Homer Hesiod Hymns Tragedy Remythologizing Tools Blackboard Info
Form: Gorgons.
Homer makes mention of the terrible head of the Gorgon, a formidable monster. This head is a terror in Hades, and in the aegis or breastplate of Zeus. Hesiod speaks of three Gorgons; Stheno (the mighty), Euryale (the widewandering), and Medusa (the queen). They are the daughters of the aged sea-god Phorcys and Keto, and sisters of the Graiae (see GRAIAe). They dwell on the farthest shore of Ocean, in the neighbourhood of Night and of the Hesperides. They are awful beings, with hair and girdles of snakes, whose look turns the beholder to stone. They are also often represented with golden wings, brazen claws, and enormous teeth. Medusa is mortal, but the other two immortal. When Perseus cuts off Medusa's head, Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus, with whom she was with child by Poseidon, spring forth from the streaming blood. The head was given by Perseus to Athene, who set it in her shield. Heracles received a lock of the hair from Athens as a present. When endeavouring to persuade Cephalus of Tegea to take part in his expedition against Hippocoon of Sparta, the king represented that he feared an attack from his enemies the Argives in Heracles' absence. Heracles accordingly gave to Sterope, the daughter of Cephalus, the lock of Medusa's hair in a brazen urn, bidding her, in case the enemy approached, to avert her head and hold it three times over the walls, for the mere aspect of it would turn the enemy to flight. In consequence of the belief in this power of the Gorgon's head, or Gorgoneion, to paralyse and terrify an enemy, the Greeks carved images of it in its most terrifying forms, not only on armour of all sorts, especially shields and breastplates, but also on walls and gates (see fig. 1). Thus, on the south wall of the Athenian Acropolis, a large gilded Gorgoneion was set on an oegis [Pausanias, i 21 § 4]. In the popular belief the Gorgon's head was also a means of protection against all enchantment, whether of word or act, and we thus find it throughout Greek history employed as a powerful amulet, and often carved with graceful settings on decorative furniture and costly ornaments. But the Greek artists, with their native sense of beauty, knew, even in the case of the Gorgon, how to give adequate expression to the idea which lay at the root of the story. The story said that Medusa had been a fair maiden, whose luxuriant hair had been turned by Athens into snakes in revenge for the desecration of her sanctuary. Accordingly the head of Medusa is represented in works of art with a countenance of touching beauty, and a wealth of hair wreathed with snakes. The face was imagined as itself in the stillness of death, and thus bearing the power to turn the living to stone. The most beautiful surviving instance of this conception is the Rondanini Medusa now at Munich (fig. 2).

Pictures and Media
ARCHAIC HEAD OF MEDUSA. (CP. SCULPTURE, fig. 1). (Antefixum of terra-cotta, found S.E. of Parthenon, 1836, published in colours by Ross, Arch. Aufs. I vii.)
RONDANINI MEDUSA.(Munich, Glyptothek.)
Type: Standard
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