Medusa - Pictures of Medusa

01
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book I

Apollo Chasing Daphne, by Gianbattista Tiepolo.
Apollo and Daphne Apollo Chasing Daphne, by Gianbattista Tiepolo. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Evil Eye

Although painted more in art than story, in Greek mythology Medusa is a once-beautiful woman whose name became synonymous with terrifying. Athena made her so hideous one look at her face could turn a mortal to stone (lithify). Slithering, venomous snakes replaced the hair on Medusa's head.

Medusa is the mortal one of the 3 Gorgon sisters and is often called Gorgon Medusa. The mythological Greek hero Perseus performed a service to mankind by ridding the world of her fearsome power. He cut off her head, with the help of gifts from Hades (via the Stygian nymphs), Athena, and Hermes. From Medusa's severed neck sprang the winged-horse Pegasus and Chrysaor.

Origins are unclear. The story of Perseus and Medusa may come from Mesopotamian hero-demon struggles. Medusa may represent an ancient mother-goddess.

For more, see:

  • "Perseus' Battle with the Gorgons," by Edward Phinney Jr. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 102, (1971), pp. 445-463

Greek Mythology Picture Gallery

Daphne eludes the amorous god Apollo, but at what cost?

There was a nymph daughter of a river god who was turned off to love. She had coaxed a promise from her father not to force her to wed, so when Apollo, shot by one of Cupid's arrow, pursued her and wouldn't take no for an answer, the river god obliged his daughter by turning her into the laurel tree. Apollo did what he could, and cherished the laurel.

The artist who painted this version of Apollo pursuing the nymph Daphne, Gianbattista Tiepolo (March 5, 1696 - March 27, 1770), was an 18th century Venetian painter and printmaker. His works included several topics from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

02
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book II

Europa carried off by Jupiter in the form of a white bull.
Story of Europa and Jupiter Europa and Jupiter, by Nöel-Nicolas Coypel. 1726-1727. Europa carried off by Jupiter in the form of a white bull. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Section showing Europa's garlands on the bull who is carrying her across the sea towards Crete.

The Phoenician King Agenor's daughter Europa (whose name was given to the continent of Europe) was playing when she saw the enticing milk-white bull that was Jupiter in disguise. First she played with him, decorating him with garlands. Then she climbed on his back and he set off, carrying her across the sea to Crete where he revealed his true form. Europa became queen of Crete. In the next book of the Metamorphoses, Agenor will send Europa's brother out to find her.

Another popular story from the second book of Ovid's Metamorphoses is of Phaethon, the son of the sun god.

The painter, Nöel-Nicolas Coypel (November 17, 1690 - December 14, 1734), was a French artist.

03
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book III

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Story of Narcissus Narcissus, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. 1594-1596. Narcissus, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. 1594-1596.

The beautiful Narcissus scorned those who loved him. Cursed, he fell in love with his own reflection. He pined away, turning into a flower named for him.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (September 28, 1571 – 18 July 1610) was an Italian Baroque artist.

04
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book IV

Thisbe, by John William Waterhouse 1909.
Story of Pyramus and Thisbe Thisbe, by John William Waterhouse 1909. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The story of the star-crossed Babylonian lovers appears in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream where they meet nightly at a wall.

Pyramus and Thisbe communicated with each other through a chink in the wall. This painting shows the side on which Thisbe talked and listened.

John William Waterhouse (April 6, 1849 – February 10, 1917) was an English Pre-Raphaelite painter who focused mainly on females.

05
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book V

Rape of Persephone, by Luca Giordano. 1684-1686.
Story of the Rape of Proserpine Rape of Persephone, by Luca Giordano. 1684-1686. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This is the story of the abduction of Ceres' daughter Proserpine by the Underworld god Pluto that led to Ceres' great and costly grief.

The fifth book of the Metamorphoses begins with the story of Perseus' marriage to Andromeda. Phineus is angry that his fiancee has been carried off. Those involved felt he had forfeited his right to marry Andromeda when he failed to rescue her from the sea monster. To Phineus, however, it remained a wrong and this set the theme for another abduction, that of Proserpine (Persephone, in Greek) by the Underworld god who is sometimes shown emerging from a crack in the earth in his chariot. Proserpine was playing when taken. Her mother, the goddess of grain, Ceres (Demeter to the Greeks) laments her loss and is driven to despair not knowing what has happened to her daughter.

This picture shows the nymphs with whom Proserpine was playing. A man dressed as Hercules in a lion skin is on the left. Harpies fly overhead.

Luca Giordano (October 18, 1634 – January 12, 1705) was a late Baroque Italian painter. He painted other mythological scenes: Neptune and Amphitrita, the Triumphal procession of Bacchus, the Death of Adonis, and Ceres and Triptolemus.

06
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book VI

The Spinners, by Diego Velázquez 1644-1648.
Arachne and Minerva The Spinners, by Diego Velázquez 1644-1648. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Arachne lent her name to the technical term for the 8-legged web-weaving spider -- after Minerva finished with her.

Arachne boasted of her skill in weaving saying it was better than Minerva's, which displeased the craftswoman goddess, Minerva (Athena, to the Greeks). Arachne and Minerva had a weaving contest to settle the issue in which Arachne showed her true mastery. She wove wondrous scenes of the infidelities of the gods. Athena, who depicted her victory over Neptune in their contest for Athens, turned her disrespectful competitor into a spider.

Even after Arachne met her fate, her friends misbehaved. Niobe, for one, boasted that she was the most happiest of all mothers. The fate she met is obvious. She lost all those who made her a mother. Towards the end of the book comes the story of Procne and Philomela whose horrible revenge led to their metamorphoses into birds.

Velazquez painted this scene of the contest.

07
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book VII

Jason and Medea, by Gustave Moreau (1865).
Jason and Medea Jason and Medea, by Gustave Moreau (1865). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jason charmed Medea when he arrived in her homeland to steal her father's Golden Fleece. They fled together, set up a family, but then came disaster.

Medea rode around in a chariot driven by dragons and accomplished tremendous feats of magic, including ones of great benefit to the hero Jason. So when Jason left her for another woman, he was asking for trouble. She made Jason's bride burn and then fled to Athens where she married Aegeus and became queen. When Aegeus' son Theseus arrived, Medea tried to poison him, but was found out. She disappeared before Aegeus could draw a sword and slay her.

Gustave Moreau (April 6, 1826 – April 18, 1898) was a French Symbolist painter.

08
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book VIII

Jupiter and Mercury in the house of Philemon and Baucis, Adam Elsheimer, c1608, Dresden.
Story of Philemon and Baucis Jupiter and Mercury in the house of Philemon and Baucis, Adam Elsheimer, c1608, Dresden. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Philemon and Baucis model hospitality in the ancient world.

In Book VIII of the Metamorphoses, Ovid says the Phrygian couple Philemon and Baucis cordially received their unknown and disguised guests. When they realized their guests were gods (Jupiter and Mercury) -- because the wine replenished itself -- they tried to kill a goose to serve them. The goose ran to Jupiter for safety.

The gods were displeased by the poor treatment they had received at the hands of the rest of the area's inhabitants, but appreciated the generosity of the old couple, so they warned Philemon and Baucis to leave town -- for their own good. Jupiter flooded the land, but then afterwards, allowed the couple to return to live out their lives together.

This c. 1608 painting of Mercury and Jupiter in the House of Philemon and Baucis is by Adam Elsheimer, from Frankfurt. You can see the goose making its way to the gods, with the aged Baucis ambling in pursuit. Philemon is by the door. To the right in the painting is the couple's more usual fare, fish, cabbage, onions, and bread.

Other stories covered in Book VIII of the Metamorphoses include the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, and Atalanta and Meleager.

09
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book IX

Abduction of Deianira, by Guido Reni, 1620-21.
Deianeira and Nessus Abduction of Deianira, by Guido Reni, 1620-21. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Deianeira was Hercules' last mortal wife. The centaur Nessus abducted Deianeira, but Hercules killed him. Dying, Nessus persuaded her to take his blood....

The great Greek and Roman hero Hercules (aka Heracles) and Deianeira had recently been married. In their travels they faced the Evenus River, which the centaur Nessus offered to ferry them across. While mid-stream with Deianeira, Nessus tried to rape her, but Hercules answered her screams with a well-aimed arrow. Mortally wounded, Nessus told Deianeira that his blood, which was contaminated with Lernaean hydra blood from the arrow with which Hercules shot him, could be used as a potent love potion should Hercules ever stray. Deianeira believed the dying half-human creature and when she thought Hercules was straying, infused his clothing with Nessus' blood. When Hercules put the tunic on, it burned so badly he wanted to die, which he eventually accomplished. He gave the man who helped him die, Philoctetes, his arrows as reward. These arrows had also been dipped in the blood of the Lernaean hydra.

Abduction of Deianira, by Guido Reni, 1620-21, an Italian Baroque painter.

10
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book X

Rembrandt - Rape of Ganymede
The Rape of Ganymede Rembrandt - Rape of Ganymede. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Rape of Ganymede is the story of Jupiter's abduction of the most handsome mortal, the Trojan prince Ganymede, who came to serve as cupbearer to the gods.

Ganymede is usually represented as a youth, but Rembrandt shows him as a baby and shows Jupiter snatching the boy while in eagle form. The little boy is quite obviously scared. To repay his father, King Tros, eponymous founder of Troy, Jupiter gave him two immortal horses. This is but one of several stories of beauties in the tenth book, including that of Hyacinth, Adonis, and Pygmalion.

11
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book XI

Halcyone, by Herbert James Draper (1915).
Ceyx and Alcyone Halcyone, by Herbert James Draper (1915). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

(H)Alcyone feared her husband would die on a sea voyage and begged to go with him. Denied, she instead waited until a dream ghost announced that he was dead.

At the start of Book XI, Ovid tells the story of the murder of the famed musician Orpheus. He also describes the musical contest between Apollo and Pan and the parentage of Achilles. The story of Ceyx, a son of the sun god is a love story with an unhappy ending made more tolerable by the metamorphoses of the loving husband and wife into birds.

12
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book XII

Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, by Piero di Cosimo (1500-1515).
Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs (Not the Elgin Marbles) The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, by Piero di Cosimo (1500-1515). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

"Centauromachy" refers to the battle between the related Centaurs and Lapiths of Thessaly. Famous Elgin Marble metopes from the Parthenon depict this event.

The twelfth book of Ovid's Metamorphoses has martial themes, beginning with the sacrifice at Aulis of Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia to ensure favorable winds so the Greeks could get to Troy to fight the Trojans for the release of King Menelaus' wife Helen. As well as being about war, like the rest of the Metamorphoses, Book XII is about transformations and changes, so Ovid mentions that the sacrificial victim may have been spirited away and exchanged with a hind.

The next story is about Achilles' killing of Cyncnus, who had once been a beautiful woman named Caenis. Cyncnus turned into a bird upon being killed.

Nestor then tells the story of the Centauromachy, which was fought at the wedding of the Lapith king Perithous (Peirithoos) and Hippodameia after the Centaurs, unused to alcohol, became intoxicated and tried to abduct the bride -- abduction being a common theme in Metamorphoses, as well. With the help of the Athenian hero Theseus, the Lapiths won the battle. Their story is commemorated on Parthenon marble metopes housed at the British Museum.

The final story of Metamorphoses Book XII is about the death of Achilles.

Piero di Cosimo was a Florentine painter who helped with the painting of the Sistine Chapel. Be sure to click the "full-size" link since this wide painting is especially compressed. There is a female centaur in the foreground.

  • Bulfinch: Centaurs and the Centauromachy

13
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book XIII

The Burning of Troy, by Johann Georg Trautmann (1713–1769).
Story of the Fall of Troy The Burning of Troy, by Johann Georg Trautmann (1713–1769). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After the Greeks emerged from the giant wooden horse, they set fire to the city of Troy.

14
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book XIV

Circe, by John William Waterhouse. 1911.
Story of Circe Circe, by John William Waterhouse. 1911. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When Glaucus came to the sorceress Circe for a love potion, she fell in love with him, but he rejected her, so she transformed his beloved into rock.

Book XIV tells of the transformation of Scylla into rock and then continues with the aftermath of the Trojan War, the settling of Rome by Aeneas and followers.

John William Waterhouse (April 6, 1849 – February 10, 1917) was a British Pre-Raphaelite painter.

15
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Ovid's Metamorphoses Book XV

Pythagoras and the School of Athens, by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509.
Pythagoras Pythagoras and the School of Athens, by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Greek philosopher Pythagoras lived and taught about change -- the topic of the Metamorphoses. He was though to have taught the second king of Rome, Numa.

The final metamorphosis is that of the deification of Julius Caesar followed by a praise of Augustus, the emperor under whom Ovid wrote, including the hope that his deification will be slow in coming.

Raphael painted this scene with Pythagoras writing in an anachronistic book.