Caroline Lazar

Daughters Of Metis

In the fathers' stories dark and light threads are torn apart but
twin fates stay intertwined
Athene and Medusa
sisters and not sisters

The fathers told how
Zeus swallowed Metis, mother of Medusa.
He coveted her power
to shapeshift so he could philander as a bull,
a faithful woman's husband or a swan.
He craved novelty and deception.
He feared the wrath of Hera.

Father Zeus does not see beneath the surface.
He cannot avoid unintended consequences.

When Zeus consumed
the ancient mother goddess from the East
he ached until Athene sprang from his head
fully-formed, fully-armed.

With the power of Metis should come her wisdom.

Zeus came to Danae
as a shower of gold.
He fathered Perseus,
an unintended consequence,
who killed Medusa
by watching in a mirror-shield.

Medusa could not die at Perseus's hand
without the borrowed gifts of the gods
the winged sandals of the trickster Hermes

the helmet of Hades that lets Death slip in, unseen, and steal a life

Athene's great bronze shield
polished to a mirror on its inner side
to show a shadow world

The grey-eyed goddess Athene guided Perseus,
betrayed her gorgon sisters,
held up her mirror-shield
so he could see Medusa sleeping
but never look her in the eye.

Athene cannot help being a traitor

Either she is true to Metis
her ancient mother from the East

Or she serves her father Zeus
lord of Olympos, a European god
who betrayed his Titan father Cronos.

She keeps Medusa's mask close
all-seeing, it guards
the centre of her shield.

But masks hide faces.
Twin fates stay intertwined.

Medusa, raped by Poseidon
in Athene's sanctuary

the grey-eyed goddess punished
with an ugliness
too grim to look on without consequences.

The hair the sea god twined in his fingers
Athene metamorphosed to
hissing snake tresses.

Medusa and her gorgon sisters
sat in a statue garden
of their own making.

The sisters froze the death moment
the last terror at the basilisk stare.

Their statues were so unlike
the chryselephantine calm of Athena Parthenos
standing in the temple at Athens
built in triumph
from the spoils of war
melted down
when the Persians returned East defeated.

Athene does not want us
to see what the mask hides.

She is the dutiful daughter,
the grey-eyed goddess,
who turned Ariadne
into a spider
for weaving too well.

She is patron goddess of Athens
which the fathers call
the mother city of democracy

where Plato thought the contemplation of beauty
led to contemplation of truth.
He did not look Medusa in the eye.

where Socrates took hemlock
for seeing beneath the mask

where citizen women
stayed shut in citizen houses
lest Athenian blood
be diluted with bastard sons.

Though a dutiful daughter to her father Zeus
still Athene keeps an owl on her shoulder,
bird of death and regeneration,
bird of the night,
who understands
the cycles of the moon.

Each year the maiden daughters of Athens
wove a peplos for the chryselephantine statue
of Athene Parthenos, Athene the Maiden,
watching impassively with unseeing eyes
who did not keep the city safe for long.

So much of the fathers' stories
stay unexplained.

Medusa's sisters
Sthenno and Euryale
can not die.

Dispossessed by the warrior gods
they wail at their exile
till the cycles of past, present, future
are all used up.

But Medusa,
most beautiful, most grim of the gorgon sisters
destroyer and creator,
was mortal.

The new gods of Olympos sent Perseus
to kill the snake goddess
in final mastery of death,
careless at unintended consequences
at the imbalance of light without dark.

If we glimpsed Medusa in the mirror-shield
we might understand
that looking truth in the eye
turns stone hearts to flesh.

Pheidias master sculptor
honoured the patron goddess of Athens
with a statue
Athene Parthenos, Athene the Maiden

but the shield of the statue was not bronze,
the inside not polished to a mirror.
It was chryselephantine
intricately carved from gold and ivory.

Pheidias chose beauty over truth.

His patron was Pericles
the general who at Salamis
routed the Persian fleet
rebuilt the Acropolis, the high city
at the zenith of Athenian power.

The statue was the height of seven men
faced with a skin of polished ivory,
the breastplate and helmet were gold
from the spoils of war
melted down
when the Persians returned East.

The enemies of Pericles
forced Pheidias to prove
he had not stolen gold
from the spoils of war,
He stripped the statue
weighed the gold.
It was not a scruple short.

It was harder to avoid
the charge of sacrilege
On the outside of the shield
where Greeks fought warrior women from the East,
an image of Pericles battled an Amazon
Pheidias himself held a rock aloft.

They banished Pheidias
but he left a secret legacy in his art.
When they chipped away his likeness holding a rock aloft
the sculpture battle fell apart into a fragments,
leaving the shield as smooth as a mirror.

Athene gave to Asclepius the healer
Two drops of Medusa's blood,
Medusa, creator and destroyer.
One dropp cures, the other kills.

As Perseus flew back
on the winged sandals of Hermes
swift as thought
blood seeped
from the neck of Medusa
and dripped unintended
onto the Libyan desert.
It sizzled as it touched,
metamorphosing the barren sand
into a string of welcoming oases.

Perseus hid the head
in the bag Hermes had given him.
It was a weapon now
to turn sea serpents to stone
to show in the court of his uncle
who sent the troublesome prince
to certain death
when he ordered him
to fetch Medusa's head.

When Perseus returned
the gifts of the gods
he gave the head of Medusa
too dangerous for mortal use
to the wisest of the gods Athene.

The head seemed tamed,
fashioned by Hephaistos
into a centrepiece
for Athene's mirror-shield
to serve the purposes of Zeus.

The horse, not horse, Pegasus,
was another of Medusa's children, not children.
Born from blood
which seeped from the neck of Medusa,
Winged like his mother, not mother,
with his hoof he strikes
serpents out of the fertile earth.

Athene was wise enough
to honour Medusa-Metis.
She did not speak of it
kept the honour hidden.
She tamed her sister-mother
by giving a place of honour
on her shield, seen not understood.

To look on
the mask of Medusa
is to see the truth
to see one's own death
to see light and dark as one.

Inspired by the Muses
daughters of Zeus
the Greeks wrote history
created linear time and logic.
Philosophers chased
truth, beauty and virtue
indexed and catalogued myth
and saw the justice of Zeus
worked out in the house of Atreus.

The fathers told how
Atreus killed his son Pelops in curiosity
to see if the gods were all-seeing,
if they would know
the feast he had prepared for them
was made of human flesh.

Only Demeter, mind lost in grief
at her lost daughter Persephone
ate the shoulder of Pelops.

Zeus, all-seeing, knew
the feast was human flesh,
roared a curse
on the house of Atreus.

Zeus the master sculptor
remade Pelops
with a shoulder
fashioned by Hephaistos
of polished ivory

Unintended consequences
lead to destruction.

Grandson of Atreus,
Agamemnon killed Iphigenia
his daughter for a fair wind to Troy
Clytemnestra waited
welcomed home
a triumphant husband.
Blood-red tapestries streamed
from the house of Atreus
for Agamemnon to walk on
like a god.

Orestes son of Agamemnon
and Clytemnestra
killed his mother to avenge his father

Orestes cannot help being a traitor.

Either he is true to Clytemnestra,
the ancient bond of the matriarch, the mother

Or he serves the new justice of Father Zeus,
metes out a death for a death
keeps the order of kings.

The blood of the mother called out
to the Furies, the Erinyes
ancient goddesses
three sisters
who harried Orestes.
Any city that sheltered him
they touched with plague,
withered the crops
until he came to Athens.

At the first court of law
to serve the justice of Zeus
six Athenian jurors found for Orestes
and six for the ancient sisters.
Athene made the casting vote for mercy.
She understands conflicting loyalties.

Athene tamed the Furies in defeat
by giving them a place of honour
a cave home under her Acropolis.
They metamorphosed and became the Kindly Ones
Eumenides, guardians of the city

Under the Acropolis
at the festival of the Dionysia
the statue of Dionysus
had place of honour
watched with unseeing eyes

The actors, hidden behind masks,
transformed into tragedy
the folly of Xerxes
the Persian King
who watched from his throne
awaiting victory
finding defeat
as Pericles routed the Persian fleet at Salamis.

Dionysus is another god from the East
but Zeus did not steal his identity
like that of the ancient mother goddess Metis
the shapeshifter, creator and destroyer.

Athene hides her hair under a warrior's helmet,
does she hide a secret, do the tresses writhe like snakes?

The images of the gods watched impassive
as Greek fought Greek,
as Spartans defeated Athenians
sacked the Acropolis.

Poem Submitted: Thursday, March 22, 2012

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