Medusa Facts: Mysteries of the Greek Gorgon Revealed

No discussion of Greek mythology is complete within mentioning Medusa, the hideous being who could turn a person to stone with her stare. Discover some interesting Medusa facts, including how she came to be, how she ended and some ways her image lives on in the modern world.

sculpture the medusa by Bernini sculpture the medusa by Bernini

Medusa Facts: The Making of a Gorgon

Medusa is a well-known figure in Greek mythology. She's a cautionary tale of forbidden love and the wrath of a jealous, vengeful goddess.

  • Medusa's father was Phorcys, a sea god, and her mother was Ceto, a sea goddess.
  • Medusa's grandparents include Oceanus and Gaia, making her the grandchild of the Earth and the ocean.
  • Medusa had two sisters. She was mortal, but her sisters were immortal.
  • Medusa started out as one of Athena's maidens. She was originally a beautiful, fair-skinned girl with golden hair.
  • Some stories say that Medusa and Poseidon fell in love.
  • Athena became enraged and cursed Medusa, transforming her into a gorgon.
  • She became a hideous creature, with green skin and poisonous snakes growing from her head where her hair used to be.
  • As a result of Athena's curse, anyone who gazed upon Medusa's face would turn to stone.
  • After being cursed, Medusa fled to Africa, where she dropped tiny snakes in her wake as she wandered.

Key Facts About Medusa's Death

The fact that looking at Medusa's face would cause a person to turn to stone made it difficult to kill her. Perseus was able to do it with the aid of a special tool.

persius with the head of medusa Cellini
  • Medusa was killed by Perseus, the son of Zeus and Danaë, who used a mirror shield so he could see her without having to look directly at her face.
  • In addition to the mirrored shield, Perseus was also armed with winged sandals and an invisibility cloak when he set out to kill Medusa.
  • Perseus killed Medusa as part of a bargain to prevent Perseus' mother from being forced to marry King Polydectes. (The agreement was that Perseus had to deliver Medusa's head to the king.)
  • After cutting off Medusa's head, a winged horse (Pegasus), and a young blonde man with a sword (Chrysaor) emerged from her body.
  • It turns out that Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon when she was cursed; Pegasus and Chrysaor were their offspring.
  • When Perseus delivered Medusa's head to King Polydectes, he used her face to turn the king to stone.
  • Perseus then delivered Medusa's head to Athena, who attached it to her shield.

Medusa Imagery Beyond Mythology

Medusa's image is readily identifiable. It has appeared outside of the world of Greek mythology in a variety of ways, including battle armor, works of art and logo design.

Sicily region of Italy flag
  • Alexander the Great added Medusa's image to the breastplate he wore in battle.
  • Leonardo da Vinci painted her likeness in a work known as Medusa's Shield.
  • Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini was commissioned in 1554 by a member of the de’ Medici to craft the bronze sculpture Perseus with the Head of Medusa. It can be viewed today in Florence, Italy's piazza della Signoria.
  • During the 1640s, Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini crafted The Medusa from Carrara marble. It is owned by Rome's Musei Capitolini.
  • Medusa was anything but fashionable, but she has a place in the modern world of fashion. An image of her head adorns the logo of luxury fashion brand Versace.
  • Sicily's flag features an image of Medusa.
  • The coat of arms for the village of Dohalice in the Czech Republic features Medusa's head.
  • Medusa is a character in the movie Clash of the Titans. She also appears in Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
  • She also appears in the role-playing video game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which is set in ancient Greece.

Learn More About Greek Mythology

Medusa is one of many interesting figures in Greek mythology. Explore several examples of Greek myths if you're interested in learning about more stories from this ancient time. If you want to expand your perspective on mythology beyond ancient Greece, review some myth story examples from around the world.