Book: Religion and Sight
Chapter: 5. The Female Gaze: Sight and the Medusa Myth
Medusa, as she is found in ancient Greek mythology, is known as a terrifying monster whose petrifying gaze could turn those who looked at her to stone. What is often ignored is that her victims were overwhelmingly men, with only one known case of her gaze taking effect on a woman. In this chapter, the author will explore whether Medusa posed such a threat because she transgressed Greek gender roles as a woman who looked back. The chapter will use comparative literary material to suggest that the myth can be taken as an aetiological tale that reflects the ancient Greek man’s right to look freely, in contrast with the more restricted gaze of the Greek woman. This may be used to explain why the hero Perseus, after decapitating the Gorgon’s head, appropriated Medusa’s petrifying gaze to defeat his enemies, as if it was his own.