They say that Medusa was the most horrifying woman ever known.
According to legend, she was so terrible to behold that a mere glance at her viper-enshrined visage was enough to render the seer stone. She was so ugly, so terrible to look at, that one could not even survive the horror.
The hero Perseus caught off her head – a just fate, it appears, for such a monster – whereupon he seems to have kept it safely secured to be used as a weapon against unsuspecting foes. I imagine him carrying it around a dirty burlap sack, periodically proudly displaying the dead woman’s head, even in death using her as a tool to defeat foes far greater than he.
In early mythology, Medusa and her Gorgon sisters were born that way – monsters, if you will – with wings and entwined snakes for hair.
This story proved uninspiring, I suppose, because it eventually changed form.
Medusa wasn’t born a monster, no, she was born beautiful. The most beautiful woman you can imagine.
Ovid allows Perseus to tell her story:
…Beyond all others she
was famed for beauty, and the envious hope
of many suitors. Words would fail to tell
the glory of her hair, most wonderful
of all her charms—A friend declared to me
he saw its lovely splendour.
Nothing good happens to beautiful women.
…the Sovereign of the Sea attained her love
in chaste Minerva‘s temple.
This was a terrible wrong – Poseidon’s forceful attainment of the beautiful Medusa.
Minerva was enraged.
…she turned her head away and held her shield
before her eyes. To punish that great crime
Minerva changed the Gorgon’s splendid hair
to serpents horrible. And now to strike
her foes with fear, she wears upon her breast
those awful vipers—creatures of her rage.
And thus, on Ovid’s telling, Medusa was rightfully punished. For the actions of Poseidon. For being just too beautiful.
Chastised so with awful vipers, men could never again look upon her.
And then brave Perseus sneaks in, finds her asleep, and cuts off her head.
Nothing good ever happens to ugly women.