Gorgons – Mythical Creature Portrayed in Greek Literature
If I were to ask you the question what is a Gorgon it’s likely that many of you would point towards the most famous example that you can think of Medusa and although you may be correct because Medusa was in fact a Gorgon it’s a question that is far more difficult to answer in the image of the Gorgon that we paint today has been so much skewed and distorted by the media we consume to the point where it barely even resembles the original stories of Gorgons with in Greek mythology itself if I were to show you this rough image or outline it’s very likely that most of you would still be able to tell me that what you see is either Medusa or a Gorgon but if I then show you this image I’d hazard a guess that only a few would identify what they see as a Gorgon so how did we go from one to the other and the answer itself is quite simple or the mainstream media and Hollywood Medusa has always been a popular Greek tale but in 1981 with the release of the original Clash of the Titans movie the image of Medusa as a snake was well received by most audiences and thus the trend began and the user followed many of the movies TV shows and artwork depicting Medusa and her fellow Gorgons showed them as snake haired women of the body of a snake we even see this in the God of War franchise which depicts Medusa and her sisters in the exact same way this means that those who have learnt about Greek mythology through these varying forms of media would have already really known this one particular image but why did this change happen in the first place I think the majority of this change can be attributed to fear and the movie industry’s need to create a truly terrifying monster if you already have a woman of a head of hair made from snakes it’s a fairly natural transition to then remove more for human aspects and qualities in this scenario that would involve removing her legs and replacing them with the body of a snake this not only allows her to move in a different and almost more sinister manner but it also transforms her from a woman of a physical abnormality into a literal monster.
I do honestly believe that the modern images of Gorgons are terrifying in their own way because they seem far less human than they did before but it’s an interesting example of how myth can change so drastically in a short period of time now that we’ve gone over the modern depiction of a Gorgon we can discuss how they appeared in classical Greek mythology so I guess the best place to start here would be with the most famous examples we have Medusa and her two sisters steno and Uriah the two sisters are often described as being born immortal but being extremely ugly Medusa on the other hand is described as being born human and possessing a great deal of beauty but this really wasn’t the case all three sisters were born Gorgon and this whole sentiment of Medusa been somewhat attractive didn’t really manifest until around 490 BC when the Greek poet Pinder’s described her as fair cheek to Medusa and this was later echoed in the work of the Roman poet Ovid who popularized the idea that Medusa was once a beautiful maiden turned into a Goldman by the goddess Athena originally the Gorgons were described as three powerful winged demons with swine light tusks talons for feet and iconic head of hair made from snakes and sometimes even a short stubbly beard the Goldman’s appearance is very reminiscent of the harpies in the arenas who existed long before and who were described as seven snakes intertwined in their body around their waist and their arms and most importantly even within their hair it wasn’t too uncommon for Gorgons to be described as having an extreme hate for men and I know this coupled with the description I’ve just given you makes him sound and awfully look like modern-day feminists but I assure you Gorgons are far more interesting.
The ancient Greeks saw the Gorgon sisters as terrifying creatures with the word Gorgas meaning grim and dreadful but where exactly did these winged demons come from much like the origins of many creatures and monsters within Greek mythology there is always some debate as to where they came from and the Gorgons are no different in this regard the most common explanation being that they were the children of forces and seto two ancient primordial sea deities with the origins of the wide sea tone mean in sea monster and the to date he’s been known for bearing numerous monstrous children the fact they were considered the parents of the Gorgons is no real surprise one of the more interesting origin stories regarding the Gorgon states that there were the children of forces and Gorgo the daughter of Helios she was an ancient Gorgon slain by Zeus at the very start of the Titan war similar in appearance to Gorgo many considered the true father of Medusa and the gobiins to have been the elder Gorgon the primal Gorgon who appeared as a bearded man or woman with both male and female attributes making it’s true gender quite difficult to determine we don’t know much about the primal Gorgon but the idea that Medusa and her sisters will not the first goal is to exist is one that we see a fair few times there have been some historians who over the years claimed that these stories of women who appear in the shape of serpents may have once originated from northern Africa particularly in the region of Libya which is also said to be the home of the queen turned monster Lamia and of course the collective Lambie eye a group of creatures whose appearance resembles the modern-day half woman half snake depiction of a Gorgon so what we consider to be a Gorgon today is most likely closer in appearance to Lamia than the Gorgons of Greek mythology for those wanting to learn more about the backstory of Medusa sisters steno and geraldi sadly there isn’t a whole lot that we know about them steena for the most part is considered to be the eldest of the three sisters with her name meaning strong and forceful she’s described as having red snakes that sit atop her head which is the only rule defining characteristic that sets her apart in terms of appearance from her sisters the only real story that she features in is that of Perseus and Medusa where she attempts to avenge her sister after she’d been slain but thanks to the cap of invisibility given to Perseus by Hades.
She’s largely unsuccessful in this task Yali whose name means far roaming was the second born and has no real defining physical features but she was known for her face and bellowing cries that could incapacitate a grown man most noticeably heard during the death of her sister Medusa of course features in numerous stories and is what many considered to be the queen of the Gorgons and of the origins of her name meaning to protect and to rule over Queen is exactly what many believed her name to mean with that being said it’s fairly obvious that Medusa is unique to her sisters and if we go by Ovid interpretation and those that later followed she was born human and assumed the role of priestess to Athena it was only later in her life that she was transformed into a Gorgon and depending on which interpretation you’ve read this was seen as either a gift or a curse it was only after Athena’s transformation that Medusa resembled her sisters and possessed the same petrifying gaze a gaze that would be just as potent even when she was slain as it was used by Perseus to save Andromeda from being sacrificed by turning the giant sea monster Cetus into stone there is even a story of a disagreement between Perseus and the Titan atlas which results in a Titan being turned into stone with the use of Medusa’s head once again if the story of Medusa before she became a Gorgon is something you’d be interested in it is one of the six stories that will be featured in our book so keep an eye out for that one when Homer discusses the Gorgon he does so as a singular entity but in the work that followed by Hesiod we see this expanded to a trio of sisters if we go as far back as possible the earliest accounts of Gorgons are as sworn protectors of the Oracles now these protectors are never really described as Gorgons more so a Serpent’s but the image of the Gorgon was often associated with the Temple of the Oracle garden the entrance from evils that wish to enter we’ve discussed some of the possible origins and how the Gorgons have gone through a visual transformation but we’ve yet to discuss the powers associated with a Gorgon the Gorgons village was said to be so horrifying that it would turn the beholder into stone the idea of petrification or turning someone or something into stone is quite common in most myth and folklore ranging from legends of the basilisk in the cockatrice to the black elves of Norse mythology and of course Medusa and her sisters there are those such as Jane Ellen Harrison a scholar known for her studies of Greek myth and religion we believe that Medusa’s true power only manifested itself after she had been killed although Hama never really mentioned the Medusa by name.
He does make some reference to her in the Odyssey when he says lest for my Darin Persephone the dread from Hades should send up an awful monsters grizzly head Harrison translated what Homer said to mean that the Gorgon was made out of terror not terror out of the Gorgon in the several times Homer mentions the Gorgon he only describes the head and Harrison this time states that Medusa is nothing more than a head nothing more than a mosque with a body later appended Medusa one alive was extremely feared she brought terror and suffering but in her death her head was associated with protection and healing in ancient Greece a special amulet was created of the face of a Gorgon name the gorgonian and this was used to ward away harmful intentions evil influences and misfortune the head of a Gorgon was even placed on Athena’s shield the aigis and both Athena and Zeus were said to have worn the protective amulet before the work of Pinder’s the gorgonian whether it appeared on pendants amulets or the shields of warriors was always depicted as rather ugly large tusks are protruding tongue and a stare that challenged anyone who would dare to gaze upon it after the 5th century BC the change in attitudes towards a Gorgons appearance manifested itself in the gorgonian these shields vases and pendants showing Gorgons became less grotesque they lost their tusks and the snakes became more of a hairstyle than a chaotic mess the Medusa Rondo Nene is perhaps the most iconic piece to mark this transitional period as here we see a Gorgon that has been modeled in the guise of a beautiful woman rather than a repulsive creature I do find it quite interesting that the Gorgons and Medusa in particular have gone from ugly monsters to beautiful women and now they sit somewhere oddly enough in the Middle where we can tell that they’re a monster but there is still this kind of seductive sex appeal overall it’s quite difficult to really explain the role that the Gorgons played in actual Greek mythology the earliest accounts that are extremely vague described them as the protectors of the Oracles and this is something that we do see later with protective amulets and trinkets have in the head of a Gorgon on them we know that the word Gorgon would instill terror and fear but much like the other demonic female figures who are charged with protection and enforcing the law the harpies and the arrhenius the Gorgons are never really described as being evil this is a notion later perpetuated by movies and stories who portrayed Medusa as a villain which is around the same time the image whore Gorgon transformed from a woman who shaped still resembled a human to a seductress of the lower half of a snake the Gorgons themselves may not have appeared in dozens of stories but they definitely have more of a cultural meaning and relevance behind them with their image almost acting like a good-luck charm which in itself is quite odd to consider and how monstrous they look but when you really think about it what better way to ward off evil than with something just as terrifying.