Medusa is a character in Greek mythology. Her story has been told and retold by ancient and modern storytellers, writers, and artists.
Medusa has been depicted in the visual arts for centuries. Many interpretations surround the myth, including one by Sigmund Freud. For the ancients, an image of Medusa's head was a device for averting evil. This image was called a Gorgoneion. The Gorgoneion was very scary and made all the children cry, but worked only against Medusa and not her sisters.
Myth[change | change source]
Medusa was one of three sisters. They were known as The Gorgons. Medusa's sisters were Stheno and Euryale. Medusa was mortal, but her sisters were immortal. They were all children of the sea deities, Phorkys and his sister Keto. Before they were monsters, all three sisters were beautiful young women, particularly Medusa; however, she was a priestess in the temple of Athena and was bound by a vow of celibacy.
Any man or animal who looked directly upon her was turned to stone.
The hero Perseus beheaded Medusa by viewing her reflection in his burnished shield. After using the dreadful head to defeat his enemies, he presented it to Athena and she put it on her shield.
Medusa in art[change | change source]
Medusa was a subject for ancient vase painters, mosaicists, and sculptors. She appears on the breastplate of Alexander the Great in the Alexander Mosaic at the House of the Faun in Pompeii, Italy (about 200 BC).
Baroque depictions include Head of Medusa by Peter Paul Rubens (1618); the marble bust Medusa by Bernini (1630s); and Perseus Turning Phineus and his Followers to Stone, an oil painting by Luca Giordano from the (early 1680s).
Romantic and modern depictions include Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Antonio Canova (1801) and Perseus, a sculpture by Salvador Dalí. Twentieth century artists whno tackled the Medusa theme include Paul Klee, John Singer Sargent, Pablo Picasso, Pierre et Gilles, and Auguste Rodin.