50. Medusa (Greek Mythology)


Today, we celebrate our fiftieth episode with one of Lizzie's favorite Mytholadies ever, Medusa herself! We discuss how the depictions of her have changed throughout the years, whether or not Medusa is really a monster, and why her image has stayed with us for so long.

This episode has a TRIGGER WARNING for mentions of sexual assault.

For more information about today's episode, go to mytholadies.com.

To donate, please go to ko-fi.com/mytholadies.  

Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux.  You can find her and more of her work on Instagram @helena.cailleaux.illustratrice. Our theme song was composed and performed by Icarus Tyree. To hear more of their music, check out icarust.bandcamp.com.

Transcript

(musical intro)

 

Zoe 

Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about woman from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.

 

Lizzie 

I'm Lizzie.

 

Zoe 

And I'm Zoe. Lizzie, how are you?

 

Lizzie 

I'm fine. There's, like, a really big storm here in the Netherlands.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So it's raining a bit right now. So I'm sorry about that. If you can hear rain. I can't control that.

 

Zoe 

Or wind.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, or wind. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Lots of wind.

 

Lizzie 

Nothing I can do for--about that.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But, um, yeah, other than that, I'm perfectly fine. I got new glasses, so that's exciting.

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

They're reading glasses. I don't really need them. I'm just kind of wearing them because it's kind of--it's kind of nice.

 

Zoe 

Yeah! For sure.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway, how are you?

 

Zoe 

I'm good. School is busy. Life is busy. It's also been really windy here, which is wild because the Netherlands is the other side of the world. But we're having, like, very similar weather.

 

Lizzie 

The weather is just bad in the whole, like, northern hemisphere right now.

 

Zoe 

Really?

 

Lizzie 

I don't know.

 

Zoe 

Do you know why that is?

 

Lizzie 

That's a bit of an exaggeration. No, I have no idea. I don't know anything about the weather.

 

Zoe 

Oh, okay.

 

Lizzie 

I just--I've heard it from all over Europe, and also a bunch of places in America.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, I don't know what it's like back home, but here, it's, like, crazy windy. I know it snowed back home yesterday, but it does that a lot.

 

Lizzie 

Oh yeah, I heard that. It also snowed in the, um--the British Isles the other day.

 

Zoe 

Ooh.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Very exciting for them. Well, a few things before we get started. We do have a Ko-fi. Um, it's linked in our description. And you should give us money, 'cause it's very helpful with us to produce the show. We do this all by ourselves with no outside help, no, like, network or anything. So yeah, if you want to slide us a few dollars, please do. It'd be really nice.

 

Lizzie 

We would appreciate it greatly.

 

Zoe 

Also, we will be making bonus content in the future. So--which will only be accessed--

 

Lizzie 

Sometime soon.

 

Zoe 

--if you give us money. So.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

You might want to get on that if you'd like it (Lizzie laughs). I don't know. Anyways. Mm hmm. Also, we have a website where we put all our transcripts and sources, mytholadies.com. That is it. Uh, so Lizzie, today is a very special episode.

 

Lizzie 

It is! It's our fiftieth episode!

 

Zoe 

It's our fiftieth episode, and I told you to do something special. So.

 

Lizzie 

And I sure did (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Okay. All right. I don't know if I'm ready for this. But--

 

Lizzie 

I don't know if you are ready for this.

 

Zoe 

Who are we talking about?

 

Lizzie 

So, from the time that we started Mytholadies, I knew that I would do an episode on this lady at some point in the future. Saving it for a special occasion. And now that day is today.

 

Zoe 

Wait, can I guess?

 

Lizzie 

I'm very excited--yes, I would like you to guess!

 

Zoe 

Is it Baba Yaga?

 

Lizzie 

Actually, no, it's not Baba Yaga

 

Zoe 

Oh, okay.

 

Lizzie 

Do you have a second guess?

 

Zoe 

No--

 

Lizzie 

Oh, really?

 

Zoe 

Oh, um Circe? Did you do Circe?

 

Lizzie 

No, I thought it would be your first guest, actually. I always assumed that you would let me have this lady because I just love her and it's very well-documented, my love for her.

 

Zoe 

Oh, I know who you're doing! I know who you're doing.

 

Lizzie 

Who is it?

 

Zoe 

You're doing Medusa.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly! (Laughs)

 

Zoe 

Yep (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

I'm doing Medusa (both laugh).

 

Lizzie 

I thought that would be your first guess, honestly. I love Medusa. Um, I have, like, two different images of her on my wall. I love her so much.

 

Zoe 

Uh, okay.

 

Zoe 

We have the same Medusa back-patch on our jackets.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, exactly. Well, I actually took it off of my jacket because I didn't want to scare children, but now it's hanging on my wall.

 

Zoe 

Oh. Oh. I guess I scare children, then.

 

Lizzie 

I don't think it actually scares children. I was just a little bit--

 

Zoe 

Oh, yeah. Gotcha.

 

Lizzie 

To be honest, I don't think Caravaggio's Medusa is that horrifying? Like, I guess it is. I don't--I mean, I don't know.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

It was just a precaution.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, for sure. All right, well, tell us about her, Lizzie.

 

Lizzie 

Okay (laughs). Okay, so today we're talking about Medusa from Greek mythology. So Medusa is one of three Gorgons, who are creatures in Greek mythology who had the power to turn living beings who looked at them to stone. They're typically depicted with snakes for hair and often wings, claws, and tusks, though they are also sometimes depicted as beautiful maidens.

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

So their parents are Phorcys and Ceto, who are both primordial sea deities, the children of Pontus, the personification of the sea, and Gaia, the personification of the earth. So they're siblings and also married. And they're most well-known in Greek mythology for parenting several creatures, including the Graeae, the half-snake woman Echidna, and the Gorgons.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Good work.

 

Lizzie 

Pretty, um, exciting offspring, and Echidna went to give birth to a bunch of other monsters--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--like the Chimera, so, whew.

 

Lizzie 

So the word Gorgon comes from the Greek gorgós, meaning “grim” or “dreadful.”

 

Zoe 

Nice.

 

Lizzie 

The eldest Gorgon is Stheno, whose name means "forceful" or "strong." Then Euryale, whose name means "far-roaming" or "wide-stepping." And the youngest Gorgon sister is Medusa, whose name means "guardian" or "protectress"--

 

Zoe 

Hmm!

 

Lizzie 

--from the ancient Greek μέδω, “to rule over or protect.”

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So Stheno and Euryale were immortal, and Medusa alone was mortal. All three had the power to turn people to stone. Any living creature would immediately turn to stone upon looking at their faces, and even the snakes that they had for hair--that they sometimes had for hair--had to twist away from their faces to avoid looking right at them.

 

Zoe 

Interesting!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So the main story associated with Medusa is her death at the hands of the hero Perseus.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danaë, a princess from Argos. Danaë's father, King Acrisius, had been told by the oracle at Delphi that he would be killed at the hands of his grandson. So he locked Danaë away so that she could never become pregnant.

 

Zoe 

Mmm.

 

Lizzie 

But Zeus impregnated her in the form of a shower of gold that fell on her lap. And so King Acrisius cast his daughter and grandson into the sea in a wooden chest.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

hey washed ashore at the island of Seriphos and were taken in by the fisherman Dictys. How much of this do you already know all the details of?

 

Zoe 

I know most of this, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

(laughing) Yeah, I figured.

 

Zoe 

But you should keep--you should keep telling it though, because there might be people who don't know the details.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of this stuff is stuff that people know, but I'm still gonna go over it.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So Dictys was the brother of the king of the island, Polydectes. Polydectes fell in love with Danaë, but Perseus didn't approve, so he wouldn't let him near his mother.

 

Zoe 

Hmm. Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So Polydectes held a very large banquet where every man was meant to bring a gift of a horse. But Perseus didn't have any horse to give. So he offered to bring Polydectes another gift of Polydectes's choosing. So Polydectes demanded the head of Medusa, the only mortal Gorgon, whose gaze turned people to stone.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

 Yeah. So Perseus received help from the gods to complete his mission. From Athena, he received a mirrored shield. From Hermes, he received winged sandals, a diamond sword, and Hades' cap of invisibility. With these items in hand, he came to the Gorgon's cave where Medusa was sleeping. Using the mirrored sword to avoid looking at her directly, he approached her and cut off her head.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

 At this time, Medusa was pregnant by Poseidon, and when she was beheaded, Pegasus, the winged horse, and Chrysaor, either a giant or a winged boar, sprang from her neck.

 

Zoe 

Nice.

 

Lizzie 

Perseus then used Medusa's severed head to turn his enemies into stone, including King Atlas, and, of course, Polydectes. So that's, like, the first kind of--the earliest interpretation of the Perseus story.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Is Andromeda not in the first one? In the early one?

 

Lizzie 

Actually, I don't know. I wasn't really focusing on Andromeda. I think she is. I just--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, the first version, or like, I guess not the first version, but some of the earlier versions are more like--well, it says that Medusa lay with Poseidon in a field. So the impregnation was consensual in this particular story.

 

Zoe 

Uh huh, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Anyway. So the Greek writer Pausanias also wrote that Perseus buried Medusa's head in the Agora in Argos to protect the city. And the writer Palaephatus wrote that Perseus put Medusa's head on his ship, which he then named Gorgon and sailed around demanding money from people--

 

Zoe 

Hm!

 

Lizzie 

--threatening to turn them to stone if they didn't comply.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah, he wasn't the best (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Apparently not.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway. So the other main interpretation of Medusa's story appeared later in the Classical Period, notably by Ovid. So in the Ovid version, the three Gorgons are beautiful maidens and Medusa is the most beautiful of all, and had many suitors. One day, Poseidon raped her in Athena's temple, and Athena punished Medusa by turning her hair to snakes and making her the monster we know from the Perseus story.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean, these two version--they're not, like, in competition with each other. It's just that they appeared in different texts.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. So in one version, Medusa is more of a primordial being and the other she is a mortal that was turned into a monster.

 

Lizzie 

Well, in both versions she is mortal. It's just that in the second version, she's more, like, human. Like, she's a beautiful young maiden.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Whereas in the first one, she's a creature who is just mortal, unlike her sisters.

 

Lizzie 

Which is why she was able to be killed--like, why Perseus was sent after her and why Athena also wanted her dead. I don't know. Anyway, another detail from Ovid's Metamorphoses is that when Perseus traveled from the Gorgon's den to Athena, he used the winged sandals from Hermes--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

 --and flew over Libya, holding Medusa's severed head. Did you know this?

 

Zoe 

I did know he had the wing sandals.

 

Lizzie 

Oh. Well, I said that before (laughs).

 

Zoe 

I know.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway (laughs) so typically, Medusa was thought to live in either Ethiopia or Libya, which, note, the ancient Greeks called all of North Africa Libya, so saying Libya could refer to anywhere in North Africa--

 

Zoe 

Fascinating.

 

Lizzie 

--not just the country of Libya.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And as Perseus flew over Libya, drops of blood fell from Medusa's head and when they hit the earth, turned into snakes.

 

Zoe 

Ah, yes.

 

Lizzie 

This is why Libya is now full of snakes. You've heard this?

 

Zoe 

I do remember the drops of blood turning into snakes.

 

Lizzie 

(laughs) Yeah. Kind of cool. It's like the opposite of St. Patrick, you know?

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Oh, that's so true. Medusa and St. Patrick are opposites.

 

Lizzie 

(laughs) Exactly. The Roman poet Lucan also wrote that Athena forbade Perseus from taking the quickest route home, precisely because he could turn entire cities to stone by flying overhead.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

Which is why he travelled across Libya instead, because it was untilled land.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

According to this. I-I don't know if that's--I don't think--that doesn't sound true to me. But I don't know. I mean, I don't know. I--Not like I know the history of the Sahara. Anyway.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

When he flew over the desert, the first snake to be formed from Medusa's blood was the deadly asp, one of the deadliest snakes in Libya, which--

 

Zoe 

Ah, yes.

 

Lizzie 

--according to my research, corresponds to the Egyptian Cobra.

 

Zoe 

Oh! Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

That's very interesting, actually.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. It also says in Ovid that at one point Perseus wished to wash his hands in the water of the Red Sea. So he put down Medusa's head on some seaweed, which caused it to harden, creating coral.

 

Zoe 

Oh! Wow.

 

Lizzie 

Did you know that?

 

Zoe 

I did not know that. I did not know that, Lizzie.

 

Lizzie 

Finally something new, then.

 

Zoe 

Yes.

 

Lizzie 

And nowadays, there is actually an order of coral known as gorgonian coral or soft coral--

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

--which contains about 500 species of coral.

 

Zoe 

Wow!

 

Lizzie 

Isn't that--I mean, if you look at coral, it does kind of look, like, snaky.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean, I know that--aren't a lot of jellyfish named after Medusa or, like, Medusa in, like--

 

Lizzie 

In fact, yes, they are (laughs).

 

Zoe 

 --in, like, romance languages and stuff?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. In a lot of--a lot of European languages. The--the--some variant of Medusa is the word for jellyfish, notably in Spanish and French, but also Lithuanian, Hungarian, Russian, Greek, Croatian, Czech, Polish, Swedish, and more.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

Which, yeah. And also, I honestly find it interesting that it's the Greek word for jellyfish as well.

 

Zoe 

Is it?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Huh. That is interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, right?

 

Zoe 

But is it the modern Greek word, not the ancient Greek word?

 

Lizzie 

No, it's the modern Greek word.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, I don't even know if Ancient Greece had a word for jellyfish.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know, honestly. Maybe they did, I don't know. Anyway (laughs), so, um, before we go forward, do you want to tell me your thoughts on the Medusa story?

 

Zoe 

Well, yes. I do wanna tell you my thoughts (laughs). Um--

 

Lizzie 

Okay.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean, this is a story that obviously I'm quite familiar with that I'm familiar with, like a lot of Greek myths, because I obsessively read D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths as a child--

 

Lizzie 

Uh, so did I!

 

Zoe 

Um, and so--like, it's an interesting story. I think that the variations in her story are interesting, as opposed to the one where she is just sort of birthed naturally from these two gods, as opposed to when she's created by Athena, as a monster. I think that obviously the story of her being assaulted by Poseidon and then being turned into a monster because it was in Athena's temple is obviously quite upsetting. It's not--

 

Lizzie 

It's completely unfair.

 

Zoe 

It's not Athena's best moment.

 

Lizzie 

It's really not her best moment. I mean, she--she's, like, so tied to the Medusa story, even in other versions, like she really wants Medusa dead.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

It's very weird.

 

Zoe 

That is really weird. I don't--I guess that's the why, um. It's just also interesting because I think Athena probably couldn't have really lashed out at Poseidon the way she wanted to, probably. I don't know.

 

Zoe 

I mean--

 

Lizzie 

I mean, yeah, maybe not. Probably.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, they were, like, equals, whereas Medusa was--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--a mortal.

 

Zoe 

It's just harder to like, react to gods than mortals.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

And that's, I think, is just a huge theme of Greek mythology in general, is the gods taking out their issues with each other on mortals who just kind of get caught in the middle.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly, yeah.

 

Zoe 

The Trojan War (laughs). Uh, for example.

 

Lizzie 

(laughs) Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Also--what was the one I was thinking of? Oh, I mean, basically any instance of, like, Zeus having an affair with a mortal woman and Hera getting revenge. Um, is like--

 

Lizzie 

Yes.

 

Zoe 

It's always the mortals who's being punished. Zeus never really gets--

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

--gets punished. Um, but yeah.

 

Lizzie 

The--the gods just do literally whatever insane thing and then the mortals have to suffer.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

That's the theme of Greek mythology.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, that is the theme of Greek mythology. The gods can do whatever they want to you, and there's nothing you can do about it. Which is very--

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

--it's a very, it's a kind of dark view.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

There's little, like, free will there. But yeah, so that's sort of like my main--

 

Lizzie 

But, like, nothing happens to Poseidon in the story, like, at all.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean--yeah.

 

Lizzie 

He doesn't even appear at the end in any way. He's just, like, there for a second and does a horrible, violent crime.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, and the only thing I can think of is where he almost gets--this isn't really the same thing. But like, when Andromeda is being chained to a rock to be sacrificed, and then Perseus turns the monster into stone with the head of Medusa, like, I guess that's something

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Um, but that's not really--Poseidon can deal with that, it's not really a big thing for him. But yeah, like, he doesn't really get any comeuppance for his actions. And yeah, so that's like my main thoughts about that aspect of the story. I think that--I also think it's interesting that her sisters get transformed with her, because like, they didn't even do anything. So it's like--

 

Lizzie 

See, the thing is with that version it's unclear to me what her sisters are doing.

 

Zoe 

Uh huh.

 

Lizzie 

Like, it doesn't really say. It just says that she was transformed.

 

Zoe 

Okay, yeah. Well, that's also interesting to think about.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean (laughs), in most stories, you don't really see what becomes of Euryale and Stheno. Like, in some versions, they chase after Perseus and he escapes.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

But--yeah, nothing really else is said about them besides that they are Medusa's sisters.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And that they're immortal. But, like, we don't know what happens to them.

 

Zoe 

Eh. Also, I know in some stories, Athena then puts the head of Medusa on her shield.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, she does. Exactly.

 

Zoe 

Which is like, it's really a whole thing. A whole thing that she has against Medusa.

 

Lizzie 

No, yeah. Literally. It's very weird.

 

Zoe 

But yeah, I mean, those are my preliminary thoughts about the story. What do you have for me?

 

Lizzie 

(laughing) A whole lot.

 

Zoe 

I know. I know you do. Alright (both laugh).

 

Lizzie 

Okay, so, hearing the Medusa story, one of the thing that strikes me about it is juxtaposition between the way she's perceived as a terrifying villainous monster, and the fact that her character doesn't really behave in a monstrous way at all. In the version where Athena transforms her into a monster, I think it's clear that Athena cursed her and doomed her, and it's easy to interpret as a tragedy on Medusa's behalf.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But even in the other versions, she doesn't take action against anyone at all. She doesn't turn people to stone on purpose, or out of any ill will.

 

Zoe 

Mmm.

 

Lizzie 

It's something that happens without her permission. And we never hear of her going out into the world to turn people into stone. In fact, it seems like she stays in the Gorgon's den with her sisters and doesn't really go into the outside world at all. Polydectes gives Perseus the mission to kill Medusa in order to get rid of Perseus, and not even out of a specific grudge against Medusa. And when Perseus does kill Medusa, he does it while she's asleep.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

 Which is actually a rather unheroic way--

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

--to kill what's supposed to be an evil monster.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I was thinking that as well. Although it does feel realistic. But, like--

 

Lizzie 

I mean, definitely.

 

Zoe 

--that's not the point of Greek myths. Or any myths.

 

Lizzie 

It really--(laughs) Exactly. And there's no fight or struggle the way that there would be with, like, an evil villain. Medusa didn't attempt to fight Perseus at all. She wasn't even given the opportunity to defend herself since she was unconscious.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And even the way Medusa is spoken about now suggests that she's an evil villain. But if you actually think about Medusa's story, it's very sad. No living creature can look at her face without being turned to stone. And it isn't even an active ability that she has. It's not that she turns people to stone by looking at them, it's that she turns people to stone by being looked at.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

She has no say in the matter, which sounds like it would actually be incredibly lonely.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

 Like, Zoe, what happens in the legend of King Midas and the Golden Touch?

 

Zoe 

Well, he can't eat or drink because he--everything he touches turns to gold, so he's not getting any food and he's, like, starving to death. So he has to ask for his gift to be taken back.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And he accidentally kills his daughter.

 

Zoe 

Right, that too.

 

Lizzie 

By turning her to stone. Like he starts off with, like, yeah, this rocks. I'm rich. But then he ends up realizing it's very, like, lonely and sad to not be able to touch anything or anyone, and he ends up just hating it. And I mean, like, yeah, kind of the same thing with Medusa. Or, well, worse 'cause she didn't even ask for it. Like, she must be very lonely. Like, she can only talk to her sisters. And--yeah. She can't--she can't do anything. She just stays in her little Gorgon's den all day, and then she just gets killed.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And she gets killed because of, like, who she is, rather than anything that she's done. And that's really unfair (sighs). Anyway. I do think that her story is a tragedy, where she's persecuted and punished for things that aren't really her fault. And she doesn't really have any agency at all, yet her powers are used by her enemies even after her death.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, that's also really interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So when people talk about Medusa, they usually talk about her monstrousness, her rage, etc., with varying degrees of compassion for her as a figure--some more, some less. But what's almost never talked about is her associations with healing and protection.

 

Zoe 

Mmm.

 

Lizzie 

I mentioned earlier that her blood created snakes in Libya and coral in the Red Sea, which is interesting because it means she isn't just associated with death, but also with the creation of new life. And another important part of her story involves her giving birth to Pegasus and Chrysaor, who were born after she was beheaded. In addition to that, Euripides wrote his play Ion that Gorgon blood can have healing properties as well as destructive properties.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

You just know everything that I'm telling you.

 

Zoe 

I don't know everything.

 

Lizzie 

In the play, Queen Creusa plots to kill someone with Gorgon blood, and she says, "Two drops of Gorgon blood. / One is poisonous, the other cures disease." And Apollodorus wrote that Asclepiu, a god of medicine, was given Gorgon blood by Athena--

 

Lizzie 

--and he, "used the blood that flowed from the veins on the left side for the bane of mankind, he used the blood that flowed from the right side for salvation. And by that means, he raised the dead."

 

Zoe 

Right.

 

Zoe 

Yes.

 

Lizzie 

Which, once again, a dual association with destruction and healing.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, for sure.

 

Lizzie 

Which--what strikes me about this is that Medusa's blood was used after her death for life-giving and healing purposes, which, for one thing, shows that Medusa as a figure is equally associated with life as she is with death, which makes you question the way she's perceived as a deadly monster.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

And for another thing, it may--I mean, it makes me think about how--even more about how unfair Medusa's fate is.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, her death helps Perseus rise to fame. It created life in the form of snakes and coral--which, I know that the deadly snake thing isn't exactly positive, but still.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

It was also what gave birth to Pegasus, who went on to help the hero Bellerephon defeat the Chimera, and Chrysaor. The blood from her severed head could heal wounds and raise the dead, and her head ended up being used by Perseus, Athena, and others for protection.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Like I mentioned before, after Perseus beheaded Medusa, he used her as a weapon, turning his enemies to stone, but also for protective purposes, in one instance, like I mentioned, burying her head in Argos to offer protection for the entire city. And in another instance, putting it on the helm of his ship.

 

Zoe 

Right, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Which (laughs), for one thing, I feel like it's a double standard that when Medusa turns people to stone by accident, she's seen as a monster who needs to be destroyed. But when Perseus does it on purpose, he's seen as a hero.

 

Zoe 

That's a very good point.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, he literally does the same thing that she does, but he does it on purpose--

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

--and, like, to kill people.

 

Zoe 

Yeah! That's very interesting, yeah. Like, she's just doing it because it's her nature--

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

--but Perseus is actively choosing to use her to hurt people.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly. And I mean, Perseus really isn't, like, that impressive of a hero (both laugh). Like, he killed her while-while she was sleeping.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean, I feel like he has so--like, the gods give him so many tools to help him.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, like, what does he ever do by himself?

 

Zoe 

Like, he has his sword, he has the--Hades--he has a cap of invisibility, like--

 

Lizzie 

Literally.

 

Zoe 

I could kill Medusa--

 

Lizzie 

Right? (laughs)

 

Zoe 

--if I had a cap of invisibility and a fancy sword.

 

Lizzie 

And a mirrored shield.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And protection from Athena.

 

Zoe 

And protection from--yeah, like--

 

Lizzie 

And winged sandals.

 

Zoe 

--what did he actually do? Also, why did they like him so much? I don't actually remember.

 

Lizzie 

Right? I-I don't know. I--

 

Zoe 

Maybe just 'cause he's the son of Zeus and Zeus was like, Yo, help my child out or something, like...

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I just know. Athena was like, Okay, time to kill Medusa so I'm gonna help--

 

Lizzie 

--this kid who's trying to kill Medusa because she just really hated Medusa.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

It's--yeah. It's very weird, actually.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway, but also in addition to legendary uses of her head. It was also common in ancient times to use images of Medusa's head for protective purposes. For example, outside of temples, as part of funerary monuments, outside homes, and on shields and armor. It was also common to wear pendants with Gorgon heads, which were known as Gorgoneia, as protective pendants. Gorgoneia were found all across the Mediterranean, including on coins in 37 cities, which made them one of the most popular images for money only beaten by Olympian deities.

 

Zoe 

Wow. That is really interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Isn't it? And yeah, so her image was used to scare away evil, intimidating and provoking fear in people. Sometimes to scare away enemies, and also sometimes to remind people to behave themselves. Like in the case of money--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--I read that it was more for, like, if you're using money, don't go looking at a picture of Medusa on a coin. It's, like, reminding you to--like, if you're stealing from your neighbors, and you have Medusa looking back at you and being scary and intimidating--

 

Zoe 

Interesting. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. It reminds people to behave themselves, and it's just, like, a generally scary thing to have on stuff.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So, thus with her associations of fear, death and anger, it's also equally important to remember her associations with life, healing, and protection.

 

Zoe 

Mm. Yeah. I feel like it's so interesting that that aspect of her is just completely erased.

 

Lizzie 

Isn't it?

 

Zoe 

And I feel like it's erased by both the people who are just, you know, the old guard of Classical scholars who are often kind of misogynistic, and like, are just, like, I'm just translating the myths as they are, or whatever. But also, like, I feel like when Medusa is often tried to be reclaimed by, like, feminists, they also don't talk about that fact. They just talk about--

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

--her victimhood, or, like, her power as an ugly monster, or whatever.

 

Lizzie 

(overlapping) Exactly, I completely agree.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly!

 

Zoe 

They don't really talk about the fact that maybe she wasn't even a monster at all, like she just--and she had the power to give and take life.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And, like, the idea that she can be reclaimed makes it seem like she has ever done anything wrong, which she kind of hasn't (Zoe laughs). I mean, (laughs) maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration. I don't care. I'm saying it. She never did anything wrong.

 

Zoe 

True.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, I do think that, like, evil involves some sort of intention.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, it-it's not her fault that she turns people to stone, like...

 

Zoe 

That's true. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

It's not the fault of a poisonous--venomous? Poisonous...

 

Zoe 

Yes, it's venomous.

 

Lizzie 

Well--(laughs)

 

Zoe 

If it bites you and you die, it's venomous. If you bite it, and you die, it's poisonous.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, either way, if some plant or animal's nature is to be, like, poisonous, it's not its fault.

 

Zoe 

No, it's not.

 

Lizzie 

That's just how she was born.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

You know. Anyway (Zoe laughs). I forget what my original point was here. But um, yeah.

 

Zoe 

Evil requires intention.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! Evil requires intention. I don't know. But also--yeah, it's totally true that people who condemn her and people who celebrate her tend to ignore, or they just don't know about these aspects of her.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

That there is equal healing as there is destruction, and that she has a lot of protective associations as well. Medusa's iconography has varied a lot over the centuries. Tracing her iconography, she has been commonly associated with bird and snake imagery--

 

Zoe 

Huh!

 

Lizzie 

--most notably with wings and snakes for hair.

 

Zoe 

Oh, okay, yeah. That makes sense.

 

Lizzie 

But she has also been frequently depicted with tusks like a boar, and sometimes as a horse or centauress.

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, it's, like, not as common, but--

 

Zoe 

That's interesting.

 

Lizzie 

--sometimes.

 

Zoe 

It makes sense, though.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, she did give birth to Pegasus, so, just--it does make a bit of sense.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I think that's probably the thing, yeah (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

She was also frequently depicted with a beard--

 

Zoe 

Huh!

 

Lizzie 

--and at one point also appeared with the head of a lion. Yeah, actually, Medusa with facial hair is a pretty common, um--like, when she's depicted in her, like, grotesque, fearsome form, she'll have, like, a beard and, like, tusks.

 

Zoe 

Hmm. Weird.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Anyway. Her association with birds and snakes suggests a relation to Neolithic death goddesses. Goddesses with bird and snake iconography appeared in the Neolithic era throughout Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, notably in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia and the Balkans.

 

Zoe 

Huh!

 

Lizzie 

And they're thought to be associated with birth, death and rebirth.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

The realms of the bird and snake cover all of the worlds. Birds fly in the heavens, but sometimes also occupy the waters. Snakes live on the earth and sometimes in the waters as well, and are often associated with the Underworld. Both birds and snakes represents rebirth, since birds molt and snakes shed their skin. In Neolithic Europe, birth and death were seen as a continuum. So the goddess of death also presided over rebirth.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Death wasn't viewed as the end, but just another phase in the cycle of death, birth and rebirth.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

In the myth of Medusa, she gives birth as she is dying--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--which exemplifies the duality of her association with both death and life.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, yeah, that's so true. Also, it just kind of--I don't know. I sort of picture his, like shedding a skin as Pegasus comes out of her neck, like, shedding the skin of Medusa and becoming Pegasus. I don't know.

 

Lizzie 

Yes.

 

Zoe 

That's a little gross. But yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, yeah, it's a little gross (laughs), but--yeah. Yeah. I mean, there are a lot of associations with her that are about life, like giving birth, fertility--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--which is so interesting because of the way that she's seen purely as death. Destruction. In Ancient Greece, society moved away from the cyclical view of death into a more linear one, and death became more fearsome, and death figures became horrific--

 

Lizzie 

--where once they were seen as more ambivalent. Many other monstrous female figures were also associated with snakes or birds, such as the Furies, sirens, and harpies.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Mm.

 

Lizzie 

Medusa can also be connected with Indo-European figures such as Ereshkigal, the Mesopotamian death goddess.

 

Zoe 

(overlapping) Ah, yes.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And, um, there's some detail about Ereshkigal that said that she has leeks for hair, which is sort of--

 

Zoe 

It's sort of snake-like.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, yeah. As well as Kali, a Hindu death goddess.

 

Zoe 

Yes.

 

Lizzie 

Which, both these figures also served protective purposes just as Medusa, but only Medusa is seen as monstrous and evil.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah, I feel like that shift from, like, death just being part of a cycle as to death being, like, the end of a line is very--a very interesting, like, shift in human history.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And it makes figures that you associate with death to be really terrifying. And--

 

Zoe  

Yeah. It makes death a lot scarier.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, it makes them seem, like, evil, even if it's before--or, like, otherwise, it's just a part of life.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Death is an important part of life. But in this linear view, it's, like, the end of everything.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So Medusa is just one example of many hybrid female figures with both animalistic and human features, which signified the other and were associated with destruction. Beginning around the fifth century BCE, there was a shift in representations of such figures from grotesque to more human and beautiful.

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

In ancient Greece, beauty was strongly associated with a goodness and morality, since it was thought that one's character was represented in their physical appearance. So an ugly appearance indicated evil, and a beautiful appearance indicated goodness. Over time, depictions of Medusa adapted more to the aesthetic sensibilities of the time, which favored beauty over ugliness.

 

Zoe 

I just think it's interesting that because they favor beauty, they make her more beautiful than like, the associations that she's a scary monster.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I think--I think what this means is that, like--I mean, I know she's evil, but I don't want to look at that, you know.

 

Zoe 

I guess so, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know. Anyway (Zoe laughs). I mean, I do think that it wasn't just that she was always viewed as, like, a horrifying monster. Like, there were times that--

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean, I feel like that's the sort of thing that I'm thinking about now is like, well, if they're not--wouldn't they want her to be more scary if she was evil?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, exactly. Well, like--okay, this is a bit tangential, but like, I do think that there are times when--or like, where it can at least be interpreted that Medusa is not really being viewed as evil, but as a more, like, sympathetic and, like, tragic figure, like the version where she is raped by Poseidon. I mean, she's definitely more sympathetic.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Like her--I mean, her life kind of sucks for no reason.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

And like, there are some depictions in art where it's like Percy is like running away from the Gorgons, and all this stuff. And that can be interpreted as making Perseus look stupid, like, he's running away from girls, you know--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--and he just beheaded some beautiful woman, and now he's just running away from her sisters. And that--that's meant to be kind of like comical--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--like, to laugh at Perseus--

 

Zoe 

Huh!

 

Lizzie 

--rather than celebrating him.

 

Zoe 

That is interesting.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, it's an interpretation. Like, we don't necessarily know what these people were thinking when they were drawing, or, like, when they were painting Perseus running away from the Gorgons and all this stuff.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, that's very true.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway, that's a theory that I read. Like, that he wasn't always meant to be super celebrated, but sometimes meant to be kind of comical.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, haha, he's running away from girls. Like, not really to be celebrated. That is very interesting. Yeah! I mean, I don't know the extent to which that's true.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

It's just--I don't know. We never know the context that these things are created in. Like, we just look at it, we take it at face value.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

We can't really ask people what they were doing 2000 years ago.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Anyway. So (laughs) then Medusa can be depicted as beautiful more frequently in art and literature. And this evolution continued even after the Classical Period. Baroque and Renaissance paintings of Medusa tended to depict her with human-like, often beautiful features, but were generally, from my experience, still meant to be horrifying. They depicted her severed head or petrifying gaze.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

 I saw so many paintings of her with a severed head. Like--(sighs) yeah.

 

Zoe 

You know--and it's also interesting that the head is what they focus on, as opposed to, like, her being alive.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean, I think that for a long time, it was mainly her head being depicted, and that her full body became more common later, like, with wings and whatever. But at first--I mean, the Medusa head is like--that's, like, the main iconography, you know.

 

Zoe 

It definitely is, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So nowadays, I feel like whenever I see art of Medusa, she's usually depicted in a way that's very, like, glamorous, like, sexualized, very seldom grotesque, or horrifying to behold.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Her association seems to have gone from uniquely horrifying to a symbol of seduction and power. I have mixed feelings about this really--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--but, um, anyway.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, I mean, like, I don't know why she would be considered seductive.

 

Lizzie 

No, I completely agree. Like, her story is--

 

Zoe 

Her story is that she was--she was assaulted, not consensually.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly. Exactly.

 

Zoe 

And to depict her as a seductress is kind of weird and questionable, in my opinion.

 

Lizzie 

No, I completely agree. Like, I was also thinking that because--I mean, does it really subvert the idea that she's evil when you depict her like that? Because, I mean, just the idea that seductresses are evil, and evil women are seductresses--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--and that they are like, always associated. Like, that she was, like, a monstrous figure. Thus, she's a seductive figure.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I mean--so like, I was talking about this with my--with my roommate, Cathy. And I was saying, like, oh, it's like, kind of annoying to me that she's like sexualized now.

 

Zoe 

Uh huh.

 

Lizzie 

And so she was saying to me, like, is it better if she's depicted as, like, monstrous and, like, grotesque? Or is it better when she's depicted as sexualized, where it can be seen as, like, empowering. And I don't see, like, a right answer to that. For me, personally, because I feel like there's some time--you can look at the depictions of her as monstrous and be like--when you can reclaim that it can be like, Yeah, great, but--I don't know. I don't know.

 

Zoe 

I feel like--well, first of all, I feel like there's a way for her to be empowering that's not her being, like, sexy and seductive.

 

Lizzie 

I agree.

 

Zoe 

And I don't think that there's anything wrong with being sexy and seductive. I just think in the particular context of her story, it's a questionable choice to make.

 

Zoe 

But also, like, I mean, I feel like a big part of Medusa's story is, like, ultimately, that she doesn't have the agency that she should have. She sort of has that taken away from her. And so like--I don't know, like--like, I guess I understand why people, like, want to sort of re-empower her because of that exact aspect, but it's also like, I don't know.

 

Lizzie 

Uh, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm. Like, there's nothing in her story that would suggest that she is, like, a sexual, like, seductive being.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, and I think that, like, the desire to sort of empower her comes from, like, her depiction as a monster.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And like as a victim. But yeah, no, I think she's powerful, which I get. I totally understand. But also--I don't know. I guess I feel weird about this over-glamorized--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--depiction of her.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Where it's like, are we forgetting the actual story and just focusing on her image?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know. I mean, there's no right answer.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

That's just--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And her face is depicted on the Versace logo, which in 1996, when Gianni Versace was asked why he chose Medusa for his logo, he said, "Medusa means seduction, a dangerous attraction.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Which, yeah (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Okay, sir.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, I know, I know (laughs). Which, to me, exemplifies the view of Medusa now. She's still seen as a deadly monster. But rather than fearing her, people seem to revere her to the point of glamour, seduction--arguably against some of the finer points of her actual myth. But it seems to me that representations of Medusa now are more likely to sexualize her than to paint her as grotesque, which, as you were saying, there's pros and cons of this sort of thing. I do think that it really takes her out of context of her story.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah. I feel like--I mean, again, I just feel like there can be a middle ground here (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, the whole point is that she's many things, she's not one thing.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

She can be beautiful and monstrous, she can be healing and destructive.

 

Lizzie 

And--I mean, I think it's just kind of the nature. Unless people are literally like, mythical scholars, they're not gonna, like, know every detail of her story, but...But yeah, I do think that the way people talk about her really takes her out of context. Like it's either that she's evil or that she's--well, I do think she was a victim but like, I-I don't know. I feel like when you see Medusa art now, she looks like a wonderful--she looks like a beautiful, like, glamorous woman.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But she has snakes for hair.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, the only really, like, distinctive thing about her that makes her Medusa is the snakes for hair thing.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know.

 

Zoe 

I like the tusks. I like the tusks, personally.

 

Lizzie 

Tusks--the tusks are kind of fun (laughs).

 

Zoe 

I think they're fun. I think they're fun. That's all I have to say.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I think the wings are also kind of fun.

 

Zoe 

They are.

 

Lizzie 

Something I came upon that I found very interesting is the ancient Greek writer, Lucian had an alternate interpretation of the legend of the Gorgons. He wrote in the second century CE that it is the beauty of the Gorgons. that stuns people. He contrasted Gorgons with sirens, saying that sirens charm people with their music, but Gorgons can stun people with their beauty.

 

Zoe 

Huh.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. To illustrate his point that "the power of the tongue is no match for the eyes." Which--I mean, that's like--this sort of goes with--along with the whole Medusa point. Either way, like, if she's so beautiful that she stuns people, or she's so ugly that she stuns people. I mean, like we were saying, Ancient Greece was very big on looks.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So it makes absolute sense that it's all tied to, like, how she looks and, like, how grotesque or beautiful that she is.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, for sure.

 

Lizzie 

Which--yeah, I think this is kind of an efficient way explaining the cultural hold of Medusa. No matter whether she is grotesque or beautiful, her imagery is striking. And the essence of her myth involves the idea that there is something so remarkably stunning or horrifying that a human being can't look directly at them

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Can't face them directly, only indirectly. When Medusa is monstrous, and when she's beautiful, and when she's both, she's too great for an ordinary person to behold.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Which is powerful. I mean, she really didn't have a lot of agency within her story, but like, she still in a way held a lot of power.

 

Zoe 

Uh huh. Yeah, like, she definitely did. Or, like, her story does, anyway.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Zoe 

I mean, her image. As oppo--more, like, so than her, exactly. But yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Exac--well, yeah. 'Cause she really didn't do very much. I mean, she had things happen to her, which is a shame. But um, anyway. (sighs) Medusa has appeared in art and literature from the days of ancient Greece to the present day, and has been depicted by dozens of famous artists like Caravaggio, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, and Peter Paul Rubens. She's also been written about by the likes of Dante Alighieri, Francis Bacon, Percy Shelley, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Sylvia Plath.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Which, to me, begs the question of why her image and her story are so long-lasting to the point of remaining culturally relevant consistently for thousands of years.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Um, what do you think? What do you think is the answer to that?

 

Zoe 

Ah, gosh. Well, I mean, I feel like the protection thing must be a big thing.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

To make your image last because if it's a protective image, like you want that around, therefore, there's just going to be more artifacts of, like--

 

Lizzie 

I mean, yeah.

 

Zoe 

--images with her around.

 

Lizzie 

Although--I mean, I'm sure she that she wasn't, like, the only protective figure in all of Ancient Greek mythology.

 

Zoe 

That's true. I'm wondering if there's something that--what we've been talking about this whole time of the-the juxtaposition of both extreme beauty and extreme ugliness. Like, even in, um, the second story about her, the idea is that she was so beautiful that she attracted the attention of Poseidon. And then, like, some stories say that Athena wanted to take away her beauty and punish her. And I think there's the sort of idea of--I don't know. In a lot of depictions there's sort of, like, the depiction of beauty while also depicting ugliness at the same time--

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

--and, like, changing aspects of her to be, like, ugly, like, showing her hair being snakes or, like, her having tusks or wings or whatever, but also keeping her face relatively beautiful and like, you know, still depicting a beautiful woman with monstrous features.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

And I feel like maybe that's something that interests people is just that she sort of represents both--sort of embodies both extreme beauty and extreme ugliness at the same time--

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

--and people are like, trying to figure out how that exists together.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, I totally agree. There's just something really, like, resonant and striking about her story. Like, the imagery and the myth itself is just--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

It just has a hold on people. Like, me as well (laughs). You know?

 

Zoe 

Yes. Yeah. I mean, like, for me, I feel like the imagery of Medusa throughout the ages is honestly more interesting and inspiring to me than, like, her actual story.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Like, I just--I love the image of her--like, again, I have the, you know, Caravaggio Medusa back-patch that I have on my jacket. And it's like, I love that image. I think it's--

 

Lizzie 

So do I!

 

Zoe 

--a really interesting and powerful image. And, like, I--when I look at it, I'm not really thinking about the story behind it. I'm just thinking about what a cool piece of art is.

 

Lizzie 

I agree. You know, I was kind of thinking about it while I was doing my notes of like, I was just thinking that when I look at Caravaggio's Medusa, I don't really see horror.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like to me, she looks like, I don't know, scared more than ferocious. I was reading a little bit about the painting. I read that either he used his own face for the face of Medusa or the face of, like, some male model. And I read one analysis that said that it's, like, Medusa, like, looking at herself, and, like, fearing, like, herself, of being, like, oh my God, I look like that. Like, I'm--and, like, sort of, like, petrifying herself. I don't know. Anyway.

 

Zoe 

That's really interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, yeah. I-I really like the Caravaggio painting. I like a lot of different ones. Actually, I like the one by Peter Paul Rubens, and--like, the one where she's, like, a severed head--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--like surrounded by, like, snakes. Anyway, my personal take--

 

Zoe 

Uh huh.

 

Lizzie 

--is that at the most basic level, the image of, like, a scary lady with snakes in her hair is cool, kind of like what you were saying--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--like, just really from, like, a visual perspective, it's just a cool image. And on a deeper level, it's-it's easy to find compassion for Medusa, particularly for women, which is why it makes sense that she's become a feminist icon.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Her story resonates with people. The legend of Medusa is ripe with misogyny, which makes her a great subject for feminist analysis and an appealing subject to reclaim, as many female artists and writers have. And her story is all that resonated with men, such as Sigmund Freud--

 

Zoe 

Euh.

 

Lizzie 

 --who viewed her story as an allegory for castration (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

You can--(laughs)

 

Zoe 

--um, whatever, Freud.

 

Lizzie 

You can trust Freud to come up with something so--

 

Zoe 

Stupid.

 

Lizzie 

--weird. Exactly (both laugh). Yeah. Anyway--and also, Karl Marx used the analogy of Medusa's head to talk about social "evils" that hide behind the "veil" of normalized capitalist production. Jean-Paul Sartre used her to talk about nihilism. Roland Bart used her transformation by Athena as a metaphor for beliefs or public opinion that are blindly accepted. There's something in her story for everyone (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Yeah, apparently so. That's a lot (both laugh).

 

Lizzie 

Lots of just, like, varying analogies using Medusa's story.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

 It's-it's amazing. In the myth of Medusa, her legacy long outlives her, with her disembodied head being used as a weapon or as a shield by Perseus and Athena. And similarly, the cultural legacy of Medusa has survived across centuries, long after her death long after the decline of Ancient Greece, and continues to grip people all over the world.

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

Including me.

 

Zoe 

Exactly. That was really awesome, thank you (Lizzie laughs) for making this a wonderful fiftieth episode, Lizzie.

 

Lizzie 

Aww!

 

Zoe 

Yeah! I love talking about it with you. And, yeah. I think she's such an interesting figure.

 

Lizzie 

I have so many thoughts about Medusa. There's also been so much scholarship about her--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--that I can never cover everything in one episode (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

 Hopefully I did a decent job.

 

Zoe 

I think so. I think so. All right. Well, thank you so much for listening to our fiftieth episode. If you enjoyed it, please make sure to subscribe, leave a review, tell all your friends that you liked us. And donate to our Ko-fi! And thank you so much. Have a great day, um (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

Thank you.

 

Zoe 

We'll see you in two weeks with another episode. Bye.

 

Lizzie 

Bye.

 

Outro, underscored by music:

 

Zoe 

Mytholadies Podcast is produced by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger.Today's episode was researched and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @Mytholadies, and visit us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thank you for listening. See you next time.