Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 14, 1903.djvu/259

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233
A Solution of the Gorgon Myth.

that these objects cannot be meant for snakes, as Six calls them. In this he does but follow unquestionably the received notion. It should be noticed here, that in this example, and in Fig. 19, the number of so-called snakes is exactly sixteen, precisely double of that in those first dealt with. This coincidence cannot be fortuitous, and must be considered as at least a link in the chain of evidence.

In conclusion, on comparing all these typical specimens, one can readily understand how all the various developments of the Medusa myth may have arisen in the course of ages. First, the hideous gaping face of the Octopus became personified, or took a human shape; then from an ideal ugliness it changed and grew into one of languishing beauty, the latter form being in harmony with the oldworld belief in fascination. Next, the ideal hair of the original head grew from writhing tentacles into snakes, first appearing under the chin, and then upon the head; finally, the tentacles appear without the face, and as shown in the several examples from Selinunte and Taranto, they became treated as patterns of ornamental designs, until at last they grew into complete decorative objects, like the Acroterion from Olympia (Fig. 17).[1] When the origin of the entire myth had been lost or forgotten, when perhaps it had drifted away from the shore, and where no hideous sea monsters existed to keep it alive, it was natural enough that the snake-like tentacles should be represented as real snakes, and having taken that form in a firmly established convention of art, it was necessary to invent a story to account for them—a story to be found in the classic writers upon Mythology.



Postscript.—Since the reading of this paper, and the

  1. The Anthemion in the patterns I have shown is supposed to be a development of the lotus flower, but whatever its origin, it is no less conventional than its companion device, and is in no way a necessary part of the present subject.