Even for a person who hasn’t delved deep into Greek mythology, Medusa is a familiar figure that instantly envisages a hideous picture of a gorgon. With venomous snakes emerging from her hair and a glance that turns mortals to stone, Medusa is quite the monster that petrifies the mind. However, oblivious to many, she is in fact an apotropaic symbol that wards off evil and fights negativity.
Medusa wasn’t always the terrifying monster she is portrayed as. Anat, being her birth name, was a mortal woman of incredible beauty and flawless golden hair, serving as a priestess in a temple of Athena. It was considered unacceptable to have an unchaste woman serving the gods, so Anat has taken a vow of celibacy much to the dismay of men in the country. Taken away by her beauty, they all eyed her lustfully. Anat’s beauty was so great that Poseidon, the god of the sea, was drawn to her with an uncontainable desire to lay together with her.
Upon seeing people compare Anat’s flawless hair and beauty to her own, Athena was jealous of her devout priestess. But being the goddess of wisdom, she keeps herself in check to appear just and kind to her followers. Indeed, people believed that the gods were above common human pettiness and sins.
Poseidon unsuccessfully tries to seduce Anat multiple times, choosing to ignore Athena’s claim upon her. Anat turns down the god of the sea on all of his advances upon her since she has dedicated her entire life to serving Athena. This enrages a prideful Poseidon. He decides to get his way with her regardless of whatever heinous act he will have to commit. Perhaps, she believed that the goddess she served will stand by her against Poseidon.
Angry and blinded by lust, Poseidon approached a lonely Anat at Athena’s temple and forcefully gets her to lay with him in a meadow of flowers. Anat desperately begs Athena for help upon seeing the sea god approach her. Unfortunately, her prayers fell on deaf ears.
It was unspeakable for a god to wage war against another, so Athena punishing Poseidon for desecrating her sacred temple was not an acceptable option. Besides, Athena saw the perfect excuse to act out of her jealous rage after seeing the events unfold. Seeing her priestess broken and helplessly laying and taken advantage of, Athena appears at her temple. The enraged goddess accuses her of betraying her and belittles her for not being able to protect herself. Tearfully, Anat listens as Athena whips her with her tongue. She was, in contrast to the goddess, compassionate, loving, and kind in her soul.
As a fitting punishment, Athena decides to turn Anat into a gorgon – a vicious female figure in Greek mythology with wings, sharp fangs, and venomous snakes in the place of hair. In addition to this, they are so ugly that locking eyes with a gorgon would immediately turn a man into stone. With this transformation, Anat has become the monster we all know and fear in the tales being told for centuries, Medusa.
As a monster, Medusa was not malevolent or villainous towards people. She had no evil intentions towards humanity even though anyone who was unfortunate enough to glance at her eyes meets their rugged demise. As further punishment, Athena banished Medusa to isolation by sending her to a remote island where she would remain free of human contact. As you may guess, Medusa was not against Athena’s decision since this would reduce the likelihood of turning a poor soul accidentally glancing at her to stone.
Away from her remote island, in mainland Greece, a dishonorable king misdirects a hero, Perseus, and asks him to perform the impossible task of slaying medusa. The king was courting Perseus’ mother but wasn’t particularly fond of Perseus. When preparing for his task, Athena offers to help Perseus by providing him with the Aegis – a reflective shield which he could use as an alternative to looking directly at Medusa. The other gods decided to aid Perseus too; Zeus gave him a sword known as “Harpe” he would later use to decapitate Medusa, Hades offered him the Helm of Darkness, and Hermes provided him with winged sandals.
Armed and well equipped, Perseus arrived at the cave Medusa was sleeping in, tiptoeing to avoid waking her up. With the help of his shield, he was able to direct himself towards the gorgon by looking at her reflection. Once he was close enough to the sleeping Medusa, he struck a single blow with his sword, decapitating her instantly. Ultimately, Medusa has met her demise without even seeing it coming, just as every other event in her tragic life.
From the blood that gushed out of her neck sprang Medusa’s two offsprings, Pegasus and Chysaor. It is revealed that she has been impregnated by her encounter with Poseidon while she was a mortal woman, but kept from giving birth due to her curse. Perseus kept Medusa’s head with him and later mounted it on his aegis. He was known to use it as a weapon on multiple occasions to ward off evil and to turn his enemies into stone. Medusa’s head became a symbol of strength and protection against evil entities.