MEDUSA Biography - Fictional, Iconical & Mythological characters


Biography » fictional iconical mythological characters » medusa


Name: Medusa                                                                         
In Greek mythology, Medusa ((Medousa), "guardian, protectress")                       
was a monstrous chthonic female character; gazing upon her would turn onlookers       
to stone. She was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who thereafter used her head as       
a weapon until giving it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. In             
classical antiquity and today, the image of the head of Medusa finds expression       
in the apotrope known as the Gorgoneion.                                             
The three Gorgon sisters ( Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale ) were children of             
Phorcys and Ceto, or sometimes, Typhon and Echidna, in each case chthonic             
monsters from an archaic world. Their genealogy is shared with other sisters,         
the Graeae, as in Aeschylus's Prometheus Unbound, who places both trinities of       
sisters far off "on Kisthene's dreadful plain":                                       
"Near them their sisters three, the Gorgons, winged                                   
With snakes for hair hated of mortal man                                             
While ancient Greek vase-painters and relief carvers imagined Medusa and her         
sisters as beings born of monstrous form, sculptors and vase-painters of the         
fifth century began to envisage her as a being both beautiful as well as             
terrifying. In an ode written in 490 BCE Pindar already speaks of "fair-cheeked       
Medusa". In a late version of the Medusa myth, related by the Roman poet Ovid         
(Metamorphoses 4.770), Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden, "the jealous         
aspiration of many suitors," priestess in Athene's temple, but when she was           
raped by the "Lord of the Sea" Poseidon in Athena's temple, the enraged goddess       
transformed her beautiful hair to serpents and she made her face so terrible to       
behold that the mere sight of it would turn a man to stone. Perseus describes         
Medusa's punishment by Athena as just and well-deserved.                             
Perseus with the Head of Medusa, by Benvenuto Cellini, installed 1554                 
In the majority of the versions of the story, while Medusa was pregnant by           
Poseidon, she was beheaded in her sleep by the hero Perseus, who was sent to         
fetch her head by King Polydectes of Seriphus. With help from Athena and Hermes,     
who supplied him with winged sandals, Hades' cap of invisibility, a sword, and a     
mirrored shield, he accomplished his quest. The hero slew Medusa by looking at       
her reflection in the mirror instead of directly at her to prevent being turned       
into stone. When the hero severed Medusa's head, from her neck two offspring         
sprang forth: the winged horse Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor who later became       
the hero wielding the golden sword.                                                   
Jane Ellen Harrison argues that "her potency only begins when her head is             
severed, and that potency resides in the head; she is in a word a mask with a         
body later appended... the basis of the Gorgoneion is a cultus object, a ritual       
mask misunderstood." (Harrison 1922:187). In Odyssey xi, Homer does not               
specifically mention the Gorgon Medusa,                                               
"lest for my daring Persephone the dread :From Hades should send up an awful         
monster's grizzly head"                                                               
Harrison's translation states "the Gorgon was made out of the terror, not the         
terror out of the Gorgon (Harrison 1922: 187, note 3).                               
According to Ovid, in North-West Africa Perseus flew past the Titan Atlas, who       
stood holding the sky aloft, and transformed him into stone. In a similar manner,     
the corals of the Red Sea were said to have been formed of Medusa's blood             
spilled onto seaweed when Perseus laid down the petrifying head beside the shore     
during his short stay in Aethiopia where he saved and wed his future wife, the       
lovely princess Andromeda. Furthermore the poisonous vipers of the Sahara, in         
the Argonautica 4.1515, Ovid's Metamorphoses 4.770 and Lucan's Pharsalia 9.820,       
were said to have grown from spilt drops of her blood.                               
Perseus then flew to his mother's island where she was about to be forced into       
marriage with the king. He cried out "Mother, shield your eyes", and everyone         
but his mother was turned into stone by the gaze of Medusa's head.                   
Then he gave the Gorgon's head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, the Aegis.     
Some say the goddess gave Medusa's magical blood to the                               
physician Asclepius, that which was from the left-side of the neck a deadly           
poison, and the right-side had the power to raise the dead.