upon it and yet live, it was carried into battles, shown to the enemy, and thus insured the victories for Perseus, in the same way that the Ark and its contents were used by Israel (a rare motif indeed). The primary method of capital punishment that was prescribed by the Law, was stoning. This, no doubt, left numerous piles of stones as “monuments” to those who violated the Law, all along the way of the wandering Zion, just as we imagine the way of Medusa to be strewn with stone statues of those whom she had put to death. It is not inconceivable that whenever a violator of the law was discovered there was a ritualistic reading (looking upon) of the law that was violated which preceded the stony execution. Thus leading to the myth that it was the “looking upon” of the object itself that brought about the subsequent death. At any rate, we have come to a point where I feel that I must remind the reader; that as this series of intricately interrelated conformities, between the Greek myths and the Hebrew historic account grows, it leaves less and less room for the, “mere coincidence” explanation which will be offered by some.
When Moses received the second set of the Ten Commandments, he requested that God manifest Himself to him. God reminded Moses that no man could look upon His face and yet live, however God had a plan to protect Moses with His hand while His face was exposed, removing it only afterwards, so that Moses would only see God’s “back,” or as some translations have put it, His “afterglow.” When Perseus received the Medusa head he also had an encounter, the face of whom he was reminded that he could not look upon and yet live. The supreme god in the story of Perseus was called Zeus, and just as God did in the story of Moses, Zeus protected Perseus, in this case by lending him his shield. The shield of Zeus was highly polished, and with it Perseus would not have to look directly upon the deadly face, but could use it like a mirror, to see only it’s, “reflection.” Now that a point has been made concerning a connection between the “hand” of God, and the “shield” of Zeus, an explanation of the relationship between the cut off Medusa head, Daniel’s cut off Messiah, and the Law, presents itself.
Once Perseus had received the cut off Medusa head, the Greek mythographers have him showing it to Atlas, which put an end to him. To quote Ovid on the matter, “‘Very well!’ he (Perseus) taunted, ‘if you (Atlas) rate my thanks so low accept a gift!’ and turned his face away and on his left held out the loathsome head, Medusa’s head. Atlas, so huge, became a mountain; beard and hair were changed to forests, shoulders were cliffs, hands ridges; where his head had lately been, the soaring summit rose; his bones were turned to stone.” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.653). As the reader may recall, Mount Atlas can be shown to be a reasonable analogy to the Hebrew Mount Sinai, in place because of the sin of Adam, who can further be identified with Atlas himself.
We all pray for the Kingdom of Heaven to come down to the Earth, but there is something in the way, it is the sin of Adam, because of which, there needs to be a “covenant with sin and death” in place, the mountain of the Law. Years before Christianity, the Greeks also had a mountain in the way of kingdom come, their “Adam,” as Atlas, held up (away, a logical symbolic analogy) the heavens.
When Atlas was cursed to be the impediment to the Kingdom of Heaven, he was told that he could expect the son of god to come, who would kill the serpent, and pluck from the tree of the ancient garden. Quoting Ovid again; “Atlas, mindful of an oracle since by Themis, the Parnassian, told, recalled these words, ‘O Atlas! mark the day a son of Jupiter [Zeus] shall come to spoil; for when thy trees been stripped of golden fruit, the glory shall be his.’ Fearful of this, Atlas had built solid walls around his orchard, and secured a dragon, huge, that kept perpetual guard, and thence expelled all strangers from his land.” How many stories contain, the ancient gardener, the highly valued fruit of the tree with the famous taboo against touching it, an expulsion from the garden, the serpent, the crime against heaven, and a prediction of an eventual savior’ Just these two. Furthermore, the wife of Atlas was named after the sun setting, “Hesperus” (Evening, Eve’).
Medusa, like the daughter of Zion, wasn’t always repulsive, for the Greek myths make it clear that she was once quite beautiful, but, again like Heavenly Zion’s daughter, her ugliness was inflicted upon her by god. The once beautiful Medusa brought the condemnation of god upon herself, for the same reason that God’s once faithful city did. For as we are told in the first three chapters of Isaiah, (a name that incidentally, is much like the Greek name “Hesiod,” the Septuagint has “Esaias,”) specifically at Isa. 1:21, 2:6, and 3:16-26, so we are told in the Greek myth; Medusa had prostituted herself with a foreign god. She had laid with Poseidon, the Greek version of the Philistine fish god Dagon, (in Babylon, Dagon was called “Enki,” the Sumerian, “Ea,” and his regular title was “Lord of the watery deep,” thus, the origin of the well known, but little understood name, “Poseidon,” comes as I have previously said from the Hebrew, “Apsu-Adon.”) in the temple of Athena, (Athena, the reader will recall, is the Ionic transliteration of the Hebrew name Zion.) Because of Medusa’s prostitution, god had removed her golden tresses, and replaced them with ugliness. To quote Ovid, “Her beauty was far-famed ‘ and of all her charms her hair was loveliest; so I was told by one who claimed to have seen her. She, it’s said, was violated in Athena’s shrine by the Rector Pelagi (Lord of the Sea, Poseidon). Jove’s daughter (Athena) turned away and covered with her shield her virgin’s eyes. And then for fitting punishment transformed the Gorgon’s lovely hair to loathsome snakes.” (Metamorphoses 4.770) Compare this with Lamentations chapters 1 and 2. Another of her penalties was that she be doomed to wander in the wilderness, where Perseus would have to go to find her. Thus another entire series of Medusa’s attributes has a precedent in the story of Earthly Jerusalem. A further chronological clue can be gathered from this motif, for if we are correct in applying the symbolism employed herein to the Jerusalem that was castigated by the prophets, then we must conclude that the story of the “ugly Gorgon” could not have been imagined much before the days of the prophet Ahijah, when the northern ten tribes revolted against the post-Solomonic Jerusalem.
It has been suggested that the two episodes of the Perseus myth, one having the Graeae and the other having the Gorgons, were originally two separate versions of the same story (a “doublet”). This seems to be a reasonable conclusion, for the “eye” received from the Graeae could easily have been the equivalent of the “head” received from the Gorgons. The ancient mythographers, knowing both tales, may have simply crafted the two versions into the two episodes of the same story. Ovid combines the two episodes into one by making the Graeae to be twins, and thus only two, his quote runs as follows; “And Agenorides (Perseus) told him of the place that lies, a stronghold safe below the mountain mass of icy Atlas; how at its approach twin sisters, the Phorcides (Graeae), lived who shared a single eye, and how that eye by stealth and cunning, as it passed from twin to twin, his sly hand caught,” … (Metamorphoses 4.770). On the other hand, the scriptural story of Moses and the Law giving, where he gets the Law on one visit, breaks it and has to make a second visit to receive the Law again, is never questioned as a “doublet.” Regardless, that part of the myth that has Perseus destroying a sea serpent at Joppa is almost certainly a later addition that was contributed subsequently by some separate source.
For more articles by John R. Salverda on the Hebraic Connections of Greek Mythology, see:
“Helleno-Yishurin. The Hebrew Origin of Greek Legends”