Study Guide

Perseus and Medusa Characters

  • Perseus

    Perseus is one the most famous of all Greek heroes and he's still popular today. Both versions of the Clash of the Titans films (1981 and 2010) are based on his legendary exploits. Just like pretty much every action hero of today, he is brave, daring, and handsome, defeating all the villains in his way with ease.

    Zeus, Jr.

    Perseus is the mortal son of the god Zeus and a beautiful maiden named Danae. Zeus has a loooong history of cheating on his wife with pretty mortal girls, and the missus has an equally long history of punishing the girls and their children. Somehow, Danae and Perseus got off easy. Hera, Zeus' wife, doesn't seem to know about them. Maybe it's because, when Zeus impregnated Danae, he was disguised as a shower of golden water. Who knows? At any rate, Perseus should thank his luck stars that he didn't end up like his half-brother Heracles, who was hounded by Hera.

    Though Perseus is Zeus's son, he's still mortal and doesn't seem to have any obvious superpowers. However, he's brave and skilled, and the gods seem to like him. We can't imagine that Athena and Hermes' would help out just any mortal guy. It probably helps that he has some Olympian blood.

    Perseus Gets By with a Little Help from His Friends

    Perseus may be determined and pretty clever, but he's still young and inexperienced when Polydectes orders the young man to bring him Medusa's head. It's a good thing, then, that Perseus gets some help from the gods.

    Like many other questing heroes (we're thinking of Odysseus, Heracles, and Jason), Perseus gets a bit of advice and guidance from the goddess Athena (his half-sister). Though he's pretty awesome, we wouldn't bet on Perseus getting very far without a some of divine assistance. Yeah, we imagine him showing up at the cave of the Gorgons only to be turned to stone.

    Luckily, Perseus has some gods on his side to offer advice. Also, like Batman, he has all sorts of useful gadgets for his mission. But unlike Batman, he's only borrowing them. These gadgets are also a form of assistance from the gods. He's got Hades' helmet of invisibility (a.k.a. Helm of Darkness), Hermes' winged sandals, and a fancy Gorgon-poison-proof bag.

    Momma's Boy

    Part of what makes Perseus likeable is that he's a good son. Who doesn't love a guy who protects his mom from nasty suitors? Perseus may not know that King Polydectes sent him off on a suicide mission in order to be alone with Danae, but once Perseus finds out, he's not happy. In a moment of total awesomeness, Perseus hands over Medusa's head to Polydectes, just like he asked for. The king is turned to stone and Danae is safe.

    For much more on Perseus, click here.

  • Medusa

    Monster Madness

    Medusa is the monstrous lady whose head Perseus chops off. She is a Gorgon and, like her sisters, Stheno and Euryale, she has snakes for hair, bronze hands, wings, and tusks. Medusa and her fellow Gorgons are so hideous that they turn anyone they look at into stone.

    Perseus' whole quest is about decapitating Medusa. Polydectes sends him on the mission, hoping it will kill him, but Perseus hunts the Gorgon down, severs her head, and then uses it against Polydectes to save his mom. Though we know this monstrous lady is scary, we never see her in action because Perseus kills her while she's sleeping. In all of the movie adaptations we've seen, Perseus fights Medusa while she's awake and kicking – which is way more exciting, if you ask us.

    Poor Medusa?

    Is it just us, or do you feel kind of sorry for Medusa? We mean, Perseus just waltzes up and murders her in her sleep. What did she ever do to hurt him? Nothing. He doesn't even defeat her in fair combat.

    Still not feeling sympathetic for this snake-haired lady? Maybe it will help if we explain some of Medusa's history. She was once a very pretty girl who was unfortunate enough to catch the eye of the god Poseidon. He forced her to sleep with him in the sacred temple of Athena, which really ticked off Athena. Did she punish her Uncle Poseidon? Nope. Instead, Athena went after Medusa and turned her into a hideous Gorgon, so ugly that her mere glance would turn a man to stone. Does that seem fair to you?

    Now that you know Medusa's background, how do you feel about her death? And how do you feel about Athena helping Perseus defeat Medusa?

    Mom vs. the Monster

    When you think about it, Medusa has a key similarity to Danae, Perseus' mom. Medusa was turned into a monster after earning the unwanted attention of the god Poseidon. Danae caught the eye of Poseidon's brother, Zeus. So both women slept with gods, but they had pretty different outcomes. You could just as easily imagine Danae being turned into some kind of awful creature by Hera, Zeus' vengeful wife, if she had found out about the affair. That's why we find it pretty interesting that Perseus kills Medusa and uses her hideous head to destroy Danae's unwanted suitor, Polydectes. In that way, it seems that after her death, Medusa is protecting women who could fall victim to other bad men.

    Want to know more about Medusa? Click here for the full scoop on the ugliest lady of them all.

  • Danae

    Danae is Perseus' lovely mother. She is probably most famous for being impregnated by Zeus when he came to her in the form of a shower of gold. Very creative. (Zeus is famous for using odd disguises to seduce the ladies and keep his wife in the dark.) Nine months later, she gave birth to little Perseus.

    In this story, though, Danae's beauty causes problems for her once by attracting yet another unwanted suitor, this time King Polydectes. After Polydectes sends Perseus off on what he thinks is Mission Impossible, Danae hides from the king because she absolutely does not want to marry him. In this way, Perseus' mom comes off as a virtuous but damsel-in-distress kind of lady. When Perseus returns home, he rescues his mom, using Medusa's head to turn Polydectes into a statue.

  • Polydectes

    Polydectes is the King of Seriphus, who decides he wants to get it on with Perseus' mother, Danae. It is Polydectes who demands that Perseus bring him back the head of Medusa, hoping that Perseus will die during the quest. In the end, Perseus does bring him the head of the Gorgon – but the hero uses it against Polydectes and turns him into stone. Sure, he's the bad guy in the story, but if it weren't for him, Perseus wouldn't be the legendary hero that he is.

  • Athena

    Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, appears in just about every Greek hero myth. She's kind of a hero groupie. Athena was Odysseus' special divine friend and also provided key advice and assistance to Heracles, Jason, and, of course, Perseus.

    Really, where would Perseus be without Athena? Probably hanging out the in the Gorgons' cave – as a statue. Athena, along with Hermes, guides the young hero to the Graeae, where he gets information that leads him to the Nymphai, who provide him with essential magical tools (Hades' helmet of invisibility, Hermes' winged shoes, and the kibisis). Athena also warns Perseus to only look at Medusa through the reflection in his shiny shield. That clever tip definitely saved his life. Perseus shows his appreciation for Athena's help by giving her Medusa's head after he's finished using it.

    But why does Athena help Perseus? That's a good question. It could be that:

    1. Athena is the goddess of heroic endeavors, and Perseus is definitely setting off on a heroic mission.
    2. Athena and Perseus actually have the same dad, so she's his half-sister. But, hey, Zeus sleeps around so much that maybe it doesn't mean much to Athena that she's related to the mortal hero.
    3. Athena has an old grudge against Medusa. She's actually the one who turned Medusa into a hideous Gorgon (see our analysis of Medusa for more on that).

    Why do you think Athena helped Perseus out?

    For more on the patron goddess of heroes, click here.

  • The Graeae

    The Graeae are the three old, unhygienic sisters who share an eye and tooth. (All together now: eewwwww!) These supernatural ladies know the location of the Nymphai, who possess the supernatural tools that Perseus needs to kill Medusa. The Graeae don't want to help Perseus, but he steals their precious eye and tooth and refuses to return them unless the Graeae spill the beans. Perseus is one persuasive guy.

  • The Nymphai

    These supernatural ladies possess some key equipment that Perseus would really like to use to defeat the Gorgon Medusa: Hermes' winged sandals, Hades' helmet of invisibility, and the kibisis. Perseus learns the secret location of the Nymphai from the Graeae, and the Nymphai are kind enough to let the young hero borrow the magical gear.