Medusa | Mythic Creature

Medusa Greek Mythology

Medusa (Greek: Μέδουσα, Medousa, "guardian," "protector"), in Greek mythology, was a female Cthonic monster, one of the three Gorgons. Daughter of Phocis and Ceto (although the ancient author Hyginus interposes a generation and cites another Cthonic couple as Medusa's parents), anyone who looked directly at her would be turned to stone.

Unlike her Gorgon sisters, Estheno and Euryale, Medusa was mortal; she was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who subsequently used her head as a weapon, until he gave it to the goddess Athena, who put it on her shield. In Classical Antiquity the image of Medusa's head appeared on the object used to scare away the evil known as gorgonion.

Medusa in Greek mythology

The three Gorgon sisters - Medusa, Estheno, and Euryale - were daughters of the ancient sea deities, Phocis (Phorkys) and his sister, Keto (Keto), Attic monsters from an archaic world.

Their genealogy is shared with another group of sisters, the Greys, as is explained in Aeschylus' Prometheus in Chains, which situates both trios of sisters in a distant place, "the terrible plain of Cistene."

While ancient Greek artists, when painting vases and engraving reliefs, imagined Medusa and her sisters as having been born with a monstrous form, sculptors and painters of the 5th century BCE came to visualize her as beautiful, at the same time as terrifying.

In an ode written in 490 B.C., Pindar already spoke of the "beautiful-cheeked Medusa." In an ode written in 490 B.C., Pindar already spoke of the "Medusa with beautiful cheeks."

"There near them her three ugly sisters, the Gorgons, winged
With snakes in place of hair - hated mortal man -"
In a later version of the Medusa myth, related by the Roman poet Ovid, Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden, working as a priestess in the temple of Athens, 'desired by many mortal and immortal suitors'.

Her beauty was so great that she came to believe she was more beautiful than the goddess Athena and to boast about it. One day, she had sexual intercourse with the "Lord of the Seas", Poseidon.

After this, when Medusa returned to the goddess' temple pretending nothing had happened, the enraged goddess turned the beautiful hair she was so proud of into snakes and left her face so horrible to behold that the mere sight of it would turn anyone who looked at it to stone. In Ovid's version, Perseus describes the punishment given by Athena to Medusa as "just" and "deserved."

Medusa's death

In most versions of the myth, while Medusa was expecting a son from Poseidon, god of the seas, she would have been beheaded by the hero Perseus (a demi-god), who had received a mission from King Polyhides of Serpheus to bring her head as a gift.

With the help of Athena, Hermes, who provided him with winged sandals, and Hades, who gave him an invisibility helmet, a sword and a mirrored shield, the hero fulfilled his mission, killing the Gorgon after looking only at her harmless reflection in the shield, thus avoiding being turned into stone.

When Perseus separated Medusa's head from her neck, two creatures were born: the winged horse Pegasus and the golden giant Crisaor.

For British scholar Jane Ellen Harrison, the "potency (of Medusa) only begins when her head is cut off, and that potency is found in the head; she is, in other words, a mask with a body added later to it...the base of the gorgonion is an object of worship, a misunderstood ritual mask."

In the Odyssey Homer does not mention Medusa specifically by name:
"Unless by my boldness Persephone the terrible,
From Hades sends a dread head of a horrible monster."
Also for Harrison, "the Gorgon would have been born of terror, and not the terror of the Gorgon."

According to Ovid, in Northwest Africa, Perseus would have flown by the titan Atlas, who held the sky on his shoulders, and turned it to stone. The Red Sea corals would have been formed by Medusa's blood, spilled on algae when Perseus laid his head on a stretch of coastline during his brief stay in Ethiopia, where he saved and married the princess Andromeda.

The poisonous vipers that infest the Sahara have also been cited as being born from drops shed from her blood.

Perseus then flew to Seripheus, where his mother was about to be forced to marry King Polyhides, who was turned to stone when he looked at Medusa's head. Perseus then gave the Gorgon's head to Athena, who put it on her shield, the Aegis.

Some classical references refer to the three Gorgons; Harrison considered Medusa's dismemberment into a trio of sisters to be a secondary aspect of the myth:

"The triple form is not primitive, it is only an example of a general tendency...which makes every goddess a trinity, which has given us the Hours, the Graces, the Semnas, and various other triads. It seems immediately obvious that the Gorgons are not really three, but rather one + two. The two sisters who were not killed are mere appendages existing by custom; the real Gorgon is Medusa."

Modern interpretations


In 1940, Sigmund Freud's Das Medusenhaupt (The Head of the Medusa) was published posthumously.

This article set the stage for the construction of a significant body of criticism involving the mythological monster. Medusa is presented as "the supreme talisman, providing the image of castration - associated in the child's mind with the discovery of maternal sexuality - and its negation."


Aegis is the name of the shield of the goddess Athena, which has the Gorgon, and that would originate the Portuguese name of Aegis, which means precisely "shield".

The carvings of the Gorgon Medusa that decorated the roofs of Greek temples were intended to frighten evil spirits. The most famous of these engravings were on the pediments of the Temple of Artemis (the fourth wonder of the Ancient World) on the island of Ephesus.

Some of the Athenian wine glasses in the mid 6th century BC. Had the following appearance: near the edge, on the inside of the cup, bunches of grapes are drawn, leaving no doubt that only wine was served in that cup;

near the bottom, black figures of naked boys serving wine to the guests were drawn all around, while at the bottom of the cup, the symbol of the Gorgon was stamped, meaning that whoever drank from those cups, the moment the wine reached a level where it was possible to see the black figures, the naked servants, it meant that the cup needed to be filled;

the head of the Gorgon deposited at the bottom, would be a humorous message that indicated to the guest to keep the wine cup always full during the party, otherwise the figure of the Gorgon would come unveiled and be turned to stone.