Who are the Gorgons?
Buried deep inside of Greek legend are the three Gorgon sisters, Sthenno, Euryale, and Medusa. Hideous and warlike, these sisters spread death all over the Greek countryside. And the worst part? Two out of the three sisters were immortal!
You can probably call up a mental image of Medusa, the most famous of the Gorgon sisters. The serpentine hair is hard to forget, but the Gorgons have more horrors in store as well.
Beneath all the snakes, the Gorgon sisters have ugly faces, with wide, square features like a man and sometimes even a beard. Boar’s tusks curl over their lips, and their tongues hang out. Their eyes are at once hideous and hypnotic. Behind their halo of snakes, a pair of dark wings open up. According to some legends, their bodies are so covered in fine hair or scales.
The Gorgons were warlike creatures who loved to show off their strength by fighting against men. Bloodshed delighted them to no end, and they ravaged countless villages, slaughtering innocent people and laughing when a “hero” dared to try to defend to his home.
The Gorgon sisters have good reason to love battle—the odds of winning are almost always in their favor!
For starters, two of the three sisters Sthenno and Euryale are immortal, so they need not fear being wounded. Medusa is not immortal, but she shares all of the sisters’ other defenses. Those include god-like strength; a potent venom, which can kill a man within minutes if he is bitten by one of her serpentine locks or if he touches her blood; and a gaze so terrible that it can turn men into stone.
If, by some miracle, a warrior does manage to defeat a Gorgon, he can claim her head not only as a trophy but as a magical weapon for future battles. Perseus, who beheaded Medusa, attached her head to his shield and used it to stun other monsters he had to fight. He also dipped arrows in her poisonous blood, so that even a light scratch could prove deadly.
Interestingly, some legends claim that the Gorgons’ bodies have healing power as well. Their hair can be a talisman against evil, and their blood, if prepared correctly, can turn into a draught that brings the dead back to life.
The Gorgon sisters were born to Ceto, goddess of sea monsters, and Phorcys, a primodial sea god with a fish’s tail and crab claws. Their other sisters were Scylla—the legendary monster who hid in a sea-cave, waiting to snatch sailors from their ships and eat them alive—was their sister, and Echidna—a serpent woman who was mother to the next generation of Greece’s most terrifying monsters.
Only one of the Gorgons had children of her own. Medusa mated with Poseidon, and when she was beheaded, two child sprang from her blood. These were Pegasus and Chrysaor. Luckily, the two of them broke their family’s monstrous cycle and became noble, beloved characters in Greek mythology.
The Gorgons first appear in Homer’s Iliad, which was written sometime during the eighth century BCE. In the Iliad, only one Gorgon is known to exist, but other Greek writers later expanded the first Gorgon into a trio of deadly sisters. Hesiod, Ovid, and Pindar all contributed to the making of the legend.
Centuries later, Europeans began to look back on Greek culture through a rosy lens. They romanticized almost all of the Greek legends, including the Gorgons. Classical writers chose to focus on Medusa, since she was the only mortal sister. They created a back-story to justify her monstrosity, claiming that she was once a beautiful woman, but Athena transformed her hair into snakes after she had an affair with Poseidon. Sthenno, Euryale, scales, fur, and boar’s tusks were all but forgotten.
The Gorgons, particularly Medusa, have never lost their grip on our imagination. Through the centuries, the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Shelley, and Charles Dickens have all called up the Gorgons in their artwork.
Today, the sisters are best known for their roles in Percy Jackson, Doctor Who, Once Upon a Time, Clash of the Titans, Dungeons and Dragons and Final Fantasy.