Myth Monsters

Gorgons

March 25, 2021 Myth Monsters Season 1 Episode 2
Myth Monsters
Gorgons
Show Notes Transcript

It's our first episode - how exciting! 

Come and learn about the Gorgons of Greek mythology with me - I'll be telling you all about Stheno, Euryale and Medusa and how they became the fierce threesome we know today. 

Support the show

Hello and welcome to Myth Monsters, my name is Erin and I’ll be your host for these little snack bite size podcasts on folklore and mythological monsters from around the world. 


First off I really wanted to make this podcast to fill the little hole that was left in this subject in the podcast world, as when I was hunting for just information on monsters that I grew up learning about and being fascinated with, I couldn’t find any that weren’t about the heroes. This is just about the monsters, the mythos surrounding them (filled with heroes be it may) and the origin of them from across the globe. 


I’ll also be dropping in some references that they have to recent culture and where you can see these represented in modern day content so you can learn more, and get as obsessed as I am about these leviathans of the mythological world. 


Let’s jump right in. Today we’re going to look at the hideous Gorgons from Greek Mythology. And I know what you’re thinking, oh jeez Erin, everyone knows about Medusa and the Gorgons - but it’s a really good story and who knows, there might be a few bits in this telling you don’t already know - and how she has shaped popular culture as we know it today. 


So what is a Gorgon I hear you ask - the word Gorgon comes from the Greek word gorgós, which means grim and dreadful. They were certainly depicted as so. Generally speaking, the looks of Gorgons vary but they’re typically described as having hair of venomous snakes and ugliness so foul it would turn anyone who looked upon them into stone. In some tellings, they have wings, boar tusks, bronze claws as well as this, and shockingly, in others they’re depicted as beautiful, but with the means to be deadly. They’re also only ever documented as women. The three sisters in this tale are Stheno, Euryale, and their youngest sister Medusa, the most famous of the three.


According to the most popular myth, the three Gorgons were born to the primordial sea god Phorcys and his sister, the sea goddess Ceto. Both were closely associated with sea monsters in Greek mythology. In most myths, the sisters were introduced as being very beautiful. However, Medusa's beauty attracted Poseidon, who raped her in the temple of Athena. Athena blamed Medusa for the act and turned her into a monstrous being. Stheno and Euryale stood by their sister, and they also ended up transformed.


The three Gorgons were similar in many ways. Medusa's name indicated that she was the queen of the group. Stheno means ''strong'' and Euryale means ''wide leaping,'' indicating that both could be characterized by physical abilities. The implication was that Medusa was cleverest of them all. This is especially interesting when we realize that Medusa was also the only one who was mortal. Both Stheno and Euryale were immortal and eternally youthful, an interesting idea that maybe they were beautiful to look at, but the risk of petrification was enough to scare anyone away.


So, what were Stheno and Euryale like? We have fewer descriptions of these two than Medusa, but what we know indicates that they were pretty formidable. Stheno (the strong) was said to be the most independent and the most ferocious of the three, who killed more men than her sisters combined. Euryale was often characterized by fierce and loud cries, a sign of a powerful and threatening force in mythology.


A few historians have parsed over the descriptions of all three sisters and think that they were actually inspired by real sea creatures, which the Greeks would have seen in the Mediterranean. In this interpretation, Medusa was inspired by the octopus (famous for its cleverness), Euryale was inspired by the squid (known for its ability to leap far out of the water), and Stheno was inspired by the cuttlefish (characterized by its strength).


In most versions of story of Medusa and her sisters is that she was famously beheaded by the hero Perseus, who was sent to get Medusa’s head by King Polydectes because Polydectes wanted to marry Perseus's mum - weird token of appreciation, I think we can all agree. 


Perseus goes to the island, and beheads Medusa whilst she sleeps next to her two sisters - using a shield from Athena to reflect her image and basically chop her head off with supreme mirror based slicing skills. Her sisters screamed in agony at the death of their sister, trying to grab him on his lame little winged sandals, but failing in their mourning grasps. Little did good ol’ hero Perseus know, that Medusa was actually pregnant by Poseidon when she was killed and when Perseus beheaded her, Pegasus, a winged horse, and Chrysaor, a giant wielding a golden sword, sprang from her body and joyfully rode off into the sunset. I’ll talk about Pegasus in another episode later on - but it does make Perseus and Pegasus weird cousins, in some fucked up Greek god way. 


Medusa’s story continues beyond her death - on his way home, he stops in Ethiopia, where a silly Queen Cassiopeia had said that her or her daughter Andromeda, were more beautiful than water spirits - which really pissed off Posiedon (to be fair, already having a rough day it seems) and they were being attacked by the monster Cetus - which Perseus turned to stone with Medusa’s decapitated head, still effective in it’s petrifying qualities beyond the veil. 


However, according to myth - Medusa did actually create more life after she had perished - be it against her undead will, I’m sure. But Perseus met the titan Atlas, you know, the guy who held the world on his shoulders - who he turned to stone with Medusa's head after a big fight -  thus creating the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. Medusa's head also spilled some blood whilst flying back (either using the winged sandals or Pegasus), which formed into Libyan vipers that killed the Argonaut Mospos - another hero story for another time. 


Finally Perseus got back, turned the King and his entire court into stone for being a total creep and then gave the head of Medusa to Athena, who in turn, adorned her shield with her likeness - what an honour - I think if I was Medusa, I would have been a bit miffed that the person who turned me into the monster then put my head on her shield but hey ho. 


It’s not said what happens to either Stheno or Euryale, I imagine they just kept chilling on the island waiting for more people to come along and turn them into garden statues for their entertainment. 

However, their sister’s image lives on - she’s one of the most recognised mythological creatures - with a strong representation of a rape survivor, female strength, liberty and protection. The Gorgoneion was used in the ancient world as a strong protective symbol. Among the Ancient Greeks, it was the most widely used symbol to avert evil, and people actually used to put carvings of her above their front doors to ward off nasty visitors. In some Greek myths, blood taken from the right side of a Gorgon could bring the dead back to life, yet blood taken from the left side was a horrible poison. Heracles is said to have got a lock of Medusa’s hair (which possessed the same powers as the head) from Athena and used it for protection for the Greek town of Tegea against attack. 


But outside of myth now, she’s a massive figure within art with Luciano Garbati's 2008 sculpture, Medusa with the Head of Perseus, portrays her clutching the severed head of Perseus, later becoming a feminist avatar for the MeToo movement in 2017 to present day. Numerous pieces of art feature her face at the centre, the most famous being Caravaggio’s Murtola painted in 1596. It was described by 17th-century poet Gaspare Murtola as : Flee, for if your eyes are petrified in amazement, she will turn you to stone.


Medusa also became a very popular icon in designer fashion, as the logo of the Italian luxury clothing brand Versace portrays a Gorgon head - featuring on all their designs and labels. Gorgons are also in a whoooole bunch of video games such as Dungeons and Dragons, God of War, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Kid Icarus, League of Legends and even Final Fantasy. Medusa obviously is in a few movies and TV too, the biggest ones being Clash of the Titans both the 1981 stop motion clay Medust and 2010’s weird lion/snake version - the former definitely being the better one of the two. Alongside Uma Thurman in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Deuce Gorgon is meant to be the son of Medusa in cartoon Monster High and there are Gorgons in the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix.


If you want to read more about the Gorgons or even just Greek mythology in general, I would recommend Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes books. The latter talks about Perseus and Medusa, but also talks about other heroes, whilst Mythos talks mostly about the Greeks creation of the universe and the Gods - two really good books for any Greek mythology nerds like me. 


Now do I think there is a possibility that Medusa existed - probably not. I think depending on your take on her origin, she is actually a really awesome female character who takes a curse/rape and takes a crazy revenge on all that try and see her afterwards. On the flip side, maybe she lives in solidarity with her sisters because they are so hunted and feared - however, at least we can live in the knowledge that they aren’t any right now - and that if you are really ugly, at least someone will put you on a shield...maybe? There don’t seem to be any indications of serpentine women skeletons outside of popular myth, and as I mentioned earlier, it might just be that they based these off of their equivalent sea creatures. We do know that petrification happens with fossils and with people petrified with fear, and the definition of petrified with fear actually says ‘ Petrify is to make something like a stone or to literally turn to stone’ but unless you’re dumping a load of cement on someone, I’m not sure the power to turn anyone into stone has been found yet. 


Either way, they’re definitely one of the more popular monsters that we’ll have on this podcast, but always worth exploring and I totally love the story of Medusa myself. But for now thank you so much for listening, it’s been a pleasure. If you enjoyed this podcast, please give it a rating on the service you’re listening on - I’ve also got a twitter for any questions, or suggestions on what monsters to cover next and I’d love to hear from you @mythmonsterspod. Stay spooky and I’ll see you later.