The most well known of the Gorgon sisters, and apparently the only mortal one as well, though the reason why eludes me. Gorgons were female monsters, vicious and often depicted with gold wings, claws, tusks like boars, and most commonly fangs and snakeskin. At some point around the fifth century, artists and sculptors started taking creative liberties with Medusa’s monstrous appearance and started to represent her as beautiful but deadly.
Though the ancient Greeks believed the Gorgons to have been born as monsters, later versions of the myth, particularly one told by the Roman poet, Ovid, depict Medusa as a beautiful maiden priestess in Athena’s temple. She captures the interest of the sea god Poseidon, and whether by force or consenting, the two lay together in the virgin godesses’ temple. Obviously, Athena was less than pleased. But Poseidon being her uncle, her rage was directed at Medusa, turning her from a beautiful woman into a horrendous monster, with living serpents instead of luxuriant hair, and a face so hideous the
sight alone would turn people to stone.
Eventually, Perseus beheaded Medusa with gifts provided by Athena and Hermes, including winged sandals, a cap ofinvisibility and a mirrored shield so that he would not look directly at her face, but rather her reflection. She was carrying Poseidon’s child at this time and so at being slain, the famous winged-horse, Pegasus, sprung forth.
Medusa’s head was used as a weapon throughout most of Perseus’ travels until he finally handed it to Athena who went on to place it on her shield, the Aegis.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by Medusa and wish there was a retelling of her story in a sympathetic light. It’s interesting that she would not be immortal like her sisters. And if Ovid’s version of her tale is right, then I feel sorry for the things she had to suffer… at no fault of her own.