Messy Histories Part 2: Medusa

I LOVE this week’s topic!


Medusa is a figure I find absolutely fascinating. She blends together so many human emotions: fear, vulnerability, loneliness, strength.

Medusa is a mythical figure who’s history isn’t fully understood. Even before the Greeks took her on, it’s believed that she emerged out of pre-historic myths from the Near East. That Medusa was obviously quite a different Medusa to the one we know today, and part of this week will be looking at the steps we take to get there.

Because while it’s easy to think that Medusa is ‘fixed’, that’s really only true of how she’s drawn. She’s been a bestial and literally otherworldly creature, and a wronged and vulnerable young woman, and which of those forms has been more respected and kindly viewed is not straightforward. Beyond this every society has moulded Medusa into what they want her to be. Medusa isn’t quite a blank slate – more a slate upon which some sketchy, faint markings are visible. How those marks are read depends on the viewpoint of the society that’s looking.

I’ve started the week with the most modern image I’ll use – Rihanna styled as Medusa for GQ magazine by Damien Hirst, December 2013. It’s not an interpretation I entirely agree with, but it sums up where we are with Medusa in the early 21st century. Alluring but deadly: a very dangerous sexuality. I’m not massively into psychoanalysis but even to me the undertones are bloody obvious. This is a long, long way from where she started – how did we get here? Is it what she deserves, or how could Damien Hirst have done better?

She’s been the subject of many amazing works. I’m going to be covering over two thousand years of history this week, and objects from loads of contexts and uses. Love being able to let my Classics geek side out. Join me over on Instagram to follow this story of this mesmerising and monstrous creature.

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