Among the multitude of questions received by this humble monster, are an assortment of hypotheses on the nature of my “monsterhood” — “personhood” not quite encompassing the meaning I intend. That is to say, they have embraced my argument, that my species are the root of every monstrous folktale the world over. Some point to North American and draw comparisons between myself and certain native ghouls. Some point to the Bible and say, “Now see here! You could easily be one of Satan’s demonic horde.”
Forgive me, they don’t actually use my particular parlance, but the gist is all that matters.
Because so many of you have taken to this idea, I have decided to run a small series. I will list a new monster every entry, give you its characteristics, and then explain to you how I believe it can all be tied to one of my cousins, no doubt doing something undignified, like swooping, or hissing, or flapping his arms…
I detest such displays and never indulge. It does little good to frighten a person away from your lair. I’d rather eat them so that they have no time to retreat to their village. Better that he never return and the others come to fear the forest itself.
Before you ask: yes, that has happened.
For my first monster: The Gorgon
You might know the tale of the Odyssey, and the frightful guise of Medusa, but she is actually merely one version of this fearsome creature. Historians cannot agree upon its origins in history, but it is quite old, and most renditions share similar traits. They are usually “female”, with wide, strange eyes, sometimes fangs, dwell in caves, and are crowned with a mass of writhing tentacles. Homer claims Medusa’s stare can turn a man to stone, and that she is the mortal in a sisterhood of three, but Homer’s depiction is quite recent in the dread mythology.
It can be traced back much farther, linked to other monsters of similar description, but that is not my goal. I am here to convince you that the Gorgon is my long lost cousin.
I have given you a description of my biology, and perhaps, now that I have sketched the Gorgon, you can see the comparison and say to yourself, “Well, that is quite trivial.” And so I will not belabor the twisting hair, bizarre eyes, gender ambiguity, or teeth. My comparison will go much deeper.
Their name, you see. I cannot come away from that, as I am a linguist in my soul. It derives from the Greek word for “terrifying”. So you see, the Gorgon was not a type of monster. It was merely something frightening, encountered in a cave. Some erudite experts of long dead languages link it back to the Sanskrit word for the growling sound an animal makes. And now we see how the fiction evolves.
A man, alone in a dark cave, hears a growl. What is more terrifying than that? The sound becomes the idea, and the idea takes a shape, looming out of the darkness to glare down at him. That is most definitely a Gorgon. No doubt about it.
This is all metaphor, of course. The man in the cave is a stand-in for all of humanity, but I think you take my point.
Homer saw fit to link their origins to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and I think this bears a striking resemblance to my own theory, that we originated in the water and have more in common with squids or sharks, than we do mammals. He could not know biology, per say, but it turns out that the observation that things with four hoofed legs might be related, has proven to largely be true. Observation is a type of data, and should not be discounted out of hand!
Ah, but the stone! you say, gentle reader, and you are right. There is the freezing stare of the Gorgon, but allow me to suggest that you are taking this much too literally. Petrification has been a theme in many of the most ancient tales. If you do not believe me, look to Lot’s wife. I believe in many ways, the idea of petrification was merely an explanation of fossils, of strange rock formations, and thus, a fitting consequence for bad behavior.
Instead, I will offer another hypothesis.
I believe my ancient relatives were experimenting with tarichos, an ancient form of salt pork. If you take a human body and allow it to desiccate in a vat of salt, or soil that is high in salinity, you will succeed in preserving it. It may ferment slightly, be colonized by some bacteria, but that will only make it more tender. It will smell earthy and delicious, but not of putrefaction.
A man, alone, walks into a great cave. The shadows breathe, the air becomes thick. He discovers several humans in a row, lined up like statues, or suspended like prosciutto, covered in waxy adipose or caked in white salt. He staggers backward, his torch flame guttering with his sudden, horrified movements. The monster growls from the depths…
And a myth is born.