Cultural depictions of Medusa and Gorgons

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Medusa by Caravaggio; Ufizzi Gallery, Florence
Central motive of the Medusa mosaic, 2nd century BCE, from Kos island, in the palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, in Rhodes city, island of Rhodes, Greece.

The three Gorgon sisters-Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa-are mythological monsters who have been featured in art and culture spanning from the days of ancient Greece to present day. Medusa is the most well-known Gorgon, having been variously portrayed as a monster, a protective symbol, a rallying symbol for liberty, and a sympathetic victim of rape and/or a curse.

The Gorgons are best known by their hair of living venomous snakes and ability to turn living creatures to stone. Medusa herself is an ancient icon that remains one of the most popular and enduring figures of Greek mythology. She continues to be recreated in pop culture and art, surpassing the popularity of many other mythological characters.[1] Her likeness has been immortalized by artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, Caravaggio, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, and Benvenuto Cellini.[2]

Ancient times to the Renaissance[edit]

Cellini's bronze statue of Perseus with the Head of Medusa, completed in the Renaissance

The Gorgoneion, or Gorgon head, was used in the ancient world as a protective apotropaic symbol. Among the ancient Greeks, it was the most widely used symbol to avert evil. Medusa's head with its goggling eyes, fangs, and protruding tongue was depicted on the shield of Athena herself.[3] Its use in this fashion was depicted in the Alexander Mosaic, a Roman mosaic (ca. 200 BC) in Pompeii. In some cruder representations, the blood flowing under the head can be mistaken for a beard.

By the Renaissance, artists depicted Medusa's head held aloft to represent the realistic human form of the triumphant hero Perseus (such as in the 1554 bronze statue Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini). Medusa's head was also depicted to evoke horror by making the detached head the main subject (as demonstrated by the 1597 painting Medusa by Baroque painter Caravaggio).[4]

19th century[edit]

Medusa (1895), watercolour by Carlos Schwabe

After the French Revolution, Medusa was used as a popular emblem of Jacobinism and was often displayed as a figure of "French Liberty." This was in opposition to "English Liberty," which was personified by Athena (whose shield bore Medusa's head).[5] "To radicals like Percy Bysshe Shelley, Medusa was an 'abject hero,' a victim of tyranny whose weakness, disfiguration, and monstrous mutilation [had] become, in themselves, a kind of revolutionary power."[6] Shelley's 1819 poem, On the Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery was published posthumously by his wife Mary Shelley in 1824.[7] Octave Mirbeau's use of Medusa during his time has also been examined.[8]

Modern use[edit]

The image of Medusa's severed head has become one of the most-recognized images from Greek mythology. A representation of Perseus carrying this head has been featured on the cover of a number of paperback editions of Edith Hamilton's Mythology and several editions of Bulfinch's Mythology.[2] Medusa also became a very popular icon in designer fashion, as the logo of the Italian luxury clothing brand Versace portrays a Gorgon head.[9] Luciano Garbati's 2008 sculpture, Medusa with the Head of Perseus, portrays her clutching the severed head of Perseus, later becoming a feminist avatar for the MeToo movement.[10][11]


  • In one volume of Lumberjanes, the Gorgons are depicted as approachable women who blindfold themselves with their snakes to avoid accidentally petrifying mortals who want to speak with them. When a series of petrifactions occur around the campsite, the Gorgons are the prime suspects, only for the true culprits to be revealed as a flock of basilisks unleashed by an evil goddess whom the snake-haired women originally turned to stone by the Olympians' command. Upon being freed, the vengeful deity has plotted to frame the Gorgons to get back at them for imprisoning her. In the climax, the Gorgons and the Lumberjanes team up to round up the basilisks and defeat the goddess using them.


Blue-eyed monster
Medusa in 1981's Clash of the Titans
  • The myth of Perseus and Medusa was adapted into a 1925 silent short film titled The Gorgon's Head. In 2020, The Gorgon's Head is among the films uploaded on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's official YouTube channel to celebrate the exhibition's 150th anniversary.[12]
  • The myth of the Gorgon was the basis for the 1964 Hammer horror film, The Gorgon, which "abandoned the traditional myth entirely and tried to tell a new story".[14]
  • Medusa is a character in the 1981 film, Clash of the Titans.[15] Special-effects creator Ray Harryhausen used stop motion animation to depict the battle with Medusa. Although "the essential story sticks closer to its sources than any other interpretation", the film takes creative liberties as Medusa's biology differs from "any previous representations, ancient or modern", with the lower body of a snake rather than legs.[16] Medusa is also featured in the 2010 remake of the film, with a more human face that contorts when she turns her victims to stone.[17]
  • The myth of Medusa is central to the Tales from the Cryptkeeper episode segment, Myth Conceptions. A greedy archaeologist is in Greece, searching for Medusa's temple. He tells a local village girl named Zola that contrary to popular belief, Perseus had failed to slay Medusa, and that he is after the demigod's polished gold shield. After digging for a number of days and nights, the archaeologist finds Medusa's temple, which is full of her petrified victims including Perseus, still clutching his gold shield. Ignoring Zola's warning, the archaeologist steals the shield, but gets lost while looking for an exit and gets petrified by Medusa herself. Standing in front of the now petrified archaeologist, Zola tells him that Medusa has actually been protecting her temple from the likes of him and Perseus. In a twist ending, Zola picks up the shield and laughs, her snake-haired reflection revealing her true identity as Medusa, changing her form to keep plunderers out of her temple and petrifying them when they trespass.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls, one of the villains is Sedusa, a greedy woman with prehensile locks of hair.
  • All three Gorgon sisters appear in the American Dragon: Jake Long episode, Bring It On. In an adaptational change to their original portrayal, all three Gorgons - Fury (Cathy Cavadini; Stheno's name in this version), Euryale (Hynden Walch), and Medusa (Charity James) - are immortal, yet they were still defeated by Perseus who tricked them into looking at their own reflections in Athena's shield, petrifying themselves. Mistaken for statues, the Gorgons were shipped off to American museums. Centuries later on a school field trip, Professor Rotwood sets off a chain reaction that knocks over Fury, unknowingly freeing her. Fury then hypnotizes the school cheerleaders into helping her find and free her fellow Gorgons. The climax of the episode takes place at the Hudson River where Jake Long and his allies must battle against all three Gorgons on a fishing boat. Jake's friend, Trixie Carter, drives the Gorgons jealous by saying that Medusa will always be more popular than the other two. In an act of sibling rivalry, the Gorgons petrify each other. Jake, his allies, and the freed cheerleaders then leave the Gorgons to sink to the bottom of the Hudson River.
  • Medusa appears in the film, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (played by Uma Thurman), where she attacks Percy Jackson and his friends as they are looking for the Pearl of Persephone in her garden (which has statues: people she has turned to stone). When Percy's friends drive a car through a wall Medusa is distracted and Percy decapitates her before escaping.[18] The trio then keeps Medusa's head, using it to kill the Hydra. In a mid-credits scene, Percy's abusive step-father Gabe Ugliano finds Medusa's severed head in the refrigerator and is turned to stone.
  • In the anime series Beyblade: Metal Fusion, Reiji Mizuchi, one of the antagonists of Metal Fusion, owns the Beyblade Poison Serpent, which originally is based on a Cobra, but when in Attack mode, is based on Medusa. In the follow-up series Metal Masters, Julian Konzern's Beyblade, Gravity Destroyer (or Gravity Perseus in the Japanese dub of Metal Masters, is originally based on the Greek god Perseus, but when in Counter mode, it is based on Medusa and it freezes its opponents to stone when this happens.
  • In the Netflix series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, there is a Gorgon character named Nagaina. She turned the seer Rosalind and the Witch Dorcas into stone, they were later turned back into flesh and Rosalind beheaded Nagaina with a sword.
  • In the 2018 version of Charmed, Medusa is summoned to punish members of a fraternity for slutshaming a girl. Instead of killing her, one of the protagonists sympathizes with her pain as a rape victim which convinces Medusa to undo her damage.
  • In the 2022 Netflix series Wednesday, a group of students attending Nevermore Academy, a private school for monstrous outcasts, are gorgons. The group includes male students, and they only change people to stone when their snakes are uncovered. One gorgon accidentally temporarily turns himself to stone upon seeing himself getting out of the shower.
  • In the 18th episode of the animated series The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, an avatar of Medusa (voiced by Frank Welker) was created by Dr. Jeremiah Surd in an attempt to guard the remains of a statue to Apollo in the virtual world.
  • Medusa appears as the Rider class Servant in the anime adaptations of Fate/Stay Night, voiced by Yū Asakawa. There she is the Servant of Sakura Matou, but is loaned to her brother Shinji when she is unwilling to fight.
  • Medusa and her sisters Euryale and Stheno can be seen in the Class of the Titans episode Sibling Rivalry, with Medusa, after returning to freedom after her 1000-year banishment, turning a zoo's grizzly bear into a stone statue just as the grizzly bear was about to attack while standing up while roaring with his right arm raised and his left arm lowered. It is stated that those who were turned into stone die and are forever statues.
  • In an Amazon Prime advertisement Medusa (played by Jesi Le Rae) is depicted buying new sunglasses through the service in order to show off her fun side.
  • In the 2023 television series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Medusa is seen in episode 3, We Visit the Garden Gnome Emporium, and is portrayed by Jessica Parker Kennedy. She is seen trying to lure Percy and his friends into accepting her requests to turn on each other.

Video games[edit]

  • Medusa appears in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, where she is implied to be a human that has been transformed by the effects of the Apple of Eden.[24]
  • In the Fate/stay night visual novel, Medusa appears as the Rider-class servant in her pre-transformation human form. Later installments of the franchise expand on her and introduce her sisters. In the Fate franchise's fictional universe, the three sisters were originally worshipped as chthonic deities before being exiled to their island by rival cults. Rumors of her monstrous nature eventually transformed Medusa against her will into the Gorgon, who then devoured Stheno and Euryale.
  • Medusa is also a hero in Dota 2.
  • Medusa is a playable character in Smite, turning enemy gods into stone.
  • A Gorgon is used as a boss fight in the 2016 game Enter the Gungeon, in the game's second level. The boss is named the Gorgun to fit with the game's style of everything being gun related.
  • In the 2020 video game Hades, it is implied that Dusa, the disembodied Gorgon head serving as the maid for the House of Hades, was Medusa before being decapitated. Her name Dusa and her being a maid is also a play on words of the name Medusa: Maid-Dusa. Disembodied Gorgon heads also appear as enemies in the game.


  • British band UB40 produced a song ("Madame Medusa") for their 1980 album, Signing Off, drawing unfavorable comparisons between the mythological monster and United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.[21]
  • Whitney Avalon released Plaything of the Gods, a 2020 song written from Medusa's point of view.[26]
  • Heather Dale's 2005 album "The Road to Santiago" included the song "Medusa," also from Medusa's point of view.
  • Another song named "Medusa" was released by Kailee Morgue in 2017.


  • Author Skevi Philippou wrote Medusa, through the eyes of the Gorgon in 2010.[27]
  • Medusa appears in The Lightning Thief where, having reformed following her defeat at Perseus' hands thousands of years earlier, Medusa faces off against Percy Jackson and his friends. Much like the original Perseus, Percy decapitates Medusa before he sends her head to the gods as a gift. Poseidon later returns Medusa's head to Percy and it is used by his mother Sally to kill her abusive husband Gabe Ugliano. In the second book of the sequel series, The Son of Neptune, Percy is attacked by Stheno and Euryale, who want revenge for their sister's death.
  • The 2016 novella Here, the world entire, by Anwen Kya Hayward, is a reimagining of the Medusa and Perseus myth, exploring Medusa's reflection about the events leading to her transformation, her centuries of solitary captivity and her self-doubting when first meeting Perseus.
  • The 2022 book Stone Blind, by Natalie Haynes, is a retelling of the Medusa legend from multiple perspectives. The New York Times reviewer wrote, "the novel substitutes action-adventure for feminist tragedy, a point made clear in the opening pages. 'This particular monster is assaulted, abused and vilified. And yet, as the story is always told, she is the one you should fear,' Haynes announces in her fierce yet conversational style. 'We’ll see about that.'”[28]
  • The 2023 book Medusa's Sisters, by Lauren J. A. Bear, retells Medusa's story from her sisters Stheno's and Euryale's switching points of view. The novel begins with the triplet sisters' birth and childhood struggles to maintain ties with their immortal monstrous family, an impossible feat due to the trio's normal appearance and Medusa's own mortality. Abandoned at a young age, the three sisters grow up fending for themselves. Wanting to fit in and express themselves, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa move to the human realm, encountering other Greek mythology characters before settling in Athens. Stheno takes kithara lessons, Euryale secretly observes prostitutes and their clients in her wish to become Poseidon's lover, and Medusa becomes a priestess of Athena. But in a twist to her original portrayal, Athena has been secretly seducing her own priestesses, including Medusa. Bitter over his loss to become Athens' patron god, Poseidon takes advantage of Athena's secret to rape Medusa and mock his niece for her hypocrisy. In this version, Athena transforms Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa into the Gorgons to prevent them from telling humans about her secret love affairs. The plot then progresses to describe the sisters' new lives as Gorgons and the aftermath of Medusa's decapitation by Perseus.[29]


Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui created a one-act ballet titled Medusa for The Royal Ballet, with Natalia Osipova originating the title role. The ballet premiered in 2019.[30]


In Monster High, Deuce Gorgon is the son of Medusa, while his cousin, Viperine Gorgon, is the daughter of Stheno.


The Russian- and English-language independent news website Meduza is named after Medusa, though using the Russian version of her name (Медуза) as the website was originally for a Russian speaking audience (the English version of the website was not set up until later).[31]


  1. ^ Wilk, Stephen R. Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, 26 June 2000, Front matter, ISBN 0-19-512431-6.
  2. ^ a b Wilk, Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, pg. 200
  3. ^ Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, pp 196ff.
  4. ^ Might Medici, By Robert Hughes, Time, 5 December 2002
  5. ^ Judson, B. (2001). The Politics of Medusa: Shelley's Physiognomy of Revolution. ELH. 68(1), 135-154.
  6. ^ "Ekphrasis and the Other" by W. J. T. Mitchell, excerpted from Picture Theory(The University of Chicago Press);the paper originally appeared in South Atlantic Quarterly XCI (Summer 1992), pg. 695-719.
  7. ^ Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 14 June 1994, pg. 621, ISBN 0-679-60111-2.
  8. ^ Claude Herzfeld, La Figure de Méduse dans l'œuvre d'Octave Mirbeau, Librairie Nizet, Paris, 1992, 107 pages.
  9. ^ "Versace's Medusa Logo Breaks Every Design Rule. So Why Does It Work?".
  10. ^ "Luciano Garbati's Medusa". Luciano Garbati.
  11. ^ Griffin, Annaliese. "The Medusa Statue That Became A Symbol of Feminist Rage". Quartz. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  12. ^ The Gorgon's Head, 1925. YouTube. 13 March 2020.
  13. ^ Hughes, Howard (2011). Cinema Italiano : the Complete Guide from Classics to Cult. London: I.B. Tauris. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0857730442.
  14. ^ Wilk, Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, pg. 207.
  15. ^ Wilk, Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, pg. 209.
  16. ^ Wilk, Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, pg. 210.
  17. ^ "SYFY WIRE". SYFY. Archived from the original on 13 May 2019. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  18. ^ "Chosen One of the Day: Medusa from Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief". 12 February 2018.
  19. ^ "Atlantis Puts a New Face on the Gorgon Medusa | TV Guide". 29 November 2013.
  20. ^ "Tim Burton's 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' is the Consumer-Grade Version of Eccentricity [Review]".
  21. ^ a b c David Leeming (2013), Medusa: In the Mirror of Time, Reaktion Books, p. 81, ISBN 9781780231334
  22. ^ "Medusa is Back in Kid Icarus: Uprising". 20 February 2012.
  23. ^ "Finding the Fun Medusa Heads in Castlevania". 27 February 2012.
  24. ^ "Assassin's Creed Odyssey Mythological Beasts guide: How to kill Odyssey's toughest monsters". PC Gamer. 16 October 2018.
  25. ^ Davis, Ryan. "Titan Quest Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 14 November 2019.
  26. ^ Avalon, Whitney (19 September 2020). "Plaything of the Gods". YouTube.
  27. ^ "Victims of Circumstance? Retelling the tale of the Medusa has been a labour of love for one Cyprus-based author". The Cyprus Mail.
  28. ^ Rosenfeld, Lucinda (5 February 2023). "Medusa, Scourge of Myth, Tells Her Side of the Story". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 February 2023.
  29. ^ Bear, Lauren J. A. (8 August 2023). "Medusa's Sisters". Ace.
  30. ^ Winship, Lyndsey (9 May 2019). "Royal Ballet: Within the Golden Hour / Medusa / Flight Pattern review – monsters and melancholy". The Guardian.
  31. ^ ""Медуза" ответила на вопросы читателей". Meduza (in Russian). Retrieved 27 January 2023.