The beauty of Medusa, as great as it was, was used in the myth as her later demise.
As per the Ovid’s version in the Roman mythology, disputed by many Greek mythology lovers, she was the love interest of Poseidon, but since she didn’t reciprocate his love, she got raped by him in Athena’s temple.
The goddess was awakened with anger by what had happened inside her hallowed halls.
Why Ovid rewrote it that Athena chose to punish the victim is unclear, but there is an interpretation beside the disgrace to the temple that it could be that Athena was jealous of Medusa’s beauty.
Whatever the exact reason, Athena turned her wrath towards Medusa and punished her by turning her into a hideous monster, with snakes growing out of her head, and a deadly stare that would immediately turn anyone to stone if they looked into her eyes.
With times, the appearance of Medusa started changing, as did the interpretation of the story.
In the Classical period, her features started to become increasingly feminized, smoother shapelier.
All this brought a change to how artists portrayed her and featured her it in their works, making the images of Medusa more human.
This type of revisionism can be seen in many other mythical creatures, like dragons and mermaids.
Nowadays, there are even more interpretations that draw the connection between Medusa and the still problematic stance to the issues women face even in today’s age.
As pointed out by Symbolsage.com, there are several perspectives of the story:
- Silencing Powerful Women – The beheading of Medusa can be seen as symbolic of silencing powerful women who voice their sentiments. In Western culture, strong women have historically been imagined as threats requiring male conquest and control. Medusa is the perfect symbol of this.
- Rape Culture – Medusa has been stigmatized and has unjustifiably been blamed for the consequences of male lust.She was unfairly blamed for “provoking” a god with her beauty. Instead of punishing her abuser, Athena, supposedly the goddess of wisdom, punished her by turning her into a hideous monster.It can be said that Medusa is an ancient representation of sexual stigma that still happens today. It’s still a matter of contention that rape victims are often blamed for the rape and, in some cultures, are vilified, ostracized and labelled ‘damaged goods’ by society.
- Femme Fatale – Medusa is the archetypal femme fatale. Medusa symbolizes death, violence, and erotic desire.Once an enthralling beauty she was turned into a monstrosity after she was raped by a god. Such is her beauty that even powerful men couldn’t resist her charms.She can be equally enchanting and dangerous, and in some cases, she can be fatal. She remains one of the most identifiable femme fatales even today.
Modern powerful women have proudly worn a head full of snakes to depict power, sexuality, and the acknowledgment of their emerging role in society and politics.
Some of the most famous female names have been associated with the image of Medusa, including Rihanna, Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice.