In early Greek mythology, Medusa was one of three monstrous sisters called the Gorgons. She is sometimes called Gorgo. The Gorgons were so hideous that one glimpse of them turned a person to stone, although according to some versions of the myth, only Medusa was this ugly.
The Greek hero* Perseus was ordered to kill Medusa, who was the only one of the three sisters who was mortal*. The goddess Athena and the god Hermes prepared Perseus for his attack by giving him a pair of winged sandals, a helmet of invisibility, and a special blade with which to behead the Gorgon. By gazing at Medusa’s reflection in his bright shield, Perseus successfully obtained her head and escaped from her angry sisters. He then used the head to turn one of his enemies to stone. Perseus gave Medusa’s head to Athena, who mounted it in the center of her shield, where it appears in many sculptures and paintings of the goddess.
* hero in mythology, a person of great strength or ability, often descended from a god
* mortal human being; one who eventually will die
Medusa was the lover of Poseidon, the sea god, and was pregnant when Perseus cut off her head. Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek legend, arose either from Medusa’s head or from one of the drops of blood that fell from her body.
Early Greek art depicted Medusa with snakes for hair, the fangs of a wild boar, and a ferocious grin. Around the 400s B.C., the image of the Gorgons began to change. No longer were they said to be hideous, but rather they were portrayed as beautiful women. (See also Myths, Greek.)