What Is the Medusa Myth

The Medusa myth comes from ancient Greek mythology and gives rise to a term that's still in use today.

Who Was Medusa?
In Greek mythology, Medusa is a female monster known as a Gorgon. Like many mythical monsters, she didn't start out that way. Medusa's tale is one of the ancient Greek myths that serve as a warning to humans about what happens when you make a god angry. The Greeks believed that an angry god would take quick and painful action against the human who had wronged them.

At the beginning of the story, Medusa is a beautiful young maiden. In fact, one of her most outstanding features is her long, flowing hair. She is so beautiful that she catches the eye of Poseidon, the god of water. Poseidon begins to woo the fair Medusa; unfortunately, this makes the goddess Athena very unhappy.

Athena catches Poseidon kissing Medusa in Athena's temple, a trespass that is unforgivable to Athena. Athena decides to punish Medusa, so she turns her into a hideous monster with snakes for hair. Medusa becomes so ugly that anyone looking directly at her is immediately turned to stone.

Medusa's Death
Her transformation into a horrible monster isn't the end of Medusa. She also appears in another myth, the tale of Perseus, who must face Medusa to rescue his mother.

Perseus is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Danae. King Polydectes fell in love with Danae and wanted Perseus out of the picture, so he demanded that Perseus bring him the head of Medusa, a challenge that Polydectes hoped would end in Perseus' death.

Perseus pled with the gods to help him. The gods Athena and Hermes took pity on him and give him the tools needed to defeat Medusa. Their gifts included winged sandals, a shield and a long sword. The winged sandals helped Perseus quickly get to Medusa. The highly polished shield worked as a mirror, allowing Perseus to look at Medusa's reflection, rather than the face that turned men to stone.

Using the sword, Perseus cut off Medusa's head. Two mythical horses sprang from her head, the winged Pegasus and the giant Chrysaor. In some versions of the myth, Hades gives Perseus a helmet of invisibility, which he uses to escape two other pursuing Gorgons.

To thank the gods for their help, Perseus offers the head of Medusa to Athena. She attaches the head to Zeus' shield.

In the modern world, the term medusa is often used in an unflattering way to describe a woman. In science, the term is used to describe the free-swimming adult stage of jellyfish.

Perseus takes Medusa's head and uses it to freeze people during later battles.

Eventually, he returns the head to Athena who throws it at her shield where it sticks and becomes part of Athena's shield. 

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