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From Myths and Legends of all nations
Start of Story
by Logan Marshall.
Age suitability 8 Plus
Straight downward, two or three thousand feet below him, Perseus
perceived a small island, with the sea breaking into white foam all
around its rocky shore, except on one side, where there was a beach of
snowy sand. He descended toward it, and looking earnestly at a cluster
or heap of brightness at the foot of a precipice of black rocks,
behold, there were the terrible Gorgons! They lay fast asleep, soothed
by the thunder of the sea; for it required a tumult that would have
deafened everybody else to lull such fierce creatures into slumber.
The moonlight glistened on their steely scales and on their golden
wings, which drooped idly over the sand. Their brazen claws, horrible
to look at, were thrust out and clutched the wave-beaten fragments of
rock, while the sleeping Gorgons dreamed of tearing some poor mortal
all to pieces. The snakes that served them instead of hair seemed
likewise to be asleep, although now and then one would writhe and
lift its head and thrust out its forked tongue, emitting a drowsy
hiss, and then let itself subside among its sister snakes.
The Gorgons were more like an awful, gigantic kind of insect--immense,
golden-winged beetles or dragonflies or things of that sort--at once
ugly and beautiful--than like anything else; only that they were a
thousand and a million times as big. And with all this there was
something partly human about them, too. Luckily for Perseus, their
faces were completely hidden from him by the posture in which they
lay, for had he but looked one instant at them, he would have fallen
heavily out of the air, an image of senseless stone.
"Now," whispered Quicksilver as he hovered by the side of
Perseus--"now is your time to do the deed! Be quick, for if one of the
Gorgons should awake, you are too late!"
"Which shall I strike at?" asked Perseus, drawing his sword and
descending a little lower. "They all three look alike. All three have
snaky locks. Which of the three is Medusa?"
It must be understood that Medusa was the only one of these dragon
monsters whose head Perseus could possibly cut off. As for the other
two, let him have the sharpest sword that ever was forged, and he
might have hacked away by the hour together without doing them the
"Be cautious," said the calm voice which had before spoken to him.
"One of the Gorgons is stirring in her sleep and is just about to turn
over. That is Medusa. Do not look at her! The sight would turn you to
stone! Look at the reflection of her face and figure in the bright
mirror of your shield."
Perseus now understood Quicksilver's motive for so earnestly exhorting
him to polish his shield. In its surface he could safely look at the
reflection of the Gorgon's face. And there it was--that terrible
countenance--mirrored in the brightness of the shield, with the
moonlight falling over it and displaying all its horror. The snakes,
whose venomous natures could not altogether sleep, kept twisting
themselves over the forehead. It was the fiercest and most horrible
face that ever was seen or imagined, and yet with a strange, fearful
and savage kind of beauty in it. The eyes were closed and the Gorgon
was still in a deep slumber; but there was an unquiet expression
disturbing her features, as if the monster was troubled with an ugly
dream. She gnashed her white tusks and dug into the sand with her
The snakes, too, seemed to feel Medusa's dream and to be made more
restless by it. They twined themselves into tumultuous knots, writhed
fiercely and uplifted a hundred hissing heads without opening their
"Now, now!" whispered Quicksilver, who was growing impatient. "Make a
dash at the monster!"
"But be calm," said the grave, melodious voice at the young man's
side. "Look in your shield as you fly downward, and take care that you
do not miss your first stroke."
Perseus flew cautiously downward, still keeping his eyes on Medusa's
face, as reflected in his shield. The nearer he came, the more
terrible did the snaky visage and metallic body of the monster grow.
At last, when he found himself hovering over her within arm's length,
Perseus uplifted his sword, while at the same instant each separate
snake upon the Gorgon's head stretched threateningly upward, and
Medusa unclosed her eyes. But she awoke too late. The sword was sharp,
the stroke fell like a lightning flash, and the head of the wicked
Medusa tumbled from her body!
"Admirably done!" cried Quicksilver. "Make haste and clap the head
into your magic wallet."
To the astonishment of Perseus, the small, embroidered wallet which he
had hung about his neck and which had hitherto been no bigger than a
purse, grew all at once large enough to contain Medusa's head. As
quick as thought, he snatched it up, with the snakes still writhing
upon it, and thrust it in.
"Your task is done," said the calm voice. "Now fly, for the other
Gorgons will do their utmost to take vengeance for Medusa's death."
It was, indeed, necessary to take flight, for Perseus had not done the
deed so quietly but that the clash of his sword and the hissing of the
snakes and the thump of Medusa's head as it tumbled upon the
sea-beaten sand awoke the other two monsters. There they sat for an
instant, sleepily rubbing their eyes with their brazen fingers, while
all the snakes on their heads reared themselves on end with surprise
and with venomous malice against they knew not what. But when the
Gorgons saw the scaly carcass of Medusa, headless, and her golden
wings all ruffled and half spread out on the sand, it was really awful
to hear what yells and screeches they set up. And then the snakes!
They sent forth a hundredfold hiss with one consent, and Medusa's
snakes answered them out of the magic wallet.
No sooner were the Gorgons broad awake than they hurtled upward into
the air, brandishing their brass talons, gnashing their horrible tusks
and flapping their huge wings so wildly that some of the golden
feathers were shaken out and floated down upon the shore. And there,
perhaps, those very feathers lie scattered till this day. Up rose the
Gorgons, as I tell you, staring horribly about, in hopes of turning
somebody to stone. Had Perseus looked them in the face or had he
fallen into their clutches, his poor mother would never have kissed
her boy again! But he took good care to turn his eyes another way; and
as he wore the helmet of invisibility, the Gorgons knew not in what
direction to follow him; nor did he fail to make the best use of the
winged slippers by soaring upward a perpendicular mile or so. At that
height, when the screams of those abominable creatures sounded faintly
beneath him, he made a straight course for the island of Seriphus, in
order to carry Medusa's head to King Polydectes.
I have no time to tell you of several marvelous things that befell
Perseus on his way homeward, such as his killing a hideous sea monster
just as it was on the point of devouring a beautiful maiden, nor how
he changed an enormous giant into a mountain of stone merely by
showing him the head of the Gorgon. If you doubt this latter story,
you may make a voyage to Africa some day or other and see the very
mountain, which is still known by the ancient giant's name.