Medusa Tattoo Meaning: Greek Mythology History Explained

While many know Medusa as the snake-haired figure from Greek mythology whose gaze could turn you to stone, you may not know the meaning of a tattoo of her.

If you’ve been spending time on TattooTok lately, which is the tattoo community on ICT Tacyou may have seen an increase in people talking about Medusa tattoos and the meaning behind them.

It can be easy to suddenly find yourself out of the loop, especially with the speed at which online conversations, trends and movements tend to evolve.

That’s all you need to know.

Who is Medusa?

Medusa is a figure from Greek mythology who was one of the three Gorgon sisters alongside Stheno and Euryale. Medusa was the only mortal, her sisters rather immortal.

Although descriptions of Medusa have varied, from beautiful to grotesque, apt to monstrous, she is best known for having living, poisonous snakes on her head in place of hair and the ability to turn those who stare into her eyes into Pierre.

Around 1630, Medusa, one of the Gorgons of Greek mythology, whose gaze turned men to stone and whose head was cut off by the hero Perseus. From his blood was born the winged horse Pegasus, his son by the god Poseidon. Original Artist: By Rubens (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The most familiar story of Medusa is that of her beheading by Perseus.

The myth says that Perseus was sent by King Polydectes of Seiphus on an impossible mission – to fetch the head of Medusa. Perseus embarked on his quest with the help of the gods, receiving a mirrored shield from Athena, golden-winged sandals from Hermes, a sword from Hephaestus, and the Helm of Invisibility from Hades.

Perseus attacked while Medusa slept, using Athena’s mirrored shield to avert her gaze. As Medusa was the only mortal, Perseus succeeded in his quest, beheading her with his sword.

Circa 1810: Perseus, the son of Zeus and Danae from Greek mythology holding the severed head of the Gorgon Medusa. Sculpture by Antonio Canova (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Medusa’s beheading resulted in the birth of her two children: a winged horse named Pegasos and the giant Chrysaor, both of which sprang from her neck.

As his immortal sisters Stheno and Eurydale furiously pursued Perseus for the murder of Medusa, he was able to escape using his winged sandals and helmet of invisibility.

Has Medusa been raped?

In the original Latin text of Metamorphosesfrom the Roman poet Ovid, who tells the story of Medusa, Ovid used the verb “vitiass”, which translates to “violate” or “corrupt”.

In Metamorphoses, Ovid wrote that Medusa was originally a beautiful maiden, however, after she was raped by Neptune in Minerva’s temple, she was punished by Minerva by turning her hair into vicious serpents.

In an article for the Atlantic as of 2016, English teacher Elizabeth Johnson described Medusa as the “original ‘Nasty Woman'”. In her article, Johnson argued that Medusa’s story represented a rape narrative.

Circa 1700, Medusa, one of the gorgons of Greek mythology, whose gaze turned men to stone and whose head was cut off by the hero Perseus (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Johnson wrote, “In Ovid’s story, the god Neptune sees Medusa, desires her, and decides that because he is a god he has a right to her body (sound familiar?).

“He rapes her in Minerva’s temple, and Minerva, enraged that her temple has been defiled, punishes the victim rather than the abuser (again, does this sound familiar?).

“Minerva transforms Medusa into a snake-haired monster who, instead of inspiring men’s desire, literally petrifies them.”

Other interpretations of the text include Minerva’s reframing as turning Medusa’s hair into snakes as an act of protection against men, not punishment.

What does a Medusa tattoo mean?

According to Met Museum“the most common interpretation of Medusa suggests that she is an apotropaic symbol used to protect and ward off the negative, much like the modern evil eye”.

The museum adds: “She represents a dangerous threat intended to deter other dangerous threats, an image of evil to repel evil.”

‘Medusa With The Head of Perseus’ by Argentinian-Italian artist Luciano Garbati is held at Collect Pond Park on October 13, 2020 in New York City. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the seven-foot bronze sculpture changes the Medusa narrative, offering a different take on the 16th-century Florentine bronze statue of Benvenuto Cellini’s “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Today, sexual assault survivors use Medusa tattoos to challenge the narrative that victims should be shamed, blamed, or punished for their assault.

Medusa and her story have been recovered as a symbol of strength and power, her image also being used as a mark of protection against evils.

What is a Medusa piercing?

A Medusa piercing refers to the piercing that sits above your upper lip in the center, below your nose – also called the cupid’s bow.

The proper name for this type of piercing is a philtrum piercing, and is usually pierced with a labret stud rather than a ring or hoop.

A Medusa piercing can take between eight and 12 weeks to heal, but this varies for each individual.

The Medusa piercing sits just above the center of the upper lip (Photo: Adobe Stock)

During the healing process, you’ll want to take care of your piercing by keeping it clean with things like sterile saline solution or salt water rinses.

The piercing has nothing to do with the tattoo or the meaning behind the Medusa tattoos that many people have adopted.

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