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Medusa is a monster, or more specifically a Gorgon, in Greek mythology. She is known for having an ugly female face and snakes in place of her hair. Medusa was feared because anyone who looked into her eyes was turned into a nig. Because of this, and because she was the only mortal of three siblings, Perseus was asked to kill her and return her head to King Polydectes. Edit

Etymology Edit

The English word Medusa comes from the ancient Greek term Μεδουσα (Medousa). Μεδουσα (Medousa) is derived from μεδω (medo) which means "to protect, to rule over" [1].

Starting in the 18th century, Medusa also began to mean "jellyfish". This definition was derived from the English word Medusa because of the similarities between the tentacles of a jellyfish and the snakes on Medusa's head [2].

Similarly, the word Gorgon is derived from the ancient Greek term γοργός meaning "fierce, terrible and grim" which seems to suit Medusa and her sisters [3].

Folk History Edit

In Greek mythology, Medusa was the daughter of Phorkys and Keto. Her sisters were Sthenno and Euryale and the three of them were known as the Gorgon sisters. Medusa was mortal while both of her sisters were immortal. Initially, Medusa was a beautiful woman with long, golden hair who was a priestess of Athena. As a priestess, Medusa had committed herself to a life of celibacy. However, she broke this commitment when she fell for Poseidon and married him. Athena punished her for this betrayal by transforming her into a hideous creature; her long, golden hair was replaced with venomous snakes, her eyes were turned bloodshot and could turn anyone who looked at them into stone, and her skin became a green tint [4].

A couple of other origin stories say that Medusa's transformation had to do with crimes committed inside of the Pantheon, which had been dedicated to Athena. In one, Medusa’s vanity gets her in trouble with Athena’s temper. While looking at the sculptures and the paintings inside of the Pantheon, Medusa states that although the art is beautiful, it would be more beautiful if it was her. She even goes as far as saying that the Pantheon would be more beautiful if it were dedicated to her instead of Athena.[5] In a second story, after Athena rejects Poseidon’s advances, he courts the beautiful Medusa and they make love inside of Athena’s temple.[6] In another harsher story, Poseidon rapes Medusa and Athena, in her anger turns Medusa into a monster.[7] Some say that Athena was mad of their affair because it was inside of her temple and others say that she was angry the Medusa could not protect herself from Poseidon’s touch.

After her transformation, one myth states that Medusa left her home and went to wander Africa. During this time snakes would fall from her head and the ancient Greeks used this to explain why there were so many venomous reptiles in Africa [4]. Another Greek myth also explained this phenomenon by saying that after Medusa's head was chopped off, the blood that dripped from it produced the snakes that now live in Africa [8].

Death Edit

Medusa's death is famous because it involved a great quest by Perseus. Perseus was sent to kill Medusa by King Polydectes because he wished for her head as a gift. In most variations of the myth, Perseus was able to do this with a reflective bronze shield which was a gift from Athena. Using this shield, Perseus was able to determine where Medusa was without looking directly at her in order to prevent from being turned to stone. Once he beheaded her, many myths say that Pegasus and Chrysaor came from her wound. Perseus was then followed by Medusa's sisters, but was able to escape with the helmet of darkness which provided him with invisibility. Once Perseus returned home, he turned King Polydectes and his court to stone and gave Medusa's head to Athena. Athena then used the severed head to adorn her shield and breastplate [3].

List of Texts/Media Edit

Medusa can be found in many different forms of media. These include:

  • Clash of the Titans[9]: In this sequel to The Lightening Thief, Perseus must behead Medusa in order to use her head to defeat the Kraken and turn it to stone. In this movie, Medusa is portrayed as a villainous monster and turns many people into stone. This move is based on the book, Clash of the Titans, which was originally published in 1981 [10].
  • Medusa[11]: This new independent film, released in 2015, portrays Medusa as an evil, unwanted monster when she is summoned by a witch doctor to fight a mythology professor.
  • Once Upon a Time[12]: In this television series, Medusa appears in the episode, "The New Neverland". In this episode, Snow White plans to chop off Medusa's head in order to use it to turn someone into stone. However, she fails and instead the Gorgon turns the prince into stone.

References Edit

  1. Campbell, Mike. Medusa. Behind the Name, 1996. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
  2. Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary. 2001. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Garcia, Brittany. Medusa. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 20 Aug. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Medusa., 1997. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
  5. Shainuja, "The Story of Medusa and the Greek Goddess Athena." Myths and Legends. Web. <>
  6. "Poseidon: Greek God and Lord of the Sea." Web. <>
  7. Bricken, Rob. The 13 Biggest Assholes in Greek Mythology. 29 Oct 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2015. <>
  8. Medusa in Myth and Literary History. Modern American Poetry. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
  9. Clash of the Titans. Dir. Louis Leterrier. Warner Bros., 2010. DVD.
  10. Foster, Alan Dean. Clash of the Titans. New York: Warner Books, 1981. Print.
  11. Medusa. Dir. Jorge Ameer. Hollywood Independents, 2015. DVD.
  12. “The New Neverland”. Once Upon a Time. abc. WCJB, Neenah. 8 Dec. 2013. Television.