Sunday, September 13, 2009

Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon by Stephen R. Wilk

Stephen R. Wilk set out with a daunting task, to solve the mystery of the gorgon: how it has been portrayed through the centuries and across cultures, to more importantly, where the myth originated. The structure of this book makes it an easy read, even for those without knowledge of Greek mythology. Wilk begins with a retelling of the myth of Perseus and Medusa as it is commonly known today and then delves deeply into multiple cultures around the world to present parallels. One of the most entertaining portions of this book is his discussion of the current theories surrounding the gorgon (including the belief that the gorgon was an octopus). I had no idea that so many theories existed, much less how diverse they were. Wilk patiently discusses them, and respectfully talks about which points he agrees with, and which points he does not, taking the time to point out why. From there, he leads the reader through enough astronomy to make anyone who has a telescope immediately toss it in their front yard. He also includes a treatise on ancient building techniques, including the history of gargoyles, before finally landing at his hypothesis. Since this book functions as a non-fiction detective novel, I do not wish to spoil his hypothesis, but I will offer that regardless of whether or not you believe with Wilk's conclusion, he offers enough supporting evidence to make it an entirely believable and acceptable. He then takes time to visit Medusa today by taking a brief foray into Medusa's rise to a figure of female rage and power, and movies/comics/pop culture. For a book which took a glimpse into many facets of the gorgon and Medusa myth, he then brilliantly wraps-up his book as well as twenty years of his love and research in a single chapter entitled "Synthesis".

A must for those interested in mythology, astronomy, or those interested in comparative ancient history.

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