Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On the trail of gorgons.

I had some news of a gorgon three years ago, the greatest of them, in the rocky little island of Seriphos, windiest of the Cyclades. An intelligent boy of nine took me under his wing the moment I landed, and turned himself into a most instructive guide. After explaining the windmills and the churches, he led the way, halfway on hands and knees, up a steep rock face to a chapel jutting from the cliff. Once we were inside, he pointed to a spot between his feet on the floor, which was half irregular slabs and half excavated rock, and said with a broad smile: "Guess what's down there!" I gave up. "The head of Medusa the Gorgon!" he said, "they buried it there out of harm's way -- fathoms and fathoms down. Her hair was all snakes!" He flourished his hands in the penumbra overhead, hissing and mimicking with his fingers the dart of forked tongues. "It was in case it should sting people. . . ." It was in Seriphos that Perseus, with a flourish of his dripping and petrifying trophy, turned the tyrant Polydectes to a statue along with all his toadies at the banquet. This gesticulating boy made it seem as though it had all occurred last week.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mani 217 (NYRB, 2006) (originally published in 1958 -- that boy is 58 now).

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