Revenge figures in many monster myths and stories. Magical spells turn human beings who have violated sacred laws or challenged a vengeful god into monsters. The unwelcome, and uninvited, guest at the party curses more than one fairy tale character with a monstrous fate. And sometimes monsters seek revenge on those who scorn them. Revenge figures in the story of Medusa.
Medusa was one of the Gorgons, but unlike her sisters she was mortal. Most versions of her story begin with Medusa as a beautiful, young woman, known for her charm and for her lovely hair. Poseidon pursues her and it’s very hard to turn down a god. In a world-class, bad choice for a romantic liaison, they have sex in the temple of Athena. The goddess, appalled by this violation, transforms Medusa’s beautiful hair into serpents.
A really, really bad hair day!
In other versions of the story, Poseidon rapes Medusa, making her transformation into a monster a terrible case of punishing the victim. Either way, her fame as a monster continued. The Gorgons bodies were covered in an armor made of scales and a mere glance could turn a man to stone — or kill him where he stood. As the only mortal Gorgon, Medusa was a prize monster fit for a hero.
Perseus managed the feat and cut off Medusa’s head. He placed it on the shield of Athena and — even without Medusa’s body — it retained its awesome power in battle. If you’re into scary images, check out Medusa’s head by Caravaggio. She’s clearly horrified and Caravaggio let’s you see her terror.
When looks can kill — there’s usually a monster in the house.