July 27, 2018
Imagine being stripped of all your greatest qualities in your life just because someone else was jealous of you. In the story of Medusa, beauty is punished in this way and is brought to the point of horror. In the “Hesiod’s Theogony (c. 700 BCE) and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8 CE), Medusa is presented as originally having been a beautiful maiden and priestess of the goddess Athena.” (Kaleta) Medusa was well known for being so beautiful, having lovely healthy hair, and remaining a virgin in honor of Athena. She had two sisters and they are known as the Gorgon sisters. She was the only mortal of the 3. She was greatly sought after but she always chose to remain pure. She was so beautiful that many men and even other gods tried to take her virginity, but she would never allow it. Men would come all the way to the temple just to catch a glance of the beautiful Medusa and some even said her hair was more beautiful than Athena’s.
There was a time when Poseidon, the god of the sea, was in conflict with Athena and he also had intense lust for Medusa. He saw her as a pure possession of Athena and tried to take her virginity to get back at Athena. Medusa always rejected him. He was so infatuated with her that he decided he would not take no for an answer. He aggressively pursued Medusa until she fled to the temple of Athena for help, but to no avail because Poseidon caught her and still raped her. Punishing a god was out of the question, so when Athena found out, she then changed Medusa into an ugly serpent-like monster with hideous features and hissing snakes for hair. She was so ugly that one glare could turn any man into a pillar of marble. “Pseudo-Apollodorus also suggests in the Bibliotheca (first century BCE) that Medusa was punished by Athena because her beauty rivaled that of the goddess.” (Kaleta) She changed everything she envied into something grotesque. Medusa became pregnant after being raped by Poseidon and after she was beheaded later in the story by a mortal named Perseus, Chrysaor and Pegasus were born from her open wound when she died. Before this event, many warriors tried to challenge her, but they ended up getting turned into stone with her vicious gaze.
Medusa is later killed by the Greek hero Perseus, son of Zeus and the mortal Danaë. His grandfather, Acrisius, had been warned by an oracle that Perseus would kill him so he put him and his mother in a chest and threw it into the ocean. It drifted to Seriphus, where King Polydectes took them in and helped them. King Polydectes eventually fell in love with Danaë, but he could not make a move on her with her son always around. In a ceremony he chose Perseus away to slay Medusa as a way to receive high honor, thinking that Perseus would die on the journey. The goddess Athena liked Perseus though, so she directed him to the Hesperides, nymphs who supplied him with divine tools to slay Medusa with. He was given a great sword that was sharp enough to cut the head of the gorgon clean off. He was given a magic helmet that could make him invisible. He was given shoes that made him light on his feet. And he was given a beautiful shield that was so shiny, he could see Medusa in the reflection and not turn to marble. He embarked on his adventure and got advice on where to find Medusa. When he found her he was able to defeat her with his mystical tools. “He found the Gorgons asleep, and by averting his gaze, and looking only at their reflection in Athena’s shield of polished bronze, he cut off Medusa’s head.” (March) He then took her head as his prize to give to King Polydectes. He started his return journey using Pegasus, a winged horse that was born from Medusas open wound. He came back to Seriphus to kill King Polydectes for his deceit, and when he returned home he still accidently killed his grandfather in a discus competition, like the oracle have said. Perseus then choose to relinquish Medusa’s head over to Athena. (Lagasse) And while her looks could kill, Medusa’s blood had supernatural healing powers and after she was beheaded by Perseus, her head is then given by Athena to the god of medicine, Asclepius. He could use her blood to heal others and even bring the dead back to life. After her death, Medusa became a guardian in Hades, the land of the dead.
Medusa did her best to do the right thing and represent Athena the best she could. She rejected all the lustful men and remained a virgin for Athena. Athena was consumed by her jealousy of Medusa. She saw the event of Poseidon raping her as a reason to take all that Medusa had. I choose this story because it shows how sometimes you can do all the right things in life, and you can still become a monster because other people will envy your blessings. It is important to take into consideration who you keep in your company and who you exhibit your prized accomplishment and possessions to. Jealousy is like a disease that can make people want to take from you, or just slander your name until you are seen as a monster to the haters and their friends. I would usually say not to care about stuff like that but sometimes some people can create situations that will require your attention. You can only control yourself.
Similar to the Frankenstein story, Medusa did nothing wrong, but she was victimized until she was pushed to be evil and reckless. I think a hidden meaning in this story is that pureness can be corrupted by others in the surroundings and can cause one to be evil and as deceptive as a snake. It can cause others to become numb or stone to the product of the evil and the only way to overcome the monster is to look in the mirror.
Athena created a monster to destroy others out of her own jealousy. Athena’s behavior aligns with thesis seven from Jeffrey Jerome Cohens Monster Culture book. A quote from Jeffrey Cohen that applies for thesis seven was, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” (Cohen) This applies to Athena as the creator of the monster she made Medusa into, and in the end she still received Medusas severed head as a prize. She allowed Medusa’s beauty and the opinions of others to destroy her internally to the point where she was pushed to leap at the opportunity to pilfer Medusas upper hand of aesthetic qualities. In this story, Athena never had to pay for what she did. Medusa was the victim, the monster, and she took the fall completely all the way to her demise. It’s almost like Athena was really the monster and she was the one that got away clean.
Kaleta, Marcin Konrad. “Medusa.” The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, Ashgate Publishing, 1st edition, 2014. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/ashgtmonster/medusa/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 17 Jul. 2018.
Lagasse, Paul. “Perseus, in Greek mythology.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Columbia University, Columbia University Press, 7th edition, 2017. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/columency/perseus_in_greek_mythology/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 17 Jul. 2018.
March, Jennifer R. “Gorgons.” Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Oxbow Books, 2nd edition, 2014. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/oxbocm/gorgons/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 17 Jul. 2018.
Cohen, Jeffrey J. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” Accessed 17 Jul. 2018.