Medusa is the most well-known of the Gorgons, but the term actually refers to group of creatures. Athena turned Medusa into a Gorgon because of a slight inferred by the mortal. Medusa was once a beautiful woman with gorgeous, auburn hair. Unfortunately, she had a romantic tryst with Poseidon in one of Athena's temples, earning the goddess' everlasting wrath.

The Gorgons were Medusa's sisters. Some stories said there were three Gorgons in all, counting Medusa herself; some described the Gorgons as an entire tribe of creatures. At the very least, Medusa's two sisters were named Stheno and Euryale. They were part of group of lesser divinities called the Phorcides, or "Grey Goddesses." All of them were monstrous in appearance.

Gorgons were hideous to look upon. They all had scaled covering their bodies which made them resemble serpents or dragons. Instead of hair, these women had writhing snakes on their heads. Gorgons were said to have tusks like a boar, hands made of sharpened brass, and either one or two pairs of sharpened, golden wings. Anyone who looked directly at the Gorgons would be so overwhelmed that they would be instantly turned to stone.

Perseus, a Greek hero, slew Medusa using considerable guile. The hero took a shield and polished it until the shield reflected whatever image shone upon it. He waited until the Gorgons slept, and then approached while looking only at the image in his shield. When he saw the reflection of Medusa, he cut off her head.
Afterward, the Gorgons wailed from both their human-like mouths and each of their serpent heads. The high-pitched keening noise inspired Athena to create the pan flute, to mock the Gorgons' suffering.

The inspiration for the Gorgons probably came from ritual masks worn by ancient priestesses who worshiped mysterious Goddesses rather than Zeus. The masks warned people away from trying to examine anything they guarded. Ancient Greek bakers, for instance, painted Gorgon faces on their ovens to warn curious passers-by from opening them.


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