In ancient Greek mythology, Medusa (“guardian, protectress”) was a monster, a Gorgon, generally described as a winged human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those who gazed upon her face would turn to stone. Most sources describe her as the daughter of Phorcys and Ceto, though the author Hyginus makes her the daughter of Gorgon and Ceto.
Medusa is the most famous of three monstrous sisters known as the Gorgons. The earliest known record about the story of Medusa and the Gorgons can be found in Hesiod’s Theogony. According to this ancient author, the three sisters, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa, were the children of Phorcys and Ceto and lived “beyond famed Oceanus at the world’s edge hard by Night”. Of the three, only Medusa is said to be mortal. But she is also the most famous and the myth of her demise at the hands of Perseus is often recounted. Medusa is one of the more unusual divine figures of ancient Greek mythology. One of a trio of Gorgon sisters, Medusa was the only sister who was not immortal. She is famed for her snake-like hair and her gaze, which turns those who look at her to stone.
Why Did Medusa Get Cursed?
Medusa was a beautiful maiden with golden hair. She vowed to be celibate her entire life as a priestess of Athena until she fell in love with POSEIDON. Her beauty caught the eye of Poseidon, who desired her and proceeded to ravage her in Athena’s shrine.
For this ATHENA punished her hideously. She turned Medusa into an ugly creature by making her eyes bloodshot and raging and her face haglike. The once lovely hair was morphed into poisonous, dangerous snakes. Her pure white milky skin turned a scary green hue. From then on she roamed, shamed, shunned and loathed by everyone. Hence, by Athena’s curse anyone she looked upon turned to stone.
The Legend of Medusa and Perseus
The full myth of Perseus and Medusa begins years before they battled. Perseus was the son of Danae, daughter of Acrisius the King of Argos, and Zeus. The god had impregnated the princess in the form of a shower of gold after her father had locked her away upon learning from an oracle that he would be killed by his grandson. Acrisius feared the child, but wanted to avoid Zeus’ wrath, so instead of killing Perseus, he sent the baby and Danae out to sea in a wooden chest.
Dictys of the island of Seriphus rescued the two and he raised Perseus like a son. However, there were others close by who weren’t so kind to the boy. In the myth of Perseus, the hero is sent by Polydectes, Dictys’ brother and the king of Seriphus, on a quest to bring him the head of Medusa. This was a trick because Polydectes desired Perseus’ mother and wanted to get rid of her son, who was not in favor of the relationship. Such a mission would have been equivalent to suicide for Perseus and Polydectes did not expect him to ever return to Seriphus.
As Perseus was the son of Zeus, he was aided by the gods. Perseus received the Cap of Invisibility from Hades, a pair of winged sandals from Hermes, a reflective bronze shield from Athena, and a sword from Hephaestus. With these divine gifts, Perseus sought out Medusa and decapitated her with the bronze shield while she was asleep.
Immediately after the Gorgon was beheaded, the winged horse Pegasus sprung out from her neck. In the Theogony, Hesiod also mentions that the golden giant Chrysaor, who was born with a golden sword in his hand, emerged from the severed neck of Medusa. Medusa’s sisters also arrived on the scene around the same time and chased Perseus. But the hero escaped by using the Cap of Invisibility. Some versions of the myth say he took Pegasus with him as well.
After this, Perseus flew away via Hermes’ sandals or Pegasus, setting course for Seriphus. But he had several other exciting events before returning to the island. Although Perseus may be at the center of these stories, it could be argued that it is the transformative powers of Medusa’s severed head that played a pivotal role in the hero’s subsequent adventures.
The Powers of Medusa’s Head
When the blood dripped from Medusa’s head onto the plains of Libya, each drop of blood transformed into venomous serpents. The power of Medusa’s head is seen again when Perseus encountered the Titan Atlas. When Perseus asked Atlas for a place to rest for a short while, his request was refused. Knowing that he would not be able to defeat the Titan with brute force alone, he took out Medusa’s head and Atlas was turned into a mountain.
Perseus also encountered Andromeda, the daughter of the Aethiopian king Cepheus and his wife Cassiopeia. Using Medusa’s head, Perseus succeeded in rescuing the princess, who was being sacrificed to Cetus, a sea monster sent by Poseidon to punish Cassiopeia for boasting that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids. Medusa’s petrifying power is also used on Phineus, Andromeda’s uncle whom she was betrothed to, Proetus, the usurper of the throne of Argos, and finally Polydectes himself. Perseus’ friend Dictys took the throne and, now finished with the relic, Perseus gave Medusa’s head to Athena, who wears it on her aegis whenever she goes into battle.
Note: Today, the most well-known image of Medusa’s head belongs perhaps to the logo of the Italian fashion company, Versace. And let’s not forget that Medusa also made headline gaming news in the not so distant past as a tough boss battle for players in the newest game of the popular Assassin’s Creed franchise. These factors remind us that myths of the ancient world are still alive and with us in the modern world.