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THE LEGEND OF MEDUSA

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THE LEGEND OF MEDUSA

The Roman author Ovid describes the mortal Medusa as a beautiful maiden seduced by Poseidon in a temple of Athena. Such a sacrilege attracted the goddess’ wrath, and she punished Medusa by turning her hair to snakes

In ancient Greek mythology, Medusa is the most famous of three monstrous sisters known as the Gorgons. The earliest known record about the story of Medusa and the Gorgons can be found in Hesiod’s Theogony. According to this ancient author, the three sisters, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa, were the children of Phorcys and Ceto and lived “beyond famed Oceanus at the world’s edge hard by Night”. Of the three, only Medusa is said to be mortal. But she is also the most famous and the myth of her demise at the hands of Perseus is often recounted.

Why Did Medusa Get Cursed?

Although Hesiod gives an account of Medusa’s origins and the death of Medusa at the hands of Perseus, he does not say more about her. By contrast, a more comprehensive account of Perseus and Medusa can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In this work, Ovid describes Medusa as originally being a beautiful maiden. Her beauty caught the eye of Poseidon, who desired her and proceeded to ravage her in Athena’s shrine. When Athena discovered the sea god had ravaged Medusa in her shrine she sought vengeance by transforming Medusa’s hair into snakes so that anyone who gazed at her directly would be turned into stone.

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The Legend of Medusa and Perseus

The full myth of Perseus and Medusa begins years before they battled. Perseus was the son of Danae, daughter of Acrisius the King of Argos, and Zeus. The god had impregnated the princess in the form of a shower of gold after her father had locked her away upon learning from an oracle that he would be killed by his grandson. Acrisius feared the child, but wanted to avoid Zeus’ wrath, so instead of killing Perseus, he sent the baby and Danae out to sea in a wooden chest.

Dictys of the island of Seriphus rescued the two and he raised Perseus like a son. However, there were others close by who weren’t so kind to the boy. In the myth of Perseus, the hero is sent by Polydectes, Dictys’ brother and the king of Seriphus, on a quest to bring him the head of Medusa. This was a trick because Polydectes desired Perseus’ mother and wanted to get rid of her son, who was not in favor of the relationship. Such a mission would have been equivalent to suicide for Perseus and Polydectes did not expect him to ever return to Seriphus.

As Perseus was the son of Zeus, he was aided by the gods. Perseus received the Cap of Invisibility from Hades, a pair of winged sandals from Hermes, a reflective bronze shield from Athena, and a sword from Hephaestus. With these divine gifts, Perseus sought out Medusa and decapitated her with the bronze shield while she was asleep

After this, Perseus flew away via Hermes’ sandals or Pegasus, setting course for Seriphus. But he had several other exciting events before returning to the island. Although Perseus may be at the center of these stories, it could be argued that it is the transformative powers of Medusa’s severed head that played a pivotal role in the hero’s subsequent adventures.

The Powers of Medusa’s Head

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When the blood dripped from Medusa’s head onto the plains of Libya, each drop of blood transformed into venomous serpents. The power of Medusa’s head is seen again when Perseus encountered the Titan Atlas.

When Perseus asked Atlas for a place to rest for a short while, his request was refused. Knowing that he would not be able to defeat the Titan with brute force alone, he took out Medusa’s head and Atlas was turned into a mountain.

Perseus also encountered Andromeda, the daughter of the Aethiopian king Cepheus and his wife Cassiopeia. Using Medusa’s head, Perseus succeeded in rescuing the princess, who was being sacrificed to Cetus, a sea monster sent by Poseidon to punish Cassiopeia for boasting that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids.

Medusa’s petrifying power is also used on Phineus, Andromeda’s uncle whom she was betrothed to, Proetus, the usurper of the throne of Argos, and finally Polydectes himself.

Perseus’ friend Dictys took the throne and, now finished with the relic, Perseus gave Medusa’s head to Athena, who wears it on her aegis whenever she goes into battle.

THE LEGEND OF MEDUSA

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