In Greek mythology, Medusa (Greek: Μέδουσα), meaning “guardian”, “protectress” was a Gorgon, a chthonic female monster, and a daughter of Phorcys and Ceto. Gazing directly upon her would turn men to stone. She was beheaded by the hero Perseus, using the sword Harpe, who thereafter used her head as a weapon until he gave it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield (the Aegis).
Medusa in Classical Mythology
The three Gorgon sisters; Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale, were children of the ancient marine deities Phorcys and his sister Ceto, (the spelling vary based on accounts), chthonic monsters from an ancient world. Their genealogy is shared with other sisters named the Graeae. Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound describes them thus:
- “Near them their sisters three, the Gorgons, winged;
- With snakes for hair— hatred of mortal man—“
While ancient Greek vase-painters and carvers envisioned Medusa and her Gorgon sisters as beings born monstrous, sculptors and vase-painters of the fifth century started to picture her as being beautiful as well as horrific.
However, in a late version of the Medusa myth, related by the Roman poet Ovid, Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden, “the jealous aspiration of many suitors,” priestess in Athena’s temple, but when she was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple, the enraged Athena transformed Medusa’s beautiful hair to serpents and made her face so terrible to behold that the mere sight of it would turn men to stone. In Ovid’s telling, Perseus describes Medusa’s punishment by Athena as just and well-deserved. It comes full circle, in retrospect that Poseidon, a man, defiled her, and Perseus a man ultimately killed her.
In most versions of the story, she was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who was sent to on a quest to fetch her head by King Polydectes as a gift. 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. He slew Medusa by walking and looking at her harmless reflection in the mirror instead of directly at her, to prevent being turned into stone. By some accounts, when the hero severed Medusa’s head from her neck, two offspring sprang forth, because Medusa was in fact impregnated by Poseidon: the offspring were the winged horse Pegasus and the golden giant Chrysaor. Death of Medusa and Birth of Offspring.
According to Ovid, Perseus flew past the Titan Atlas, who stood holding the sky on his shoulders, 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 Medusa’s head beside the shore during his short stay in Ethiopia, where he saved and wed his future wife, the lovely princess Andromeda. Furthermore the poisonous vipers of the Sahara, again according to Ovid, were said to have been born from spilt drops of her blood.Perseus then flew to Seriphus where his mother was about to be forced into marriage with the king. King Polydectes was turned into stone by the gaze of Medusa’s head.He then gave the Gorgon’s head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, the Aegis.
- Gorgon Petrification: If someone looks into Medusa’s eyes, they turn to stone. She is said to be petrify people due to her uglyness.
- Post-Mortem Petrification: Her head can still be used to petrify people after it has been removed from her body.
- Snake Hair: She can use the snakes in her hair as an offensive weapon.
- Talons: Her hands turn into sharp claws that can tear through flesh.
- Charmspeak: She has an extremely persuasive voice; she could slightly charmspeak.
- Gorgon Blood Properties: As is the case with all Gorgons, blood from her right side can cure anything, but the blood from her left side is deadly, as it killed Phineas even when the Doors of Death were open and under Gaea’s control.