Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon

Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon

Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon

Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon


Medusa, the Gorgon, who turns those who gaze upon her to stone, is one of the most popular and enduring figures of Greek mythology. Long after many other figures from Greek myth have been forgotten, she continues to live in popular culture. In this fascinating study of the legend of Medusa, Stephen R. Wilk begins by refamiliarizing readers with the story through ancient authors and classical artwork, then looks at the interpretations that have been given of the meaning of the myth through the years. A new and original interpretation of the myth is offered, based upon astronomical phenomena. The use of the gorgoneion, the Face of the Gorgon, on shields and on roofing tiles is examined in light of parallels from around the world, and a unique interpretation of the reality behind the gorgoneion is suggested. Finally, the history of the Gorgon since tlassical times is explored, culminating in the modern use of Medusa as a symbol of Female Rage and Female Creativity.


This story is on the level of the fairy story. Hermes and Athena act like the fairy godmother in Cinderella. The magical wallet and cap belong to the properties fairy tales abound in everywhere. It is the only myth in which magic plays a decisive part, and it seems to have been a great favorite in Greece. Many poets allude to it.

--Edith Hamilton,

Mythology, 1942

ON A MAP OF THE EASTERN Mediterranean, Greece looks like a great threefingered hand reaching down toward Crete. It is a right hand, with its palm down on the Aegean Sea, and it is nearly severed at the wrist by the Bay of Corinth, so that the hand -- the Peloponnese -- is nearly an island. Many of the historically and archaeologically important sites of early Greece lie on that almost-severed hand. Sparta is there, and Corinth, along with Olympia and Mycenae.

At the point where the thumb and forefinger meet is the ancient site of Argos. The city was believed by the ancient Greeks to be the oldest on the peninsula. Today it sits somewhat inland, but in its prime, before the harbor silted up, it overlooked the Bay of Argos. It dominated the fertile red Argolid plain from its solid hilltop position and was, naturally enough, the capital of that region. At one time its population rivaled that of Athens.

About fifteen miles distant is the ancient city of Tiryns, also set atop a bluff. It is today believed to be much older than Argos, dating back to the thirteenth century B.C.E. The city is a fortress, built out of such massive stones that they were said to have been set by the Cyclops, the Wheel-Eyed Giants.

These are the places where the family of Perseus came from -- ancient productive strongholds in the most fertile section of ancient Greece, located near the Isthmus of Corinth, across which land travelers from the Peloponnese to mainland Greece had to pass, and near the Bay of Argos, with its access to the sea. Clearly this was highly desirable real estate, and it is around such regions that friction develops.

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