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The Myth of Medusa

Updated on July 31, 2013

One of Greek mythology's greatest and at the same time uncertain myths is the myth of Medusa. While many will claim that the myth played out in a certain way, there are a handful of theories concerning Medusa's birth as a gorgon, though the story of her death always seems to stay the same. And to this day Medusa's deadly gaze and hissing locks remain alive within stories and interpretations, though the questions is - who's doing it right?

Just like the myth itself, the answer to that question remains uncertain. The only thing modern storytellers can be sure of is their own perspective when they take on the task of interpreting a myth or legend in their own way. And while that gives the storyteller some peace of mind by making that, which is unclear, clear to a certain degree, the viewers of the story may not be satisfied with what the storyteller has to offer. These are the situations in which we begin to dig for information, though if you research the myth of Medusa as a whole, you'll be confused and maybe even disappointed.

Like I mentioned before, there are a couple of theories on the birth of Medusa as the being she was known as - a gorgon. Below, I will discuss the four most popular versions, (yes with myself, it's not like you're writing this... or are you? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? But I digress) as well as details concerning Medusa's "rebirth" in modern stories.

1.Medusa The Priestess

The most widespread version tells the story of a Greek maiden of unfathomable beauty, whose name was Medusa. She was a virgin priestess of Athena and had sworn service to the goddess of wisdom (and inspiration and art and, well you get the idea). She was sought after because of her beauty (guess the ancient Greek man didn't want anything more than a dame who gots the booty) and since she was sworn to Athena, (insert the gif of Kristen Wiig going "lesbians" here) she always rejected those who favored her above the rest. Though there was one man, well not a man, actually, one God, who didn't care that she was a priestess. While Medusa was in the temple, Poseidon, the god of the oceans, raped her without warning (yes I know that that's how rape works, humor me, please for the sake of this article). Back then, the consequences of being raped were completely different than they are nowadays. Athena didn't consider her brother Poseidon as guilty, but Medusa, who was the victim. Since Medusa had defiled her sacred oath to Athena, as well as her temple, the goddess punished Medusa by cursing her. The curse turned Medusa into a gorgon (no, stop thinking about a half-woman, half-snake creature, that's a nāga and nāgas aren't gorgons) by wrinkling her skin and turning her long, satin hair into snakes. Basically by this point, Medusa is a woman, who looks like a corpse and has snakes instead of hair. But Athena doesn't see this as enough, she isolates Medusa by putting her on a remote island, away from civilization. It is then, that Medusa discovers her gaze will turn anyone she makes eye contact with, into stone. Afterwards, word traveled about Medusa's gaze and that he who holds her head, will hold her power. Thus comes the birth of Medusa's stone garden, in which she was slain by Perseus.
Speaking of the stone garden, no one ever said what happened to it after Perseus killed Medusa. Did it stay there? Was it destroyed? Was something built over it? Did more advanced inhabitants of Greece build it (whatever it is (was)) themselves or did they hire builders and handymen services to do the work for them? Where is the stone garden even located? Ugh, inner turmoil. But let's move on.

2.Medusa and her sisters

The next version is the one I like the most. Medusa and her sisters (which aren't mentioned at all in the version above for God knows what reasons) Stheno and Euryale are born and live in the northern part of Greece, where the sun doesn't shine. In this version, Medusa isn't a priestess nor is her virginity a topic at all. Because of her curious nature, Medusa wanted to see the sun and reached out to the goddess Athena for aid. She asked Athena for permission to witness the the marvels of the sun but the goddess refused. Just like in the previous version, Medusa is bestowed with unimaginable beauty and claims that Athena is jealous of her, because she is fairer. This myth claims that Athena was in fact jealous of Medusa, though accusing a goddess of something like that wouldn't go unpunished. In her rage, Athena curses Medusa and turns her into a gorgon. She then turns her sister into gorgons as well, because they sided with their sister.

I like this version the most, because it focuses on the sins of vanity (Medusa), envy and wrath, (Athena) rather than worship, virginity and rape.

3.Medusa The Beast

The most absurd version in my opinion, is the one where Medusa and her sisters are born as what the storytellers call "demons" (gorgons) and wreaked havoc on Greece. The way in which they're depicted on murals, dishes and vases doesn't even come close to a feminine appearance, minus the breasts. They're depicted as winged, grinning creatures, who have beards, tusks, long talons and snakes in their hair. It's interpretations like this that make me wonder what artists, writers and poets got high on back in those days.

4.Queen of the Gorgons

Concerning Medusa's role in modern storytelling, for an unknown and seemingly no apparent reason, Medusa is depicted as a nāgī (a female nāga). Nāgas come from Hindu and Buddhist mythology and are deities who guard the underworld, known in their mythology as Xibalba. They're most commonly depicted as man-sized or even giant snakes, though in Thai folklore they're described as giant lizards. The epic "Mahabharata" characterizes the nāga with human features and traits, thus creating what we know today as the common nāga - a half-human, half-snake (or serpent) creature. The snake connection is more than obvious with Medusa and storytellers may have seen it more fitting for her to be a snake as well. Though in some cases (like "Clash of the Titans") Medusa's lower body is that of a rattlesnake, in other stories, her lower body is that of a simple serpent, with the only connection to a snake being her forked tongue and the hissing sounds she makes.

While on the topic of her appearance, Medusa is often shown as ugly or grotesque (not only in God of War, where she's called "Queen of the Gorgons") and in some rare cases (again, Clash of the Titans) she has kept her beauty, despite the effects of Athena's curse. In my opinion, natural beauty, like hers, can't be taken away by even a god's curse. The other thing that Clash of the Titans showed is that Medusa is actually an archer. No myth portrays her as a warrior, fighter or having any combat skills, but that hasn't stopped fans of her myth to draw her with various types of armor, while wielding different weapons, but most commonly it's always a bow.

No matter what speculations there are and how many versions this myth has, Medusa remains nothing more than an empty reflection, a being without a visage, a paradox, which no one can make eye contact with.

This rant of an article on Medusa and the myths surrounding her certainly was interesting for me to write, I hope you've enjoyed it as well and feel free to comment and discuss, I'd love to hear the opinions of those who read this, as well as how you picture Medusa. Does she have a tail or legs in your mind? What weapon does she wield (if she wields one at all)? Does she wear armour or not? Let me know in the comment section.

Which myth do you believe is more authentic ?

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    • profile image

      Alex 3 years ago

      I've often enraged myself when they depict Medusa as a naga. No one had talked about it really.

      It just seems more "cinematic" and more evil to portray her this way even though no Greek myth tells of her in this form.

      It's like they crossed her with Echidna wife of Typhon.

      Thanks you for addressing this issue!

    • coreyanderson172 profile image
      Author

      coreyanderson172 3 years ago from London

      Hi Jen, you can use my article wichever way you like for your essay. The sources for this article were gathered from various sites like wikipedia as well as the Book of Greek Myths. I've shared some of my personal opinion on the subject and my own vision on this great legend.

      Best Regards

    • profile image

      Jen 3 years ago

      Who is the author of this website? I am using this for my essay and I need to do a Works Cited...

    • profile image

      Nicole Valintene 3 years ago

      The one that I'm most familiar with is the first one, Medusa and the Priestess, because that is the one that is typically read to children (In my opinion, it's because it shows the message "if you get knocked up bad stuff will happen". Great hub tho.

    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 3 years ago from USA

      The first version you mention (the priestess) strikes me, from the way it is told, as the same style of myth that you would find in the Iliad (at least as far as I remember having read it so long ago.) In the modern telling of Medusa in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Medusa is kind of a mix between the first and second versions. She and Poseidon get together and she has sisters. As for the stone garden, it's located in an Emporium that Percy found here in America. I hear they're having a sale on statues. Great job on your hub!

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 4 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Cool! I collect legends, myths, folklore, etc.

      Shared this HUB via Pinterest.

      http://pinterest.com/pin/183943966003697122/

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      I enjoy mythology, and I especially enjoy reading about how mythology links to reality. Thanks for this interesting hub.

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Very interesting hub. Had not heard of these stories of Medusa.

      Voted up.