Medusa facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsMedusa
Classical Greek gorgoneion featuring the head of Medusa; fourth century BC
|Children||Pegasus and Chrysaor|
|Parents||Phorcys and Ceto|
|Siblings||The Hesperides, Sthenno, Euryale, The Graea, Thoosa, Scylla, and Ladon|
In Greek mythology, Medusa ( Ancient Greek: Μέδουσα Médousa "guardian, protectress"), also called Gorgo, was one of the three monstrous Gorgons, winged human females with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those who gazed into her eyes would turn to stone. Most sources describe her as the daughter of Phorcys and Ceto, although the author Hyginus makes her the daughter of Gorgon and Ceto.
Medusa was beheaded by the Greek hero Perseus, who then used her head, which retained its ability to turn onlookers to stone, as a weapon until he gave it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. In classical antiquity, the image of the head of Medusa appeared in the evil-averting device known as the Gorgoneion.
According to Hesiod and Aeschylus, she lived and died on Sarpedon, somewhere near Cisthene. The 2nd-century BC novelist Dionysios Skytobrachion puts her somewhere in Libya, where Herodotus had said the Berbers originated her myth as part of their religion.
The three Gorgon sisters—Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale—were all children of the ancient marine deities Phorcys (or "Phorkys") and his sister Ceto (or "Keto"), chthonic monsters from an archaic world. Their genealogy is shared with other sisters, the Graeae, as in Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound, which places both trios of sisters far off "on Kisthene's dreadful plain":
Near them their sisters three, the Gorgons, winged
With snakes for hair—hatred of mortal man
While ancient Greek vase-painters and relief carvers imagined Medusa and her sisters as having monstrous form, sculptors and vase-painters of the fifth century BC began to envisage her as being beautiful as well as terrifying. In an ode written in 490 BC, Pindar already speaks of "fair-cheeked Medusa".
In a late version of the Medusa myth, by the Roman poet Ovid (Metamorphoses 4.794–803), Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden, but when Neptune/Poseidon fell in love with her, Minerva punished Medusa by transforming her beautiful hair into horrible snakes.
In most versions of the story, she was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who was sent to fetch her head by King Polydectes of Seriphus because Polydectes wanted to marry Perseus's mother. The gods were well aware of this, and Perseus received help. He received a mirrored shield from Athena, sandals with gold wings from Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus and Hades's helm of invisibility. Since Medusa was the only one of the three Gorgons who was mortal, Perseus was able to slay her; he did so while looking at the reflection from the mirrored shield he received from Athena. During that time, Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon. When Perseus beheaded her, Pegasus, a winged horse, and Chrysaor, a giant wielding a golden sword, sprang from her body.
According to Ovid, in northwest Africa, Perseus flew past the Titan Atlas, who stood holding the sky aloft, and transformed Atlas into a stone when Atlas tried to attack him. In a similar manner, the corals of the Red Sea were said to have been formed of Medusa's blood spilled onto seaweed when Perseus laid down the petrifying head beside the shore during his short stay in Ethiopia where he saved and wed his future wife, the lovely princess Andromeda, who was the most beautiful woman in the world at that time. Furthermore, the venomous vipers of the Sahara, in the Argonautica 4.1515, Ovid's Metamorphoses 4.770 and Lucan's Pharsalia 9.820, were said to have grown from spilt drops of her blood. The blood of Medusa also spawned the Amphisbaena (a horned dragon-like creature with a snake-headed tail).
Perseus then flew to Seriphos, where his mother was being forced into marriage with the king, Polydectes, who was turned into stone by the head. Then Perseus gave the Gorgon's head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, the Aegis.
An ancient Roman carving of the Medusa, now spolia in use as a column base in the Basilica Cistern
Coins of the reign of Seleucus I Nicator of Syria (312–280 BC)
Medusa has been depicted in several works of art, including:
- Perseus beheading the sleeping Medusa, obverse of a terracotta pelike (jar) attributed to Polygnotos (vase painter) (c. 450 – 440 BC), collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Medusa on the breastplate of Alexander the Great, as depicted in the Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii's House of the Faun (c. 200 BC)
- Medusa column bases of Basilica Cistern in Constantinople.
- The "Rondanini Medusa", a Roman copy of the Gorgoneion on the aegis of Athena; later used as a model for the Gorgon's head in Antonio Canova's marble Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1798–1801)
- Medusa (oil on canvas) by Leonardo da Vinci
- Perseus with the Head of Medusa (bronze sculpture) by Benvenuto Cellini (1554)
- Perseus and Medusa – bronze statue by Hubert Gerhard (c. 1590)
- Medusa (oil on canvas) by Caravaggio (1597)
- Head of Medusa, by Peter Paul Rubens (1618)
- Medusa (marble bust) by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1630s)
- Medusa is played by a countertenor in Jean-Baptiste Lully and Philippe Quinault's opera, Persée (1682). She sings the aria "J'ay perdu la beauté qui me rendit si vaine" ("I have lost the beauty that made me so vain").
- Perseus Turning Phineus and his Followers to Stone (oil on canvas) by Luca Giordano (early 1680s).
- Perseus with the Head of Medusa (marble sculpture) by Antonio Canova (1801)
- Medusa (1854), marble sculpture by Harriet Hosmer, collection of the Detroit Institute of Art
- Medusa (oil on canvas) by Arnold Böcklin (c. 1878)
- Perseus (bronze sculpture) by Salvador Dalí
- Medusa sculpture by Luciano Garbati, which portrays her clutching the severed head of Perseus (2008)
Medusa remained a common theme in art in the nineteenth century, when her myth was retold in Thomas Bulfinch's Mythology. Edward Burne-Jones' Perseus Cycle of paintings and a drawing by Aubrey Beardsley gave way to the twentieth-century works of Paul Klee, John Singer Sargent, Pablo Picasso, Pierre et Gilles, and Auguste Rodin's bronze sculpture The Gates of Hell.
Flags and emblems
The head of Medusa is featured on some regional symbols. One example is that of the flag and emblem of Sicily, together with the three-legged trinacria. The inclusion of Medusa in the center implies the protection of the goddess Athena, who wore the Gorgon's likeness on her aegis, as said above. Another example is the coat of arms of Dohalice village in the Czech Republic.
Municipal coat of arms of Dohalice village, Hradec Králové District, Czech Republic
Ceremonial French military uniform belt of World War I
Medusa is honored in the following scientific names:
- Acanthemblemaria medusa Smith-Vaniz & Palacio 1974
- Apodochondria medusae Ho & Dojiri 1988
- Archimonocelis medusa Curini-Galletti & Cannon 1997
- Atractus medusa Passos et al. 2009
- Australomedusa Russell 1970
- Boeromedusa Bouillon 1995
- Bothrops medusa Sternfeld 1920
- Caput medusae
- Cardiodectes medusaeus Wilson C.B. 1908
- Chama oomedusae Matsukuma 1996
- Cirratulus medusa Johnston 1833
- Csiromedusa Gershwin & Zeidler 2010
- Csiromedusa medeopolis Gershwin & Zeidler 2010
- Discomedusa lobata Claus 1877
- Eustomias medusa Gibbs, Clarke & Gomon 1983
- Gorgonocephalus caputmedusae L. 1758
- Gyrocotyle medusarum von Linstow 1903 (taxon inquirendum)
- Halimedusa Bigelow 1916
- Halimedusa typus Bigelow 1916
- Heteronema medusae Skvortzov 1957
- Hoplopleon medusarum K.H. Barnard 1932
- Hyperia medusarum Müller 1776
- Hyperoche medusarum Krøyer 1838
- Leptogorgia medusa Bayer 1952
- Lilyopsis medusa Metschnikoff & Metschnikoff 1871
- Loimia medusa Savigny in Lamarck 1818
- Loimia medusa angustescutata Willey 1905
- Lulworthia medusa (Ellis & Everh.) Cribb & J.W. Cribb 1955
- Lulworthia medusa var. biscaynia Meyers 1957
- Lulworthia medusa var. medusa (Ellis & Everh.) Cribb & J.W. Cribb 1955
- Magnippe caputmedusae Stock 1978
- Medusa Loureiro 1790
- Medusablennius Springer 1966
- Medusaceratops Ryan, Russell & Hartman 2010
- Medusafissurella McLean & Kilburn 1986
- Medusafissurella chemnitzii G. B. Sowerby I 1835
- Medusafissurella dubia Reeve 1849
- Medusafissurella melvilli G. B. Sowerby III 1882
- Medusafissurella salebrosa Reeve 1850
- Mesacanthoides caputmedusae (Ditlevsen 1918) Wieser 1959
- Myxaster medusa Fisher 1913
- Ophioplinthus medusa Lyman 1878
- Phallomedusa Golding, Ponder & Byrne 2007
- Phallomedusa austrina Golding, Ponder & Byrne 2007
- Phallomedusa solida Martens 1878
- Phascolion medusae Cutler & Cutler 1980
- Philomedusa vogtii Müller 1860
- Polycirrus medusa Grube 1850
- Polycirrus medusa sakhalinensis Buzhinskaja 1988
- Sarcomella medusa Schmidt 1868
- Stellamedusa Raskoff & Matsumoto 2004
- Stellamedusa ventana Raskoff & Matsumoto 2004
- Stygiomedusa Russell 1959
- Stygiomedusa gigantea Browne 1910
- Thylacodes medusae Pilsbry 1891
In Spanish: Medusa (mitología) para niños
Medusa Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.