Medusa was one of the three Gorgons, daughters of Phorcys and Ceto, sisters to Graeae, Echidna and Ladon, all terrifying and fearful beasts.
A beautiful mortal, Medusa, drew the wrath of the goddess Athena, either because of her boasting or because of an ill-fated love affair with Poseidon.
Transformed into a vicious monster with snakes instead of hair, she was killed by Perseus, who later used the monster’s head as a weapon before offering it to Athena, points to Greek Mythology.
Birth and family of Medusa
Medusa, whose name probably comes from the ancient Greek word for “guardian,” was one of the three Gorgons, daughters of the sea gods Phorcys and Ceto and sisters to Graeae, Echidna, and Ladon. All of Medusa’s siblings were monsters by birth, and even though she wasn’t, she had the misfortune of being turned into the most hideous of them all.
Since then, like Euryale and Stheno, her older sisters, Medusa has been depicted with bronze hands and golden wings. Poets claimed that he had a boar-like tusk and a tongue that he waved between his tusks.
Fidgeting snakes covered his head instead of hair. Her face was so hideous and her gaze so piercing that the mere sight of her was enough to turn a man to stone.
Medusa, Poseidon and Perseus
It wasn’t always like that. Medusa, the only mortal among the Gorgon sisters, stood out among them because she alone was born with a beautiful face. Ovid especially praises the glory of her hair, “the most wonderful of all her charms.” The great sea god Poseidon seems to have shared this admiration, for he could not resist the temptation and made love to Medusa in a temple of Athena. Enraged, the maiden goddess turned Medusa’s enchanted hair into a coil of snakes, turning the youngest Gorgon into the monster I described above.
Shortly after this, trying to get rid of Perseus, Polydectes, king of Seriphos, sent the great hero on what he thought must be his last quest.
Medusa’s head was Polydectes’ command. With the help of Athena and Hermes, Perseus finally reached the fabled land of the Gorgons, located either in the far west beyond the Outer Ocean or in the middle of it.
Medusa was asleep, and Perseus, using the reflection from Athena’s bronze shield as a guide (so as not to look directly at the monster and be turned to stone), managed to cut off her head with his sickle.
The posthumous fate of Medusa
Because Medusa was pregnant at the time of her death, and when Perseus cut off her head, her two unborn children, Chrysaor and Pegasus, suddenly jumped from her neck. The Gorgons were awakened by the noise and did their best to avenge their sister’s death, but they could neither see nor catch Perseus because he was wearing Hades’ invisibility mask and his winged sandals Hermes. So they returned to their secluded abode to mourn Medusa. Pindar, a great ancient Greek poet, says that hearing their mournful cry, Athena was so moved that she modeled after it the plaintive music of the double pipe, the aulos.
Now that Perseus had Medusa’s head in his bag, he returned to Serifos. However, as they flew over Libya, drops of Medusa’s blood fell to the ground and instantly turned into snakes; because of this, to this day, Libya abounds in snakes. When Perseus reached Seriphos, he used Medusa’s head to turn Polydectes and the vicious islanders to stone; the island was long afterwards well known for its many cliffs.
Medusa’s terror continues
After this, Perseus gave Medusa’s head to his benefactor Athena as a gift. She also collected some of the remaining blood and gave most of it to Asclepius, who used the blood from Medusa’s left side to take people’s lives and the blood from her right side to raise people from the dead. The rest of Medusa’s blood, a vial containing two drops, Athena gave to her adopted son, Erichthonius. Euripides says that one of the drops was a remedy and the other a deadly poison.
Always the protector of heroes, Athena set aside a lock of Medusa’s hair in a bronze jar for Hercules, who later gave it to Cepheus’ daughter Sterope to use to protect her hometown of Tegea. Supposedly, even if it didn’t have the power of Medusa’s gaze, the lock could still cast terror on any enemy unfortunate enough to even accidentally glance at it.