The Medusa Myth

The Gorgon is a famous Greek figure in literature. Learn of the famous Medusa myth and how she came to be a gorgon.

The gorgon, in Greek mythology, is a female monster, or most commonly known as a Gorgo. These creatures were favorite subjects in art, being horrific, yet pungently humorous at the same time. The most famous of the Gorgons was Medusa.

A Gorgon head was most feared, as evidenced in the Odyssey, where Odysseus fears a Gorgon head might confront him if he stayed too close to Hades. The fear people had of the Gorgo was based on early poetry depicting these female creatures as furiously spirited with serpents writhing on their heads and piercing eyes that could turn a mortal to stone.

The three Gorgon sisters were daughters of ancient Sea Gods, Ceto and Phorcys. Two, Stheno and Eluryah were immortal, but the third, Medusa was not. She had been a female of absolute beauty, mostly her long, silky hair. She bragged at being more beautiful than the Goddess Athena, and one day, while in her temple, she was ravished by the Sea God Neptune. Athena was outraged by this and turned Medusa into the Gorgon she became famous for being. She turned her beautiful hair into snakes and let it be that she could no longer see the handsome men who came to court her, as they would instantly be turned to stone if they looked into her eyes.

Perseus, in trying to rescue his mother Danae from King Polydectes, was challenged to retrieve the head of Medusa. He was able to do so with the help of Athena and Hermes. Perseus was given a shield of reflection and a curved sword to remove her head. The blood of a Gorgon was said to be all powerful. It could be a lethal poison or hold magical powers, as it was used to grant Erichthonius the power to reanimate the dead. When Medusa was dying, she sprang forth from her blood the winged horse Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor, who later became the King of Iberia. While fleeing the other two Gorgons, Perseus used the helmet of Hermes which made him invisible and allowed him to escape unharmed.

Ovid and other poets told of the beauty of Medusa before she took on the characteristics of the Gorgon. In fact, Medusa was a very likable character, until her transformation. She bragged of her beauty but she was sought after by many suitors. The wrath of Athena was typical of the Gods in punishing Greeks who did not lavish or respect their ways. After the death of Medusa, Perseus was said to bring her head to Athena after having used it in battle to defeat his enemies. Athena cast the head into her shield and there it remained.

The Gorgon has been depicted in artwork throughout archaic Greece. Shields bore a Medusa head in order to fight off evil spirits. Doorways had Gorgon plaques above the archways to prevent evil from entering the homes. The Gorgon face, or gorgoneion, is similar to many other cultures' icons to ward off the spirits.

Though the Gorgons were not numerous throughout Greek art and literature, their presence was well noted. Many modern pieces of literature and art reflect a knowledge of Medusa and the metaphor of the Gorgon. It has been written that if you brag of your beauty, you will reflect like that of Medusa. So, is this a lesson to be learned from the Greek scholars, or a myth that has channeled through history to entertain yet another generation of beauties? It might be left to question, since we never quite know when we may invite the wrath of those ancient Gods.

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