If we mindfully reflect on the fantastic Greek myth of Perseus, we should realise that it is not truly a tale about external gods and monsters. Instead, it tells of how mere mortals are able to triumph despite seemingly impossible odds, with great courage, skill and wit. The intervening gods are kind of neutral in such tales as they both make sport of humans and bestow favours, depending on their moods. Perhaps, they represent ‘Fortune’ collectively (who is also Misfortune), or as Buddhists would see it, impersonal karma at play. In Buddhism, even gods and ghosts, like Buddhas and maras, can be means through which the workings of karma exact.
Personally projected by unenlightened humans, the gods are with greater power, yet with exaggerated defiled human-nature too – with more lust for sex, power and fame, pettiness and viciousness. Indeed, they are portrayed to have the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion similarly. If real, they have more to lose when they karmically fall to lower realms! Even legendary monsters such as Medusa and the Kraken (or rather Cetus) are manifestations of monstrous fears and challenges within the human psyche. These monsters too have their Mis/Fortune, having tragic origins, some with abuse by the gods. (Who are the true monsters then?)
Dreaded as the gods and monsters are, the human protagonists, whom human storytellers and listeners directly relate to, seize control best they can in their quests, which both astonish the gods and shock the monsters. Myths thus present the potential of good and evil stretched in terms of gods and monsters, which both terrifies and inspires the humans caught in between. They are cautionary tales retold in so many ways, enduring not because they are true, but because their lessons are timelessly so. Referring to the constellations of Perseus and company ‘set’ in the stars, Zeus the chief Olympian god uttered at the end, ‘Even if we the gods are forgotten or abandoned, the stars will never fade.’
As the goddess Hera laments, ‘What if courage and imagination would become everyday mortal qualities? What would become of us?’ Zeus replies, ‘We would no longer be needed. But for the moment, there is sufficient cowardice, sloth and mendacity down there on Earth…’ Ironically, it is through human imagination that these gods were conceived, with courage to better them in these very tales. The Greek gods are portrayed to have power when worshipped, but we humans draw power from them too – by remembering the lessons offered by these myths. As long as retold and reinterpreted, if they still fascinate, they will stay relevant.
‘Clash Of The Titans’ (2010) & Humans