How Did Medusa Get Snakes for Her Hair?

In some stories of Greek mythology, Medusa is a human whose hair is turned into snakes after she angers the goddess Athena. However, in other versions, Medusa and her two sisters, the gorgons, were born with reptile tresses. In most descriptions, anyone who looks directly upon Medusa turns to stone.

In the accounts that display Medusa as a victim of Athena's wrath, she is a beautiful woman who is either seduced or raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena, the god of the sea. Some versions match Medusa's beauty to Athena's. As punishment, Athena turns Medusa's lovely hair into hideous snakes.

In all variations of Medusa's story, she is killed by the hero Perseus, who has been sent by a king to slay her. He is not expected to succeed, but the gods decide to help him. Zeus, king of the gods, loans the hero his sword. Athena's brother Hermes, the gods' messenger, donates winged shoes that let Perseus fly to meet his quarry. Perseus also uses a helmet of invisibility that belongs to Hades, god of the underworld. Athena loans her bronze shield. Perseus uses it to look at Medusa's reflection as he kills her, so he is safe from her stone curse. Even after death, Medusa's head is dangerous to behold. Perseus gives it to Athena, and she places it in the center of her shield.