The Graiai and Medusa

Graphic by Mariam Rizvi

They call us grey and haggard; unworthy of their society. But, did we ask to be born this way? No. It seems our rejected fate was chosen for us.

They call us monsters! Ostracise us and our sisters. Our mother tells us that we are like this for a reason, but I cannot find the good that Keto speaks of!

Our sister Medusa… once a loyal Priestess of Athena, punished for laying with Poseidon. Deformed so that no living thing can ever look upon her face without turning to stone. Were it not for us bringing her to our island of Cisthene, the people that once adored her beauty would have stopped at nothing to kill her!

The infamous Graiai sisters wait on the edge of the Cisthene coast, in a regal home perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. Enyo ‘the warlike’, was the most protective of the three who would stop at nothing to protect their family. Deino ‘the terrible’, or so she was named by the local people, whose name, in itself, was a misunderstanding. Deino was named as such by her mother as ‘the clever’; she was the most cunning of the Graiai. Then there was Pemphredo: ‘she who shows the way’. Pemphredo was the one who kept the Graiai and all children of Keto united. Their home was a naturally constructed fortress, meant to keep away the curious, and psychologically intimidate those who considered calling upon the abilities of the ancient sisters. However, the godling Perseus did not stay away, an instead sought the Graiai sisters to acquire the location of the fearsome Medusa, intending to behead her to save the city of Argos from the Kraken.

Upon hearing several pairs of footsteps approaching their lair, the Graiai sisters call out to the disruption. Enyo, quickly grabs the eye out of her sister Deino’s hand while their third sister, Pemphredo, yells out to the advancing intruders.

“Who goes there? What do you seek from the Graiai sisters?” exclaimed Pemphredo. The sisters might be blind except for their shared eye, but no one could deny their cunning, sharp minds.

“Show yourself strangers, so we may gaze upon our intruders!” demanded Enyo, as she lifted the shinning glass orb that was their eye to her face. The Graiai were not the hideous beings that the local people made them out to be. They took great pride in their godly heritage, dressing themselves in flowing, beautifully embellished robes. They stood tall with long grey hair falling past their shoulders in elegant swaths with no eyes, and no sockets; their skin as pale, smooth and perfectly unblemished as fine marble. They were elegant, and they were fearsome.

Perseus confidently strode forward and stood before the open fire pit in the centre of the room, locking gazes with Enyo.

“I am told that the Graiai sisters hold the location of the gorgon Medusa. I request her location.” said Perseus to Enyo.

“Arrogant man! What makes you think that we would assist you in anything? Surely your question is more idiotic than your looks!” Enyo roared, taking a step toward him.

“Dearest ladies, I mean you no harm.” Perseus said smoothly, addressing all three sisters. “I merely request knowledge. You see, I require only the location of Medusa. Please, assist me.” Perseus maintained a pleasant but calculated look as he waited for the Graiai to respond.

“What purpose do you have with Medusa, intruder? We owe no such assistance. Be gone while you and your men can still walk on your own!” yelled Enyo, firmly holding the eye fixed on him.

A slow grin spread across Perseus’ face before he slowly withdrew a gleaming sword from his belt. The men behind him followed suit.

“Well, you had your chance and I’m quite finished with the pleasantries. Now, I demand the location of Medusa or all of you will die where you stand!” Perseus pointed his sword directly at Enyo.

“Idiotic godling! How dare you threaten us, do not take one more step!” shouted Deino. But Perseus advanced toward Enyo with his sword arched, prepared to strike. Enyo firmly grasped the eye in her hand and thrust her hand up to meet Perseus’ sword. When the two collided, the sword snapped in half in a show of sparks. Perseus halted immediately with a look of horror and surprise painted on his face, but just as quickly, he composed himself.

“Foolish man! The eye is more than our sight, it holds more power than you can understand!” the feared sister barked. However, before Enyo could return the eye to her face to see Perseus’ next move, the eye was yanked from her grasp. The sisters let out a unanimous cry of shock. Deino and Pemphredo blindly reached for anything nearby with which they could defend themselves. But Enyo was trapped, too close to the blades of Perseus’ men to flee. She merely stood her ground refusing to give Perseus the satisfaction of her fear. Enyo could hear a new blade slicing violently through the air and whispered to herself.

“Mother… protect me.”

Suddenly a shout could be heard in the distance that made the commotion cease. It was one of Perseus’ men shouting to his leader.

“I have found her! I found the gorgon Medusa, she resides on this island! We must behead her while she sleeps.” the speaker addressed Perseus.

“Well, Graiai sisters, it seems I have no use for you after all, and since I cannot have you in my way, good luck finding your eye.” teased Perseus as he threw the eye with great force into the sea at the foot of the cliff. He then turned on his heel and stormed out of the Graiai’s lair leading his men in the direction of sleeping Medusa.

“The eye! We must find it, hurry!” Enyo ordered her sisters.

“But what of Medusa? They are after her as we speak!” Pemphredo exclaimed as she walked to the exit of the room.

“We’re nothing without the eye, we know our island well enough to navigate to the beach, then we must ask Keto for help.”

“But our sister Medusa! We must protect her!” Pemphredo pleaded with her sisters.

“I know sister, but what can we do without our eye? We can get it back and then go to Medusa’s aid.” Enyo explained forlornly.

With conflicted hearts, the grey sisters made their way down from their home to the beach of Cisthene knowing the path well enough to navigate whilst blinded. Pemphredo marched ahead of her sisters and walked directly into the sea until the waves fell over her feet. She fell to her knees and plunged her hands into the tides and yelled out.

“Mother! Greatest Keto, help us! Your daughters need assistance, our family is under threat!” Enyo and Deino were soon alongside their sister, dropping to their knees as they repeated Pemphredo’s words in unison.

Suddenly, the sea contracted. Then, there was only calm. The Graiai could hear the padding of steps through the shallow water nearby. The approaching presence came to a stop in front of them, assessed their kneeling forms and spoke.

“My daughters, what has happened? Never have you summoned me like this.”

“Mother… we – ” Enyo began.

“Help us mother, they’re going to murder Medusa!” interrupted Pemphredo. “The godling Perseus took our eye and threw it into the depths of the sea and now he seeks to behead Medusa!”

Keto addressed the Graiai with urgency.

“Why did you not go to Medusa first? You have foolishly chased your eye–

An ear-piercing shriek sliced the air, silencing Keto immediately. It was the scream of Medusa and both Keto and the Graiai knew they were too late.

“Sister…” the Graiai whispered together in sorrow as Keto screamed in agony at the loss of her daughter.

“My daughters,” Keto spoke, her voice heavy with grief. “What have you done? Medusa is dead, it was your duty to protect her, and for what? Your accursed eye?”

“Mother,” Pemphredo pleaded. “Please, there must be something we can do! We were ambushed, attacked by men. There must be a solution, anything! Please wise Keto, we will do anything to help Medusa!”

A long pause followed as Keto considered Pemphredo’s words. Finally, she spoke, reaching gently under Pemphredo’s chin to tilt her head up as if to meet her gaze.

“You will seek the wise war-goddess, Athena. Follow the path North. You will walk for many hours until you come upon her temple. Then you must lay sacrifices upon her alter; meat, gold and everything you have of value to please the goddess. If she appears, plead with her to return your sister from Hades. She is fickle and unpredictable, but Athena is your only chance.”

With a mournful look, Keto turned and began to walk back into the depths of the ocean.

Deino called to her.“Mother! How will we find our way to the temple? We knew our way to the sea, but without our eye we won’t make it.” Deino pleaded. Keto looked at her three daughters thoughtfully and even considered punishing them. But she wanted Medusa back more than anything for, after all, they were family.

She faced Deino. “My daughters, I will give you this one last piece of assistance but after this you must save Medusa on your own accord. It is your quest to bring her back to us. Deino, place your right hand in the water, onto the sea floor.” Deino did as her mother instructed. “Think of the eye. Imagine it in your hand.” As it’s goddess, Keto used her influence over the sea to pull the eye from its depths and into the hand of Deino who pulled her arm from the sea to see the eye within her palm.

“Our eye…” But they were unable to rejoice fully instead remaining silent for several minutes as they continued to contemplate their severe loss. At last, Pemphredo spoke, her throat thick with bitter grief.

“We shall return to our lair and gather our sacrifice to Athena. Every valuable item we can carry, nothing will be left behind.” Pemphredo turned back to the shore, and her sombre faced sisters followed.

The Graiai gathered as many of their precious items as they could and began their journey to the temple. It was Pemphredo who held the eye and guided her sisters along the path. Indeed, all the sisters had the same unspoken worry, but it was Enyo who voiced it first.

“What if Athena refuses us? What if we are met with laughter? She has cursed Medusa before. Why would she now help to bring her back?” They all wanted to believe that the wise war-goddess would pity them. But if the Graiai understood anything, it was that members of their family were never treated fairly or favourably. Beauty went far with the mortals and gods alike, and though the children of Keto and Phorkys were strong and formidable, they lacked that prized beauty.

“We can only hope. Athena can be just. When she sees our sacrifices, perhaps she will hear our plea.” Though Pemphredo’s voice was confident, there was doubt in her heart. None of the Graiai would be able to forgive themselves if Medusa was not returned.

As the sun began to set, Enyo and Deino could feel the creeping cold of the night. Pemphredo, stilling wielding the eye, continued to guide them along the well-beaten path. Deino, growing impatient, addressed her sister in exacerbation. “Pemphredo! It is nightfall, how much longer till we arrive? We are vulnerable baby chickens in these woods!”

Pemphredo sighed at her sister’s impatience. “The temple is right ahead, it is small but contains an alter for our sacrifices.”

They arrived at Athena’s temple just as a heavy rain began to pour upon the roof. The Graiai banded together and cautiously followed Pemphredo to the alter. “We’re here sisters, if you place your hand out in front of you, you will find the surface of the alter. Lets place our offerings. I will light the incense.” Upon these instructions Pemphredo began to open a bag of offerings.

The sisters hastily stacked their items upon the alter. Meats, gold, and other precious items were placed down until the structure was nearly overflowing. Pemphredo took her sisters’ hands. All were trembling with a distinct mix of grief and fear. Pemphredo began the prayer to Athena. “Wise goddess Athena, we come here –“ Suddenly a loud crack of thunder sounded amongst the symphony of rain hammering at the temple. All three sisters gasped and Enyo finally spoke.

“The goddess seems angry already! She does not care for the children of Keto. She won’t help us but may well kill us where we kneel!” Enyo howled loudly while facing the ground, her voice brimming with fear.

Though they had no eyes, each sister had tears streaming down their faces like any mortal in a time of grief. Finally, Pemphredo addressed her sister. “We must try. We owe this to Medusa and our family and cannot continue to let others hurt our family because of their prejudice!”

With a silent nod, the sisters held each other’s hands again and began to pray in unison. Their voices began as mere whispers, but their courage only grew from Pemphredo’s words. “Wise Athena, hear our prayers. We give you great sacrifice. Hear our pleads. Help our sister Medusa. She has been taken from us unjustly…” More loud cracks of thunder sounded outside the temple but the Graiai held firm and repeated their unanimous prayer, their passion and volume building. “We must help our sister Medusa, for she has been taken from us unjustly!” The Graiai yelled at the top of their voices, no longer able to hold back their grief or anger.

Suddenly, they could hear light footsteps approaching. Deino scrambled for the eye and held it to her face. She saw a brilliant light, then a figure came into view – a woman, with hair flowing down her shoulders. Her stance displayed ultimate poise and her face was divinely regal. The sisters tensed as they felt the energy around them shift and knew that Athena was with them. Athena approached the Graiai, looking them up and down, appraising and assessing them. She walked to the alter and glanced over the offerings. Finally, she spoke. “So, you are the infamous Graiai, the daughters of Keto? I dare say I was expecting shriveled grey husks of women. The villagers seemed to have exaggerated.” Athena assessed the Graiai with a single, quizzical brow. The sisters were stunned in disbelief for several moments until Pemphredo finally stepped forward and addressed the goddess.

“Wise Athena, we plead for your assistance. Our beloved sister has been slaughtered in her sleep. Our family is broken. We’ll do anything to have our Medusa back again. Please, there must be something we can –“

“Medusa, you say?” Athena interrupted Pemphredo, her voice echoing throughout the temple. “You know I cursed Medusa many years ago. Why would I assist in her return?” Athena’s face gave nothing away as she waited for the sister’s response.

Pemphredo’s voice was unsteady as she attempted to plead their case. Inside she felt the battle was already lost. Indeed, why would Athena help the woman she cursed? Their family had been shunned and called monsters since the beginning, how would anyone think any different?

“Goddess… We didn’t know what else to do, so we beg you, there must be some way. Do not punish Medusa with an eternity in Hades because of our mistake.”

Athena’s eyebrows quirked in interest as she heard Pemphredo’s words. “How have your actions resulted in your sister’s death?”

Pemphredo rose from her kneeling position, averting her gaze from Athena in shame. “We were attacked by the godling Perseus and he demanded to know our sister Medusa’s location, but we refused. Then he and his men attacked us. The eye protected us until he took the eye and threw it into the sea. We pursued the eye, but –“ tears fell in streams down Pemphredo’s cheeks and her words were stuck in her throat. Enyo instinctively placed her hand on her sister’s shoulder and continued.

“We were not quick enough… we heard Medusa’s shriek. It was our job to protect and look after our sister after her punishment. Medusa merely wanted to be amongst her family after she was transformed, and we wanted that too. This loss has cut us so deeply. Please take pity upon our devastated family.” Athena’s face was impassive, but she seemed to consider the Graiai’s words.

“I do not doubt that this loss was devastating to your family. But what I don’t understand is why you pursued your eye into the sea instead of saving Medusa.” The sisters flinched at Athena’s words, but it was Pemphredo that responded on behalf of her sisters.

“We… cannot defend our choice and we will spend the rest of our immortal existence regretting that choice. We will never forgive ourselves. We have never had the eye taken from us before nor have we ever been challenged in such a way. You see, the eye to the Graiai is our one small link to the rest of humanity. The people of the world already refer to us as grotesque hags… but without our eye what are we? Mindless, blind idiots! But that’s all meaningless now…” Pemphredo lowered the eye from her face in shame. All the sisters were quiet as they waited for a response from Athena. Finally, she spoke, her voice calculated and stern.

“Daughters of Keto, I will help you retrieve your fallen sister from Hades, but on one condition. You lost Medusa because of your own selfishness and pride. That is not easily forgiven. To prove your sincerity in your remorse, you must sacrifice the very eye you sacrificed your sister’s life to save. Place the eye upon my altar and step away.” The Graiai gasped in surprised, both because Athena had agreed to help and because of her substantial price. But, nonetheless, no one argued or even spoke. Pemphredo placed the eye onto the alter immediately. Athena nodded curtly once in silent approval and delivered her parting words. “By sacrificing your eye, you are sacrificing your sight for all eternity, but such is the price of assistance from a goddess.” On the heel of Athena’s words, Deino interjected. “If I may, wise goddess, I would like to plead for one more thing on Medusa’s behalf. She has suffered so greatly with her disfigurement. Is it at all possible that upon her expulsion from Hades our dear sister may look as she once did? Surely she deserves this much?” Athena’s face contorted briefly in anger but quickly returned to her impassive mask.

“I suppose Medusa has suffered greatly, both at the hands of her sisters’ greed and her monsterous state . I will consider your request, but I make no promises. Your sister will be returned. Wait here in my temple for my return.” These were Athena’s last words to the sisters before the eye on the alter began to glow brightly, so brightly that even the blinded Graiai could feel its glow on their faces and covered themselves with the sleeve of their robes. Suddenly it was gone, and Athena with it.

Not long later, Athena arrived in Hades. Her goddess status meant she had no troubles traveling to the underworld. She was quickly met by Hades, who fixed upon her a questioning gaze.

“I have come with a special request.” Athena addressed Hades when their eyes met. “I come to retrieve the slain Medusa, I have made a bargain with her sisters, the Graiai. I also believe this will garner the gods of Mount Olympus much favour with the gods Keto and Phorkys.” Interested, Hades briefly considered Athena’s words.

“I suppose I can release Medusa to you. She does nothing down here but stare blankly at a wall and has not spoken besides the occasional mumblings about her sisters. What good is that? We may as well have her back amongst the living to terrify them.” Hades replied smugly. Athena held her blank expression and nodded once.

“I shall summon Medusa for you, Athena.” Hades briefly disappeared and returned with Medusa at his side. Her shoulders were slumped but what was most shocking was that Medusa’s appearance seemed to have been returned to its original beauty. Long ebony hair fell down her shoulders to her waist, her skin perfect and luminous again, no sign that she was ever the most feared being to mankind.

“Ah, Medusa, my once great priestess, look at you now. It looks as though death becomes you.” Athena mused out loud as Medusa neared. Upon hearing Athena’s voice, Medusa’s head immediately jerked up and she fixed her gaze intensely on the warrior goddess. Athena was expecting a look of hatred or anger from Medusa, but her gaze was almost pleading and full of sorrow. Medusa eventually found her voice and addressed Athena.

“Great wise war goddess, I do not know what you have come to Hades for but I have suffered so much. Take pity on me, even in death.” Athena was stunned at Medusa’s words before she composed herself. She answered Medusa in a gentle tone.

“Child, I have come because your sisters. They’ve made great sacrifices for your return, and I intend to honour that. Further, you will be permitted to stay as you are now and will be free of your hair of snakes and deadly gaze that turns men to stone.” Medusa wept at Athena’s words, unable to believe her circumstances. Finally, she would be able to see her sisters again, her whole family that she believed to be lost at the hands of Perseus was being returned. Medusa collected herself and slowly rose to meet Athena’s gaze.

“Wise goddess… My sisters must have made a massive sacrifice for a favour such as this. May I ask how they gained such favour from yourself?” Athena, surprised at the question, considered the fact that she owed no explanation for her actions; she was a goddess after all. But then, Athena thought it’d be good for Medusa to know the cost of her freedom.

“Your sisters sacrificed their riches and food all of which is expected… but I could not act on their final request unless they gave up the object of their guilt; their eye. Perseus took the eye and threw it into the depths of the sea. Instead of protecting you, they pursued their eye.” Medusa gasped at Athena’s words. “When I requested it, they gave up their eye without hesitation in exchange only for your safe return and for me to allow you to look as you were before my punishment.” Medusa continued to stare at Athena for several moments before she spoke again, and when Medusa did speak, she was not the weeping, mute girl that sat in Hades, but the strong high priestess that Athena once knew.

“My goddess, I thank you for answering my sisters’ prayers. I will use my time in the land of the living wisely, but I must make one simple request.” Rather than be angered that yet another request was being made of her, Athena looked amused.

“I suppose it should not come as a surprise that yet another daughter of Keto insists on a favour from me, but let me hear your request, Medusa.” Without a moment of hesitation, Medusa spoke.

“I don’t want my beauty back, I want my hair of snakes and petrifying gaze. After years of being shunned by humans, I have no desire to return to the looks they once admired, for they are no friends of mine. It is my family, my sisters who loved me, who never fled from me and kept me safe for all those years.  If the masses still choose to fear me, all the better; the safer my family and I will be. Beauty is in power and love. This is true for myself, my sisters the Graiai, my other fearsome sister Scylla and the rest of the family of Keto. We are fierce, and we are strong.” Athena stared at Medusa in silence. Never had she heard of anyone turning down beauty for what was intended to be a punishment, but Athena found herself approving of Medusa’s bravery.

“Very well, Medusa, you will be returned to your sisters just as you were before. Let us make haste, take my hand.” Athena reached for Medusa. Seconds after their hands grasped, there was a bright flash of light, so bright Medusa forced her eyes closed. When the light dissipated, Medusa found herself in a dim temple. Athena was nowhere to be seen. She could feel the familiar sway of snakes from her hair and she smiled inwardly thanking Athena for fulfilling her wish. Suddenly, there was a series of shrieks from inside the temple. Medusa walked toward the source of the commotion to find her three grey sisters huddled together at the altar. In their blind state, they were crying out her name.

“Who goes there? Is it Medusa? Have you returned to us, sister?” yelled Pemphredo at the sound of footsteps.

“Yes sisters! I am here! Athena granted your prayer and retrieved me from Hades, I never thought I’d see any of you again!” Medusa comforted her sisters as she embraced all three. The Graiai grasped Medusa’s open arms immediately, everyone lightly sobbing with tears of joy. Finally, Deino gently touched the side of Medusa’s face and felt a snake caress her hand affectionately. Immediately Deino pulled her hand back in alarm.

Medusa spoke, “Sisters, do not be alarmed. Athena told me I was to go back to the way I was before my punishment, but I insisted on staying this way.”

“Why ever would you go back to this! You could’ve been loved by the people again, and live a normal life… We can never be amongst humans, but you have that chance again!” Enyo yelled out.

“That Medusa is gone, I have no desire to live among the people that hated me the moment I was different.” Medusa explained. “That is not love. I feel beautiful when I am strong and brave, and this is why I have chosen to be this fearsome woman. It is no longer a punishment, it’s my choice. I know, sisters, that you have made an incredible sacrifice in giving your eye so that I may live again, but you see, in making that sacrifice, you have now become the only beings that are immune to my gaze and that is a precious gift. I want to spend the rest of my existence protecting you, my sisters. Let me give you the love that the world has not given us. For united as one, we are beautiful and powerful.” Medusa and the Graiai continued to embrace in their tearful reunion until night fell and with Medusa leading the way, they began a new chapter of their lives.