Medusa in Greek Mythology – Origin Story & Death

The story of Medusa has instilled fear ever since it was heard for the first time. There have been different variations of the story but none has failed to terrify men than the ones that involved her turning the men that glanced upon her into stone. The following explains the origin story and the meaning of Medusa, the terrifying gorgon in Greek mythology:

Who Was Medusa?


The head of Medusa. | Medusa, by Caravaggio (1595)

Medusa was a Gorgon. She had two other sisters by name Sthenno and Euryale. All her sisters were immortal and dreadful monsters from birth except Medusa. Medusa was in fact the prettiest and most famous among her sisters.

Their parents were Phorcys and Ceto. Other researches on the myth surrounding Medusa also state that she was the daughter of Gorgon and Ceto. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, they were situated in the greatest palace by the Hesperides, beyond Oceanus.

Origin Story of Medusa

Medusa did not come into existence as a woman with a head of snakes. According to Greek myths, she was a very beautiful young woman who had many suitors. She was however raped by the sea god Poseidon in Athena’s temple.

Hearing of the incident, the goddess Athena got infuriated and turned Medusa’s hair into snakes. The snake-filled hair was so monstrous and grotesque that one look at Medusa made the viewer turn into a pile of stone.

Medusa’s terror frightened several people and this got the attention of the king of Seriphus, Polydectes. He sprung to action by sending the hero Perseus to fetch the head of Medusa. Polydectes did this on purpose because he wanted Danae, mother of Perseus, and he knew Perseus was not in support of their relationship. For this reason, he plotted to get rid of Perseus. The ploy behind the mission was for Perseus to die on his quest. Polydectes did not expect him to succeed much less return home to Seriphus.

Perseus and Medusa

Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae. Danae’s father, Acrisius, King of Argos was told that he would be murdered by Danae’s son. He locked up Danae in a bronze chamber.

However, Zeus turned into a gold shower and got Danae pregnant. Acrisius threw Danae and Perseus into the sea in a wooden chest. Dictys, brother of Polydectus, rescued them. He was responsible for taking care of Perseus until the hero reached adulthood.

Medusa’s Death


Greek hero Perseus sliced off Medusa’s head.

With the support of some Greek gods and goddesses, Perseus was fully armed for this adventure of his. He got a hat of invisibility from Hades, the god of the underworld; a pair of winged sandals from the Greek messenger god Hermes; a reflective bronze shield from Athena; and a sword from Hephaestus, the god of the forge.

Perseus managed to get Medusa’s location from Graeae. When he reached the land of the Gorgons, using the reflection of his shield as a guide, he cut off the head of Medusa with his sickle while Medusa was asleep.

Medusa’s Children

Medusa was pregnant with Poseidon’s children at the time hence the story goes on to say that when her head was cut off, her two children suddenly popped from her neck. Medusa’s children were called Chrysaor and Pegasus.

The accompanying noise that came with this woke the Gorgons up. They tried to catch Perseus but to no avail. Perseus had on him Hade’s cap of invisibility and Hermes’s winged sandals.

An ancient Greek poet by name Pindar said Athena was so touched by Medusa’s children’s lament that she made the Aulos out of their tears and sorrows. The Aulos is a sad music of double pipe.


The Head of Medusa

Despite the death of Medusa, it is said that her head still had magical properties. As Perseus headed home, the blood from Medusa’s head dropped on the plains of Libya, causing them to turn into venomous snakes. Another myth holds that this is probably the reason why Libya has lots of snakes. It is said that when Perseus met the Greek Titan Atlas and asked for a place to rest, Atlas refused. He took out the head of Medusa and caused Atlas to turn into a mountain.

Perseus went on to meet Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Cepheus was the Aethiopian King. Andromeda was being offered as a sacrifice to a sea monster sent by Poseidon. This punishment was meted out to Cassiopeia for bragging about Andromeda being lovelier than the Nereids.

It is said that when Perseus met the Greek Titan Atlas and asked for a place to rest, Atlas refused. Perseus took out the severed head of Medusa and turned Atlas into a mountain. Image: Mount Toubkal in Toubkal National Park within the High Atlas, Morocco

Perseus rescued Andromeda with the use of the head of Medusa. He also used it on her uncle Proteus, the usurper of throne of Argos, whom she was betrothed to.

When Perseus got back home, he was very mad at Polydectes for tricking him. In his rage, Perseus turned Polydectes and all of his court members into stone with Medusa’s head. He went ahead and handed over the kingdom to Dictys.

He gave the head to Athena when he was done with it. She adorned her breastplate and shield with it whenever she went into a battle. She kept some of the blood which she gave to Asclepius. Asclepius, however, took lives with the blood from the left side of Medusa and used the one from her right side to bring people back to life. Athena didn’t give all the blood to Asclepius. She had a vial with two drops that she gave to her son by adoption, Erichthonius. The drops cured all things and the second one was a very deadly poison.

Athena put aside a piece of Medusa’s hair for demigod Heracles (also known as Hercules). Hercules, in turn, took it and handed it over to Sterope, the daughter of Cepheus. It was used to protect Tegea, her hometown. It is actually said that despite the fact that the hair had no power, it was able to cast terror on people, including those who just saw it, even by accident.

Medusa in Greek mythology

Questions and Answers

Perseus with the Head of Medusa

Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1554)

How many sisters does Medusa have?

Medusa is one of the three Gorgon sisters, the others being Stheno and Euryale. While her sisters were immortal, Medusa was mortal.

How was Medusa like before the transformation?

Story: Medusa was once a beautiful maiden who served in the temple of Athena. She caught the eye of Poseidon, the god of the sea, and the two were intimate in Athena’s temple. This act of disrespect angered Athena, who transformed Medusa into a Gorgon as punishment. From that point on, Medusa lived in isolation, and anyone who looked upon her would be petrified.

Significance of Hermes in Greek mythology

What sort of help did Perseus get from the gods in his quest to slay Medusa?

Perseus, a Greek hero, was tasked with bringing the head of Medusa to King Polydectes. With the help of Athena and Hermes, he was provided with divine tools: a reflective shield, a cap of invisibility, winged sandals, and a sharp sickle. Using the shield to view Medusa’s reflection (thus avoiding direct eye contact), Perseus was able to behead her. From the blood that spurted from her neck, the winged horse Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor were born, both children of Poseidon and Medusa.

What happened to the head of Medusa?

Despite it being severed from her body, Medusa’s head retained its petrifying power even after her death. The hero Perseus used it as a weapon on several occasions. He eventually gave the head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, the Aegis.

FAQs about Medusa

There are several frequently asked questions about Medusa. Here are some of them, along with their answers:

Why did she have snakes for hair?

Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden. After being seduced by Poseidon in Athena’s temple, a furious Athena transformed Medusa’s hair into snakes as punishment.

How did Perseus defeat Medusa?

Perseus with the Head of Medusa

A Sculpture work of Perseus holding the Severed Head of Medusa

Perseus was tasked with bringing the head of Medusa to King Polydectes. With the help of the gods, especially Athena and Hermes, he received several magical items, including winged sandals, a cap of invisibility, and a reflective shield. He used the shield to see Medusa’s reflection and avoid direct eye contact, then beheaded her while she was asleep.

What happens when you look into Medusa’s eyes?

In the myths, anyone who directly looked into her eyes was turned to stone.

What became of Medusa’s head after Perseus defeated her?

After using it as a weapon in several instances, Perseus gave the head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, the Aegis.

Did anything special happen when she was beheaded?

When Perseus beheaded Medusa, the winged horse Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor sprung from her neck, as they were the offspring of Poseidon and Medusa.

Was Medusa always considered a monster?

While she’s often depicted as monstrous in later interpretations, earlier Greek art and literature sometimes portrayed her as being beautiful even in her Gorgon form.

Why is Medusa such a popular figure in modern culture?

The story of this Gorgon touches on themes of beauty, transformation, punishment, and power. Her image has been widely used in art, literature, and popular culture as a symbol of feminine rage, seduction, and the dangers of looking directly at the truth.

Are there any lessons or morals from Medusa’s story?

The story of Medusa has been interpreted in many ways over the years. Some see it as a cautionary tale about the consequences of defiling sacred spaces, others interpret it as a story about the destructive potential of female beauty, and still, others see it as a reflection on the ways society punishes and demonizes powerful women.

How did she compare to her other Gorgon sisters?

While all three Gorgons had snakes for hair and could turn onlookers to stone, only Medusa was mortal. Her sisters, Stheno and Euryale, were immortal.

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