Medusa is one of the Gorgon sisters with a haggard face and hair made of snakes who can turn a person into stone when they look directly into her eyes.
Medusa was one of the Gorgon sisters, the daughter of Phorcys and Keto. She was once a beautiful maiden with long, golden hair. However, she swore a vow of chastity and soon broke it by having an affair with Poseidon, supposedly in Athena’s temple. As punishment, Athena turned her face into that of an old hag, turned her beautiful hair into a mane of snakes, and gave her skin a green hue. She also cursed her: whoever looked into Medusa’s eyes would instantly be turned into stone. Medusa wandered through Africa for awhile, and the snakes that dropped from her hair became the reason why there are poisonous snakes in Africa.
Perseus was sent on a quest by King Polydectes of Seriphus to bring back Medusa’s head. He used winged sandals provided by Hermes, Hades’ helm of invisibility, a sword provided by Hephaestus, and a reflective shield from Athena. When he tracked Medusa to her lair, he used the shield to see Medusa’s reflection and thrust the sword behind him, killing her. He removed her head, and as he did, her children Pegasus and Chrysaor sprang from her spilled blood.
Perseus put Medusa’s head in a sack and when he finally made it home, he discovered that the quest had been a ruse to get him out of the way so that King Polydectes could marry Perseus’ mother Danae. He used Medusa’s head to turn the king to stone and save his mother. He then threw her head to the bottom of the sea, where it makes coral wherever it drifts.
In other versions of the myth, Perseus gave Medusa’s head to Athena, who placed it onto the aegis she wears.
Phorcys and Keto
A haggard face with snakes for hair and green skin
Check out the rest of our Teacher Guides and Lesson Plans!