Who is Medusa?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Medusa is a well-known figure in Greek mythology who is perhaps most famous for her ability to turn men to stone and her hair made from snakes, which are often described as hissing entities with their own minds, rather than simple hair ornaments. As one might imagine, many people view her as a monster, and she was not the sort of creature one wanted to encounter, for obvious reasons. The Greek hero Perseus ultimately defeated Medusa by cutting off her head, using her reflection as a guide for his sword.

Medusa's image was often used on talismans and shields as a way to ward off evil.
Medusa's image was often used on talismans and shields as a way to ward off evil.

The myth has evolved greatly over the centuries. It is generally agreed that her parents were Phorcys and Ceto, and she had two sisters; the three sisters were collectively known as the Gorgons. Medusa, however, did not start out hideous. She was allegedly quite beautiful, and in many myths, she is described as a fresh-faced fair maiden, until she was violated by Poseidon in a temple of Athena.

The mythical Greek hero Perseus decapitated Medusa to complete a quest.
The mythical Greek hero Perseus decapitated Medusa to complete a quest.

Athena was so angered by this that she punished Medusa by turning her into a horrifying monster, with hair made from snakes and the ability to turn onlookers into stone. Her name, incidentally, translates as “one who rules over,” or “protectress.” Her face often appears on talismans that are meant to protect people from evil by turning the evil away; such talismans are known as apotropes.

Various versions of her history state that she was pregnant when killed by Perseus, and perhaps even asleep. In any case, Perseus had help; Hermes and Athena helped him figure out how to kill the infamous Gorgon, and as a payment, Perseus brought her head to Athena, who used it as an ornament on her shield.

In some stories, Medusa's blood served as the seed of Pegasus, the winged horse god of Greek mythology. Her blood also apparently gave birth to all of the venomous snakes in Africa, and in some tales, it was transformed into a powerful medicine with the ability to wake the dead. She lives on, however, as an image of terrible womanhood, and in some parts of the West, angry women are described as Gorgons or Medusas.

Athena punished Medusa by turning her hair into snakes.
Athena punished Medusa by turning her hair into snakes.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have to dress as Medusa for a project and my teacher is making me do a report. I need more facts. Someone help me with resources because we have to act like the character.


This is such a sad story! Very interesting site. Happy I found it.


@boathugger: It has been said that Pegasus, the winged horse, sprang from Medusa’s severed head, along with Chrysaor, the hero of the golden sword. I don’t know if that is factual, just what I’ve read.


Did the famed Medusa have children of her own?


Usually when Medusa is shown, it is only her head which is broad and round and sometimes showing tusks. She could stop anything in her tracks.

Of the Gorgon sisters, Medusa was the only one that was not immortal. The other two sisters, Stheno and Euryale, were immortal. Gaia is said to be the mother of Medusa.


wow this site is really cool. believe it or not, this program was the only program that i found answers on. but still i don't know what medusa was god of. thanks.

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