Hanging on the esteemed walls of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, there is a painting by Caravaggio depicting a feminine creature with slithering locks. Its subject is so majestic and terrifying that the 16th century poet Gaspare Murtola once wrote of it, “Flee, for if your eyes are petrified in amazement, she will turn you to stone.” With bared teeth, a mane of writhing serpents, and a severed head still pouring with blood, the creature is captured in the moment she realizes her disembodied condition. She is, of course, Medusa.
Since the days of early Western civilization, when myths were forged in fire and stone, society has been fascinated with the ancient Greek imagination. Tales of gods, Titans, and giants fill children’s fairy tales, while a variety of mythological monsters have captivated viewers on the big screen. No female character, however, is perhaps as popular as Medusa, the monster who could turn men to stone with a single glance.
From a tight-suited villain in The Powerpuff Girls to a scathing metaphor for UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in UB40’s hit song “Madam Medusa,” the myth of Medusa endures in contemporary pop culture. For the past two decades, the character has continually resurfaced in cinema mostly in an alluring form: Natalia Vodianova lent serious supermodel power to the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans, while Uma Thurman cut a particularly seductive figure in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Even the House of Versace found inspiration in the Gorgon, placing the beautiful (pre-curse) version at the heart of its iconic logo. There she sits, long-locked, encircled by a ring of Greek keys.
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