Slaying of Medusa

Perseus rendered his name immortal by his conquest of Medusa.The conqueror placed Medusa's head on the shield of Athena which he had used in his expedition. The head still retained the same petrifying power as before, as it was fatally known in the court of Cepheus

Perseus and the head of Medusa in a Roman fresco at Stabiae

Perseus and Medusa. Pompeiian wall painting, ca. AD 50 - 79. Perseus, carrying head of Medusa, liberates Andromeda; dead sea monster at left.

The Death of Medusa

     Now she pulled her cowl down again. Her hair writhed with the serpentine undulations. The golden snakes separated from her locks and hissed softly. Perseus stood still, both enthralled and terrified. From her forelock, one strand of hair turned darkest black, red eyes glowing like coals.
     “Do you know who this is, Perseus?”
     “Venpay” he breathed.
     She nodded. “You have seen his children’s work. Venpay has the purest venom in the world. When his fangs sink, my death will be certain, and none can reverse it. He tells me because of my close proximity to him for many months, I will not be spared an instant death. My time will take perhaps a few minutes, and it will be a death of asphyxiation and fear. He advises that it would be a kindness to sever my head." She pointed to the adamant sword. “Using that, it would be instant and painless.”
     He looked away. “I cannot kill the woman I love.”
     She spoke. “I understand the prophesy. Only the man who truly loves me can do this. A strike to me will be a strike to Poseidon himself, and on my behalf.”
     She saw him waver. She walked to him and kissed him gently, softly, then reached and caressed his face, smiling, at peace. “This is the time.”
     She reached back and took the sole black lock from her scalp. She kissed Venpay and stroked his head. She whispered to him, then smiled and spoke to Perseus. “I am thanking him for his gift of his venom. It is a singular honor never before bestowed upon a mortal.”
     She gently took Venpay’s head and held it to her wrist. “Strike at my command, Perseus. Our sons, Cassup, and all within can be saved."
     The ancient serpent god wrapped around her wrist, and then gently sank its fangs into her skin. Even as he watched, stunned, she began to pale and slow.
     “Strike, if you have strength!" The voice was Stheno's.
     “Strike, if you have courage!" The voice was Euryale’s.
     “Strike, if you love me." The voice was Medusa’s, and weakening fast.
     Nearly blinded by tears, he brought the adamant blade in a perfect arc toward her neck. The last mortal words she heard were his cry for forgiveness.
     Her lids closed as she awaited the sword’s blessed release. She had planned for her last moments to be in prayer for the delivery of her children, but as her eyes shut, she found herself detached from her body and back in that of the dream horse. Instead of paralysis, the coursing venom seemed to impart immense strength and vitality.
     She ran with all her strength, boldly and without hesitation toward the cliff. Her front hoofs found the edge and she leapt with joy, reaching for the stars themselves breaking through the evening skies. All fear was banished, replaced by elation.
     In the moment when she was perfectly balanced between the strength of the leap and the pull of gravity, a rippling came from her shoulders. Instinctively she pushed down, then up. Huge wings had unfurled, bedecked in white feathers each longer than a man’s arm. She pulled herself up into the air, striving for the beckoning stars, hoofs catching on the air as if it were turf. She cried out in a shout of delight, the sound swirling the cosmos.
     Stars shattered and scattered and realigned. 

Excerpt - S.D. Hine's Medusa

Medusa and Poseidon

Poseidon on an Attic kalyx krater (detail), first half of the 5th century BC.

Poseidon desecrated the temple of Athena by seducing the young and beautiful Medusa within the sacred chambers. The goddess found this behavior so deplorable that she punished the maiden by changing her into a hideous monster. Just one look into her abhorrent face would instantly turn any observer into stone.

Poseidon moves towards the Gorgon Medousa holding a trident in his hand. The Gorgon has a crown and belt of snakes. Beside her a double Medousa lies beheaded. The winged horse Pegasos springs forth from her neck.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

 The quiet was unnatural in this temple that had so recently heard the clash of bronze, the cries of fear, and the groans of the dying. Now, silence was more alien than the blood splattered walls.

    She walked down the corridor, careful to avoid slipping in a puddle of blood too fresh to have congealed. A snaking tendril of sunshine illuminated a passage, and she paused to observe the sole occupant: A priest stood frozen, mouth open in a silent shout, arm raised and holding a sword. He would hold that pose until he was buried or burned, like so many others.

     She continued her walk, ignoring other frozen men until she reached the center sanctum. There, towering above, was the statue of Poseidon, his thrusting trident held above his head. Marble eyes flashed aquamarine for a moment, illuminating the scowling visage. Dimly, she registered the bloody, torn bodies of two priests tossed in the corner like a child's rag doll.

     Delicate fingers reached to the cowl of her robe and let it fall. Golden hair cascaded around her shoulders, framing a striking face. As her green eyes locked with Poseidon's, her hair seemed to rise, hissing and writhing, golden serpents replacing her tresses.

     "Greetings, Lord Poseidon" she whispered. "Remember me?"

~ Excerpt from Medusa

The Finding of Medusa

Perseus sought out Medusa's lair, surrounded as it was by the petrified remains of previous visitors, and he found the Gorgon sleeping.

The Calling of Perseus


At the beginning of his quest for the head of Medusa, Perseus receives help from the goddess Athena, although at first he spurns her words of advice. She gives him a sword and a mirror to protect him from the Gorgon, whose glance turns men to stone. He next proceeds to the three Graiae, who collectively share a single tooth and a single eye, which Perseus snatches from them in order to gain information about where he can find the sea nymphs. After he discovers the cave of the nymphs, they bestow on him the winged sandals of Hermes, the helmet of invisibility and a bag in which to carry Medusa's head.

Perseus pursued by Gorgons by "The Gorgon Painter" 580 BC

The handsome bowl atop this fancy stand in the Louvre (F874) is a dinos, a punch bowl that was filled with wine mixed with water and set out to serve the guests at a banquet or dinner party and into which they could dip their wine cups. We wonder, however, whether this one was ever put to such a use, its stand being so elaborate as to suggest it was created mainly as an ostentatious showpiece. It was made in Athens about 580 BC and painted by a painter who didn't sign it but is known today as "The Gorgon Painter," after this famous vase.

Most of the vase and its stand are painted in a series of bands or "friezes" with abstract geometric designs or rows of animals in the older "Geometric" and "Corintian" styles. Only the top band or frieze is given over to story-telling involving mythic heroes and their gods. The hero here is Perseus, who, backed by Athena and Hermes, set out to behead the mortal Gorgon Medusa and bring her head back to Athena. On the vase we see Hermes and Athena standing by to protect Perseus right after he beheaded Medusa and now flees from her two immortal sister Gorgons.

Hermes and Athena abet the murder of Medusa, who falls headless, as her sister Gorgons chase after Perseus. The Louvre notes that "In place of her severed head, the painter has drawn a series of hatched strokes." I think he meant them as spurting streams of blood. Note, below the geometric palm frieze in the band below them, in the same "kneeling/running" pose as the three Gorgons, the Mistress of the Beasts between a lion and a lioness.

Medusa's two sister Gorgons chasing Perseus. Like Medusa, all three figures here wear winged ankle-boots, signs of speed as well as flight, and all four of them are drawn in the "kneeling-running" pose that prevailed in the Archaic period. Also, unlike Perseus, all three Gorgons have Archaic wings curved like scythes, and they are twisted from the waist up to face and frighten the viewer and ward off evils or whatever. 

Reposted from Ancient Worlds

Perseus Pursuing Medusa

Perseus, wearing the winged cap and boots of Hermes, chases after the Gorgon Medousa with sword drawn. The Gorgon is depicted as a winged woman with talonned hands, a broad round face, wide mouth, protruding tongue and staring eyes.

More Perseus and the Hesperides

The Arming of Perseus - Edward Burne-Jones

The Arming of Perseus -  Edward Burne-Jones 

Athena instructed Perseus to find the Hesperides, who were entrusted with weapons needed to defeat the Gorgon. Following Athena's guidance, Perseus sought out the Graeae, sisters of the Gorgons, to demand the whereabouts of the Hesperides, the nymphs tending Hera's orchard. The Graeae were three perpetually old women, who had to share a single eye. As the women passed the eye from one to another, Perseus snatched it from them, holding it for ransom in return for the location of the nymphs. When the sisters led him to the Hesperides, he returned what he had taken.

Athena wearing her aegis, with its snake-fringe and gorgon head Toledo 1963.26, Attic black figure calyx krater, c. 520-515 B.C. 

From the Hesperides he received a knapsack (kibisis) to safely contain Medusa's head. Zeus gave him an adamantine sword and Hades' helm of darkness to hide. Hermes lent Perseus winged sandals to fly, while Athena gave him a polished shield. Perseus then proceeded to the Gorgons' cave. 

Perseus and the Hesperides

 THE HESPERIDES were the goddesses of the evening and golden light of sunset. The three nymphs were daughters of either Nyx (Night) or the heaven-bearing Titan Atlas. They were entrusted with the care of the tree of the golden apples which was first presented to the goddess Hera by Gaia (Earth) on her wedding day. They were assisted in their task by a hundred-headed guardian drakon named Ladon. Herakles was sent to fetch the apples as one of his twelve labours, and upon slaying the serpent, stole the precious fruit. However, Athena later returned them to the Hesperides.

The Hesperides were also the keepers of other treasures of the god. Perseus obtained from the artifacts he required to slay the Gorgon Medusa.

The three nymphs and their golden apples were apparently regarded as the source of the golden light of sunset, a phenomena celebrating the bridal of the heavenly gods Zeus and Hera.

Detail of the three Hesperides, the tree of the Golden Apples and the coiling Drakon - British Museum, London, UK

Perseus and the Graiae

At the beginning of his quest for the head of Medusa, Perseus receives help from the goddess Athena, although at first he spurns her words of advice. She gives him a sword and a mirror to protect him from the Gorgon, whose glance turns men to stone. He next proceeds to the three Graiae, who collectively share a single tooth and a single eye, which Perseus snatches from them in order to gain information about where he can find the sea nymphs. 

After he discovers the cave of the nymphs, they bestow on him the winged sandals of Hermes, the helmet of invisibility and a bag in which to carry Medusa's head.

Edward Burne-Jones - Perseus and the Graiae

The Gorgon Sisters' Sisters

The Graeae were two, or some say three, ancient sea-daimones (spirits) who personified the white foam of the sea. They were grey from birth, and shared among themselves a single detatchable eye and tooth.

Perseus & Graea, Athenian red-figure krater
C5th B.C., Archaeological Museum of Delos

The graeae guarded the passage that led to where their sisters were. When Perseus was searching for Medusa, he stole their one eye and one tooth which they shared, forcing them to help him find and kill Medusa. 

Their names suggest rather dire monsters--Deino "the terrible." Enyo "the warlike" and Persis "the destoyer."

The Graiai were usually depicted as old crones. However according to Aeschylus they were Seiren-shaped monsters with the head and arms of old women and the bodies of swans.

Perseus Returning the Eye of the Graiai, Henry Fuseli.


Euryale was the second eldest one of the Gorgons, three vicious sisters with brass hands, sharp fangs, and hair of living, venomous snakes.

Euryale's name is translated to mean "far-roaming." She was known for her bellowing cries. Her cries were projected from her due to her mourning for her sister. It is said that Athena invented the flute to try and copy the cries of Euryale.

She and her sister Stheno, were immortal, where as Medusa was mortal. In some versions of mythology, Euryale also had the ability to turn anyone to stone with her gaze. They were daughters of primordial sea god and goddess Phorcys and Ceto, who personified the dangers of the sea. In many stories, Euryale is noted for her bellowing cries, particularly in the tale of Medusa's death at Perseus' hands.

Museum of Nabeul Athena tossing away the flutes she had just invented. She did so after she realized (by seeing her image in a river) that playing them disfigured her face (from Kelibia)


Stheno in Greek mythology, was the eldest of the Gorgons, vicious female monsters with brass hands, sharp fangs and "hair" made of living venomous snakes. Her name can be translated as “forceful” or “mighty.” She and her sister Euryale were both immortal, and the third sister, Medusa, was mortal until she was immortalized in her hideousness by Athena.

Of the three Gorgons, she was known to be the most independent and ferocious, having killed more men than both of her sisters combined. In Greek mythology, she was transformed into a Gorgon because of standing with her sister Medusa, who was raped by the sea god Poseidon in the Temple of Athena.

Athena wears the ancient form of the Gorgon head on her aegis, as the huge serpent who guards the golden fleece regurgitates Jason; cup by Douris, Classical Greece, early fifth century BC – Vatican Museum