There's no one true version of Medusa’s myth, as is true of any very old story. This scarf blends references from her depiction in Ancient Greek art, Roman retellings of her myth, modern ideas about her, and my own relationship with her and projections onto her. Though Medusa is a minor character in Greek mythology whose myth has undergone countless retellings throughout millennia, her endurance in modern culture speaks to the staying power of strength in the face of cruelty.
Ovid’s Roman version of Medusa is more or less the jumping-off point for the story behind my illustration, and the key points of her story are this: Medusa was once a beautiful girl who lived as an attendant to a temple of Athena. One day, her beauty caught the attention of Poseidon, who raped her in Athena’s temple. The virgin goddess Athena was so offended by the desecration of her most private and sacred space (oh the irony), that, rather than confronting Poseidon, her uncle, she took her rage out on Medusa and cursed her with monstrosity and a gaze that would turn all living beings to stone, effectively banishing her to a life of isolation. Later, Athena aids Perseus in his quest to kill Medusa in exchange for her head as a prize to decorate her breastplate with.
In early sketches and notes, I tried to give a happy twist to her curse of stone gaze — by positioning her with a blind or blindfolded lover or set of attendants, for example — but the positive spin on a truly brutal myth just didn’t sit right with me. In later sketches, I focused on her rage, grief, and power. So here she is, baring her teeth and gazing directly at the viewer, wielding the trident (and therefore the power) of the god who assaulted her, with her foot on the decapitated stone head of a would-be attacker. In her other hand she wields a snake, a symbol of her power and an allusion to Minoan Snake Goddess figurines, marking her as a “Mistress of Animals,” as she’s sometimes portrayed in ancient Greek art. On her chest she bares an image of her own decapitated head— like Athena and so many generals will do — thus claiming her power entirely as her own.
In some modern retellings of her myth, Athena’s curse of monstrosity and banishment is spun as a blessing that would protect her from future assault, but I don’t buy it. A more fitting blessing would have been a cunt full of teeth, which I gave her. She also has snake pubes, because of course she does! You can make whatever assumptions you’d like about her wiggly leg hair… (On a related note, Freud wrote an essay on Medusa and the vagina dentata, equating the fear of her gaze with the fear of castration, which feels slightly counterintuitive to me, given that her gaze renders one rock hard.)
Though her image here is a modern one, I’ve included as many references as I could to her depiction in antiquity. Her kneeling pose is a nod to the running ”pinwheel” pose that’s often seen on ancient Greek vessels. You’ll notice that she’s winged, she has boars’ teeth, and snakes and hair (rather than snakes as hair), features that are all in line with her depiction in ancient art. Also note the knot that the snakes form around her neck; often, in depictions of the Gorgoneion (Medusa’s decapitated head), a knot of snakes at her throat is the most obvious way to identify her.
The border mosaic is inspired by this Roman floor mosaic, which you can see in full reconstructed glory at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The concentric circles of triangles create a dizzying illusion of perpetual motion, likely alluding to her hypnotic petrifying gaze. The drinking cups in the corners of this mosaic also made it into my border…
Wine cups decorated with eyes are a common artifact to see in collections of ancient Greek pottery, and they’re believed to have served an evil-averting function for the drinker. When one would raise the shallow cup to their face, the eyes painted on the side of the cup would form a mask that stares at other revelers while the drinker’s vision is obscured. Given that images of Medusa have long been used to avert evil — on buildings, armor, weapons, clothing, and more— these apotropaic cups aligned perfectly with the theme of this scarf. (Note the shape of the eyes on these cups – it’s the same shape I gave to Medusa’s eyes.) Illustrated on each of the three wine cups are the three gorgon sisters (Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale), a nod to the Three of Cups tarot card, which represents sisterhood, among other things. The fourth vessel bears an image of Medusa’s child, Pegasus, who was born from Medusa’s neck after Perseus decapitated her.
You'll see "epoiesen" signatures on lots of ancient Greek pottery, where the potter will sign their name (or more likely, the head potter of the studio's name) as "[NAME] ΕΠΟΙΕΣΕΝ" or "Made by so-and-so." One ne of the wine cups says "ΛΟΓΑΝΔΡΙΑ ΕΠΟΙΕΣΕΝ" or "Logandria made me." Though I also included my logo in this scarf, I just couldn’t resist this extra signature.
In addition to the evil-averting wine cups, you’ll also find a few other apotropaic symbols in the border that work towards the goal of protection for the wearer: an evil eye nestled between the snakes at the bottom of the scarf, mosaiced eyes hidden between the snakes at the top, and the word “protection” hidden in the markings of the snakes.
While I’ve explained as many details and references as I could think to explain here, I’m sure there are details that I’ve forgotten drawing, and I hope you’ll enjoy finding them. My illustration of her is a look at her story as an ever changing whole that has been re-told and re-understood by people across the centuries, rather than an accurate depiction of any one telling, and given that Medusa is a figure who feels so deeply familiar and personal to many people today, I hope I’ve done her justice. May all who wear this illustrated scarf do so with pride and power in their hearts!
If you'd like a Medusa scarf of your own, you may find them here. This illustration is limited to an edition of 150 silk scarves, and will never be reprinted.