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Gorgon and Athena - Silinus Creta V BC

In Greek mythology, the Gorgons ("terrible" or, according to some, "loud-roaring") were vicious female monsters with sharp fangs and hair of living, venomous snakes. They were said to live in the west, near the ocean, and guard the entrance to the underworld. A stone head or picture of a gorgon was often placed or drawn on temples and graves to avert evil, but also on the shields of soldiers. Such a head could also be found on the older coins of Athens.


Gorgon was a monstrous feminine creature whose appearance would turn the beholder to stone. Later in history, there were three of them: Euryale ("far-roaming"), Sthenno ("forceful"), and Medusa ("ruler"), the latter being the only one of them who was mortal. They were the three daughters of Phorcys and Ceto.

In Greek myth, only Perseus and Zeus (through Athena) own the gorgoneion. The two must be tied together in some way; that is, the king of Mycenae was the earthly counterpart of Zeus from whom he derived his authority. The Iliad clearly expresses this divine right of bronze-age kings, which the wrath of Achilles undermined. By assuming the gorgoneion, Perseus put on as a mask the power of life and death personified by Medusa, the cosmic queen.


The concept of the gorgon is at least as old in mythology as Perseus and Zeus. The name is Greek, being from gorgos, "terrible." There are a few cognates: Old Irish garg, "wild", Armenian karcr, "hard". Hoffman's suggested root is *gragnis; Émile Boisacq's, *greg-. The root would not be a commonly used one. The name of the most senior "terrible one", Medusa, is better Greek, being the feminine present participle of medein, "to rule over." The masculine, Medon, "ruler", is a Homeric name. The Indo-European root, *me-, "measure", generates a large number of words.


The Gorgon is a creature covered with impenetrable scales, hair of living snakes, hands of brass, sharp fangs and a beard.

Sometimes it's depicted as having wings of gold, brazen claws, and the tusks of boars.


Gorgons were said to have fire coming out of their hands and the skill to steal power from the gods. They are so strong they can kill anyone who stands in their way. They are considered the Queens of the underworld. The Gorgons can go anywhere they want and even look like humans. There is only one male Gorgon who's name is Nanas, the guard of Zeus. According to the myths, seeing the face of a Gorgon turned the viewer to stone.


A gorgoneion (or stone head, engraving or drawing of a Gorgon face, often with snakes protruding wildly and tongue sticking out between the fangs) was frequently placed on doors, walls, coins, shields, breastplates, and tombstones in the hopes of warding off evil. In this regard gorgoneia are similar to the sometimes grotesque faces on Chinese soldiers’ shields, also used generally as an amulet, a protection against the ’’evil eye’’.

In some cruder representations, the blood flowing under the head can be mistaken for a beard.

In Greek mythology, blood taken from the left side of a Gorgon could bring the dead back to life, yet blood taken from the right side was an instantly fatal poison. Athena gave a vial of the healing blood to Asclepius, which ultimately brought about his demise.

Heracles is said to have obtained a lock of Medusa’s hair (which possessed the same powers as the head) from Athena and given it to Sterope], the daughter of Cepheus, as a protection for the town of Tegea against attack.

According to the later idea of Medusa as a beautiful maiden, whose hair had been changed into snakes by Athena, the head was represented in works of art with a wonderfully handsome face, wrapped in the calm repose of death.

Main Belief

Homer speaks of only one Gorgon, whose head is represented in the Iliad as fixed in the centre of the aegis of Zeus:

"About her shoulders she flung the tasselled aegis, fraught with terror...and therein is the head of the dread monster, the Gorgon, dread and awful, a portent of Zeus that beareth the aegis."(5.735ff)

Its earthly counterpart is a device on the shield of Agamemnon:

"...and therein was set as a crown the Gorgon, grim of aspect, glaring terribly, and about her were Terror and Rout."(11.35ff)

In the Odyssey, she is a monster of the underworld:

...and pale fear seized me, lest august Persephone might send forth upon me from out of the house of Hades the head of the Gorgon, that awful monster..."(11.635)

Hesiod (Theogony, Shield of Heracles) increases the number of Gorgons to three—Stheno (the mighty), Euryale (the far-springer) and Medusa (the queen), and makes them the daughters of the sea-god Phorcys and of Ceto (or Keto). Their home is on the farthest side of the western ocean; according to later authorities, in Libya.

The Attic tradition, reproduced in Euripides (Ion), regarded the Gorgon as a monster, produced by Goddess Gaia to aid her sons the giants against the gods and slain by Athena. Of the three Gorgons, only Medusa is mortal.

According to Ovid (Metamorphoses), Medusa alone had serpents in her hair, and this was due to Athena (Roman Minerva) cursing her. Medusa had copulated with Poseidon (Roman Neptune), who was aroused by the golden color of Medusa's hair, in a temple of Athena. Athena therefore changed the enticing golden locks into serpents. Aeschylus says that the three Gorgons had only one tooth and one eye between them, which they had to swap between themselves.

Other sources claim that each of three Gorgon sisters, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa had snakes for hair, and had the power to turn anyone who looked at them to stone. Apollodorus (11.2.6, 2.4.1, 22.4.2) provides a good summary of the Gorgon myth, while Pausanias(5.10.4, 8.47.5, many other places) supplies the details of where and how the Gorgons were represented in Greek art and architecture.

Perseus and Medusa

Medusa was the only one of the three who was mortal; hence Perseus was able to kill her by cutting off her head while looking at her in the reflection in a mirrored shield he got from the Graeae. Some authors say that Perseus was armed with a scythe by Mercury (Hermes) and a mirror by Minerva (Athena). Whether the mirrored shield or the scythe, these weapons allowed him to defeat Medusa easily. From the blood that spurted from her neck sprang Chrysaor and Pegasus (other sources say that each drop of blood became a snake), her two sons by Poseidon. He gave the head, which had the power of turning into stone all who looked upon it, to Athena, who placed it in her shield; according to another account, Perseus buried it in the marketplace of Argos.

Modern Belief

The name of "queen" and the magical powers indicate Medusa was a bronze-age deity, and yet deities are not beheaded by mortals and terrible ones are not really terrible if they ward away enemies. The snakes are reminiscent of the Cretan snake goddess. It is possible that the story represents the subordination of a pre-Greek religious infrastructure by new Greek superstructures able to attribute the power of life and death to themselves.

Popular Culture

Like cyclops, harpies, and other beasts of Greek mythology, gorgons have been popularized in modern times by the fantasy genre such as in books, comics, role-playing games, and video games. Although not as well known as dragons or unicorns, most popular lore concerning gorgons derives from Medusa and the Perseus legend. Images of gorgons and Medusa are commonly mistaken to be the same. According to most of the original Greek myths, Medusa was the only one of the Gorgon sisters to be beautiful; the others being hideous beasts. Over time, however, and possibly even in their original day, both gorgons and Medusa came to be seen as evil monsters.


  • Marija Gimbutas ("Language of the Goddess") believed she saw the prototype of the gorgoneion in Neolithic art motifsn anthropomorphic vases and terra cotta masks inlaid with gold. The gorgon descends from the pre-Indo-European goddess of life and death, represented in various forms, of which the gorgoneion is one. The motif is an accretion of motifs. The large eyes, as well as Athena's flashing eyes, are a symbol termed "the divine eyes" by Gimbutas (who did not originate the perception), appearing also in Athena's bird, the owl. They can be represented by spirals, wheels, concentric circles, and other ways. They radiate the sun's rays and weep the spring rains. Snakes also possess the eyes. The fangs of the gorgoneion are snakes' fangs. Snakes are a symbol of propitiation and increase. The round face is the moon. Sometimes gorgoneia are endowed with birds' feet or bee wings, more symbols of regeneration. The mouth is open so that streams may flow from it. The lolling tongue is a symbol of death. It cannot be said that these motifs belong exclusively to the European Neolithic and not to the Indo-Europeans. They appear among the Celts and Germans] as well. The Balts kept snakes as household pets. As Gimbutas points out, masks with staring eyes are portrayed in Paleolithic cave art. Very likely, the goddess precedes any Indo-European/non-Indo-European distinction.
  • At Mycenae, traces of the ancient religion are found in elements considered characteristically Greek. A tholos tomb, there or elsewhere, is a symbol of the uterus. Solar discs studded the walls of some. The "death masks" of the shaft graves should probably more aptly be called life masks. In Paleolithic art, the dancer, who puts on a reindeer head with staring eyes, very likely became the reindeer in the dance. Similarly, a masked corpse overcame death by putting on the mask of life, a different concept from our death mask.
  • Gimbutas cites gorgoneia with bees' heads on some classical Attic pottery and with bees'heads, snake heads or owl faces on some Cycladic pottery. She regards them as transitional between the ancient and classical gorgoneia. As for the name, it is not from a solid Indo-European root. It could have been from a more ancient language, or could have translated a word in another language. , especially i
  • Reliefs and sculptures of Gorgon heads have traditionally been used to decorate gardens and the exteriors of churches and other older structures.


  • In Dungeons and Dragons, from which many games like "Heroes of Might and Magic" take inspiration, Gorgons are giant bulls with iron-like hides that have a petrifying breath. There are monsters which resemble traditional Gorgons, however, called Medusas.
  • In the game "Age of Mythology", gorgons are snakelike creatures armed as archers who work as your allies, petrified and shooting enemies at range. They can be upgraded from Medusa to Medusa Matriarchs.
  • In the video game "Karnov", the player battles a monster, supposedly "Medusa", who appears with a centipede like body, a female torso and head with wiggling snakes as hair.
  • The video game series "Castlevania" has included Medusa monsters since its inception as statue heads with snakes as hair, and later as monsters who had a snake body in place of legs, a female torso and head with snakes as hair such as in "Castlevania: Dracula's Curse". The game also employed the "stoning motif" of Medusa by having the creatures fire arrows of snakes at the player, turning them into stone if they were hit. In more recent Castlevania games, Gorgon, along with Catoblepas, are often portrayed as bulls of which breaths can petrify. One weird exception is in "Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow"; the still-bull-like Gorgon instead breathes poisonous gas. These images follow the Dungeons and Dragons depictions rather than the more culturally prevalent humanoid with snake hair motif.
  • In the game "Fire Emblem:the Sacred Stones", gorgons are snakelike creatures born of eggs, who use very powerful dark magic and can turn units into stone.
  • In the Playstation 2 game "God of War", the player, Kratos, encounters Medusa and fights gorgons as enemies. The gorgons appear as large snakes with female torsos and a head of snakes as hair. Kratos also uses the head of Medusa as a weapon in turning enemies into stone. Also collecting multiple gorgon eyes throughout the game gives Kratos a larger life meter.


  • In the movie "Small Soldiers", Gorgon is the home planet of the Gorgonites, a toy design of an alien race.
  • In the movie "The Gorgon" (1964) Peter Cushing plays Professor Karl Meister that investigates the circumstances of numerours petrification incidents in a British village.
  • In "Monsters Inc" one of the monsters was a Medusa like creature who contemplated getting a haircut, at which the snake-hairs panicked.
  • In the film "Clash of the Titans", Medusa is one of the main monsters. There it is said that she was caught in one of Aphrodite's temples making love to Poseidon by Aphrodite herself. She was cursed by being turned from a beautiful woman to an ugly woman with snakes for hair and a snake like lower body. In addition to turning people to stone with her gaze, this Medusa also used arrows and unnerved enemies with the rattle on her tail tip.
  • The film "Gorgo", one of the small Gorgo's owner revealed that he had named the beast after the Gorgon.


  • In the Disney Channel Original Series "American Dragon: Jake Long", the Season #2 premiere featured the Gorgon Sisters. However, Stheno was renamed Fury (she was quite infuriating) because of the difficulty to pronounce the name, and she was the most named, since she was the first to make an appearence. To give them a modern flavor, they were depicted as arrogant, self-concious, and very air-headed, losing focus for something as trivial as a single split-end.
  • "Gorgon" is one of The Infershia Pantheon in "Mahou Sentai Magiranger" as well as her Power Rangers: Mystic Force counterpart, Serpentina.
  • In the short lived FOX cartoon series "Siegfried and Roy: Masters of the Impossible", one of the monsters that the cartoon Siegfried and Roy faced was the Medusa.

Visual novels/Anime/Manga/Comics

  • In the Japanese visual novel and anime series "Fate/Stay Night", the Servant Rider is none other than Medusa herself.
  • In the manga "Air Gear" by Oh! Great, the storm rider Mimasaka Ryō is known as the "Gorgon Shield" due to her ability to paralyze her opponents.

See also

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.