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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

The Legend of Medusa 聖女傳說: 美黛雅の故事



In Greek mythology, Medusa, also called Gorgo was one of the three Gorgons. Medusa is generally described as a woman with living snakes in place of hair; her appearance was so hideous that anyone who looked upon her was turned to stone. Medusa and her Gorgon sisters Euryale and Stheno were usually described as daughters of Phorcys and Ceto; of the three, only Medusa was mortal.

Medusa was beheaded by the Greek hero Perseus, who then used her head, which retained its ability to turn onlookers to stone, as a weapon until he gave it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. In classical antiquity, the image of the head of Medusa appeared in the evil-averting device known as the Gorgoneion.

According to Hesiod and Aeschylus, she lived and died on Sarpedon, somewhere near Cisthene. The 2nd-century BC novelist Dionysios Skytobrachion puts her somewhere in Libya, where Herodotus had said the Berbers originated her myth as part of their religion.


In a late version of the Medusa myth, by the Roman poet Ovid, Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden, but when Neptune (the Roman equivalent of the Greek Poseidon) mated with her in Minerva's temple (Minerva being the Roman equivalent of the Greek Athena), Minerva punished Medusa by transforming her beautiful hair into horrible snakes. Although no earlier versions mention this, ancient depictions of Medusa as a beautiful maiden instead of a horrid monster predate Ovid. In classical Greek art, the depiction of Medusa shifted from hideous beast to an attractive young woman, both aggressor and victim, a tragic figure in her death.




In most versions of the story, she was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who was sent to fetch her head by King Polydectes of Seriphus because Polydectes wanted to marry Perseus's mother. The gods were well aware of this, and Perseus received help. He received a mirrored shield from Athena, sandals with gold wings from Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus and Hades's helm of invisibility. Since Medusa was the only one of the three Gorgons who was mortal, Perseus was able to slay her; he did so while looking at the reflection from the mirrored shield he received from Athena. During that time, Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon. When Perseus beheaded her, Pegasus, a winged horse, and Chrysaor, a giant wielding a golden sword, sprang from her body.


According to Ovid, in northwest Africa, Perseus flew past the Titan Atlas, who stood holding the sky aloft, and transformed Atlas into a stone when Atlas tried to attack him. In a similar manner, the corals of the Red Sea were said to have been formed of Medusa's blood spilled onto seaweed when Perseus laid down the petrifying head beside the shore during his short stay in Ethiopia where he saved and wed his future wife, the lovely princess Andromeda, who was the most beautiful woman in the world at that time. Furthermore, the venomous vipers of the Sahara, in the Argonautica 4.1515, Ovid's Metamorphoses 4.770 and Lucan's Pharsalia 9.820, were said to have grown from spilt drops of her blood. The blood of Medusa also spawned the Amphisbaena (a horned dragon-like creature with a snake-headed tail).

Perseus then flew to Seriphos, where his mother was being forced into marriage with the king, Polydectes, who was turned into stone by the head. Then Perseus gave the Gorgon's head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, the Aegis.





I have long been a big fan of images of Medusa. In Venice, I have many souvenir jewelry pieces of Medusa. But it is not until my 10th year at the Venice Carnevale that I come across someone coming here in a Medusa costume. My new found Italian friend came with a Medusa outfit, complete with snakes on her crown. Her companion came as Poseidon. As usual, just a short informal photo session on the busy streets of Venice , using natural ligting only.

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