The New Faces of Medusa — Ben Gallagher
When many hear the name “Medusa” in the context of Greek Mythology, it's reasonable to assume they immediately associate her with the role of a villain. It is not difficult to see why, however. She is a Gorgon known for her signature snake hair and ability to turn those who gaze upon her to stone. The simple nature of her physical appearance and powers can be easily associated with terror. In addition, one of the most prominent stories about Medusa is how she was slain by Perseus with the help of Athena and Hermes, a tale in which she is portrayed as a terrifying creature (La Fond). However, there are many aspects of and interpretations of her character that are often overlooked, some of which have themes that are very prevalent today.
A famous piece of art depicting the tale of Perseus and Medusa is a sculpture Perseus by italian sculptor Benvunto Cellini in the 16th century (Morford, p. 548). It was a piece commissioned by Cosimo de Medici, who had just returned to his position of power in Florence after being expelled, and the sculpture displayed a sense of triumph over his enemies. The statue depicts the heroic Perseus, with his sword and winged cap of invisibility, holding the head of Medusa. (Morford, p. 548)
However, a similar sculpture was created nearly half a millenia later by sculptor Luciano Garbati, but would be tied to a very different meaning. Directly inspired by Cellini’s sculpture, Garbati crafted a piece in which Medusa is the one holding the decapitated head of Perseus, in order to reverse the traditional story and reveal another side of Medusa. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, as a priestess of Athena, Medusa was raped by Posiedon in Athena’s temple in ancient Greece. Because Athena could not punish Posiedon, she turned to Medusa and transformed her into the Gorgon form she is best known for. Though he did not necessarily intend it to have the meaning at the time he crafted it, Garbati’s sculpture became a symbol of empowerment in the #MeToo Movement. In direct contrast to the meaning behind Cellini’s sculpture, Garbati’s depicts an empowering sense of triumph for victims of sexual assault (The New York Times).
Another example of portrayal of this side of the Gorgon is a musical experience by Brian King called Medusa: Reclaiming The Myth, in which some of the aspects of the myth are told from a different perspective. For example, Athena’s decision to transform Medusa from a beautiful woman into a Gorgon is shown as a way of protecting Medusa rather than punishing her. In a way, Athena made sure that nothing like that would ever happen to Medusa again (Greg Cook).
Medusa is a figure in Greek mythology that is often placed into the role of a monster, with many other aspects of her character that are overlooked. Recently, there have been a number of art pieces, from sculptures to music, that tell her story from her own perspective. Many of these pieces have become symbols of empowerment for victims of sexual assault, and the story of Medusa is starting to take on a new meaning.
Cook, Greg. “This #Metoo 'MEDUSA' Isn't The Gorgon You've Been Told About.” WONDERLAND, 26 Jan. 2020, gregcookland.com/wonderland/2020/01/26/medusa.
Jacobs, Julia. “How a MEDUSA Sculpture from a Decade Ago BECAME #MeToo Art.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Oct. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/10/13/arts/design/medusa-statue-manhattan.html.
La Fond, Marie. “Destination Argos: Adventures of Perseus.” CLAS 430 - SU21, UW Canvas, 2021, https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1457478/pages/lesson-8-video-lectures?module_item_id=13108141.
“Perseus and the Legends of Argos.” Classical Mythology, by Morford Mark P O. et al., Oxford University Press, 2019, pp. 548–548.