Medusa and Oedipus (the Gorgon's New Man)

Artwork details: gouache, 10 x 8 inches (25 x 20 cm), 2007.

Medusa and Oedipus - whole picture
Medusa and Oedipus

Now this is a strange one, but it was high time I did something about Medusa's total inability to get herself a man. Obviously any visitor and prospective 'suitor' is instantly turned to stone as soon as she opens the door to them - a couple of times I've painted her clearly expecting company (two glasses of wine poured out, sadly one of them untouched) and in fact twice she's been on her way out for the evening. So I rather thought Medusa might be beginning to get a little fed up with this whole isolation thing.

Medusa and Oedipus - detail...
Medusa and Oedipus - close-up

I mean, clearly the girl wants a bit of company now and then - even a night out with the girls... but no, they all turn to stone, too. So I set her up.

That was the tricky bit - a friend and I spent some time sat in the kitchen with a bottle of wine (always helps) trying to solve the problem of Medusa's Man - weather he was just actually blind, or did they both have dark shades on? (dangerous, for a long-term relationship...). Whether, in some surreal kind of way, he had something else other than eyes.... buttons, like a doll? shiny reflective mirror eyes, perhaps...? and I had the idea that maybe his eyes had tape over them, although none of this made a lot of sense, perhaps it didn't need to.

At some point I thought of Oedipus - handy and nearby - another character from Greek legend - but if course he's usually shown in a much more gruesome aspect (and if you don't know the story of Oedipus read on...). And so this picture developed. A bit creepy and weird, and at the same time a bit cutesy and kitsch. And nicely tying up two tragedies into one happy ending... Sophocles would be turning in his grave, but really - they're a perfect match - I mean, Medusa is actually pretty desperate and so likely to be happy with anyone, and Oedipus is hardly known for his ability to pick women (and it has to be said that even dating a Gorgon is probably less embarrassing than finding out you've accidentally been shagging your own mother...).

Medusa and Oedipus - another close-up - to give you an idea of the detail this image
shows a section of the painting about 47mm wide - less than a 5x5cm square.
Medusa and Oedipus - close-up

The story of Oedipus:

So, as background, for those who don't know, here's the story (very much on my own words!). And for those who do know the story - forgive the inaccuracies - you can read far more scholarly versions elsewhere.

Oedipus is born to the King (Laius) and Queen (Jocasta) of Thebes - and, foolishly, they go off with the baby to the Oracle at Delphi (well known for obscure and unhelpful prophesies) to see what it has to say about this. They are alarmed to hear that the newborn babe is destined to murder his father. "Bugger!" they think, better get rid of the thing, and give him to a servant, telling him to leave the baby in the woods, were it will die. Of course this is their second mistake. Handing over innocent babies to other people to do the evil deed never works! The servant gives the baby to a shepherd, who takes it off to the nearby city of Corinth, and, yes, gives it to the childless king and queen of Corinth, who bring up Oedipus as their own child, never telling him that they aren't his real parents.

Well, Oedipus grows up happy and content (so far as I can recall) and at some point he goes off to Delphi, too, to ask the Oracle for a prophesy (stupid, stupid boy!). And is very alarmed to hear that he is doomed to kill his father and marry his mother. Oh bugger, he also thinks, and straight away leaves Corinth, not realizing that he was in no danger where he was since they weren't his real mum and dad.

And on the way to - yes Thebes, of course, where his real parents are king and queen - he meets this old belligerent bloke on the road, and in a very ancient case of road-rage, they argue over who has right of way and Oedipus ends up killing the old bloke. He then carries on towards Thebes and meets the Sphinx

The Sphinx has been plaguing Thebes for some time by waylaying travelers, asking them a riddle and then eating them if they don't get it right. Monsters like to do this sort of thing. She asks Oedipus the riddle: "What creature walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?". Well Oedipus easily answers this old chestnut (though of course it was probably brand new in those days). The answer is Man: he crawls on all fours as a baby, learns to walk on his hind legs, so to speak, and then in his old age he walks with a stick.

The Sphinx is so upset that she throws herself off the cliff, and so Oedipus enters Thebes as the hero - the bloke who got rid of the evil Sphinx... and, as some unknown traveler has just unfortunately bumped off their king (ah ha - we wonder who that was?), he even ends up marrying the recently widowed queen, Jocasta, and becoming king of Thebes.

Of course it's all going to come out and end rather badly... Sophocles play - the most famous version of the story: 'Oedipus the King' starts off from several years after Oedipus came to Thebes. The city has been hit by a plague, apparently sent by the gods in punishment for King Laius's murder (like they didn't know Oedipus was going to kill him anyway - they sent the prophecies after all!). Oedipus swears he will find the murderer and throw him out of the city. Well the play unfolds with various witnesses and stories emerging... and to cut it all rather short, Jocasta realizes the awful truth rather before Oedipus does and runs off to hang herself. The truth finally dawns last of all on Oedipus, who has ignored all pleas to shut up and stop asking questions. When he finds Jocasta's body, he takes the broaches off her dress and pokes his own eyes out with them - blinding himself because he couldn't see the truth and doesn't deserve to see anything at all.

It's possible that Sophocles made this ending up, since (I read somewhere that) according to Homer - several hundred years earlier - Oedipus dies in battle, which makes it unlikely that he had blinded himself on an earlier occasion. But whatever the original story was, this is really the classic example of Greek tragedy where everyone goes out of their way to avoid the terrible fated disaster, which becomes all the more inevitable the more everyone tries to avoid it. Cheerful bunch, the Ancient Greeks.

Well, clearly by now this isn't likely to be the last painting of Medusa. Incidentally, if you're interested in the Sphinx, of course I don't believe that story is quite right, either. In fact I now have a painting about that one, in which 'The Sphinx changes the Rules' - click the thumbnail to the left to see it....

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