The story of medusa is a rather ill fated one, she is one of many women through history, folklore, myths and legends to have met her end due to the greatest tragedy of all, a blighted love affair. In greek mythology Medusa which meant guardian or protectress, was the daughter of Phorcys and Ceto, one of the three Gorgons. Her siblings have been described as dreadful monsters but not Medusa, she unlike hersiblings was born mortal. A beautiful woman with a striking presence, who happened to be a virgin. It was for this very fact that she served the Goddess Athena, the very idol of virginity, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge. Athena was one of the only three virgin goddesses and when Medusa served her she vowed that she would too remain untouched foe as long as she served Athena. Medusa is said to represent philosophy, beauty and art.
One would ask what would have led to her transformation from a young and beautiful mortal to one of the most feared and monstrous figures of all time. And to answer the question, a man. History has been the witness of many such strong and fierce women succumb to the fancies of a man. Medusa as described by poets and historians was a striking vision, her long hair being the best of her features. Many mortals as well as gods were enchanted by her beauty but she payed no heed to the attention she received, until she crossed paths with Poseidon, the god of the seas. He was smitten by her beauty and thus started the ill fated love affair. The two have been said to have given into temptation as Poseidon impregnated her in the temple of the Goddess Athena.
When Goddess Athena heard of this she was enraged that Medusa had created ties and had an illicit affair with another man whilst having vowed to serve her. In a fit of rage and fury she cursed Medusa, took away her enchanting beauty, turned her lustrous hair into snakes and transformed her face to resemble that of a hideous monster. It is said that any creature that looked into her eyes were turned to stone immediately. And so, in the blink of an eye Medusa’s life had been turned upside down. There are several theories that claim that the Goddess Athena cursed Medusa not just because of her illicit love affair with Poseidon, some claim that she was in some ways jealous of her beauty and the attention that she garnered while she served Athena. Whatever the reason may be the consequence of it was the terrible curse.
After transforming into the mystical creature that we know her as today, many sought her for her powers. She met her end at the hand of Perseus, when Polydectes, the king of Seriphos sent the Demi-god on a quest to get her head. With the aid of Athena and Hermes, he located the island of Sarpedon, beyond the outer ocean which was the fabled land of the Gorgons. Perseus used the bronze shield given to him by Athena as a reflective guide and stayed Medusa as she slept. Her story however does not end with her death, even posthumous her head would be a part of many legends to come. During her time of her death she was pregnant as so when her head got severed, her two unborn children Chrysaor and Pegasus sprang from her neck.
Legend states that as Perseus was returning with Medusa’s head, drops of her blood fell over Libya as he flew over it, which instantly turned into snakes, which in turn is considered to this day as the reason why Libya is abundant with serpents. When he arrived at the island of Seriphos he used her head to turn the king as well as the vicious islanders to stone. The island till date is famous for its numerous rock structures. After that Perseus gave the head to Athena who attached it to Zeus’ aegis. She even collected Medusa’s remaining blood and gave it to Asclepius, the god of medicine, who used the blood from the left side to take peoples lives and the right to raise people from the dead. Athena then gave Erichthonius, her adoptive son a vile which contained two last drops of Medusa’s blood. It was said that one drop was deadly poison while the other was a cure all.
Even in death, Medusa still lived up to her name, as the protector and guardian. Heracles was presented with a bronze jar that contained a lock of Medusa’s hair by Athena, who in turn have it o Cepheus’ daughter, Sterope. Even though the lock of hair did not have enough power as medusa’s gaze but it was said to endow anyone who was unfortunate enough to hold it with grave terror and misfortune. Sterope used the lock of hair to protect her hometown Tegea.
A woman that has been mythicised as one of the most monstrous of creatures over centuries in books and movies, is actually as many would debate a victim of one of the most ill fated affairs of all time.
Amity University, Kolkata