Who Was Medusa? Facts About the Ancient Greek Gorgon

Here are some facts about Medusa.

  • Medusa was a monster in Greek mythology, known as a Gorgon. She had the face of a hideous woman, but had poisonous snakes on her head, instead of hair.
  • Medusa was sometimes referred to as Gorgo, and is often described as having wings.
  • In the works of the Greek writers Hesiod and Aeschylus, Medusa lived on Sarpedon, near to Cisthene (a town opposite the island of Lesbos).
  • She was the daughter of Phorcys, a God of the sea, and Ceto, a female sea God. Phorcys is said to have had claws for legs and skin covered with red spikes.

  • Medusa was originally a beautiful woman with long golden hair. As a preistess of Athena, she was punished by the Gods for her relationship with Poseidon.
  • Medusa spent some time wandering in Africa. According to legend, some baby snakes fell from her head, which is why there are so many snakes in Africa.
  • Anyone looking directly at Medusa would be instantly turned to stone. She was killed by Perseus who saw her reflection in a mirror, to avoid looking at her.
  • Perseus is one of the most famous of the Greek heroes. He was sent to kill the Gorgon, armed with a mirrored shield, winged-sandals, and a cloak of darkness.
  • Medusa was killed when Perseus cut her head off. From her neck emerged a winged horse, Pegasus, which has become one of the most well known mythological creatures.
  • In some versions of the myth, Perseus presented Medusa’s head to Athena, and she placed it on her famous shield, the Aegis. In others, Persues buries Medusa’s head in Argos.
  • A lock of Medusa’s hair is said to have been given to Heracles (Hercules) by Athena. He then gave it to Sterope (Cepheus’s daughter). It was used to protect the town of Tegea by summoning storms to keep enemies away.

Medusa by Caravaggio

  • The head of Medusa was often seen to be a protective symbol. She can be seen on Roman mosaics excavated in Pompeii, and during the French Revolution she was seen as a symbol of freedom.
  • According to Ovid, Perseus used Medusa’s head to turn Atlas into a mountain. Atlas’s hair and beard became trees, his shoulders became mountain ridges, and his bones became stones and rocks.
  • She has been featured in several films, including two versions of Clash of the Titans. She was the star of a 1964 British horror film, called The Gorgon, and also appears in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (both the book by Rick Riordan, and the 2010 movie).
  • Medusa appears on the flag of Sicily, as well as on the flag of a village in the Czech Republic. She has been depicted in paintings by many well known artists, including Pablo Picasso, Rubens and Caravaggio.
  • In 2013 LEGO produced a Medusa minifigure as part of the Series 10 Collectable Minifigure range.
  • Medusa is mentioned in Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey, and she also appears in the the works of Euripides, Ovid and Lucan.
  • Her sisters, the other two of the three Gorgans, were called Stheno and Euryale.
  • Fortnite introduced a teenage Medusa skin in the Snakes & Stones Pack during Chapter 2 Season 6.
  • Medusa  also appears in the Wimpy Kid spin-off book Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney
  • A Severed Head, a novel by Iris Murdoch, features a character inspired by Medusa.

Perseus and Medusa

  • In 2013, the popstar Rhianna posed as Medusa on the cover of GQ magazine.
  • There is a Medusa character in the Marvel comics. She first appeared in 1965 in Fantastic Four No. 36. She can control her hair with her mind, and she can use it to pick up objects, open doors and entrap people.
  • Although many people believe Medusa had a snake’s body, most versions of the myth agree that she was a humanoid female with the hair on her head made up of living, venemous snakes.
  • The Versace logo is based around an image of the head of Medusa. It is inspired by a symbol from a floor in a ruined building in Reggio Calabria, Italy.
  • Medusa appears in the 2018 videogame Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

What next? Discover more about the Ancient Greeks by visiting our resources page.

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