Study Guide

Perseus and Medusa Themes

  • Courage

    Like pretty much every great hero, Perseus is incredibly brave. No matter how dangerous the monsters in his path, Perseus boldly marches forward. He is unstoppable – Gorgons, sea monsters, wicked kings – nothing can intimidate our noble hero. Perseus is part of a long line of legendary heroes that extends all the way to today. All of Hollywood's superheroes and action heroes owe a little something to Perseus. It seems like human beings just never get tired of hearing stories about brave heroes courageously facing down impossible odds.

    Questions About Courage

    1. Who is the most courageous person you know? Why do you think of them that way?
    2. What does it mean to be brave? Why do you think so?
    3. Just to play devil's advocate, is it really that brave of Perseus to chop off Medusa's head while she's asleep? Why, or why not? In most movie versions of this scene, Medusa is awake and fighting. Why do you think that is?
    4. Is Perseus brave to accept Polydectes' task, or is he just plain stupid? Is it possible for him to be both?
  • Perseverance

    No great hero ever became a hero without a more than a little perseverance. Despite all the barriers in Perseus' way, still he bravely trudges forward. Even though the task of delivering Medusa's head to his king seems impossible, he never quits. In a way, he was like the Jack Bauer of the ancient world. He gets the job done no matter what it takes. Perseverance is one of those qualities that everybody seems to admire. We're guessing that's why so many of our heroes, real and imaginary, have it in spades.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. What are the major obstacles that Perseus has to conquer?
    2. Where do you think that Perseus' perseverance is most tested? Why?
    3. How does Perseus' perseverance compare to that of other Greek heroes like Odysseus?
    4. What kinds of supernatural help does Perseus receive? Would he have been able to persevere without it?
  • Women and Femininity

    The issue of women and femininity in Perseus' stories are kind of problematic. As we see it, women are either beautiful and helpless damsels in distress (Danae, Andromeda) or ugly monsters (the Gorgons, the Graeae). Perseus saves the damsels and defeats the monsters either through might (Medusa) or clever tricks (other Gorgons, icky sisters). In other words, in this myth, we don't see any strong female characters – at least not any that survive.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Why do you think we don't see any strong female characters in this story? How might this story reflect the role of women in ancient Greek society?
    2. Many feminists have taken on Medusa as a symbol. Why do you think that is? What about Medusa is appealing?
    3. Does Athena offer a strong female presence in the story, or is she too minor of a character?
    4. How did you feel about Perseus' treatment of the female "monsters" in this story?
    5. Is it significant that Medusa doesn't get a chance to fight Perseus?
  • Cunning and Cleverness

    Perseus may hack Medusa's head off with a sword, but in most cases his success comes from quick, clever thinking rather than through mad fighting skills. Just think about it: he blackmails the Graeae by threatening not to return their eye and tooth; he defeats the sleeping Medusa by looking at her only through a reflection; and he hides from the other two Gorgons with the helmet of invisibility. Perseus isn't the only clever guy in the story, though. King Polydectes is pretty cunning himself, setting Perseus up to go on Mission Impossible. His trickery is repaid in kind when Perseus surprises Polydectes and turns him into stone using his handy-dandy Gorgon head.

    Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

    1. How is Perseus similar to or different from Odysseus, the hero famous for his wily ways?
    2. Do you think it's more admirable to defeat an opponent through strength or through cleverness? Which quality is more entertaining for a hero to have in a story?
    3. Is there a difference between Perseus' cleverness and Polydectes'?
    4. When Perseus defeats an enemy through cleverness, do you feel like he's won fair and square? Why or why not?