Greek Mythology and Medusa Essay
Greek Mythology and Medusa
Medusa, the daughter of Phorcys and Ceto is a famous gorgon in Greek Mythology. Medusa, who represented female wisdom, was the eldest of two other Gorgon sisters, Stheino, who represented strength, and the last sister, Euryale as universality. Medusa was the mortal one of the sisters. She was known originally for being a beautiful young maiden, her loveliest feature being her long gorgeous hair. She was a virgin, and she was raped by Poseidon, Lord of the Sea, while she had been worshipping in the temple of the Goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. Athena was enraged about this happening in her temple.
She blamed Medusa for this sacrilegious act and punished Medusa by taking her beauty away from her and turning her into a serpent headed monster with snakes for hair. After this, any man who was to gaze directly upon her would turn into stone. Over time Medusa’s face has come to symbolize and refer to many different things, such as; a monster, something that resembled evil, she’s also been a popular choice for art pieces, and also a symbol for feminist. Many females like Medusa because she stood up for them. After being raped, she wanted to help other women and avoid this happening to them.
Medusa also became the face on Greek coins later on in history. There are many different versions of the myth about Medusa and why she was turned into an ugly serpent with snakes for hair. The most common one being that Athena was angry that she had been sexual with Poseidon in her temple and also that she was especially jealous of Medusa’s beauty. Athena cursed Medusa to lose all her beauty and made her an ugly monster. Any man who even looked at her turned into stone. Soon after this, the hero Perseus was sent on a quest, by King Polydectes of Seriphos, and Athena herself, to retrieve the head of the Gorgon, Medusa.
A deed said to require the maximum of heroic-male courage and skill. Perseus was given magic winged sandals, a cap and a pouch from Hermes. (In Greek mythology, Hermes is one of the Olympian Gods. ) Guided by Athena the entire time, Perseus flies over the ocean to Lake Tritonis in Libya where Medusa and her two gorgon sisters live. He makes his way through rough, thick woods and on the way to Medusa’s palace he sees several statues of men and beasts. There are also stone pillars erected in honor of her deceased lovers. Peresus comes upon the sleeping Gorgon sisters.
Athena holds out a mirror, so that Perseus doesn’t have to look directly at Medusa and can finish his quest without being turned into stone. He accomplishes this, and decapitates Medusa with his crescent sword. Even in death Medusa’s blood retains its powers. She was pregnant with Poseidon’s child at this time and it is said that when she was decapitated, her blood gave life to Pegasus, the winged, militant steed of Zeus that creates serpents in the earth with the touch of his hoof. And also Chrysaor, the golden bladed giant, is born from her bleeding neck.
Medusa’s blood is drained from her body and later used to raise the dead. The blood from her right veins were kept and later used to heal and nourish life, and the blood from her left vein used to kill. After decapitating Medusa, Perseus puts her head into his pouch. He uses her head as a weapon. He would show enemies her head and turned them stone whenever it was needed during his journey back home. During his short stay in Ethiopia, the corals of the Red Sea were said to have been formed of Medusa’s blood that was spilled onto seaweed when Perseus laid down her head beside the shore.
Here, he also saved and wed his wife, the princess Andromeda. From there he flew to Seriphus, where his mother was about to be forced to marry the King Polydectes. Perseus showed the King Medusa’s head and he was turned to stone. When he returned home he gave the head to Athena. The head was then put onto Athena’s shield. It protected the Goddess from enemies, because even after Medusa’s defeat, her face forever maintains its gorgon power. “Perseus could not have completed this task without the help of the warrior goddess Athena. It was she who guided and instructed him throughout his journey and slaying.
Since the myth symbolized the usurping of her powerful roots in a culture where she and Medusa were one, it is appropriate that only she would know the secrets to find and defeat the Gorgon, Medusa. ” (The Greek Myth, Pg. 141) Medusa means, “Sovereign female wisdom. ” Her ancient, widely recognized symbol of female wisdom was her threatening mask. The face that had unblinking eyes. All seeing eyes that see through every person, penetrating their illusions and looking into the abyss of truth. Her mouth is deathly looking. It is devouring of all the lives of men.
Her tongue protrudes like snakes and her face is surrounded by a halo of spiraling, serpentine hair which symbolized the great cycles and her serpent wisdom. Horns coming out of her head that were meant to scare men. Birds appear on her head and shoulder, signifying her generative as well as death wielding powers of her dark, crone aspect. They also represent the heavens of the sky. Snakes coil around her arms, legs or are entwined in her hair and are shown whispering into her ear. The serpent is a totem of the cycles of life, death, and rebirth and the seasons. It is the connection to the fertile earth and to the underworld.
It also symbolizes immortality as it was thought to shed its skin indefinitely. The serpent is also an emblem of the ocean as the sea was known as an earth girdling serpent. “In 750 BC, the full-bodied image of Medusa in Greece was a central piece on their oldest surviving temple, of Artemis, one of their oldest gods. Like Medusa, she kills in sacred manner so that life may continue. ” (Medusa, Pg. 223) In this image of Medusa, snakes are tied around her waist in the sacred healing knot as they were used for medicinal purposes. She retains spiraling hair, large bird wings on her back and even on her feet.
The wings symbolize her freedom and dynamic movement between the worlds. “Medusa was actually imported into Greece from Libya where she was worshipped by the Libyan Amazons as their Serpent-Goddess. ” (Early Greek Myth, Pg. 205) Medusa was the destroyer aspect of the Great Triple Goddess also called Neith, Anath, Athene, or Athena in North Africa and Athana in 1400 C. BC Minoan Crete. Medusa was originally an aspect of the goddess Athene from Libya where she was the Serpent-Goddess of the Libyan Amazons. In her images, her hair sometimes resembled dread locks, showing her origins in Africa. There she had a hidden, dangerous face.
It was said that no one could lift her veil, and that if ever to look directly upon her face was to glimpse at one’s own death as they saw their future. Medusa became a strong part of feminism in that she was affected greatly by what Poseidon had done to her. She hated all men and turned them all to stone if they were to gaze directly at her. Poseidon had taken something from her, something she could not ever get back. And she was punished for it, for something she had not wished for nor had any choice against. Her beauty was taken away. Medusa wanted to help every woman and to keep them safe from all the evil men in the world.
Women connected to her in this way. Theylooked to her as an idol, and after Perseus had beheaded her, women felt that it was female wisdom and expression, along with the potential of women in general that was being silenced. “It is the act which stops her growth, limits her potential, movement and cultural contributions. ” (Medusa, Pg. 134) She is obliterated and her severed head is flaunted on many works of art in pride of her and all women’s abuse by violent men. She is broken and her body enslaved. Her spirit, her mind, her spiritual powers are all killed.
Her once honored forces of female creativity and destruction are halted. Her role as a strong woman, degraded. Her life-giving, death-wielding powers and wild forces of nature are controlled, tamed, and mastered by the way males wanted things ordered. The cycles of life and nature are made to conform to his linear perspective. The image of Medusa was used to guard and protect women. It has been adopted by women as a symbol of female rage. It was always carved into stone because of her, “look of stone. ” It was carved and put onto caves and gateways at sacred sites dedicated to the goddess.
It also appeared on stone pillars erected in honor of her deceased lovers. Even after the degradation of Medusa Athenian culture after the 7th C. BC, her mask image continues to be used until the reign of Christianity. Her image started to slowly fade away in Greece in the 7th-6th C. BC. But there were still images that revere Medusa in her full power. “Patriarchy began in the bronze and iron age of the first millennia Greece. Here, the world was no longer born of a sacred mother deity but from a supreme father. Earth and heaven were slit eternally. ” (Athena in the Classical World, Pg.330)
In myth heroes and gods were created to dominate the female and natural forces over and over again in various forms, the most common of them being gigantic snakes and serpent monsters. But soon, the holy image of the gorgon Medusa as an ancient symbol of female power and wisdom became totally unacceptable. By the 6th C. BC her rights were disrupted, her priestesses were violated and her image defiled. Her images were mastered and domesticated. Her mask was used by ordinary people. Her female wisdom, natural forces, powers of creativity, destruction and regeneration were demonized and made into something evil.
She was made into a horrid, ugly monster. In more recent times, in the 20th century, feminists brought back Medusa’s appearances in literature, art and in modern culture. The name “Medusa” itself is not often used in ways that it was originally, according to myth. Despite her origins as a beauty, the name in common usage has come to mean, “Monster. ” People started referring to something or someone who is hideous, scary, or ugly as “Medusa. ” The image being recognized as something that connects with evil, hate, and darkness. Feminists have adopted her face as a symbol of female rage.
And many women recognize her face as just that. They respect Medusa for all she has gone through and what she really represents. She is the voice and the protection for all women against any abuse from men. Medusa became a very common theme in art. Somewhere around 411-348 BC a coin in Ancient Greece was made with the gorgon Medusa’s face on it. It is said that she was the ugliest female face to have ever appeared on a coin. The artwork on this coin shows Medusa with her snake hair surrounding her face and her tongue sticking out in a rude way. She is showing her boar-like teeth with ridicule.
Her stone eyes seem to be either glaring at you or laughing at you. The coin is so creepy and ugly, but yet beautiful at the same time. Medusa was such a big part of Ancient history and the Greeks especially wanted to remember and use her as an important figure. The coin is a magnificent piece of art and of history. Many well known artists used Medusa in numerous works of art. The image of Medusa was on the breastplate of Alexander the Great. Leonardo da Vinci created and oil on canvas of Medusa. In 1554, Benvenuto Cellini sculpted a bronze sculpture called, Perseus with the Head of Medusa.
In 1597 Caravaggio made oil on canvas of Medusa. And in the early 1680’s Luca Giordano created an oil on canvas piece called, Perseus Turning Phineus and his Followers to Stone. These are just a few of the famous artworks made of Medusa. Medusa remained a common theme in art in even the nineteenth century. The head of Medusa is even on some regional symbols. One example is of the flag and emblem of Sicily. Medusa has also recently appeared in a movie, the remake of the 1981 film, Clash of the Titans. Medusa, the mortal one of her three gorgon sisters, strongly represented female wisdom and became the symbol of female rage.
With a hideous face, and snakes for hair, she is known now as a monster. But still, the story of Medusa is so fascinating to so many women. She is an idol in many ways for women who have been raped, because she after Athena had punished her for being unintentionally involved with Poseidon, she worked to protect women by turning many evil men to stone. She has been used for many art pieces over the years, movies, popular culture, and even coins in Ancient Greek times. And even today people are still fascinated and learning about the myth of the gorgon, Medusa.
The myth of the gorgon, Medusa has been told all around the world. Medusa was a lovely maiden who was known for her long beautiful hair and her pale skin that was so close to perfect. Women were so jealous of Medusa. When Medusa was raped in Athena’s temple by the King Poseidon, I think Athena surely took advantage of the incident. I feel that she was a very heartless and evil person. Her jealousy got the best of her and she cursed a horrible thing upon Medusa. She caused her to become a hideous monster. She took all of her beauty from her, and ruined her life. Medusa became a woman who truly hated all men.
She was unhappy and very ugly. Any man who gazed directly at her would turn to stone. It was her personal punishment toward men after what Poseidon had done to her. I personally feel bad for Medusa. Being raped takes so much from a person as it is. She had to have already been so effected from just that incident. Then Athena punishes her even more. For something she had no control over. After all the research that I have done, I feel that Medusa is not truly this hideous, evil, monster. I think she has had such poor luck in her life. And it is unfortunate that she has gone through the things that she has.
In my point of you it is not her fault that she was this evil lady with snakes for hair. She had gone through some very tormenting situations. And I think Poseidon should have been punished for what he had done. But today, many women do feel the same as I about Medusa. Feminists see her almost an idol. She stood up for herself and many other women after she had been hurt and raped. She wanted to protect women from the evil men out there. She was a victim, but she didn’t just back down and do nothing about it. She fought back. And she symbolized herself as something big and strong.
And today she is known as a strong woman. Yes, a monster, but also so much more than that. To me, I think she is somewhat of a hero. Works Cited Deacy, Susan. Athena in the Classical World. Ed. Alexandra Villing. The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2001. Atsma, Aaron J. “Medusa and Gorgons. ” (2000): N. pag. The Project Copyright. New Zealand, 2 Apr. 2010 . Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore: the John Hopkins University Press, 1993. Kershaw, Stephen P. the Greek Myths. New York: Carrol and Graf Publishers, 2007. Wilk, Stephen R. Medusa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.