Medusa has been an icon for centuries, having been referenced in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials… She’s even the face of the famous fashion house, Versace. Although she has been considered a monster from Greek mythology for a while now, she has slowly become a symbol of strength and protection for women, especially victims of assault.
Originally, Hesiod’s myth about Medusa painted her as one of the Gorgon offspring of sea deities Phorcys and Ceto. Medusa being a Gorgonーbasically, a monster with bronze hands, gold wings, a human head, and a serpent bodyー bringing back her head from battle would be a show of strength for any man that wanted to be considered a hero. We hear about this man called Perseus and how he managed to slay Medusa with the help of the gods. He wore a helmet that made him invisible (gifted to him by Hades), winged sandals (lent to him by Hermes), and a reflective shield gifted to him by Athena. After beheading the “monster,” he would later carry around her head as a weapon against other mythological beasts, given that her gaze would still turn living things into stone, post-mortem. Nevertheless, it isn’t until Ovid writes the Metamorphoses, that we get the story of the modern Medusa. The story represents so many women to this day.
According to the roman poet’s interpretation of who the snake-haired “monster” was; apparently, Medusa, wasn’t a monster at all. She was the only mortal out of the three offspring from the pair of Phorcys and Ceto. Given that she was the daughter of sea deities, she was nonetheless gifted with beauty and grace. That said, with conventional beauty comes excessive male attention. Medusa had men lusting for her left and right but, ever since she was a little girl, she had always been fascinated by Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Taking into account this goddess’ chastity, Medusa made a promise to her that she would remain pure as well and completely devote herself to praising her. Medusa’s devotion got to a point in which she became a faithful priestess to Athena. Many men would flock to Athena’s temple just to see her beautiful devotee. Word got around that she was even more beautiful than the goddess herself. This really pissed off Athena, but since Medusa kept being faithful to her, she let it slide.
Later on, Medusa decides to take a walk along the shore and the sea god, Poseidon, catches a glimpse of her. At that moment, he was instantly obsessed with trying to win her favor. She would reject him time after time, insisting that she was a priestess to the goddess Athena, and therefore had to remain chaste. Poseidon would leave her alone after every incident, but one night he decided he had waited enough and had his way with her in Athena’s temple. This not only pissed off Athena because she was already jealous of Medusa’s beauty, but it was extremely offensive to her, considering Poseidon had just desecrated her shrine. Since Athena couldn’t really punish Poseidon, she decided to take her anger out on Medusa by turning her into a Gorgon, just like her sisters, and by cursing her with a stare that turned men into stone. This way, no one would ever be able to look at her again. Her story from then on is similar to that told by Hesiod: she would later be killed by Perseus.
Throughout the years, this story has angered many feminists. An innocent girl, who became a victim of assault, was blamed for said assault, transformed into a monster, and, lastly, killed by a man. On the other hand, it has given them a chance to turn the story around (without erasing the fact that Medusa was a victim), and turn the protagonist into a symbol for women today; an icon of female rage and revenge. Because Medusa’s story did not end with her beheading, it actually never did. Her head kept its powers throughout the years. Her stare was still potent and dangerous and she was used many times as a protective amulet. She had the ability to finally (and fully) defend herself against the thing that killed her: the male gaze. Therefore she also represents victims taking back their power from their oppressors.
With every passing year, Medusa turns more and more into something women are proud of, rather than just another one of the beasts that show up in a Greek myth. She represents strength, resilience, and power.