Medusa

The Legend of Medusa and the Gorgons

(Read the article on one page)

The earliest known record about the myth of Medusa and the Gorgons can be found in Hesiod’s Theogony. According to this ancient author, the three sisters, Sthenno, 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, whilst Sthenno and Euryale were immortal. In addition, Medusa is the most famous of the three, and the story of her demise is also mentioned in passing by Hesiod.

Although Hesiod gives an account of Medusa’s origins and the death of Medusa at the hands of Perseus, he does not say more about her. By contrast, a more comprehensive account of Perseus and Medusa can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In this work, Ovid describes Medusa as originally being a beautiful maiden. Her beauty caught the eye of Poseidon, who desired her and proceeded to ravage her in Athena’s shrine. The goddess then sought vengeance by transforming Medusa’s hair into snakes, so that anyone who gazed at her directly would be turned into stone.

Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
They, who have seen her, own, they ne'er did trace
More moving features in a sweeter face.
Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
In golden ringlets wav'd, and graceful shone.

– Ovid, Metamorphoses

Caravaggio's Medusa

Caravaggio’s Medusa. Photo source: Wikimedia.

In the myth of Perseus, the hero is sent by Polydectes, the king of Seriphus, on a quest to bring him the head of Medusa. This was a trick, as Polydectes desired Perseus’ mother, Danae, and wanted to get rid of her son, who is not in favour of such a relationship. Such a mission would have been equivalent to suicide for Perseus, and Polydectes did not expect him to ever return to Seriphus. Yet, Perseus was the son of Zeus, and he was aided by the gods. Perseus receives 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 whilst 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 Chrysaos, who was born with a golden sword in his hand, emerged from the severed neck of Medusa. After this, Perseus returns to Seriphus, though not before going on several adventures. Although Perseus may be at the centre of these adventures, 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.

Pegasus emerges from the body of Medusa. 'The Perseus Series: The Death of Medusa I' by Edward Burne-Jones

Pegasus emerges from the body of Medusa. ‘The Perseus Series: The Death of Medusa I’ by Edward Burne-Jones ( Wikimedia Commons )

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 encounters the Titan Atlas. When Perseus asks 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 takes out Medusa’s head, and Atlas is turned into a mountain. Perseus also encounters Andromeda, the daughter of the Aethiopian king Cepheus and his wife Cassiopeia. Using Medusa’s head, Perseus succeeds 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. Medusa’s head is then given to Athena, who wears it on her aegis whenever she goes into battle.

Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa by Sebastiano Ricci

Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa by Sebastiano Ricci ( Wikimedia Commons )

Although Medusa is commonly regarded as a monster, her head is often seen as a protective amulet that would keep evil away. Thus, the image of Medusa’s head can be seen in numerous Greek and subsequent Roman artifacts such as shields, breastplates and mosaics. There are also numerous coins that bear not only the imagery of Perseus holding the head of Medusa, but also the head in its own right. Today, the most well-known image of Medusa’s head belongs perhaps to the logo of the Italian fashion company, Versace, indicating that the myths of the ancient world are still alive and with us in the modern world.       

Comments

Medusa is Venus, Perseus was Mars. It's not that hard to see.

medusa is medusa in both roman and greece

medusa is my favorite i love her and her sister :)

I think that the story of Perseus is the story of Moses, and his quest to acquire the Medusa head, is a poetic retelling of the law giving. For further details please see;

https://www.academia.edu/4409214/Perseus_a_Danaan_Moses_Part_1_

http://www.academia.edu/4457555/Perseus_a_Danaan_Moses_Part_2_

The amazing coincidences, resemblance and connections between different myths and religion makes me think about one whole system, which has been variously interpreted in the course of time..

Electric universe .. symbols of an alien sky YouTube

Greek myths love the dychotomy between hubris and usefulness; they also play out fickle against duty. The gods are fickle and yet demand moral standards from mortals. The stories basically play out the stupidly infuriating nature of the universe: that it feels like someone is in control of fate but they haven't read the Manual they've just insisted you follow. 

that first image is too extreme

ALL the images are too extreme.

I hadn't realised that Medusa was originally a very beautiful girl. So she gets raped by Poseidon and instead of him being punished, she gets a bad name and is decapitated. Things never change. Danae, Perseus's mother was (probably) raped by Zeus and according to the legend was sent off by her father across the Mediterranean in a chest of money.

This all sounds very familiar and is happening today. Some would blame Islam, but it is just men who won't take responsibility for their own actions and the women and children suffer in 'blame the victim' scenarios.

In some versions of the myth, Athena actually turned Medusa into a monster so she wouldn't get raped/touched by another man again, as she was only able to turn men into stone (This is only one version of the story)

Definitely disagree that Medusa is Venus and Perseus is Mars. The ancient Greeks were very clear that they were separate entities. As for the Moses scenario, I can’t say. I have never heard that theory so I’ll have to read some before I can comment. I plan to download through the link tonight but I doubt that I’ll be able to read it tonight.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Representation of an ancient Egyptian chariot.
The wheel can be considered mankind’s most important invention, the utility of which is still applied in multiple spheres of our daily life. While most other inventions have been derived from nature itself, the wheel is 100% a product of human imagination. Even today, it would be difficult to imagine what it would be like without wheels, since movement as we know it would be undeniably impossible.

Myths & Legends

An image of Enki from the Adda cylinder seal.
In the belief system of the Sumerians, Enki (known also as Ea by the Akkadians and Babylonians) was regarded to be one of the most important deities. Originally Enki was worshipped as a god of fresh water and served as the patron deity of the city of Eridu (which the ancient Mesopotamians believe was the first city to have been established in the world). Over time, however, Enki’s influence grew and this deity was considered to have power over many other aspects of life, including trickery and mischief, magic, creation, fertility, and intelligence.

Ancient Technology

Representation of an ancient Egyptian chariot.
The wheel can be considered mankind’s most important invention, the utility of which is still applied in multiple spheres of our daily life. While most other inventions have been derived from nature itself, the wheel is 100% a product of human imagination. Even today, it would be difficult to imagine what it would be like without wheels, since movement as we know it would be undeniably impossible.

Ancient Places

Can Different Religions Peacefully Share a Sacred Site? A Temple Mount Tragedy
One of the major points of contention between Israel and the Arab/Moslem world is over the most sacred piece of real estate on the planet. At 37 acres, the Temple Mount is the focal point of prayer and contention for the three western religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. While Christianity has Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem vying for spiritual “seniority;” and Islam has Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem; Judaism has Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, and Jerusalem.

Opinion

El Caracol Observatory at Chichen Itza (Wright Reading/CC BY-NC 2.0) and Composite 3D laser scan image of El Caracol from above
In 1526, the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Montejo arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and found most of the great Maya cities deeply eroded and unoccupied. Many generations removed from the master builders, engineers, and scientists who conceived and built the cities, the remaining Maya they encountered had degenerated into waring groups who practiced blood rituals and human sacrifice.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article