Sketchbook Page 40: G is for Gorgon

January 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Medusa

Medusa (from the marketplace of Argos)

Bones from a Bestiary part 7: G is for Gorgon

This is the seventh in a series of chimerical creatures; the aim is to create an alphabet of fabulous beasts over the coming months.

With recent advances in genetic engineering it should be possible to manufacture such creatures in the laboratory; although the results will not always be practical (or, indeed, humane) …

In Greek mythology, a Gorgon (plural: Gorgons) (Greek: Γοργών or Γοργώ Gorgon/Gorgo) was a terrifying female creature. The name derives from the Greek word gorgós, which means “dreadful”. While descriptions of Gorgons vary across Greek literature, the term commonly refers to any of three sisters who had hair of living, venomous snakes, and a horrifying visage that turned those who beheld her to stone. Traditionally, while two of the Gorgons were immortal, Stheno and Euryale, their sister Medusa was not, and she was slain by the mythical demigod and hero Perseus.

King Polydectes sent Perseus to kill Medusa, a ruse that he had devised to get him out of the way while he pursued Perseus’s mother, Danae. Some versions of the myth relate that Perseus was armed with a scythe from Hermes and a mirror (or shield) from Athena. Perseus was thus able to safely cut off Medusa’s head – without turning to stone – by looking only at her reflection in the shield. From the blood that spurted from her neck and fell into the sea sprang Pegasus and Chrysaor, her sons by Poseidon. Other sources say that each drop of blood became a snake. Perseus is said by some to have given the head, which retained the power of turning all who looked upon it into stone, to Athena. She then placed it on the mirrored shield (which was called Aegis) and gave it to Zeus. Another source says that Perseus buried the head in the marketplace of Argos.

According to other accounts, either he or Athena used the head to turn Atlas into stone, transforming him into the Atlas Mountains that held up both heaven and earth. He also used the Gorgon against a competing suitor. Ultimately, he used her against King Polydectes. When Perseus returned to the court of the king, Polydectes asked if he had the head of Medusa. Perseus replied “here it is” and held it aloft, turning the whole court to stone.

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