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Was Medusa's Fate Truly Fair?

Updated on February 24, 2013

Medusa's Head on Athena's Shield

Medusa, by Caravaggio (1595)
Medusa, by Caravaggio (1595) | Source

Punished for someone else's crime.

When most people think of Medusa, they imagine the hair made entirely of snakes, and the stare that could turn anyone into stone (even after her death), but she did not start out the way that most people think of her. In fact, her story is probably far more sad than anyone who isn't familiar with the earlier portions of her history would imagine.

When Medusa was young, she was a beautiful priestess of Athena, but trouble came when Poseidon decided that he wanted her. As a result, instead of gaining Medusa's permission to sleep with her, he decided that he was going to take her by force. Because of this decision, Poseidon raped Medusa, and he did it within the confines of Athena's temple.

Athena, finding out what had happened, and knowing that she would never be able to confront her uncle for what he did in committing such a heinous act inside one of her temples, turned her anger on Medusa. Athena claimed that Medusa must be punished for the sacrilege that was committed within her temple. So, it was then that Medusa, rape victim, was turned into a victim once again; instead of being able to get the help and understanding that she should have been able to after such a heinous act, she was forced to live the rest of her life alone (with only her statues for company).

Of course, it was Poseidon that should have been punished for such an act, but why does no one in this scenario think that there is anything wrong with punishing Medusa for what was done upon her? In the years to come, in the stories that Medusa is a part of, she becomes a creature that is to be feared and avoided. Only those who want to test their courage, and who think that they are going to be able to kill her are so reckless as to try to go anywhere near her. And eventually, a "hero" (by the name of Perseus) comes along to cut off her head so that it can be used as a weapon, with her head eventually finding its way onto Athena's shield.

All in all, her story is a rather sad one. First she is violated; then, she is turned into a monster for what has happened to her; and finally, she is killed as a trophy by someone who wanted to make a name for himself.

It would seem, from her story that even in antiquity, there was blame being put on the victim of rape, instead of on the person who committed the crime. It may be true that Athena didn't have many options to quell her rage for what she saw a sacrilege being committed in her temple, but taking it out on the person who was least responsible for what happened does not seem like the right way to go. And in going about things the way that she did, perhaps Athena proved herself to not be as wise as we have always been lead to believe that she was supposed to be.

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    • wingedcentaur profile image

      William Thomas 4 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Hi Kris Oller!

      Once again let me compliment you on a fantastic short hub (The only thing wrong with it was the fact that I was intrigued and wanted more!). I voted it 'up,' 'useful,' and 'interesting.' It appears that, once again, "good" and "evil" truly are a matter of perspective.

      The real skinny on Medusa, you have given us here, reminds me of the about face my perspective on Elphaba (The "Wicked Witch of the West" from Wizard of Oz) took when I read Gregory Maguire's novel, "Wicked," from which the made a stage play of course.

      In fact, my view of who was good and who was evil in general, in that world, took the one-eighty. I viewed sweet, innocent Dororthy with a more jaundiced eye after that, as I recall. I am so very disappointed in Athena.

      Anyway, this fuller version of the Medusa story bears deep consideration for the way we still tend to demonize female rape victims; more broadly, we should never take people's "preceding reputations" for granted; we should ask what is behind these reputations (of course, its not guaranteed that you're always going to find out that Mr. X is a nice guy after all and all that).

      Okay, that's it. Keep up the good work.

      Take it easy.

    • Kris Oller profile image
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      Kris Oller 4 years ago from Modesto, Ca

      You're right ... somethimg more about the demonization of the victim is something that is worthy of looking into (and not only cuz it is in no way fair, and only victimizes them further).

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      Guest 3 years ago

      Is there anonymous posting.

      Well anyone part of the reason is the Greek word translated as "Rape" was defined by their parent or god in the case of Medusa. Essentially a girl didn't own her virginity, a male did.

      Therefore regardless of whether Medusa was willingly or not, it would still count as Greek rape as Medusa's virginity belonged to Athena.

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      Lailani 2 years ago

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      Shykitty 2 years ago

      This story is a good representation of today's judicial system in which the rape victim is often blamed for what has occurred to them (revealing clothes, out too late, etc.). It gives Medusa's story a much deeper meaning worthy of discussion that is not found in the other more popular versions of her myth.

      Also someone commented on Medusa that she might have been willing because the definition of rape was based on who owned her virginity. Well in this case if she was willing, the story take a different meaning that is also worthy of discussion and thought in the sense that perhaps Medusa was sexually oppressed. I mean Athena was goddess of virtue and in those times women were held in a sense to Athena's standards. Because of this promiscuity in women, like Medusa perhaps, was looked down upon and even punishable whereas in men it was likely not the case and overlooked like in much of today's society.

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