Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 14, 1903.djvu/239

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215
A Solution of the Gorgon Myth.

Upon seeing these all grouped together, it at once occurred to me that here was the real solution of the Gorgon myth, and that in these curling objects we may recognise what must have been as familiar as they were dreadful to the ancients living on the coast; not snakes, but the writhing tentacles of the horrible Octopus, no other than the Hydra, so familiar in the story of Hercules. Those who have studied that monster, the Octopus, at close quarters, as I have, will find no difficulty in appreciating the awfully fascinating glance, in the baleful eye of that odious creature, an eye in itself conveying the most frightfully malignant expression of any living thing upon which I have ever looked. The swelling bladder-like lips of the gill-chamber opening and shutting as it breathes, with its beak-like mouth, need but little stretch of fancy among people who personified everything, to recognise in these features the hideous grinning face and protruded cleft tongue of the Gorgon. Indeed it may be suggested that this latter feature is the direct indication or outcome in ideal vision of the well-known cruel parrot-beak mandible of the Octopus. To some, looking down through the clear sea, the awful eye and distended mouth would be most in evidence, and hence, when at rest with its tentacles coiled up behind and around its body, the aspect of the hideous face thus made by the body of the creature would exercise its full influence upon an imaginative person, and so fascinate the beholder as to hold him motionless as a stone, just as serpents are said to fascinate birds. In ancient times these monsters of the deep may have claimed many a victim by thus stupefying, and, as it were, turning them to stone; at any rate, it is very probable that it was one of the greatest dangers to human life, with which dwellers by the sea were acquainted. For any fisher or swimmer round whom the fearful tentacles were coiled, was indeed beyond chance of escape. We read plenty of modern stories of the attacks of this monster even on people in boats. In the clear