Monday, May 24, 2010

2. The Legend of Medusa - The High Priestess of Athena

The following post is based on The Clash of the Gods Series on Astro History Channel Astro History Channel video link and a couple of websites on Greek history.

"In Greek Mythology, Medusa is known as a woman/creature with a snake-like body. A woman’s face with boar’s tusks as well as snakes as her hair. Anyone who looks at her face will immediately freeze in fear and turn into stone."
The following is the story of her life


Medusa was once a very beautiful woman with a very long flock of black silky hair, tall slim and slender. A ravishing beauty desired by both men, women and Gods. She was the High Priestess in the Temple of Athena – The Parthenon.

PRETTY MEDUSA (an artist's impression)

 Day and night she was committed to the God Athena, the God of war. As a devoted servant to Athena and a priestess, she took a vow of celibacy, she cannot marry. People of Greece often refer her as the Virgin Goddess, a symbol of purity.

Her beauty not only commanded loyalty and the highest respect by the people but it also invoked envy among some women and became a silent challenge for men and Gods to posses her. One adamant suitor is Poseidon, God of the Sea, brother to Zeus.          

One day he took it upon him and went to the Temple of Athena where Medusa resides, ravages the virgin priestess and took her virginity within the walls of the Temple.

Medusa, distraught, had no choice but to inform the female God Athena in the hope that she would take her side in this matter and defend her.
However, to her utmost disappointment, Athena not only despised her, she inturn cast a curse upon her which doomed her for life.

ATHENA (an artist's impression)

You see, Athena, being the Female God of war, has no compassion when confronted with matters like this. She is one of the boys. A warrior herself. To her, the action of Poseidon IS expected of a God. Therefore the fault lies with Medusa, whom to her, was stupidly naive and did nothing to protect and defend herself. More to this, in secret, Athena herself was indeed envious of Medusa.

As a punishment, without warning, Athena transformed Medusa’s body into a human corpse but alive. The process was a long and painful ordeal. As how many days the normal body upon death turns into corpse, slowly her skin dried, cracked and turned purple and then dull white. This was the punishment for not protecting herself. It did not stop there.
The 2nd phase of punishment, for being beautiful, was that Athena turned Medusa’s long tresses into snakes. Now who would dare to make friends with a woman with venomous snakes on her head.
Last but not least of her punishment was to have her gaze or anyone who looked at her to turn into stone.
Upon this last event, Medusa had no choice but to leave the temple and live in a cave or lair, far from civilization. Away from human or any living creature. Isolated for life.
Medusa is now a Gorgon; a creature with scaly skin, huge over sized eyes, so powerful even in death her head can still turn people into stone.
( according to some writings on this legend, after turning into a gorgon, she lives in a cave on the Island of Cisthene, an island east of Crete and Ethiopia, where the flower rock- rose blooms)

It was prophesied that Medusa’s death to be in the hand of a demi-god.
(an offspring of a God with a human.)
That demi-god is PERSEUS.


1) Some writings on this legend says that the hideous Medusa lived in a cave on the Island of Cisthene in the Red Sea (east of Ethiopia). It lay near the springs of the great river Oceanus which circle the entire earth in 9 streams.

2) Cisthene is literally the Island of the rock-rose. A pretty flower which looks like this .

3) Symbolism: In the Victorian language of flowers, the gum cistus of the Cistaceae plant family symbolizes imminent death. Literally “ I shall die tomorrow” – befitting how Medusa would have felt after been turned into a gorgon.

4) Parthenon, the Temple of Athena, is made of marble and built on the Acropolis in Athens more than 400 yrs BC. In the middle of the temple it was believed to had stood a majestic gigantic statue of Athena, designed by Phidias, a famous sculptor of its time. The statue was believed to have been made out of chryselephantine (elephant ivory) and gold.

5) Parthenon got its name from the word Athena Parthenos which means Athena young maiden. The “on” ending means “place of”. Therefore “Parthenon” means “Place of the Parthenos”

6) There is a full scale replica of The Parthenon built in Tennessee USA. See photo on the right.

7) Acropolis is the hill in Athens on which Parthenon stands. “Acro” means “high”. “Polis” means “city”. See photo on the left.


Drawing your attention to the Temple of Artemis Corfu in Greece, there stand a sculpture at the top of its columns, a header piece, with Medusa in the middle, not dead and not decapitated by Perseus. Flanked by her 2 children the Chrysaor (a human giant with gold armour, sometimes takes the form of a winged boar) and the winged horse Pegasus. ( there will be a short reference as to how Pegasus among other creatures were brought about under my next post titled The Greek Legend – Perseus)

In this Legend of Medusa, there is no mentioned of her off springs after being raped by God Poseidon or before she was turned into a Gorgon and banished to life in isolation. Her two children only came about, as said in the legend, after her head was decapitated. 

So how is it that on the head piece of the Temple of Artemis there is a depiction of her in full form together with her children?

Could it be that her presence posed such strength and magnanimity that it really did make people not dare to look upon her face directly, simply because her eyes were so piercing, all knowing, that they see through whoever confronted her. Penetrating the illusions and looking into the abyss of truth, that very few could really stand before her in clear conscience?
According to some findings in the websites, as per one named Alicia Levan,
Medusa means “soverign female wisdom”.
So powerful was Medusa that her head became the breastplate of Goddess Athena.
So powerful was Medusa’s influence, that the Greek story about her had no other option but to emphasize or draw attention to her head being decapitated by a demi-god. To downplay her role in society. This way, her tragic end, her beheading, is an ultimate subtle way of silencing the female wisdom. Halting her growth, limiting her potential, curb her dominance in any movement and cultural contribution. Women as it was then, must not be seen to be of a better stature and quality than men.
Perhaps this version of the legend is put forward to subconsciously make women turn against women? For the loyal Medusa had seeked protection from the female God and got shunned instead.
LIFE THE WAY I SEE IT - Medusa had lost her status in society, lost her beauty, cursed and ultimately exiled, not because of her own fault but because of her naiveness, and she put her trust in the wrong hands – another woman. A small move but a fatal mistake.

As I read the websites to find info on the legend I came across some contradictory views. These views made me realized that it is indeed strange, to have one one hand, Medusa  portrayed to be so hideous looking and on the other the images on the websites, books, blogs even the still standing sculptures in Greece don’t seem to portray so! She is still being pictured as a beautiful monster!! None of them seem to look fearful enough to turn any living creature into stone or even give us a shiver. Perhaps may be just a little discomfort to see a creature with snakes on the head and scaly skin (even this one was not visible at plain sight) but that’s all there is to it.

The legend's storyline and the physical portray / depiction of Medusa doesn’t seem to jive.

Anyhow, perhaps its just only a legend??? A folklore to discredit the women??

Dear Readers,

I hope you have enjoyed reading this and will part with some points to ponder.
Legends don’t seem to be as it is when you dig further into the history.
 I for one, certainly would need to read more into the Greek past in order to piece together some information which puzzles my mind. Nevertheless I will update my posts from time to time if/when I discover anything new.

If you would like to know more as to what or how Medussa’s life ended, do come back to read my next post on another Greek Legend PERSEUS, whose life path was fated to cross Medusa’s.

Till we meet again
Thank you for spending time to read this post.


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