Friday, August 5, 2011

The Medusa Within: Clash of the Titans

The 1981 version Clash of the Titans directed by Desmond Davis is based on the riddle Perseus (Harry Hamlin) must answer to win the hand of Andromeda (Judi Bowker), but the whole film is a riddle, and just as riddles encode wisdom and insights, they also hide and reveal, part of which is that the beautiful Andromeda is actually Medusa, and the hero Perseus is actually the deformed beast Calibos. Andromeda and Medusa share the  sin of vanity and so Medusa shows us Andromeda's sin. Likewise, Perseus and Calibos share the same (sexual) desire for Andromeda, so Calibos reveals the dark side of Perseus: Medusa is Andromeda and Calibos is Perseus, and the true destiny of every hero is to find the Medusa and Calibos, kill them, and then fulfill the highest ideals of pure love. To fulfill his destiny, Perseus--like all men--must overcome both Medusa and Calibos.
The famous Ray Harryhausen Medusa for Clash of the Titans. It's totally fitting, on at least three levels, that Medusa would be an archer. First, Medusa is the opposite of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, whose son Cupid shots arrows to wound his victims with love, whereas Medusa wounds her victims with the opposite of love, hardness of heart (symbolized by the whole of their body becoming as hard as stone); secondly, hunters of this time utilized the bow and arrow, and Medusa as a hunter of men demonstrates that sexually aggressive side of women who go "hunting for a man" to marry (or even just to sleep with). The predatory nature of sexually aggressive women is seen in the body of the rattlesnake, invoking the ancient enemy of the dragon which symbolizes Satan (think of St. George and the Dragonslayer, for example). The lack of natural lighting within Medusa's "lair"--and only the created fire pits offering light--enforces this idea of unnatural sexuality because of the "fire of lust" lighting her "temple" (again, absence of natural light from the life-giving sun and only the light of fire in man-made holders). The third reason it's fitting for Medusa to be an archer is because of the traditional symbols of women archers, especially beautiful female archers (consider Katniss in The Hunger Games, Merida in Disney's Brave, Andromeda in the 2012 Wrath Of the Titans and the goddess Diana, patroness of the hunt).  Medusa, then, is the patroness of sexually aggressive females and a warning, if you will, of what happens to a woman who acts as such.
 In my mind’s eye I see, three circles joined in priceless harmony. Two, full as the moon; one, hollow as a crown. Two from the sea, five fathoms down. One from the earth, deep underground. Tell me, what can it be?" What are the "three circles joined in priceless harmony?" The woman herself, her two breasts and her vagina. The woman's body is a work of perfection and harmony. The two pearls represent wisdom, because a pearl begins as a speck of sand, and over much time, locked within the mollusk (symbolic of the interior life) it develops layers and layers that become the pearl; with the pearls of wisdom, a woman nurtures her husband and her children. literally feeding them from her love and her gift of spirit from which she was created.  It is from the earth that all things grow, just as it is from within the "hollow" of a woman's womb that the seeds of life are sown and she is able to give birth, a woman's crowning achievement in life, to beget life.
It's vanity that turns a woman into a monster. Because the eyes are the window of the soul, to look into someone's eyes is to see their pain or their joy; to look into Medusa's eyes is to be turned into stone because she herself, as a symbol of the sexually aggressive and unnatural female is herself stone. Whereas a woman is meant to nurture others, the Medusa is that tendency within a woman to be selfish and self-centered, and when she gives into those desires instead of disciplining herself (as we learn that Andromeda fasted in protest of her mother's burning her suitors, Andromeda was also being prepared spiritually and being purified for an ideal instead of just the worldly life of the flesh) she becomes a monster.
The reason the answer is contained within “the ring,” is because that is the symbol of a covenant, the marriage covenant, and when a man means it, he says it with a ring, i.e., the promise to forsake all others. So a man's first step in the battle against the Medusa is to enter into a covenant (which is what Medusa, before her hideous transformation, did not do, committing adultery instead) and with his promise, win the trust and confidence of Andromeda so then she also desires the Medusa within herself to be defeated and killed. 
What role, if any, does Pegasus play in the film? Pegasus has always symbolized art and beauty, because a winged horse is a product of the mind, but the highest ideals of the soul. The lessons of art become the "vehicle" by which man (Perseus) is able to travel the distance necessary within himself to arrive at the place he needs to be, not only to save his Andromeda from her Medusa, but to save himself from his own Calibos. In other words, the lessons of art, including films such as The Clash of the Titans, is a way men and women learn how they should act and what they need to do in life, and those who heed the lessons--symbolized in Perseus' mounting Pegasus--are the ones who can "soar" above the daily drudgery of  life and embrace the higher ideals which guide us along our way (why Perseus rides Pegasus is because art "carries" him to what he should aspire to). This is why that awful vulture is the opposite of Pegasus: the vulture, as a symbol of death, literally "cages" the beauty of Andromeda for its appetites, instead of "freeing her" from the bondage of Calibos' lust and her own lust symbolized by her Medusa. It's a "golden cage" she enters because men and women both mistakenly believe that lust is a legitimate form of love, but the film's commentary on that is easily discerned in that "only a shadow" of Andromeda's real being enters into the cage of lust to be delivered to Calibos at his whim.
But what’s so important about this ring, is that “it was a gift from his mother,” meaning, that a man knows and appreciates the value of women according to how his mother raised him. A man who values women values women because he honors and reveres his own mother because his mother gave him the love he required when he was young and saved him from giving into a false image of himself (more on this in the caption below): a woman is a human being to him, not a sex object (and this is a man's inner-conflict to overcome his Calibos and the temptation to treat her like a sex object). A man who lacks respect for his mother's dignity will never respect any woman.
Okay, so if I am right, why on earth did Perseus' own mother have an affair with Zeus? Because it was a good social move? No, because Danae was imprisoned in a tower with the sky opened in the chamber, so natural light could come in (unlike the natural light being locked out in Medusa's chamber). Zeus, the father of all the gods, comes to her in a shimmering cloud of gold, because that is what she is in her innermost being: gold. Danae's soul has achieved the perfection she was destined to achieve because she has lived the life of meditation and been purified from the world and so now, like Hannah (the mother of Samuel in the Old Testament) she can give birth to that fruit which will live on after her. The striking similarities to the story of Mary's Annunciation and being overwhelmed with the Holy Spirit to become pregnant with Christ can not be overlooked in this narrative because that is what should happen to every woman according to the destiny decreed to her by her Father in Heaven. Danae's earthly father becomes jealous and he literally becomes an obstacle to history fulfilling itself (I am not going to get into that here). Zeus, as we see enthroned above, is Perseus' own  destiny: to wear the white garment of purity with his trophy of the slain dragon at his right hand (Perseus' slain dragon is Medusa, and the right hand symbolizes the essence of a man's inner and physical strength, so the dragon on Zeus' right hand side is how he was able to overcome his enemies). The deep blue background symbolizes the depth of wisdom he has achieved (blue symbolizes both depression and wisdom because from life's sad experiences we gain wisdom) and the aura radiating from him testifies to his inner-strength and power. This image of Zeus, then, is the real image a man needs to have of himself, not the clay, earthen figures kept in Zeus' cabinet, or the image of Calibos, rather, that man is a god, created in the likeness of God Almighty, and that is his destiny to achieve.

But the real question of Andromeda's riddle is, “What am I worth?” This is typical of every relationship: every woman has a riddle a man must answer; the good news is, it’s the same riddle for every woman; the bad news is, each woman has a different answer, and for some women, the answer changes every ten minutes. A Medusa lurks within every woman, a Calibos lurks within every man, ready to turn her virtue, value and beauty into lethal venom, full of hatred and deform her soul into the loathsome gorgon while Calibos is capable of taking the most beautiful and pure woman and turning her into the lowest of sex slaves.  But what caused Andromeda to turn into Medusa? 
Calibos. 
Medusa by Arnold Bocklin, circa 1878. 
It is a man's base sexual desire that holds a woman captive, because he lacks the wisdom to understand what her true value is; that in turn effects her and diseases her, because if the men in her life do not know how to value a woman in her created perfection, he views her only in sexual terms, an instrument for his pleasure, trapping her in a gilded cage, like the cage Andromeda steps into for the giant vulture of death to take her to Calibos. 
So what is the Medusa? 
Perseus looks upon what could have been himself: a man of stone. If a man's woman is full of love, he will be as well; if she is hard as stone in her heart, he will be too. What determines this? Slavery to the flesh. When we fail to heed the needs of the soul--meditation and self-knowledge--the soul dies, and the flesh to which we have been catering with fun, amusement and worldly desires, becomes immune to the pleasures of the world, it takes more pleasure to satisfy us each time, so we become hardened to all things, like stone. Perseus doesn't know what battle he has to fight next, but this statue is a warning to him of what will happen if he doesn't fight and win these battles: he will return to dust. Instead of the glorious afterlife for the soul (being immortalized in the stars at the end of the film) Perseus will be nothing but a pile of rocks returned to the dust of the earth.
Medusa is a woman's expression of the self-hatred she feels at not being properly valued, and the "Medusa" comes out most often in an argument. A woman's hair is her crowning glory of beauty, but in Medusa, it's been replaced by serpents who "bite back" with venom; whereas her eyes should reveal a soul gentle and pure, when a man looks into the eyes of Medusa, they turn him to stone, because her viciousness "hardens his heart" against her so that he can't overcome her; when the Medusa takes over a women (for a moment or longer) it's as if she hates the man who loves her (and what man doesn't know that feeling?). Medusa lives on the Isle of the Dead, and any woman controlled by Medusa is held captive by the death of sin because she has died to the higher calling and destiny in her life, so that is what has to be awakened within her (why we see Andromeda sleeping so much in the first part of the film, she's dead to her calling in life). 
Head of Medusa by Peter Paul Rubens
How does Perseus overcome Medusa? 
First, he begins by confronting Calibos. When Perseus and Calibos fight in the "swamp," (which symbolizes a lack of discipline in Perseus' soul) Perseus cuts off the right hand of Calibos which has the ring. Symbolically, the right hand is a sign of power and strength, so Perseus loosens Calibos' grip on him, and frees himself to see Andromeda in her true beauty and not just her ability to gratify his desires. This act in turns releases Andromeda from her bondage to Calibos and actually frees the entire city of Joppa, in other words, men cannot overestimate the importance of their purity because one man enslaved to his sexual desires enslaves the whole world.
Medusa's Head (formerly attributed to da Vinci), ca 1600, Uffizi Gallery.
This is where the "helmet of invisibility" comes in: as a gift from the goddess of wisdom Athena, it's a sign of wisdom, and that wisdom is mirrored (read "reversed") in that Perseus doesn't become invisible, but Calibos--who had been invisible to Perseus as a part of his very self--is now visible to Perseus so he can begin to see and confront him ("wisdom" gives us sight to see deeper into people, situations and, most importantly, ourselves). So why is the helmet "lost in the swamp?" Because Perseus mistakenly thinks it's not needed anymore, that he has interiorized the gift of the helmet but he has won only the first stage of his battle; that there is a swamp means Perseus has much more to clean out of his soul before he can be wedded to Andromeda.
Bust of Athena wearing a helmet.
But there's a problem: "Why didn't you kill him?" Andromeda asks Perseus, who replies that he pitied Calibos. The truth is, Perseus is too weak at this point to overcome Calibos completely, and in letting Calibos continue to live, Perseus continues "allowing" himself to see Andromeda in the not-so-purest of terms.  It's apparent that Andromeda doesn't trust Perseus, because at the party, when they discuss Calibos, Perseus tries to kiss her and she turns away: Perseus doesn't know her yet, nor has he done anything to win her trust or earn her love; like Calibos, he sees only the "shadow of her real being," the part that goes at the vulture's bidding to get into the cage; just as real a part of Andromeda is Medusa, and only after Perseus has seen that part of her, too, can he say in truth that he loves her. 
Perseus with the sword and the shield. The key to understanding what the sword means, and why Perseus needs it, comes from who gives him the sword: Aphrodite. As the goddess of love, and love-making, the golden sword is a phallic symbol, but it is the ultimate phallic symbol, the ideal materialized of how not only how a man should approach making love to the woman he loves and gives his life to, but--because making love to her means so much--it's also his ability to "cut through" without a blemish her own hardness of heart (symbolized by Ammon--Burgess Meredith--using the sword to slice the marble lying on the ground, literally, the hardness (marble) that comes from our earthly passions (the ground)). The sword, then, is also the Sword of Truth, because when a man loves a woman, he can "see through her" (the invisible helmet of wisdom that allows him to see what she is hiding and why) and cut through her weak arguments and resistance with his genuine desire to mate with her, which is the other side of the sword's meaning and why Perseus needs it. Please note, on the shield, the image of the bird in flight: the shield will let Perseus "reflect" on what is happening when he enters Medusa's temple, so he is able to literally understand what is happening instead of being turned to stone. The bird, like Pegasus, symbolizes the ability to "rise above" the situation and see what is not easily seen by others who have not attained the heights of wisdom which is the true gift of the gods.
The second gift Perseus is given is from the patron goddess of women and marriage: Hera. The gift of the shield is what every man needs. Imagine a man in an argument with a woman (Perseus confronting Medusa within her temple). The woman is firing her arrows at him, trying to wound him, but he becomes objective (Perseus tossing the shield to a pillar upon which the shield "sticks," reflecting what is going on); instead of seeing the woman he loves attacking him, he sees the Medusa lurking around within her. Because of the shield, Perseus is able to "reflect" upon what she is doing and that "reflecting" is what keeps him from getting hurt, i.e., knowing that she really doesn't mean it, but there is something wrong with her causing her to behave like this; it is the exercising of wisdomA man has to be brave enough to take these attacks, then wise enough to see through them. 
This is the glorious moment every man should strive for, and every woman should hope will happen to her: the defeating of her Medusa, the demon of self-hatred and vanity, which forbids her from being truly joined to the man who loves her and keeps her from having a genuine self-love, the opposite of vanity which Medusa symbolizes. Perseus has gone from wearing the white robe of the "pure suitor" (the cloak Ammon found in his trunk of actors' clothes, because Perseus was acting out a role at that point, the role he thought would be enough/sufficient to win Andromeda, but that's not enough, Perseus has to really embody the art, embody the role, embody the hero) and now, because of his victory, he wears the red of love; before entering the temple (which is really a sexual reference) he wore the red of the martyr because he was willing to die for love of Andromeda, knowing that slaying Medusa was the only way to free Andromeda) but now that he has been successful, he wears the red of love because he fought and overcame his love's greatest enemy: her self-hatred. But just because Andromeda is free doesn't mean that Perseus is free.
Here is the clip where Perseus defeats Medusa in her own lair; please remember, Perseus isn't defeating Medusa just so he can sleep with Andromeda, but so the whole city and world will be free of one more monster.
Perseus has to cut off the head of Medusa because the head represents the "governing function," that which controls all else (e.g., Christ compared Himself to the Head of the Church) so when Medusa has been beheaded, Medusa no longer "governs" and "controls" Andromeda, Andromeda is free to act on the impulse of love (which is why we see her naked getting out of her bath, because she has been "stripped" of the shackles of bondage and is cleansed of the demon's presence). Like the helmet "lost in the swamp," Perseus no longer needs the shield because he has interiorized the gift and it has become a part of him. Perseus making these gifts a part of his being is what gives him power, because as the demons within him die, the part of his divinity gets stronger, not being compromised by the power either Medusa or Calibos hold (his fear of Medusa and what she can do to him and Andromeda or the weary battle he must fight within himself with Calibos).
Perseus, by Cellini, Florence, Italy.
In the spiritual life, the root of our sin is where that sin is strongest, so the last spiritual battle is the hardest, and that's what happens on their way back to Joppa. Perseus and his men sleep, and because Perseus "sleeps," Calibos pierces the head of Medusa with his trident, representing the sexual act. (It's not that Perseus and Andromeda actually have sex, rather, the two monsters coming together make a bid to reassert their control and this is how they do it; Perseus sleeping--like Andromeda in the beginning, symbolizes that Perseus is off his guard, he thinks the battles are over, and that's when the last, stinging assault is launched). Medusa's blood, (read: "the breaking of the hymen") produces those scorpion monsters which kill the soldiers (scorpions represent “the sting of death” that entered the world when Original Sin was committed), because when a woman loses her virginity, it lets loose evil (this will be discussed at greater length in October when I will be posting on monsters). 
Medusa, Caravaggio, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
As the soldiers fight off the scorpions, Calibos whips Perseus, preventing him from picking up his sword (of course, the Sword of Truth and purified mating as opposed to the sexual act for physical gratification). The irony is, the more Calibos whips Perseus, the more determined Perseus is going to become to break the hold Calibos has over him, instead of earlier in the film when Perseus was weak enough to show pity, Perseus realizes how strong Calibos is and what it will take to finally defeat him and that's why and how the whip figures in the sword finally defeating Calibos once and for all: Perseus is determined to love Andromeda as she deserves, and this is the ultimate action for a man: "to die to himself" so that his love can be its strongest and purest for his wife and their children.
Birth of Aphrodite by Redon. The shell represents
the interior life, and because a person has wisdom
in proportion to the amount of love they have,
the Sword of Truth which Aphrodite gives to Perseus
represents both Love and Wisdom which are the
only weapons effective against the animal passions and
desires Calibos represents.
The third gift, the sword of Aphrodite, is the Sword of Truth, and it is given by Aphrodite because she is the goddess of Love; usually, she is associated with lust, but that is a "weak" reading of her, rather, "love" means a genuine self-love of himself and Andromeda that is the final weapon Perseus needs to discipline himself and overcome the temptations to impurity which Calibos lords over him. 
It's just the simple truth: either a man worships this image of himself in Calibos, or he worships the divine image within himself of his Father in Heaven. Why does Calibos wear the color blue, the color of wisdom? Because with Calibos, it's not the color of wisdom, but of depression. A man not seeking wisdom in this life is ruled by his appetites (like Calibos killing all the herd of sacred flying horses of Zeus instead of realizing they were meant to inspire and "elevate" his mind above the pleasures of the earth) which is why Calibos is covered in hair like an animal because he is an animal. The pierced ears are a sign of the "man of fashion" because a man having pierced ears in the 1980s when this was made was fashionable, so Calibos represents a man living life for a moment instead of a man seeing beyond the immediate moment. The horns? Are they meant to symbolize the devil? Possibly, but also perhaps the Prophet Moses by Michelangelo might be invoked because when Moses came down from the mountain, after seeing God, he had horns of light coming from him, instead of these horns of death coming from Calibos. Whereas Moses led his people to freedom, Calibos enslaves Joppa, and this is the reality of his being that every single man must deal with: will I free myself so I can help free others, or let myself be enslaved and thereby be a slave holder of others?
The exhaustion which drains Perseus (after the battle with the scorpions) shows him being completely weakened, and this is good. He has faced death of his inner-most being and survived. After a man has won this victory, he can face and overcome anything, even the Kraken. But Perseus gets a drink of water, and Bubo the owl comes up. Just as Bubo had fallen into the water, so in the fierceness of the battle, wisdom wasn't playing a part (it was Perseus' determination and will power that won over Calibos) wisdom must be a part of the next chapter, which is why he needs Pegasus, so Perseus knows what he must do next to have complete triumph. 
When one couple has stood up against all the detrimental forces working against them as individuals and as a couple, all society benefits because they now have a standard, an example to look up to and emulate and that is why all the city is freed when the Medusa, Calibos and the Kraken have been defeated, because false images of false goods have been shown for what they really are, and the power of good and purity has been shown to be truly desirable and the ultimate good of our being.
Why does Zeus help Perseus?
Because now Zeus can help Perseus. Before, Perseus (like the little clay figure) would have been weighed down by the weight of the demon Calibos within him, controlling Perseus' will; now that Perseus has, literally, exorcised Calibos from within himself, he is "free" and "emptied" to receive the power of His Father's Will: to stand and fight. Something fills each and everyone of us and it's either a demon or grace (the Life of God, God's Breath Of Life) and Perseus dying to himself in killing Calibos means that he has been "reborn" in the image of his Father and can now receive the Life that will empower him instead of the death of Calibos that had been weighing him down.
The overwhelming forces that work against a relationship.
Why does the head of Medusa permit Perseus to slay the Kraken?
When a man has exhibited the virtues necessary to conquer the Medusa within the woman he loves, he has the virtues to conquer anything on his life's journey. The head of Medusa is literally a trophy. Sadly, many men view the taking of a woman's virginity as a trophy, but that's a wedding gift; the head of the Medusa is a trophy validating his love for the woman and his willingness to lay down his life for her and her trust and belief in him to let him do that, in other words, she lets Perseus' love rule over her instead of Medusa's self-hatred rule over her. 
Andromeda, Edward Poynter, 1869, Private Collection. 
Another irony is, that it is her preparation to be the sacrifice for the Kraken that helps Andromeda contribute to the defeat of it. Her bath, of course, represents the cleansing of the influence of Medusa over her; her virginity is intact and she calmly is ready for her sacrifice, and even though they can't communicate with each other, this strengthens Perseus so he can arrive to defeat the Kraken. The Kraken is the symbol of culture with its numerous arms being all the devices at its control to destroy a relationship such as the press, drugs, divorce, self-image, sex and pornography.  Since they themselves have been cleansed, they are strong enough to defeat all the other forces working against their relationship.
So, what gave "birth" to Calibos? Thetis is the goddess of the sea, but in the film, she often appears in the moon and on the statue. The moon is a complex symbol, but it usually refers to our emotions, because our emotions go through cycles and change just as the unstable moon does. So Calibos can be said to be ruled by his emotions, rather than he rules his character, which is what men are called to do, and a man being ruled by his emotions is a man who will do what he wants, rather than what he should (this is not to say, at all, that men should not be emotional or destroy their emotional impulses; rather, men and women need the gift of discernment to understand how our emotions play with us and how we act upon them and the consequences that way of life might lead to, turning us into animals).
I have mentioned before, 1981 was an important year for great art: at the end of the sexual revolution, the cultural revolution and the beginning of the "divorce revolution," the false oppurtunities society offered for "better relationships" and a good time, were completely debunked by Clash of the Titans, a truly counter-cultural film for its day. It not only supported the virtuous way and path of individuality for individuals and relationships, but showed how it is the only Way.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner