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Medusa

Remember, sweetie, no matter what anyone tells you otherwise, there's a reason Medusa's name means 'guardian and protector.' And--" Belinda pointed to the snarling, snake-entangled faces adorning the doors of the Town Hall--"there's a reason why we use her image to ward off evil."
Medusa was a monster from Greek mythology, the first gorgon, with hair made of snakes and so hideous that anyone who looked directly at her would turn to stone. Medusa was beheaded by the her Perseus, who would go on to give it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield, the aegis.

Summary

Origin

In an earlier version of the myth, Medusa was one of the three Gorgon sisters, alongside Stheno and Euryale, who were all children of the primordial sea gods Phorcys and Ceto. Due to their chthonic heritage, Medusa and her sisters were born monstrous, with huge tusks and brass claws and wings in addition to having snakes for hair. In a later and more well-known version of the myth, Medusa was a beautiful mortal woman who Athena was angry with due to an incident with Poseidon in one of her temples (jury's out on whether or not it was consensual). In her rage, Athena cursed Medusa by turning her hair into snakes and making her face so hideous that anyone who looked directly at it would be turned to stone.

Death

Regardless of her origins, one consistent feature in her story is her death and beheading at the hands of the hero Perseus. Perseus was sent to fetch her head by King Polydectes of Seriphus because Polydectes wanted to marry his mother and was hoping he'd die in the process. He received help from the gods in the form of a mirrored shield from Athena, winged sandals from Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus, and Hades' helm of invisibility. Perseus was able to slay her while looking at the reflection from the mirrored shield. He then returned to Sephiros, saving the princess Andromeda along the way, and used the head to turn Polydectes to stone. Perseus then gave Medusa's head to Athena, who placed it on her shield to create the aegis.

Historical Basis

While most humans are familiar with this myth, in reality, the story was quite different. Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale were a trio of warrior sisters from a matriarchal sect of the Berber tribes of Libya. Born with unusual eyes and incredible powers, they led their fellow warriors into battle against the tribe's enemies. Unfortunately, during one such battle, possibly against Greek invaders, they were forced into a rout and Medusa was decapitated. The tribe was subsequently overrun and wiped out, with only Stheno and Euryale surviving. To add insult to injury, the invaders demonized the heroic sisters in story and image, transforming their long curled locks into vicious serpents and their exotic eyes into hideous visages.

Variations & Mutation

Naturally, the gorgons of myth were not the gorgons of real life. There are several key differences:

  • Mythical gorgons had snakes for hair and, in some versions, brass claws and wings. Real gorgons have none of these traits.
  • Two of the mythical gorgons--Stheno and Euryale--were immortal, while their sister Medusa was mortal. Real gorgons are not immortal, but have an average lifespan of a couple hundred years.
  • Mythical gorgons could turn people who looked at them to stone. No real gorgon has ever displayed such an ability, but some gorgons have been recorded as having the ability to temporarily paralyze anyone they make eye contact with.
  • Mythical gorgons had magical blood that could either heal or kill instantly (depending on which side of the body it came from) and create strange creatures if it splashed freely. Real gorgons' blood doesn't seem to have any magical properties, but it's a vital component in the creation of Concealing Lenses.

Related Species

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