There are various opinions regarding the character of Medusa in Greek mythology. Some sources say she was the daughter of the sea monsters Phorcys and Ceto. Others say that she was simply a beautiful human woman. Regardless of her origin, the legend begins with her as a priestess in a temple of Athena.

Again, all myths concur that Medusa was strikingly beautiful, which resulted in her catching the eye of the sea god, Poseidon. Poseidon tried to seduce Medusa and get her to sleep with him. Some myths claim that Poseidon won her over and she decided to sleep with him in Athena’s temple. But other sources claim that she refused the god’s advances and thus, he violated her as she slept.

Regardless of whether Medusa had consented, she ended up getting pregnant, leading Athena to discover what Medusa had done in her temple. Naturally, Athena was enraged that her holy temple had been desecrated. As an act of divine retribution, Athena cursed Medusa to turn every man who made eye contact with her into stone. Various historians disagree on whether Medusa had snakes for hair since birth or whether that too was a result of Athena’s curse.

This segment of Medusa’ s story represents the ancient Greeks’ attitude towards women. Poseidon’s actions did not matter in this incident. Greek culture believed that men felt lust for women because women deliberately attempted to attract men. This was the rationale behind Athena’s punishment as well, since it prevented Medusa from ever being with a man again. Even if Medusa was a victim of such a crime, she had to take the blame.

The remaining symbolic aspects of the Medusa story appear in the part where Perseus beheads her. One historian points out that this could be a mythological retelling of an actual incident. At one point in the 13th century, a temple of Athena was attacked by foreign invaders. They tore off the “apotropaic faces” worn by the priestesses, which were masks worn to keep away evil. The Greeks had a tendency to retell historic events as myths, and the Medusa story could be one such instance.

The Children of Medusa

When Medusa is killed, two new beings spring forth from her body. One was Pegasus, the winged horse, and the other was a sword-wielding giant named Chrysaor. Pegasus is famous for helping Bellerophon destroy the evil Chimaera and was a loyal servant of Zeus. Pegasus’ emergence from Medusa’s body symbolizes how vanquishing evil gives place to that which is pure, noble and beautiful.

But as Perseus flies away with Medusa’s head in his hand, her blood is spilled over the Red Sea and the deserts of Libya. According to the myths, this had 2 consequences: First, the seaweed in the red sea got petrified, forming the corals of the red sea. Second, the blood that fell in the desert turned into highly venomous red snakes that still terrorize the people of Libya. This represents the power of evil to corrupt people, even though it appears to be defeated.

The featured image at the beginning of this post is from Mertozbagdat of PixaBay.