One cannot afford to be naive in dealing with dreams. They originate in a spirit that is not quite human, but is rather a breath of nature -- a spirit of the beautiful and generous as well as of the cruel goddess. If we want to characterize this spirit, we shall certainly get closer to it in the sphere of ancient mythologies, or the fables of the primeval forest, than in the consciousness of modern man. ~ Carl G. Jung, Man and his Symbols.
The other day we noted the oddity of how the tale (in Bk. 4) of Perseus's defeat of the sea monster and rescue of the maiden concludes:
Perseus evades the eager jaws on swift wings, and strikes with his curved sword wherever the monster is exposed, now at the back encrusted with barnacles, now at the sides of the body, now where the tail is slenderest, ending fishlike. The beast vomits seawater mixed with purplish blood. The pinions grow heavy, soaked with spray. Not daring to trust his drenched wings any further, he sees a rock whose highest point stands above quiet water, hidden by rough seas. Resting there, and holding on to the topmost pinnacle with his left hand, he drives his sword in three or four times, repeatedly.
Given the nature of the story -- furious combat motivated by love for the young maiden Andromeda threatened by the sea-monster -- every expectation is that the hero will at least courteously approach the girl, the "prize and cause of his efforts" and perhaps receive a chaste kiss -- some sort of romantic moment of recognition.
Instead, the sightline of the narrator goes insensibly past all that "human interest" to fix upon certain seemingly irrelevant details pertaining to the care and tender handling of Medusa's head, leading in turn to a seemingly unrelated "cause," an explanation of the origin of coral:
The shores, and the high places of the gods, fill with the clamor of applause. Cassiope and Cepheus rejoice, and greet their son-in-law, acknowledging him as the pillar of their house, and their deliverer. Released from her chains, the girl comes forward, the prize and the cause of his efforts. He washes his hands, after the victory, in seawater drawn for him, and, so that Medusa’s head, covered with its snakes, is not bruised by the harsh sand, he makes the ground soft with leaves, and spreads out plants from below the waves, and places the head of that daughter of Phorcys on them. The fresh plants, still living inside, and absorbent, respond to the influence of the Gorgon’s head, and harden at its touch, acquiring a new rigidity in branches and fronds. And the ocean nymphs try out this wonder on more plants, and are delighted that the same thing happens at its touch, and repeat it by scattering the seeds from the plants through the waves. Even now corals have the same nature, hardening at a touch of air, and what was alive, under the water, above water is turned to stone. Kline, 4.730-52
Litora cum plausu clamor superasque deorum
inplevere domos: gaudent generumque salutant
auxiliumque domus servatoremque fatentur
Cassiope Cepheusque pater. Resoluta catenis
incedit virgo, pretiumque et causa laboris.
740Ipse manus hausta victrices abluit unda,
anguiferumque caput dura ne laedat harena,
mollit humum foliis natasque sub aequore virgas
sternit et inponit Phorcynidos ora Medusae.
Virga recens bibulaque etiamnum viva medulla
745vim rapuit monstri tactuque induruit huius
percepitque novum ramis et fronde rigorem.
At pelagi nymphae factum mirabile temptant
pluribus in virgis et idem contingere gaudent
seminaque ex illis iterant iactata per undas.
750Nunc quoque curaliis eadem natura remansit,
duritiam tacto capiant ut ab aere, quodque
vimen in aequore erat, fiat super aequora saxum. ##
Increpat hos “vitio” que “animi, non viribus” inquit
“Gorgoneis torpetis” Eryx: “incurrite mecum
et prosternite humi iuvenem magica arma moventem!”
Incursurus erat: tenuit vestigia tellus,
inmotusque silex armataque mansit imago.