Medusa in Greek Mythology – Origin Story & Death

The story of Medusa has instilled fear ever since it was heard for the first time. There have been different variations of the story but none has failed to terrify men than the ones that involved her turning the men that glanced upon her into stone. The following explains the origin story and the meaning of Medusa, the terrifying gorgon in Greek mythology:

Who Was Medusa?

Medusa

The head of Medusa. | Medusa, by Caravaggio (1595)

Medusa was a Gorgon. She had two other sisters by name Sthenno and Euryale. All her sisters were immortal and dreadful monsters from birth except Medusa. Medusa was in fact the prettiest and most famous among her sisters.

Their parents were Phorcys and Ceto. Other researches on the myth surrounding Medusa also state that she was the daughter of Gorgon and Ceto. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, they were situated in the greatest palace by the Hesperides, beyond Oceanus.

Origin Story of Medusa

Medusa did not come into existence as a woman with a head of snakes. According to Greek myths, she was a very beautiful young woman who had many suitors. She was however raped by the sea god Poseidon in Athena’s temple.

Hearing of the incident, the goddess Athena got infuriated and turned Medusa’s hair into snakes. The snake-filled hair was so monstrous and grotesque that one look at Medusa made the viewer turn into a pile of stone.

Medusa’s terror frightened several people and this got the attention of the king of Seriphus, Polydectes. He sprung to action by sending Perseus to fetch the head of Medusa. Polydectes did this on purpose because he wanted Danae, mother of Perseus, and he knew Perseus was not in support of their relationship. For this reason, he plotted to get rid of Perseus. The ploy behind the mission was for Perseus to die on his quest. Polydectes did not expect him to succeed much less return home to Seriphus.

Perseus and Medusa

Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae. Danae’s father, Acrisius, King of Argos was told that he would be murdered by Danae’s son. He locked up Danae in a bronze chamber. However, Zeus turned into a gold shower and got Danae pregnant. Acrisius threw Danae and Perseus into the sea in a wooden chest. Dictys, brother of Polydectus, rescued them . He raised Perseus into adulthood.

Medusa’s Death

Medusa

Perseus sliced off Medusa’s head.

With the support of some Greek gods and goddesses, Perseus was fully armed for this adventure of his. He got a hat of invisibility from Hades, the god of the underworld; a pair of winged sandals from the Greek messenger god Hermes; a reflective bronze shield from Athena; and a sword from Hephaestus, the god of the forge.

Perseus managed to get Medusa’s location from Graeae. When he reached the land of the Gorgons, using the reflection of his shield as a guide, he cut off the head of Medusa with his sickle while Medusa was asleep.

Medusa’s Children

Medusa was pregnant with Poseidon’s children at the time hence the story goes on to say that when her head was cut off, her two children suddenly popped from her neck. Medusa’s children were called Chrysaor and Pegasus.

The accompanying noise that came with this woke the Gorgons up. They tried to catch Perseus but to no avail. Perseus had on him Hade’s cap of invisibility and Hermes’s winged sandals.

An ancient Greek poet by name Pindar said Athena was so touched by Medusa’s children’s lament that she made the Aulos out of their tears and sorrows. The Aulos is a sad music of double pipe.

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The Head of Medusa

Despite the death of Medusa, it is said that her head still had magical properties. As Perseus headed home, the blood from Medusa’s head dropped on the plains of Libya, causing them to turn into venomous snakes. Another myth holds that this is probably the reason why Libya has lots of snakes. It is said that when Perseus met the Greek Titan Atlas and asked for a place to rest, Atlas refused. He took out the head of Medusa and caused Atlas to turn into a mountain.

Perseus went on to meet Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Cepheus was the Aethiopian King. Andromeda was being offered as a sacrifice to a sea monster sent by Poseidon. This punishment was meted out to Cassiopeia for bragging about Andromeda being lovelier than the Nereids.

Perseus rescued Andromeda with the use of the head of Medusa. He also used it on her uncle Proteus, the usurper of throne of Argos, whom she was betrothed to.

When Perseus got back home, he was very mad at Polydectes for tricking him. In his rage, Perseus turned Polydectes and all of his court members into stone with Medusa’s head. He went ahead and handed over the kingdom to Dictys.

He gave the head to Athena when he was done with it. She adorned her breastplate and shield with it whenever she went into a battle. She kept some of the blood which she gave to Asclepius. Asclepius, however, took lives with the blood from the left side of Medusa and used the one from her right side to bring people back to life. Athena didn’t give all the blood to Asclepius. She had a vial with two drops that she gave to her son by adoption, Erichthonius. The drops cured all things and the second one was a very deadly poison.

Athena put aside a piece of Medusa’s hair for demigod Heracles (also known as Hercules). Hercules, in turn, took it and handed it over to Sterope, the daughter of Cepheus. It was used to protect Tegea, her hometown. It is actually said that despite the fact that the hair had no power, it was able to cast terror on people, including those who just saw it, even by accident.

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