Medusa: Her Real Story
We all heard of Medusa’s story: A beautiful mortal who was transformed into a vicious monster with snakes for her hair; just because of Athena’s jealousy. But what if the real story was hidden? What if the reason that she was turned into a monster was for her benefit?
In high school, I studied Classical Civilization for three years and learned a lot of lessons from the Odyssey and other Greek myths; for example, ‘Revenge is the Holy Duty’ using the story of Achilleus and Patroklos. Greek myths are stories told about the gods and heroes, and through these stories, the Greeks expressed their beliefs. I really enjoy reading these myths because they can still teach us about morals in today’s time.
Medusa was the daughter of Phorcys and Ceto, who were the sea-gods of the hidden dangers of the deep. Medusa had seven sisters, all terrifying monsters of the sea. Medusa was the only mortal out of the Gorgons, powerful, winged daimones. Medusa, later on, would become a priestess in Athena’s temple. She was beautiful, kind-hearted and loved to serve Athena. The name Medusa meant guardian and protectress, which was perfect for her role as a maid.
As most stories were told, Athena was jealous of Medusa’s beauty and turned her hair into vicious snakes. However, the real story is that Athena liked Medusa because of how loyal she was: Medusa chose to serve a goddess instead of pursuing men. Medusa had always had many suitors, but she never cared for romantic relationships. One day, Poseidon, the god of the sea and a rival to Athena, took the woman’s choice to not be in a relationship with him as a challenge. Poseidon raped Medusa in one of Athena’s temple, violating the sanctity of the temple. When Poseidon was done with Medusa, he disappeared, leaving her vulnerable and weak. Medusa ran to Athena to cry for the goddesse’s help. Of course, Athena was enraged, but not with Medusa. Athena had always had a deep regard for her devoted priestess, but the goddess had enough of men forcing themselves to a woman who only wanted to be left alone.
When Athena turned Medusa into a different form, it was never meant to be a cruse, but a gift. Her terrifying snake hair was meant to scare vicious men away so they would not have an excuse to ‘fall in love’ with Medusa. This story is relatable today because we have the same modern issue of sexual assault: ‘Well you’re pretty, what did you expect.’ Athena gave Medusa the ability to turn any man, who looked at her face, into stone, so men would not bother her anymore. All Medusa ever wanted, was to serve Athena and not be bothered by perverted men, who would force her into a relationship or force her to have sex. Medusa, later on, moved to a virtually hidden, unpopulated island after her transformation. Its location was secret; however, Perseus found her anyway.
King Poludektes of Seriophos tricked the hero Perseus into fetching the head of Medusa, knowing that Perseus will not come back alive. Perseus blackmailed the Gaeae, three sea hags who personified the white foam of the sea and Medusa’s sisters. Among themselves, they shared one eye and one tooth that Persues stole and only gave it back when they told him where Medusa was located. Medusa was not bothering anyone, she wasn’t destroying ships or terrorizing towns, she was just hiding. Perseus got to her island, her cave entrance was evident with all sorts of stone statue of men who dared to kill her. Perseus used her still potent head as a weapon, before gifting it to Athena.
As the story goes, Perseus was aided by Hermes and Athena. You may wonder why Athena helped Perseus if she cared for Medusa; even if it it is not explicitly written down, I believe that it was the goddess’s way to end Medusa’s suffering. Medusa was pregnant with Poseidon’s child and she was still chased after. For what? Being once beautiful and for being ugly now?
Medusa was just a woman who wanted to be left alone so that she could dedicate every moment of her life to praising and worshipping her goddess. Just because she was turned into a form that was not human, does not mean she was turned into a monster.
To conclude, Medusa was never the monster in the story, however in the earlier Greek writers and artists, she was simply portrayed as a monster born into a large family of monsters, making her the most famous female monster of Greek mythology. Perhaps we have internalized misogyny so much that we sometimes justify the birth and fate of other Medusas.
© 2020 Anastassia de Bailliencourt