Study Guide

Perseus and Medusa Medusa

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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.

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