Perseus and Medusa

Perseus and Medusa

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Perseus and Medusa - History

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Perseus with the Head of Medusa is the famous statue by Benvenuto Cellini, found in Florence in piazza della Signoria, under the Loggia dei Lanzi, and one of the most important examples of Italian Mannerist sculpture.

Cellini, one of the greatest goldsmiths of the Renaissance, was commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici to sculpt this work in 1545.

The subject is Perseus, standing over the body of Medusa and holding the recently decapitated head of the monster in one hand and his sword in the other. The bronze sculpture is full of details which make it unique: according to mythology, the hero has winged sandals for speed, the magic bag to store the head and the helmet of invisibility.

The statue had a political meaning and represented the power of the Duke who had “cut off the head” of the Republic. Medusa symbolises the Republican experiment and the snakes coming out of her body are the discords that have always affected democracy.

The fame of the statue in art history also is also owed to the extraordinary melting feat that Cellini achieved. The work was very complex as he had to create a flame at a temperature adapted to both the insufficiency of the basin and for a fire in his workshop. Once cooled, melted in one single casting, a long polishing process which started in 1549 was needed, this was finished in 1554 when the statue was presented in the square.

Why Did Medusa Get Cursed?

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. When Athena discovered the sea god had ravaged Medusa in her shrine she sought vengeance by transforming Medusa’s hair into snakes, so that anyone who gazed at her directly would be turned into stone.

Stone carved panel of the head of Medusa. ( Shelli Jensen / Adobe)

Thus, the description of Medusa changed from one of an alluring lady, as Ovid describes in Metamorphoses:

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

To a monstrous being which Virgil writes of in a far less attractive manner:

“In the middle is the Gorgon Medusa, an enormous monster about whom snaky locks twist their hissing mouths her eyes stare malevolently, and under the base of her chin the tail-ends of serpents have tied knots.”

Some other variations of the myth suggest that Medusa and the other Gorgons were always hideous monsters and covered with snakes.

The Enduring Legacy Of The Medusa Myth In The Modern World

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One of the most terrifying figures found in Greek mythology is Medusa, the most famous of three sisters who were known as the Gorgons.

Medusa first appears in the writings of Hesiod, specifically Theogony, which tells the tale of three sisters, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa, who were the children of Phorcys and Ceto and said to live “beyond famed Oceanus at the world’s edge hard by Night.”

A modern artist’s interpretation of Medusa (Via Riordan Wiki)

Oddly, however, while Hesiod does write about the origins of Medusa and her death at the hands of Perseus, he gives no other details, leaving us to turn to Ovid’s Metamorphoses for additional information, Ancient Origins notes.

According to Ovid, at one time Medusa was a beautiful maiden. She was so beautiful that the god Poseidon lured her to Athena’s shrine, where he ravaged her.

But that didn’t sit well with Athena, so she transformed Medusa’s hair into snakes and decreed that any man who looked directly at her would be turned to stone.

Medusa as imagined by Italian artist Caravaggio (Via Wikimedia Commons)

So Medusa once possessed beauty beyond compare, but as Virgil notes, Athena made sure that was taken care of:

“In the middle is the Gorgon Medusa, an enormous monster about whom snaky locks twist their hissing mouths her eyes stare malevolently, and under the base of her chin the tail-ends of serpents have tied knots.”

Not exactly what you want to see when you show up for a blind date.

Perseus to the Rescue

Eventually, Medusa is destroyed by Perseus. Then again, Perseus had certain advantages over those who had gone before him in an attempt to confront the serpent-headed woman: He also happened to be the son of Zeus and was assisted in his efforts by the gods.

Hades gave Perseus a Cap of Invisibility, which always comes in handy when you’re trying to sneak up on a gorgon. From Hermes, he got winged sandals, which are a great deal better than those without wings. He was also given a sword by Hephaestus.

But perhaps most importantly, Perseus had a shield directly from Athena, which made him virtually invincible.

With these gifts, Perseus crept into Medusa’s lair as she slept and chopped off her head.

The head of Medusa after Perseus killed her as she slept (Via Wikimedia Commons)

And Now, the Rest of the Story

Our studies of mythology in school gave us the general outline of who Medusa was and how she was ultimately destroyed, but there are some details you may not have been aware of that make the snake lady even more terrifying. For example:

  • When blood dripped from Medusa’s head onto the plains of Libya, every drop became a venomous serpent.
  • During an encounter with Atlas the Titan, Perseus used the severed head of Medusa to turn Atlas into a mountain.
The Enduring Medusa Myth

How is it that a story which has existed for so many centuries endures to this day? Is it the overall horror of a person with snakes for hair? Or could it be the brutal fashion in which she was slain?

Whatever the reason, the myth of Medusa has indeed remained strong, and it has even been passed down as a form of protection:

“Although Medusa is commonly regarded as a monster, her head is often seen as a protective amulet that would keep evil away. In fact, the name Medusa comes from an ancient Greek verb meaning ‘to guard or protect.’

“The image of Medusa’s head can be seen in numerous Greek and subsequent Roman artifacts such as shields, breastplates, and mosaics.”

A Roman cameo of Medusa’s head from the 2nd or 3rd century (Via Sailko/Wikipedia)

And the image of Medusa is even used by a well-known company, Versace, the Italian fashion company, proving that while Medusa may have met a terrible fate, her legacy endures.

Logo of Gianni Versace via Wikipedia, Auckland Museum (CC BY 4.0)

For more on the enduring story of Medusa, watch this video:

Featured Image: Composite of Medusa, Poseidon, background via Pixabay

This is the tale of the great Perseus,
Legendary son of the mighty Zeus.
He lived on Seriphos with Danae,
His beautiful mother, easy on the eye.

When the king met Danae, he was impressed.
He said "Marry me!" It was not a request.
Danae found the king obnoxious and mean,
She really did not want to be his queen.

The king got angry at this rejection.
So Perseus came to her protection
He said to the king "Please drop this demand,
And I will do anything you command."

The king sneered and replied to him, "You sir,
Must bring me the head of the Gorgon Medusa."
Perseus replied "This thing that you ask
Is sure to be an impossible task.
I did promise though, so I'll do my best."
And off he marched on his epic quest.

The Gorgon sisters were nasty creatures,
Horrible hags, with hideous features.
Bodies covered in scales, sharp knifelike claws,
Big leathery wings, and tusks like a boar's.
Medusa had no hair on her head,
She had a writhing mass of snakes instead.
She really was such an ugly old crone,
Just one look at her would turn you to stone.

Young Perseus knew he had no chance,
He would be turned to stone with just one glance.
The gods, however, were watching from on high,
And they had pity on the poor guy.
They gave him a super-sharp crystal sword,
Much better than any he could afford
They gave him a shield that shone like silver,
It gave a reflection like a mirror.

Next Perseus had to discover where
Medusa and her sisters had their lair.
The gods had given an indication
That "three grey women" knew the location.

Three old sisters, dressed in rags,
Almost blind and toothless hags -
They had one eye that they all shared -
Not quite blind, but visually impaired.

They did not see Perseus tiptoe by,
Not until he reached out and grabbed their eye.
Above the chorus of protestation,
He said that he wanted information.
So they told him where to find the Gorgon,
And Perseus gave back the stolen organ.

He found the place, and was surprised to see
It was filled with statues. Why should that be?
He said to himself "Well, I do suppose
These must have all once been the Gorgon's foes."

So into the monsters' lair he crept,
And into the room where Medusa slept.
He held up the shield, polished and shiny,
And used the reflection so he could see.
He then used his sword to kill the old hag,
And put her severed head into his bag.
The sisters awoke, and saw what he'd done,
And Perseus thought he had better run.

Our hero made it back to Seriphos.
When the king saw him he was pretty cross.
He had thought the young man would have been killed,
But he had not, and the king wasn't thrilled.

"You must let my mum go!" Perseus said,
"I've killed Medusa and brought you her head."
The king said "No, I don't care, I command
That Dinae agrees to give me her hand."

Perseus snarled "Here's your wedding present!"
And plucked from the bag something quite unpleasant.
He held Medusa's head up in the air,
Its eyes fixed the king with a cold dead stare.

The king gasped and gave out a little moan,
The he went quiet - he had turned to stone.
And so, this tale of danger and violence,
Ends with just a stony silence.


One of the most popular monsters of Greek Mythology, 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.

She went against her vow and married him.

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.

Thence, by Athena’s curse anyone she looked upon turned to stone.

Interesting Facts About Medusa

  • Born to the sea god Phorcys and Ceto (Phorcys’ wife and sister), Medusa (queen or ruler) was one of the three Gorgon sisters. The other two sisters were Stheno (strength) and Euryale (wide-leaping).
  • Greek poet Hesiod wrote that Medusa lived close to the Hesperides in the Western Ocean near Sarpedon. Herodotus the historian said her home was Libya.
  • Medusa’s sisters were immortal but she was mortal.
  • Medusa wandered Africa for some time. Legend says while she was there baby snakes dropped from her head and this is why there are plenty of snakes in Africa.
  • Many artists made Medusa into a work of art.
  • Leonardo da Vinci did a painting of her using oil on canvas.
  • She was made into marble and bronze sculptures.
  • From c. 200 B.C.: In Pompeii’s House of the Faun, Medusa was on the breastplate of Alexander the Great in the Alexander Mosaic.
  • The coat of arms of the Dohalice village from the Czech Republic depicts Medusa’s head.
  • The flag and emblem of Sicily also features her head.
  • Two species of snakes contain her name: the venomous pitviper Bothriopsis medusa and the nonvenomous snake called Atractus medusa.
  • Medusa represents philosophy, beauty and art.
  • The Medusa head is part of fashion designer Gianni Versace’s symbol.
  • She has been featured in movies, books, cartoons and even video games.
  • There are several versions of the Medusa myth.
  • In almost every version of the Medusa myth, King Polydectes of Seriphus sent Perseus to return with her head so that Polydectes could marry his mother. The gods aided Perseus in his quest and he was sent golden winged sandals from Hermes, Hades’ helm of invisibility, a sword from Hephaestus and a mirrored shield from Athena. the hero slayed Medusa, the only mortal of the Gorgon sisters, by viewing her in the reflection of the mirrored shield of Athena. Perseus then beheaded her. At this moment Chrysaor, the giant with a golden sword, and the winged horse Pegasus sprang forth from her body. These are her two sons.
  • In feminism Medusa is known as a symbol of rage even though she was originally exceedingly beautiful.
  • A Roman cameo from the second or third century contains her head.
  • A tepidarium from the Roman era has a mosaic floor with her head at the center.
  • Her profile is engraved on coins of the reign of Seleceus I Nicator of Syria from 312-280 B.C.
  • The Artemis temple in Corfu depicts Medusa in archaic form. She is a symbol of fertility dressed in a belt of intertwined snakes.
  • A story says that Hercules acquired a lock of Medusa’s hair from Athena and gave it to the daughter of Cepheus, Sterope, to protect the town of Tegea from being attacked. Her hair held the same powers as her head so that when it was exposed it caused a storm which chased away the foes.

Medusa is one of the most famous characters of Greek mythology. This has been proven because she continues to be portrayed in pop culture. She is not only immortalized in stories but also in history. She is immediately recognizable, a classical figure and an exciting symbol of a monster.

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In the principle myth, Medusa is killed by the Greek hero Perseus, the son of Danae and Zeus. Danae is the object of desire of Polydectes, the king of the Cycladic island of Seriphos. The king, sensing that Perseus was an obstacle to pursuing Danae, sends him on the impossible mission to bring back the head of Medusa.

Aided by Hermes and Athena, Perseus finds his way to the Graiai and tricks them by stealing their one eye and tooth. They are forced to tell him where he can find weapons to help him kill Medusa: winged sandals to carry him to the Gorgons' island, the cap of Hades to render him invisible, and a metallic satchel (kibisis) to hold her head once it is cut off. Hermes gives him an adamantine (unbreakable) sickle, and he also carries a polished bronze shield.

Perseus flies to Sarpedon, and looking at Medusa's reflection in his shield—to avoid the vision that would turn him to stone—, cuts off her head, puts it in the satchel and flies back to Seriphos.

On her death, Medusa's children (fathered by Poseidon) fly out of her neck: Chrysaor, wielder of a golden sword, and Pegasus, the winged horse, who is best known for the myth of Bellerophon.

Caravaggio - Medusa, 1597

The iconic Medusa was painted by the prolific master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio in 1597. Namely, he painted two versions of the work - the first one in 1596, known as Murtula (named after poet Gaspare Murtola) belongs to a private collector, while the second version known as just Medusa made in 1597, slightly bigger than the first, is held in the Florentine Uffizi Museum.

Medusa was commissioned as a commemoration shield by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, to be gifted to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando I de' Medici. Interestingly so, Caravaggio skillfully painted his own head instead of hers, and therefore gained the immunity to her dreadful gaze. Due to its grim and ghoulish atmosphere, the painting apparently reflects Caravaggio's fascination with realism and violence.

Here it is important to mention that during the 1590s, the painter became sort of a celebrity in Rome, but during the time he painted the two versions Caravaggio and his partner Prospero Orsi were involved as witnesses in a murder which happened near San Luigi de' Francesi.

Featured image: Caravaggio - Medusa, 1597. Oil on canvas, 60 cm × 55 cm (24 in × 22 in). Uffizi, Florence. Image creative commons.

Perseus and Medusa

This is a fairly faithful retelling of the myths around Greek hero Perseus. A prophecy said that he would cause the death of his grandfather, King Acrisius of Argos. Naturally the king isn&apost happy about that and sends his daughter and grandson out to sea locked in a chest. They are found and freed by some fishermen who take them in. Perseus has various adventures on the journey that takes him back to Argos where he accidentally kills his grandfather. The main adventure is killing Medusa and taki This is a fairly faithful retelling of the myths around Greek hero Perseus. A prophecy said that he would cause the death of his grandfather, King Acrisius of Argos. Naturally the king isn't happy about that and sends his daughter and grandson out to sea locked in a chest. They are found and freed by some fishermen who take them in. Perseus has various adventures on the journey that takes him back to Argos where he accidentally kills his grandfather. The main adventure is killing Medusa and taking her head, though he also rescues Ethiopian princess Andromeda from a sea monster and then weds her.

The story is entertaining and well told though it was a bit too scary for Lucy, who is only 4 years old. Also, some bits might require explanation, like why the king is banishing them so cruelly. The book has discussion questions, writing prompts, and other resources for school-aged children. It seems aimed at 4th to 8th graders. . more


The anecdote of how Perseus slew Medusa is one of the most breathtaking stories in Greek mythos. Perseus was a son of the Zeus god and Danae who was a common human. It made Perseus a demi-god of tremendous power and remarkable genuineness and cleverness. The slain of the hazardous monster, Medusa, made him a great hero in Greek mythology. The King Polydectes directed Perseus to behead Medusa. Medusa was limited to a cavern. If a person looked in the eyes of Medusa, he would be converted into stone. Medusa was a mortal who had beautiful hair. One day, Poseidon, the god of the seas and earthquakes, raped her in the temple of Athena. Then, the goddess Athena punisher her by transforming her into a Gorgon, who had living snakes at the place of hairs, and expatriated her from the temple (Madeleine, 2019).

The central purpose of this passage is to present the anecdote of Medusa as an exemplary story of the execution of a woman and releasing of one's hold. For portraying the feminist indication of the story, let’s describe the chronicle account of the tale: Medusa got birth with incomparable beauty and enchanting hairs. She had two other sisters as well. She pledged to her sister, Athena, to remain clean from chastity and became a priestess. A crowd of men used to visit her just to put a glimpse of her, therefore Athena began feeling envious. Soon, Poseidon appealed to her and afterward raped Medusa (Donohue, 2020). When it was disclosed on Athena, she reprehended Medusa instead of Poseidon. Then, she punished her by substituting her glamorous hairs into the vicious head of snakes and if anyone saw into her eyes, he would be turned into the stone. From this time, whoever wanted to claim himself an unbeatable warrior was asked to bring the head of Medusa. Number of warriors attempted to slay her, but only Perseus became successful to execute her by the grace of all the gods only.

Rage in Women:

The mythos of Medusa was evaluated again by the feminists at the end of the 20th century. The book 'Female Rage, 1994' put up the point in order to expose its secret and arrogate its rights (Donohue, 2020). The picture of Medusa shows her as evil. In contrast, Poseidon impregnated and raped her. Moreover, her own sister cursed and exiled her. The tale is a true demonstration of how women are dealt with in the world of men.

Argentine-Italian artist Luciano Garbati formed a sculpture of Medusa in 2008. In which Medusa is holding Perseus's head (Drillat, 2019). In this sculpture, Medusa is not showing the head as a trophy, but as defending herself (Batalla, 2019). Garbati said, "I hope that this surviving image of Medusa could lead to the emergence of new narratives with a female lead.” (Drillat, 2019). She said, “I think his eyes are essential. When you see Perseus, he is showing a trophy, while in my Medusa you see determination, there is not a position of success, but of a woman who was defending herself, who beyond defeating he just went through a tragedy” (Batalla, 2019). Garbati saw Medusa from a different paradigm and claimed that she was punished and deteriorated (Griffin, 2018).

women's rights Movements-Me Too:

In Manhattan, New York, USA, a seven-foot bronze nude will stand outside the Criminal Courthouse until April 2021(Bedworth, 2021). The anecdote had been telling women that it is the sin of women if they are raped. Ann Stanford (1977) restated the vision of Medusa that she was cursed for the jealousy of her sister, and was departed from the rest of the world. She had no one to justify he stance. She got no platform in the world of gods and humans. Even, she was slain by one of the men. To whom the world represented as a hero (Butchin, 2015). The application stated that the story had “communicated to women for millennia that if they are raped, it is their fault” (Jacobs, 2020). Likewise, Judy Takác’s 2018 oil on canvas titled Me(Dusa) also shows the feminist approach of perceiving the Greek mythology story. He pleaded through his art that Medusa was not a monster but an oppressed victim (Tuzzeo, 2020). “Surviving assault is nothing to be ashamed of.” “Medusa can help put a vision in people’s minds that there is no shame in speaking out, defending yourself, and demanding justice.” Said Garbati (Mongelli, 2020).

Athena’s curse | A Protection to Women:

Let's focus on another side of the picture that we may miss if we remain too conserve of seeing Medusa as a monster. The story of Medusa also explains the rape culture in Greek that the men were too dominant. It is necessary to keep in mind the male dominance scenario of the Soviet where such tales are told and have been told in a manner that maintains the patriarchal system and distracts women from securing a higher status in society. Men-dominated norms have continuously questioned by women. Alas! it is not easy to reform the norms in a world where power is not distributed by the one who is in power. Stories of Greek mythology also contain tales where women collectively guarded each other against being seduced. The anecdote also advises a parable moral and suggesting women the way of looking after and save each other in the world of men, where seduction is a common hazard.

From the other perspective of the story, Athena knew that Poseidon feels affection for her sister Medusa. Athena wanted to protect her from breaking her vow to save her purity. As the name 'Medusa' meant 'to protect and guard's that is derived from a Greek verb. Athena was so conscious about her and wanted her safe from the filthy intentions and acts of Poseidon and the rest of the men. However, Athena replaced her hair with the vicious heads of snakes for protecting her from the men. Athena bestowed her with the power to convert a man into a stone by looking in the eyes so that no one could harm her purity (Schwark, 2018).

“In a male-centered society, the feminization of monsters served to demonize women,” (Editorial & Cain, 2018). For a long time, the women who fought for power have been labeled as Medusa. It is understandable that women are feeling rage due to this false narrative of Medusa. The demonization of Medusa is used for keeping women far from the race of power and authority. When Medusa was alive she was depicted as a deadly monster. When she was executed, her execution was celebrated as a crush of the strength of the woman who protected her chastity through ultimate powers (Tuzzeo, 2020).

Medusa-A symbol of Power:

The anecdote is quite clear to us now. The Medusa was slain by Perseus, who took help of all the divine gifts to kill her. The god Zeus had given him an adamantine sword and Hades gave helm of darkness who was his brother. Hermes, the messenger God, had provided Perseus his winged sandals, and Athena handed a highly furnished shield. Medusa was fell down by the shield provided by Athena. The anecdote portrays that Medusa is a multidimensional personality, who did wrong deeds. “In Western culture, strong women have historically been imagined as threats requiring male conquest and control. Medusa is the perfect symbol of this” (Sage, 2020). The character of Medusa was wrongly told by the history is not the understanding of Shelley only. The feminist theorist Hélène Cixous claims that males arbitrarily formed the monstrous concept of Medusa through frightening of female right to gain their rights in the 1975 manifesto 'The Laugh of the Medusa'. Eventually, females have leaned ahead and participated proficiently in the developmental progression of the world so far, but still, there has to be consideration of how women should be listened to, perceived, respected, viewed, and dealt with. Recently, Zarrar Khuhro tweeted about the characterization of Medusa in Greek mythology: “I mean she basically gets raped by Poseidon, because he found her desirable, and then she gets cursed by Athena who is angry that she was raped in Athena’s temple. And so she is turned into a monster who is then hunted and killed by a ‘hero’. How the hell is this okay?” (paxfemina, 2019).

Now, there is an interpretation of the anecdote with a different positive perspective. It was not a curse of Athena that she replaced the hairs into the head of snakes, but she blessed her with the strength to protect herself from the filthy hunger of the men. Medusa received power through which she punished everyone who looked at her with dirt and seductive intention. Athena realized that the only way to protect women is to empower them. So Athena, the goddess of Wisdom and the Hearth, saved her sister.

Medusa was a woman who lived a life of silence and cruelly treated due to the filthy lust of man. Medusa Once, Medusa was an idealized strong woman who had control over the natural needs of the world. Medusa was living in an absolute harmony of the earth and sky. Accordingly, she was considered as a big rival among the gods of the sky who were male. Then, male-dominated adopt a maneuver to harm her status. First, they decapitated her from the temple and then beheaded her for further deteriorating the power of females. Medusa is an exemplary idol of the current condition of women who are blamed on every wrongdoing of men. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, turned her into a monster and exiled her, instead of punishing the man to give her power. The story of Medusa also pleads us that woman are so oppressed in the society. They do not have any option except to embrace the fortune or to the will of men. The man approached her, seduced her, and abused her, but society labeled Medusa the sinful.

Watch the video: Perseus and Medusa (June 2022).


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