People used the stories of gods and goddesses in ancient Greece to explain things like the weather, religion, and cultural practices. Myths explained and answered children’s questions and also gave justification for various cultural traditions. Goddesses had special powers, and they had control over different pieces of life. Most goddesses lived above mount Olympus. Medusa was one of the Greek goddesses. The gods of the seas, Phorys, and Ceto, were her parents. Phorcys and Ceto had three daughters, including Medusa (Turgut et al., 2018). The three daughters were Gorgons, which means monsters; Medusa was the only mortal and the most beautiful one.
Medusa was proud and spoke of nothing else but her beauty. One day Medusa and her friend went to Parthenon. Medusa had never gone to that temple before. Athena the goddess of war, wisdom and beauty, always stayed in Parthenon which was the largest in Greece. Medusa got to the temple and, as usual, went on bragging about her beauty. She compared the statues to herself and said that they were not as beautiful as her. Medusa even claimed that Athena was not deserving of the temple. People were aware of Athena’s wrath, and they all got scared and left. Medusa was the only one who was left behind as she was busy speaking of how beautiful she was. While Medusa was still gazing at herself in the mirror, Athena appeared and called Medusa vain and foolish. Athena tried to tell Medusa that being beautiful was not the only thing life had to offer, but Medusa did not listen, claiming that she changed people’s lives by being beautiful. Athena got angry and told Medusa that looks fade away and would make hers fade away immediately. The moment Athena uttered those words, Medusa’s hair changed to hissing snakes, and she became a monstrous snake.
There is another version of the story that says how Medusa changed to a monster. The story is about Poseidon, a god of storms, the sea, horses, and earthquakes. Poseidon got infatuated with Medusa because of her beauty. Medusa used to work in the temple where Athena resided. According to Ovid’s metamorphoses, Poseidon attacked and raped Medusa in the temple (Martinez, 2018). When Athena learned of the incident, she got angry with Medusa for defiling the temple and cursed her. Medusa’s face became unsightly, and the eyes were so piercing that anyone who looked at them would turn to a stone. Athena also said that Medusa herself would turn into stone if she ever looked at herself in the mirror.
Victims of Medusa’s Gaze
After the curse, Athena sent Medusa to the end of the world to live with the monstrous sisters. Athena sent Medusa away to prevent her from killing innocent people by her gaze. Perseus, the hero, was posted by Polyesters, the king of Seriphes, to get Medusa’s head. Athena gave Perseus a shield mirror to use, and Medusa being a mortal was killed by Perseus (Rose and March 2016). On his way back, the titan Atlas tried to attack him, and using the head, Perseus turned Atlas into a stone. King Cepheus’ daughter was saved by Perseus using Medusa’s head. As stated in Ancient Origins (2019), Andromeda’s uncle, Phineus, was also punished using Medusa’s head. Another victim of Medusa’s gaze was Polydectes, who was trying to marry Perseus’ mother by force. Athena got Medusa’s head from Perseus and put it on Aegis, her shield.
Ancient Origins. 2019, April, 18 “The Real Story of Medusa: Protective Powers from a Snake Haired Gorgon”. April 18, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/legend-medusa-and-gorgons-002773
Martinez, N. (2018). Medusa: The Face of Ambiguity and Resilience.
Rose, H. J., & March, J. (2016). Perseus (1), The Mythical Greek Hero. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics.
Turgut, A. Ç., Turgut, Y. B. & Turgut, M. (2018). The legend of Medusa with snake hair in Didymaion, in Didyma, Turkey. Child’s Nervous System, 34(12), 2341-2344.