The Story of Medusa’s Head


Ovid. The Story of Medusa’s Head. 1st Century B.C.E.. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Classics Archive.

This portrayal of Medusa comes in the form of a poem from the Roman poet Ovid’s (Publius Ovidius Naso) work Metamorphases. The photo above is an excerpt from the poem. In this version of the Medusa myth, which is commonly thought of as the original version because it is the first that is recorded in writing in whole, Medusa is portrayed originally as a beautiful virgin with many suitors and long, golden hair until Poseidon sleeps with her in the Temple of Athena. This being sacrilegious, Athena is angered and turns Medusa’s beautiful hair to snakes as punishment. Perseus then decapitates her while she sleeps with help/gifts from the gods, and Pegasus is born from her neck. This version of the myth is consistent with earlier accounts of Medusa being a beautiful maiden, seduced by Poseidon, Perseus killing her, etc. Ovid was telling a story that was consistent with what had been told about Medusa during the time period, and Medusa was probably portrayed as beautiful and seduced for the same reason that she was in the previous source. Ovid puts the entire Medusa and Perseus myth into writing. Again, Medusa is most likely seduced by Poseidon in this interpretation because women had been seen for the past few centuries as being uncontrollable sexually. Ovid was a Roman poet, but Hellenistic Greece was a popular influence on Roman society and Rome conquered Greece in the first century B.C.E..

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