Medusa is a ubiquitous mythological figure.
She has been represented in classic art, sculpture, and metalwork.
These days she is often immortalized in pop culture and tattoos.
She is a striking woman, and it is easy to understand why people have become so enamored with her image for so many years.
Today, we are going to explore Medusa tattoos.
Why do people get them, and what do they symbolize?
Short answer, it depends on who you ask.
One person’s Medusa tattoo may represent something completely different than another’s.
To some, she represents dangerous feminine wiles.
To others, she’s a feminist icon.
To some, she’s hideously ugly and monstrous.
To others, she’s blindingly beautiful.
She’s a polarizing figure, that Medusa.
Her story has been told in many different ways by many different people.
And we’re likely not finished hearing from her. She’s just too intriguing.
Are you thinking of getting a Medusa tattoo?
Read on to deepen your knowledge of this intriguing serpentine figure.
Who is Medusa?
Medusa is a Greco-Roman goddess with an interesting reputation.
Much has been written about Medusa, but she has three defining characteristics.
These do not change, no matter who is telling the tale.
- A woman.
- A monster with snakes for hair.
- Able to turn men to stone with a single glance.
In most Medusa tattoos, artists give her a beautiful face surrounded by snakes.
She is often drawn portrait style, and most Medusa tattoos are of her head alone.
That could be because her head is her most defining feature, but it could also be a reference to her gruesome death.
The Original Medusa Myth
In the first recorded story of Medusa, her monstrous appearance and abilities have no explanation.
She is known as a gorgon, a hideous creature.
At first, there was only one mythological gorgon.
A frightening guardian of the underworld, and in some cases a protective figure.
Some say the gorgon was created by Gaia (Mother Earth) to watch over the Titans.
Later on, Hesiod (a Greek poet) wrote of 3 gorgon sisters.
Stheno, “The Mighty” and Euryale, “The Far Springer” were immortal.
Medusa, “The Queen” was not.
The Story of Medusa’s Death
In early Roman and Greek myth, Medusa is more of a plot device than a goddess or monster in her own right.
She is slain by Perseus, who cuts off her head.
Perseus and his mother had been cast out of their kingdom since his birth.
He is the son of Zeus and the grandson of King Acrisius.
Before the birth of Perseus, the King had been wanting to produce a proper heir.
He only had one child, a daughter, and she could not take over the throne.
The daughter’s name was Danae.
When King Acrisius visited the oracle for advice on having a son, she gave him some bad news.
The oracle told King Acrisius that he would never have a son and that he would be murdered by his grandchild.
The King became paranoid and locked Danae in a room with bars on the windows.
Zeus, hearing the woman’s cries, came to her in the form of golden rain so he could slip through the bars.
She then became pregnant with Perseus, and King Acrisius was so enraged, he threw them both in the sea.
The two outcasts wash up on an island, grabbing the attention of King Polydectes.
What happened next differs depending on the text.
But in every story, King Polydectes orders Perseus to bring him the head of Medusa.
Armed with some gifts from the gods, Perseus sets out on his quest.
He confronts Medusa in her sleep, and uses a bronze shield to look at her.
This way, if she does wake up, he can avoid her petrifying gaze.
The young man succeeds in his quest, and uses Medusa’s head to ward off attacks on the way home.
Medusa is dead, but her power lingers on, and Perseus can turn people to stone by pointing her head at them.
Symbolism of Medusa in the Perseus Myth
The story is about strength and perseverance against all odds.
In this myth, Medusa is less of a character in her own right and more a symbol of achieving impossible tasks.
Because of this myth, she is often used as a symbol of protection.
Perseus & Medusa Tattoos
Medusa Tattoos for Protection
In this context, your Medusa tattoo would symbolize the same ideas.
Are you embarking on a tumultuous task of your own?
You might like some help from Medusa to keep the haters at bay.
Other Medusa Lore
Medusa’s gorgon sisters don’t get much attention beyond that one legend.
For some reason, Medusa is one of those irresistible characters.
She is simply begging for an origin story.
This is where we get into some of the creative ways people have interpreted Medusa’s qualities.
In 8 AD, the Roman poet Ovid wrote an epic poem.
The poem consists of 15 books, and is a kind of historic fiction.
He weaves mythology with famous figures such as Julius Ceasar.
And he creates a backstory for Medusa:
In Ovid’s story, Medusa is a beautiful young maiden.
She has long luscious hair, a sweet face, and plenty of admirers.
She is a chaste young woman, and one day goes to Minerva’s temple to worship.
Minerva is the Roman equal of the Greek goddess Athena.
She is the goddess of art & war.
And in this story, she is particularly vindictive.
While Medusa quietly worships Minerva, she captures the attention of Neptune.
He is the Roman equal of Poseidon, the god of water and sea.
In a monstrous act, Neptune rapes Medusa in the temple of Minerva.
Seeing this, Minerva becomes enraged by the disrespectful act in her temple.
She punishes Medusa, not Neptune, turning the young maiden into a hideous beast who can turn men to stone.
Henceforth, Medusa is unable to have a relationship as she can’t look at any potential suitors in the eye.
And having snakes for hair isn’t helping matters.
Symbolism of Medusa in Ovid’s Poem
There’s a lot to say about Ovid’s Medusa story, especially in the feminist context.
She is often seen as a feminist icon, and is a popular tattoo with women as a result.
Did Ovid intentionally write Medusa as a sympathetic character?
Or are modern Medusa fans re-interpreting the tale?
It is not clear what Ovid’s attitude toward women was, but many of his stories involve men who won’t take no for an answer.
Even if it wasn’t his intention, his Medusa story highlights a strange blind spot in our society.
Medusa is punished for Neptune’s actions.
She did nothing wrong, but she has to live the rest of her life differently because of him.
This is an interesting parable, considering how often victims are blamed even today.
Medusa Tattoos for Feminists
In this and many other stories, women are seen as property.
Men become angry when they feel a woman is owed to them, and will assault them as a result of that anger.
The act of getting a Medusa tattoo can be a powerful statement for feminists.
It is a reminder that their bodies belong to them and no one else.
In a way, it still works as a protection symbol.
It just changes who the wearer is protected from.
Other Interpretations of Medusa’s Story
Because it is an ancient text, there are many English translations for Ovid’s epic poem.
In some stories, Minerva/Athena transforms Medusa because she is jealous of her beauty.
In others, Medusa is boasting of her superior beauty in the goddess’s temple.
Some say Medusa was dating Neptune/Poiseden, and was punished for having sex with him in the temple.
In any version of the tale, Medusa’s beauty and sexuality is seen as dangerous.
One thing remains constant: Minerva always punishes Medusa without addressing Neptune’s actions.
This further drives home the feminist reaction of the story.
Women are often conditioned to compete with one another.
They see each other as threats without worrying about male behavior.
Even in the original mythology, Medusa is used as an object.
It’s a very interesting story that illuminates the societal attitude toward women.
Medusa Tattoos: Key Components
Of course, you can get your Medusa tattoo in any style you fancy.
Take some time to meditate on why you want the Medusa tattoo.
Is she a feminist icon to you, a protective symbol, or just your favorite monster?
The intent behind the tattoo will help you choose a look.
Typically, they are done as black and grey portraits.
Medusa’s face is usually quite modelesque.
To add that haunting element, her eyes are often without pupils or irises.
The vacant eyes give her an otherworldly quality and symbolize her dangerous qualities.
Black and grey portraits give Medusa some slithery details without looking cartoonish.
If you’re looking for a more serious tattoo, you’ll want to steer in a monochrome direction.
When Medusa tattoos are done in color, they are usually in rich jewel tones.
Consider amethyst purples, ruby reds, and emerald greens.
This gives them a playful, stylistic look that will definitely turn some heads. (hopefully without losing any!)
Blending the Medusa with the history of traditional tattoos, some people portray her as a freak show act in an old school tattoo design.
With Medusa’s unique features and ubiquitous reputation, the possibilities are endless.
Get creative and ask your artist for some ideas!
Medusa Tattoo Designs
Fierce cave monster, or an innocent victim? Depends on who you ask.
Get ready to start some interesting conversations with your Medusa tattoo.
Can’t decide on a design?
Check out our gallery- but don’t look directly in her eyes!
Black and Grey Medusa Tattoos
Realistic Medusa Tattoos
Black-work Medusa Tattoos
Graphic Medusa Tattoos
Horror Inspired Tattoos
Illustrative Medusa Tattoos
Minimalist Medusa Tattoos
Neo-traditional Medusa Tattoos
Sketchy Medusa Tattoos
New School Medusa Tattoos
Fine Line Medusa Tattoos
Bracelet Medusa Tattoos
Purple Medusa Tattoos
Dot-work Medusa Tattoos
Contemporary Medusa Tattoos
Medusa Tattoo Ideas
Versace Medusa Tattoos
Caravaggio Medusa Tattoos
Sleeve Medusa Tattoos
Small Medusa Tattoos
Simple Medusa Tattoos
Medusa Statue Tattoos
Sensual Medusa Tattoos
Medusa Tattoo Artists You Should Follow
Thomas Carli Jarlier
Juan Pedroza Tobar
For more Greek inspired tattoos go to:
- Selene Tattoos
- Poseidon Tattoos
- Greek Statue Tattoos
- Athena Tattoos
- Centaur Tattoos
- Hephaestus Tattoos
- Zeus Tattoo
- Phoenix Tattoos
- Compass Tattoos
- Lighthouse Tattoos
- Lettering Tattoos
- Hourglass Tattoos
- Watercolor Tattoos
- Ouroboros Tattoos
- Arrow Tattoos
- Tribal Tattoos
Medusa Tattoos FAQ
In this myth, Medusa is less of a character in her own right and more a symbol of achieving impossible tasks. Because of this myth, she is often used as a symbol of protection.
There’s a lot to say about Ovid’s Medusa story, especially in the feminist context. She is often seen as a feminist icon, and is a popular tattoo with women as a result.
1. Black and Grey Medusa Tattoos
2. Realistic Tattoos
3. Small Medusa Tattoos
4. Black-work Tattoos
5. Graphic Medusa Tattoos
6. Horror Inspired Tattoos
7. Illustrative Tattoos
8. Minimalist Tattoos
9. Neo-traditional Tattoos
10. Sketchy Tattoos
11. New School Medusa Tattoos
12. Fine Line Medusa Tattoos
13. Bracelet Tattoos
14. Purple Medusa Tattoos
15. Dot-work Tattoos
16. Contemporary Medusa Tattoos