Greek Mythology Picture Gallery: Images of Medusa

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Medusa

Gorgon from a 6th Century B.C. Black-figure amphora.
Gorgon from a 6th Century B.C. Black-figure amphora. Public Domain. Courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

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 three 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 horses 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

The image above is of an an Attic black-figure neck-amphora, c. 520–510 BCE depicting a Gorgon.

The Gorgon, a single monster for Homer, but three daughters of the sea god Phorcys and his sister Ceto, were shown with wings and goofy-looking or grotesque grinning faces with tongues sticking out. Of the three, Stheno (the Mighty), Euryale (the Far Springer), and Medusa (the Queen), only Medusa was mortal. In this Gorgon, the hair is wild and possibly serpentine. Sometimes snakes are wrapped around her waist.

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Gorgon

Laconian black-figured hydria with a gorgon's head, sphinxes and cranes.
Laconian black-figured hydria with a gorgon's head, sphinxes and cranes. Public Domain. Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

Head of a gorgon painted on an archaic hydria.

03
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Medusa

Statue of Perseus, Piazza della Signoria, Florence - (bronze sculpture) by Benvenuto Cellini (1554)
Statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa, at Piazza della Signoria, Florence - (bronze sculpture) by Benvenuto Cellini (1554). Public Domain. Courtesy of Jrousso at Wikipedia.

Perseus used a sword to decapitate Medusa while avoiding her death-dealing eyes by looking in a mirrored shield. (More below.)

Stygian nymphs gave Perseus a pouch, winged sandals, and Hades' cap of invisibility. Hermes gave him a sword. Athena provided a shield-mirror. Perseus needed the pouch to hold the head. He used the sword to cut while he looked into the mirror, which Athena may have held. He had to work backward (mirror-image) to avoid accidentally meeting the death-ray eyes of Medusa. He then grabbed the head of Medusa by the hair as shown in this statue, still averting his eyes. The invisibility cap hid Perseus so he could escape pursuit by the two remaining, immortal Gorgon sisters, Stheno and Euryale, who woke up when Perseus slew their sister.

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

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Medusa's Severed Head

Medusa - Tête de Méduse, by Rubens (c. 1618).
Aka Gorgoneion Medusa - Tête de Méduse, by Rubens (c. 1618). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia

After cutting, Medusa's head continued to exert power. Either the sight of it full-in-the-face or the look of the 2 eyes turned humans to stone.

The children of Poseidon and Medusa were born after Pegasus sliced off Medusa's head. One was the winged horse Pegasus. The brother of Pegasus was Chrysaor, king of Iberia.

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Medusa on Aegis

Douris Cup. Athena and Jason, 5th Century B.C., at the Vatican Museum.
Douris Cup. Athena and Jason, 5th Century B.C., at the Vatican Museum. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

An aegis was a leather cloak, breastplate, or shield. Athena placed the head of Medusa at the center of her aegis.

This cup shows Athena on the right with the Medusa on her aegis. On the left is the figure of Jason regurgitating from the monster guarding the Golden Fleece, which is hanging on a branch above.

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Medusa's Head

Medusa, by Caravaggio 1597.
Medusa, by Caravaggio 1597. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This oval oil on wood Medusa's head looks very much like an aegis.

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Gill, N.S. "Greek Mythology Picture Gallery: Images of Medusa." ThoughtCo, Jun. 23, 2017, thoughtco.com/pictures-of-medusa-4122982. Gill, N.S. (2017, June 23). Greek Mythology Picture Gallery: Images of Medusa. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/pictures-of-medusa-4122982 Gill, N.S. "Greek Mythology Picture Gallery: Images of Medusa." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/pictures-of-medusa-4122982 (accessed November 21, 2017).