Medusa, mainly misunderstood

We all know about Medusa. A hideous creature with snakes for hair that turns people to stone with one look. But how did this come to be? As children we are told that Medusa was once a beautiful woman with beautiful hair. She bragged about her beauty until Athena became angry and jealous and turned her into Medusa. But recently I encountered Medusa’s story in what seems to be it’s more real form, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

Medusa was one of three Gorgon sisters, and she was the only one who was mortal. The three sisters were supposedly very wise and together they served Athena as priestesses. In some accounts we hear of Medusa being very vain and flaunting her beauty. In others she is more demure and does not make a show of her looks and hair. For some reason I tend to think of her on the demure side. A simple priestess trying to serve her goddess. And in the tale I recently heard she was portrayed thusly.

Insert note here: I have to admit, where I re-encountered her tale was actually on TV. The History Channel has a show called “Clash of the Gods” that caught my eye. I dvr’ed a few episodes, one being Medusa. I felt their take on her story was different than any I had heard before. They turned her into a sympathetic creature and from this show I saw Medusa in a new light. Now I am compelled to share this with whoever cares to listen.

So, Medusa was a beautiful priestess serving in Athena’s temple when Poseidon (or Neptune) takes a fancy to her. And what does he do about it? Rape her of course.

Here I want to go into my little diatribe about Poseidon, who is kind of a…well…kind of a dick. I’d love to do a whole blog post about that, but I dare not. I’m sure Poseidon would not take kindly to a blog post putting him on blast and I don’t need to have any angry gods in my life, especially considering that I live close to the sea.

But back to Medusa…..

Athena is of course enraged by this rape, but she is angry at Medusa, not Poseidon. This to me is the crux of the tale, and the main point where you either sympathize with Medusa or Athena. It all comes down to whether Medusa was this smart, beautiful, simple creature raped by Poseidon, or a vain, brash maiden flaunting her good looks and frolicking with the god of the sea. Again, something in my spirit makes me tend to believe she was a priestess rape victim of a god.

She is of course punished by Athena for being raped. Her punishment? She is turned into a hideous woman with snakes for hair and sent into exile. To top it all off and to ensure that her exile is total; anyone she looks at is turned to stone.

All of this also speaks to Athena’s character. She doesn’t come off as being a big women’s advocate. It troubles me that this powerful goddess was herself vain and sided with the man. I like to believe a modern Athena would have more sympathy for womanhood and would certainly not punish some poor rape victim of a god.

All in all, I think this is the real version of Medusa’s tale. I believe the part about her being vain and flaunting her beauty was added because it’s difficult to make sense of the myth if Medusa does not have this character flaw. But even if she was vain, she doesn’t deserve to be raped by a god, and then given such an extreme punishment for it.

Long story short, I have been troubled by Medusa’s plight ever since I saw the TV show.  It really changed the story for me, and I’ve been bothered by how a rape victim could be so punished.

It also goes to show there are different versions of these ancient tales and it’s very difficult to discern which the true or correct one is. I think you just have to go with your gut and take what resonates best with you from each tale. After all, they are myths and were developed to teach us something.

I’m now interested in taking a closer look at the Greek/Roman myths. I’m sure there are all sorts of discrepancies that can really alter how one sees the story.

In the meantime, I hope this post got you thinking about Medusa a little differently. I know I now see her in a completely different light.

 

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22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elizabeth
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 04:36:58

    I love that show! It is one of my favorite shows on the History Channel. I agree that it is bothersome that Medusa was punished for being raped- but in part that shows the ideas of that time- in Ancient Rome and Greece it was the victims fault and it brought dishonor to them and their families (which is why many times the victims ended up committing suicide). There is also the issue that “rape” meant a different thing then- it meant carried off (think the “rape” of Persephone)- so it also depends on the translations.

    Reply

    • Anonymous
      Jun 19, 2016 @ 13:22:05

      I don’t think most people realise here that almost all myths have two versions to them. Like the one where Medusa had sex with Poseidon specifically to peave off Athena…. Plus Greek mythology is kinda filled with stuff like this. History is offensive, it’s what it does.

      Reply

  2. The Faery Enchantress
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 22:49:29

    Really enjoyed reading this.

    Rachel x

    Reply

  3. etain1
    Jun 23, 2012 @ 23:41:02

    Oh how I enjoyed reading this. I did not really know the history of Medusa’s rape and it is unacceptable that she was punished for something she had little control over. A woman should be able to display her beauty without fear of being raped. Thanks for posting

    Reply

  4. Pixie
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 01:29:33

    Hmm… perhaps this is just a philosophical take on (and I’ve seen the show as well) but I think of the Medusa story as a metaphor or like… to show us what happens when a woman is raped. Sometimes, when a woman is raped even if she lives in a society where she isn’t directly “blamed” or “punished” … there’s still an aftermath. In an emotional sense, it can turn a beautiful woman into a monster who will use her looks to keep others away; or even something else.

    Also, I hate to admit I have never seen Athena as a goddess particularly sympathetic to women. I’ve always seen her as much more… rigid and judgmental. Like she would be the kind of woman who sides with “authority” which is often male.

    Interesting take, thanks for writing: it’s given me something to think about.

    Reply

  5. Aj / Melia
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 13:03:05

    Reply

  6. Nicole
    Mar 26, 2014 @ 05:53:30

    I found your post as I was searching for Medusa. Even though this is Greek Mythology, I still find it sad to hear that she is raped and punished. It is sad that that way of thinking still resonates to this era. The woman being looked down upon when they are a victim of such of crime as rape. The story does remind me of a book I read about the truths of the Bible. How the famous women of the Bible are known as whores, wrongdoers’, etc., when they were raped, used, or just making decisions for themselves. I am not religious, but I get into arguments with Christian men who believe Mary should not be praised by the Catholics, because she just gave birth and that is it. I know we are not just put on earth just to be the shadow of men or for their taking.

    Anyways..I could go on this subject. That and this post is dated a couple of years ago. If you do read this, very good point and like the way you write. Will be reading your other posts.

    Reply

    • chinacat27
      Mar 28, 2014 @ 10:15:20

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I was pretty unsettled when I heard that version of Medusa’s plight. She’s always painted as such a demon. Shows there’s always two sides to every story!

      Reply

  7. Aeryae
    Jul 30, 2015 @ 22:54:59

    Let’s not forget that it was generally men who passed on these accounts. Men who might want to excuse their abuse of women by even using a goddess to condone it. As someone who aspires to be as I believe Athena to be, a being of reason and a defender of the innocent, I personally don’t think the most common tales are true (truth being totally different and more subjective than fact). Had Athena truly known that Medusa has been raped in her very temple, I’m sure there would have been an epic battle between her and her uncle that has been buried with time. So, if that did not happen, then I think that Medusa either offered herself to Poseidon (making it consensual) or Poseidon did rape Medusa but deceived Athena and she regrettably took his side, as has happened so often in history. The theme of the stories as they exist now is that we so often victimize the victims of coercion and violence. We still maintain a general attitude of “Well, they must have done something.” Athena is a goddess of justice…so, I choose not to believe that she would have punished a victim of injustice and pardoned the assailant.

    Reply

  8. Becca
    Nov 03, 2015 @ 22:30:33

    There’s a different version as well, that I find fits a lot better with the pagan view of Athena. After Medusa’s rape, Athena didn’t punish her with the snakes and the turn-you-to-stone with one look — it was a gift, in order to prevent any kind of assault by a god or a human male ever again. Athena blessed her with the ability to protect and defend herself.

    Reply

  9. Anonymous
    Jan 27, 2016 @ 11:32:13

    Check out the book “The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece” by M. Rigoglioso. It’s a must read for understanding the ancient history behind these myths

    Reply

  10. moon
    Feb 21, 2016 @ 18:29:55

    Athena and poisedon and greek gods are dick.

    Reply

  11. Melissa
    Jul 25, 2016 @ 04:03:41

    Becca, I appreciated your mention of the “different version” and pagan view. Thank you. Her name derives from a Greek word meaning, “to protect, to rule over.” She was a symbol of growth and regeneration and her story was transformed, in my view, into an “ugly” woman to be feared due to patriarchy. Pre-Greek mythology/pre-patriarchy, wasn’t Medusa’s story a different one? Her origin is pre-Greek, a north African moon goddess (Libya).

    Reply

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  13. Mae
    Aug 24, 2016 @ 23:04:06

    I had never really thought out about Medusa being a victim until a couple weeks ago when I saw a tumblr post where someone suggested this, and since then I have been unable to get it out of my head, now reading this web post I definitely think that although she is a villain she is also a victim.

    Reply

    • Medusa
      Sep 01, 2016 @ 13:23:10

      Hate to inform you but I never thought of medusa as a Villain and Iam happy to have the same name as her. In most of these stories the girls are blamed in my opinion I blame posiden and Athena. To think medusa could of be pregnant during her transformation

      Reply

  14. Sam
    Sep 05, 2016 @ 12:53:01

    It was not her fault just think about if she really did show off her beauty then so what thats saying that every module should get raped fo showing of her beauty. That is why I think the greek and the roman gods are the worst.

    Reply

  15. mockingjay
    Jan 31, 2017 @ 17:47:18

    As I’m not afraid of posiedon, I’m gonna say it out loud: he is a pathetic characterless coward, useless son of a troll. He should have been turned into an ugly monster.

    Reply

  16. mimi
    Jan 31, 2017 @ 18:13:21

    well I would like to think, there is a burried story where athena cut posiedon’s dick for raping a woman. I mean she is a warrior gurdian, not a wuss. Posiedon got nothing on her.

    Reply

  17. Betzabeth Espin
    Mar 10, 2017 @ 08:38:40

    I see her as a victim. She was punished by a jealous, insecure Goddess. Whether she flaunted her looks or not, no one deserves to be raped. I think Athena’s weakness for Poseidon blinded her judgement. Athena figured it was easier to get rid of a human than a God. Medusa’s story is unjustifiable, women back then were just objects even to the goddess. Tragic to the core. I always felt that her story had to be more meaningful. I cant say I see her as a monster anymore, Id want to petrify men too if what happened to her would happen to me.

    Reply

  18. Jay
    May 25, 2017 @ 14:34:13

    It often helps to understand that Athena was born from Zeus’ head and that removes her from being of the Feminine dimensions of Devine understanding.
    It’s why they have Venus born from the sea without a mother and only the dismemberment of her father’s genitals thrown into the sea as way of explaining her birth. I don’t even know if I would count that as being a parent

    Athena is often shown as being harsh mean uncaring and bias towards masculine understanding and beliefs.
    Think she shows what it means to be a power dressing determined woman in charge and how it’s easy to be hijacked and try lead like males do.

    Reply

  19. Anonymous
    Jun 30, 2017 @ 11:52:10

    It’s even worse than that. Meduas, is not just completely isolated from humanity as part of her punishment. Her ability to turn people to stone is probably the most potent weapon in Greek mythology. So, anyone coming to her lonely island is there to kill her for that power. She’s completely justified in killing anyone seeking her out. The worst bit thought is Athena claiming he severed head from Perseus to boost her own power. It’s just wow… The Greek gods are just dicks.

    Reply

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