LA 462 02
December 13, 2017
The Myth of Medusa
The name Medusa seems to strike fear into the hearts of those who hear it. Associated with the
well known demigod Perseus, the story portrays Medusa as an evil gorgon who turns man to stone
with her petrifying gaze. But if one were to look father back in time they would be interested to
find that she was not always portrayed as the mythological gorgon. The name Medusa
actually derives from the Indo-European root as the Sanskrit Medha meaning ‘sovereign female
wisdom,’ ‘guardian / protrectress,’ ‘the one who knows’ or ‘the one who rules.’
It’s interesting to see how snakes are portrayed throughout different myths and stories. It
is said that a snake is associated with women and its symbolism can date all the way back to archaic
times. Historically, snakes represent fertility or a creative life force. Although in todays society
they are shown in a negative outlet. While the snake is a widely recognized symbol in the myth of
Medusa it is also used elsewhere such as the Aboriginal creation myth as well as the story of
Genesis in the Bible. With all three stories there is a sense of creation and destruction throughout.
In the early Aboriginal creation myth there is the Rainbow Serpent that wakes from a deep slumber
and decided to move about the earth creating the mountains and rivers. While the Rainbow Serpent
is known as the protector of the land, its people, and a source of all life it can also be a destructive
force if not respected. According to the Bible we are all descendants of Adam and Eve. Depending
on one’s point of view, the snake in the story of Adam and Eve can be seen as the catalyst for what
we are today. With that there also comes its more destructive side, one that many people are
familiar with. In the myth regarding Medusa the snake is one of the most recognized symbols. Her
hair, as well as her reptilian skin, is symbolic the natural cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
The actual face of Medusa has been used throughout history and her character has
undergone many changes. The term gorgoneion refers to the head of Medusa which was used as a
decorative motif. In older societies women would wear the face of the gorgon to ward off men
with ill intent. Her face was also worked on to the breastplates and shields with the hope of
petrifying the enemies with fear. As of today, we as a society associate Medusa with evil women.
In the recent presidential election her character made a reappearance in relation to Hillary Clinton.
‘Rather than being a bleeding image of female disempowerment, Medusa may be read as…one of
the most ancient European symbols of women’s spiritual abilities… [and] an empowering image
of feminine potential.’ (Patricia Monaghan, O Mother Sun! 1994:244). It is interesting to see how
over the years Medusa had gone from a highly praised goddess to a victim of sexual assault to a
character most people associate as a monster.
The story of Medusa ...