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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Medusa

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Gorgon Medusa

Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art

Medusa (Μέδουσα, Medousa, guardian, protectress), also known as the Gorgon (Γοργώ, γοργών, γοργόνων, the Grim One, grim, fierce, terrible), was one of the three monstrous Gorgon sisters (Γόργονες, the Gorgons).

There are several versions of myths concerning the Gorgons, related by ancient Greek authors. The earliest known written accounts were by Homer and Hesiod, probably some time between the 8th - 7th centuries BC. Homer only mentions the terrifying Gorgon's head [1] the Gorgoneion (see below).

Hesiod (Theogony, lines 270-303 [2]) was the first to record what came to be considered the essential myth concerning the Gorgons, including their birth, Medusa having sex with Poseidon and her death at the hands of Perseus (Περσεύς). Hesiod tells us that there were three Gorgon sisters, daughters of the chthonic sea deities Phorkys and Keto: Stheno (Σθεννώ, mighty or forceful), Euryale (Εὐρυάλη, far-springer or far-roaming) and Medusa (the queen, or guardian, protectress), who was mortal.

Another, perhaps more extensive account of the myth of Perseus and the Gorgons was written by the poet Pherecydes, around the first half of the 5th century BC, in the second book of his Genealogies. Only fragments of the account survive in an ancient scholion (commentary) on the Argonautica by Apollonius Rhodius. It was also referred to in the Library of Pseudo Apollodorus. [3]

In the play Ion by Euripides, the Gorgons were monsters produced by the Earth goddess Gaia to assist her sons, the Giants, in their battle against the gods (the Gigantomachy), during which the sisters were killed by Athena [4]. The Gigantomachy is the subject of the frieze around the outside of the Pergamon Great Altar of Zeus. (See Pergamon gallery 2, page 23; see also part of another frieze showing Athena fighting the Giants on Pergamon gallery 2, page 14.)

The original home of the Gorgons is uncertain. Hesiod (Theogony, lines 270-303) described them living near the Hesperides, far to the west of Greece, across the Mediterranean in north Africa. Herodotus, Pausanias and Ovid wrote that they were from Libya, the Greek name for northwest Africa. However, Aeschylus locates them to the east of Greece, on the "Gorgonean plains of Cisthene", and another source relates that they lived on an island called Sarpedon, perhaps one of two places said to have had this name in Thrace and Anatolia (Asia Minor). [5, all references]

Theories have attempted to trace the origins of the Gorgon myths to Greek conquests of Anatolia and the assimilation or destruction of indigenous religions. According to such theories, the Gorgon or Gorgons may have been one or more local deities. Other theories have explored the roots of the myths in linguistic, psychoanalytical or sexual terms.

The rapid spread of depictions of the Gorgons from the 7th century BC around the Greek world, including Anatolia, Egypt, Italy and Sicily (see below), coincides with a period in which Greeks were establishing colonies and trading posts around the Mediterranean and as far as the Black Sea (see for example the History of Stageira). Such adventurous undertakings brought them into contact and conflict with hitherto unknown cultures, including those of northwestern Africa.

The Phoenicians, their competitors, established colonies around the western Mediterranean, including Carthage in north Africa, with which the Greeks in the west were to wage wars over the coming centuries. Many Greek myths and legends, including the adventures of heroes such as Herakles, Odysseus, Jason and Perseus, reflect historical incursions into unknown geographical areas; dangerous undertakings which promised either death or wealth and fame for the adventurers.

The myths added epic proportions and supernatural elements: the superhuman heroes had magical weapons and devices lent by their supporting deities, and their enemies became terrible monsters with enormous power. But the heroes often had to use their brains as well as brawn to overcome their foes. These tales must have served as encouragement to the Greeks settling in distant lands and surrounded by enemies, reinforcing their cultural belief that faith in their gods and rulers, courage, steadfastness and intelligence would ensure their survival.

Age-old tales developed over centuries of oral transmission, and new elements were added, often borrowed from traditions of other cultures; further embellishments made the tales more exciting as well as providing back-stories to explain the origins of characters and situations.

Ovid, in Metamorphoses (Book 4), tells us that Medusa was originally beautiful, had shining hair and was desired by many males. Her beauty aroused Poseidon to rape her in a temple of Athena. As retribution for this sacrilege, Athena cursed Medusa, turned her hair into a mass of serpents and made her face so terrible that anyone who looked at it was turned to stone. [6]

With the help of Athena, Hermes, Hades and the Nymphs, the hero Perseus flew, on wings borrowed from Hermes, to Medusa's home and killed her as she slept. He cut off her head, and the winged horse Pegasus (Πηγασος, Of the Spring) and Chrysaor (Χρυσάωρ, Gold Blade), the hero with the golden sword, sprang from her blood (see photos below).

The Gorgon's severed head, known as the Gorgoneion (Greek, Γοργόνειος , Γοργόνειον, Gorgon mask), or the gaze of her eyes alone, could turn those who saw it to stone, and it became a fearsome weapon.

In northwest Africa, Perseus used the Gorgoneion to turn the Titan Atlas to stone (the origin of the Atlas Mountains), then flew to the Aegean island of Seriphos, where he petrified King Polydektes, who had schemed to kill him and marry his mother Danae. [7] He then gave the head to Athena who added it to her armament by attaching it to her aegis.

The threat of the supernatural power of the Gorgoneion, or even an image of it, was believed to provide protection from enemies, and possess apotropaic qualities (i.e. it could ward off evil). It was used as a symbol of several Greek cities, appearing on coins, architectural decoration and sculpture. The presence of an image of the Gorgoneion on a building, grave or other object was meant to scare off potential attackers, thieves and evil spirits. Pausnaias wrote that the Athenians placed a gilded head of Medusa on the south wall of the Acropolis:

"On the South Wall, as it is called, of the Acropolis, which faces the theatre [of Dionysos], there is dedicated a gilded head of Medusa the Gorgon, and round it is wrought an aegis."

Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 1, chapter 21, section 3.

Later he described a curtain in the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, saying that it was dedicated by "Antiochus", probably the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who also gave the Gorgon on the golden aegis above the Theatre of Dionysos as a votive offering:

"In Olympia there is a woollen curtain, adorned with Assyrian weaving and Phoenician purple, which was dedicated by Antiochus, who also gave as offerings the golden aegis with the Gorgon on it above the theatre at Athens."

Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 5, chapter 12, section 4.

The Gorgoneion may have been large enough to be seen by ships arriving at Piraeus, and have been set up both as a symbol of Athena and a protective talisman. [8]

In February 1395, Νiccοlo da Martoni, a notary from Capua, visited Athens on his return to Italy from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and was shown the two columns of the Choragic Monument of Thrasyllos, below the south wall of the Acropolis. He was told that between them formerly stood an idol which had the power to sink hostile ships as they appeared on the horizon. This may have been a folk memory of the Gorgon mentioned by Pausanias. [9]

The head of the Gorgon Medusa on an Athenian tetradrachm coin at My Favourite Planet

The head of Gorgon Medusa (Gorgoneion)
on an Athenian tetradrachm coin.
Circa 530-520 BC.

Altes Museum, Berlin.
 
The head of the Gorgon Medusa on a silver stater from Athens, Greece at My Favourite Planet

The head of Gorgon Medusa on
an Athenian silver stater coin
("Wappenmünze"), 530-520 BC.

British Museum.
From the Burgon Collection.
 
The head of the Gorgon Medusa on a stater from Neapolis, Thrace at My Favourite Planet

The head of Gorgon Medusa on a silver
stater coin from Neapolis, Thrace (today
Kavala, Macedonia, Greece). Circa 500 BC.
Diameter 18.4 mm, weight 9.84 grams.

Münzkabinett, Staatliche
Kunstsammlungen, Dresden.
Inv. No. AAB599.
The head of Medusa on a Lesbian billonstatere coin at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion on a billonstatere
coin from Lesbos. Circa 500 BC.

Altes Museum, Berlin.
 
The head of the Gorgon Medusa on a gold stater from Cyzicus at My Favourite Planet

The head of Gorgon Medusa above a tuna
fish on a white gold stater from Kyzikos
(Cyzicus, Κύζικος) Mysia, northwestern
Anatolia (today Erdek, Balikesir Province,
Turkey). Circa 500 BC.

British Museum, London.
 
The head of Gorgon Medusa on a silver half stater from Anatolia at My Favourite Planet

The head of Gorgon Medusa on a silver
half stater from Anatolia (Asia Minor).
6th century BC.

Numismatic Collection,
Bode Museum, Berlin.
 
The Gorgon head on a bronze coin from Olbia at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion on a bronze coin from
Olbia (Ὀλβία Ποντική), a port at the
north of the Black Sea (modern Ukraine),
a colony of Miletus founded in the
7th century BC. Circa 450-400 BC.

Alpha Bank Numsimatic Collection,
Athens, Greece.
 
Medusa Medusa, Gorgons and the Gorgoneion
in Greek, Etruscan and Roman art
A number of prehistoric artefacts showing creatures with monstrous heads are thought by some scholars to represent Gorgons, even small ceramic heads or masks of the Neolithic Sesklo culture (in Thessaly and Macedonia) from around 6000 BC. However, the various theories attempting to associate such objects with the Greek Gorgon myths have yet to be proved.

The figure of the Gorgon Medusa, or just the Gorgoneion, appeared in many types of Greek and Etruscan art from as early as the 7th century BC (Archaic period), particularly on pottery, paintings, architectural decoration and coins (see Earliest depictions of the Gorgon myth in the note below). One of the earliest known depictions of figures clearly identifiable as Gorgons was painted around 660 BC on an amphora known as the "Eleusis Amphora" (see below).

From the 6th century BC the depiction of Medusa's head in the form of a frontal "lion mask" (or "humanoid lion") became standard around the Greek world. The head is usually round, with wavy hair, or topped or surrounded by writhing snakes; the ears are brought forward and stick out frontally; the glaring eyes are large, prominent, sometimes bulging, with thick ridges for eyebrows; the broad nose has a flat ridge, sometimes wrinkled, with a knob at the tip; the cheeks and chin are full and rounded; the wide, grimacing mouth has long fangs in place of upper and lower incisor teeth, and a protruding tongue.

Full figures of Medusa show her winged, wearing a short chiton (tunic), sometimes covered by an animal pelt, and a belt, often of knotted snakes. She is either barefooted or has winged ankles or boots. She is posed in what is often referred to as the "Knielauf" (literally knee-run) schema, a word coined by German archaeologists to describe the kneeling posture favoured by Archaic artists to convey rapid running or flying, for example the Archaic statue of winged Nike from Delos. As with the Nike statue, Medusa's limbs often are arranged in the form of a swastika. The posture is also referred to as the "pinwheel pose".

The Gorgoneion appeared on early Greek coins from at least the second half of the 6th century BC. A rare Athenian didrachm of circa 545-515 BC and several coin types (stater, drachm and trihemiobol) from Neapolis, Thrace (today Kavala, Macedonia, Greece) of circa 510-480 BC show Medusa with a potruding tongue, and later coins minted around the Greek world (for example Lesbos, Korkyra (Corfu), Cyzicus and Silenus, Sicily) also bore this motif into Hellenistic times. [10]

The Gorgoneion is often shown on representations of Athena (see, for example, "Athena with the cross-banded aegis" on Pergamon gallery 2, page 13). Although the various versions of the myths tell quite different stories, and may be interpretations of local traditions or later inventions, most involve Athena. Apart from the Gorgoneion itself, the strong and ancient association of Athena with snakes is the subject of many myths and images of the goddess. Medusa is often shown wearing a girdle fastened with a knot, as is Athena (for example, the "Altemps" Athena Parthenos statue in the Palazzo Altemps of the National Museum of Rome).

Medusa's appearance later became more common and she remained a popular motif into Roman times, for example on armour, mosaics, column bases, tombs and sarcophagi. However, from the late 6th century BC some depictions of her were already less wild, terrible and ugly and she was gradually transformed from a powerful, dangerous beast - the "horrid type" - to a form more human, attractive, tame, and even benign, typified by "beautiful type" Gorgoneions. [11] Although she mostly appears feminine, many Gorgoneions are androgynous or decidedly masculine. The varieties of representations are illustrated in the photos below.

The famous mosaic from Pompeii of Alexander the Great in battle with the Persian King Darius III shows Alexander wearing a Gorgoneion on the breastplate of his armour (see photo below). The mosaic is thought to be based on a painting by Philoxenos of Eretria, "Alexander and Darius at the Battle of Issus", of around 315 BC. However, the Gorgoneion in the mosaic and in other artworks of Roman times may be later embellishments. As far as I know, there is no depiction of Alexander made during his lifetime, or of his successors, wearing armour with a Gorgoneion (although, see the "Alexander Aigiochos" type statues).

It is certain that Roman leaders are shown wearing the Gorgoneion on their armour from the time of the first emperors, such as Claudius (see photos below), and Hadrian seems to have been especially fond of this emblem, as can be seen from many surviving statues of him (photos below).

Deified emperors were represented wearing the aegis and Gorgoneion as part of the iconography of imperial religion, which identified them with the ancient mythological deities such as Jupiter/Zeus. According to the Roman author Servius, this breast armour was called aegis when worn by a god, and lorica when worn by a man. [12]

Detail of a terracotta plaque of a Gorgon in Syracuse, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a terracotta plaque of a Gorgon
in Syracuse, Sicily. Late 7th century BC.

See below.
 
Gorgon's head from Megara Hyblaea, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Fragment of a terracotta Gorgon head from
Megara Hyblaea, Sicily. 6th century BC.

Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum,
Syracuse, Sicily. Inv. No. 2010.
 
Gorgon figure from Megara Hyblaea, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a terracotta Gorgon figure from
Megara Hyblaea, Sicily. Circa 500 BC.

See below.
Gorgoneion on a marble sarcophagus, Manisa, Turkey at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion was a common motif on
richly decorated sarcophagi, particularly
during the Roman Imperial period
(see photos below).

Manisa Archaeological Museum.
A terracotta ceremonial mask from Tiryns at My Favourite Planet

A terracotta ceremonial mask from the "Bothros" of the Upper Citadel
of Tiryns, in the Argolid, Peloponnese. Late 8th - early 7th century BC.

Nafplion Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 4789.

One of four similar masks on display in the museum (see photo below; the other three are numbered 4790, 4791 and 9095), they are all badly damaged and have been restored. Five masks were discovered in a pit in the Upper Citadel of the ancient fortified city of Tiryns (Τίρυνς), which had been an important political and cultural centre during the Mycenaean period. The area of the citadel is thought to have been a sanctuary of Hera, and the pit perhaps a bothros (βόθρος), used in sacrificial rituals.

Some scholars believe that the ugly, boar-toothed creatures may be early depictions of the Gorgon's head. Tiryns is one of the Argolid cities associated with the myths of Perseus and Medusa. If these masks were actually worn, they would have covered the entire head, but there are no incisions in the eyes and the wearer would have been "blind". The masks have pierced ears for earrings, identifying them as female.

The Tiryns masks have been compared to terracotta masks of the 7th - 6th century BC discovered in the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, Sparta (see below). According to various theories, the masks were asscociated with rituals of initiation or coming of age. However, the Spartan masks are very different in form and design.

The artefacts found in the "Bothros" include painted terracotta shields with some of the earliest narrative depictions of mythological scenes in Greek art (see Homer).
 
Four terracotta masks from Tiryns in Nafplion Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

The four terracotta masks from Tiryns displayed in Nafplion Archaeological Museum.
A Gorgoneion on a Boeotian a tripod cauldron at My Favourite Planet

A fragment of a ceramic tripod cauldron (lebes) with a Gorgoneion
on a panel (referred to as a metope) at the top of one of the legs.

First half of the 7th century BC. From the sanctuary
of Herakles, Thebes, Boeotia, central Greece.

Thebes Archaeological Museum.

An early type of Gorgoneion, rather than the "lion mask" type that was to become more or less standard around the Greek world from the 6th century BC. The painting on this fragment is on a white background, with the skin of the Gorgon's face in brown, and other details in black.

She has high, pointed ears with earrings, a top knot from which wavy locks, perhaps schematically representing snakes, extend horizontally to either side, and a long, bushy beard around the jaw, ending in a point below the chin. The eyebrows and nose are painted with a single deft contour, and the wide, eyes have large round dots for pupils. Her grimacing mouth has lips painted with a thick outline, and five widely-spaced, oblong teeth, three at the top and two below. She appears quite jolly, in a rather manic way.

Another surviving fragment of a tripod cauldron leg (see photo, right) is displayed in the museum as if it is from the same vessel, but is not painted in the same way. The decoration, in black only, appears to have been painted directly on the bare clay, and the Gorgoneion, although of the same type, is drawn in a different style. The face is covered with black dots, and the teeth are indicated by several long, triangular brushstrokes. On the lower panel is a depiction of a tethered stallion. The paint seems to have been appled more thickly, forming a slight relief, particuarly evident on the top panel frame.

The museum labelling does not mention where many of the ceramics on display were made, but presumably this is locally produced Boeotian ware. As with many Greek painted vases of this period, spaces around the figures have been filled with plant and geometric motifs. The style may appear crude, but it is certainly lively and engaging: confident, vivid and effective graphic art.

The remains of the Theban sanctuary of Herakles can be viewed in a fenced area along Amphionas Street, near the site of the Elektrai Gates, in the southwest of the modern town. The free booklet Cultural walks in Thebes (Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia, Thebes 2017) includes photos, information and a map marking historical sites. Greek and English versions are usually available at the impressive new archaeological museum and from some hotels.
 
A Gorgoneion and a horse on the leg of a Boeotian tripod cauldron at My Favourite Planet

Another surviving leg of a tripod
cauldron, with panels decorated
with a Gorgoneion and a horse.
Gorgons on the body of a Proto-Attic amphora, Eleusis at My Favourite Planet

Gorgons on the body of the "Eleusis Amphora", a large Proto-Attic amphora.

Around 660 BC. Excavated in 1954 in the West Cemetery, Eleusis. Pot Burial Γ6.
It had been used as a funeral urn and contained the skeleton of a 12 year old boy.
It is the name vase of the Polyphemos Painter. Height 1.42 m.
Gorgon scene height 52 cm, width 175 cm.

Eleusis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 2630.

The amphora was discovered in 1954, during excavations at Eleusis led by Greek archaeologist George E. Mylonas (see Demeter, note 6), among prehistoric burials in soil only 25-30 cm below the modern level. It is thought that the amphora had been damaged and many parts dragged away during centuries of ploughing.

Medusa's sisters, Stheno (mighty) and Euryale (far-springer), are shown with grotesque oval, mask-like heads, enormous eyes, turned vertically, and wide slits of mouths with teeth like spikes. Snakes writhe on either side of their heads and necks, and the Gorgon on the left has griffin heads growing from the top of her head. The shape of their heads and the griffin and snake decorations have led sholars to compare them to the forms of bronze cauldrons used in sacrificial rituals (see photo, below right). Notably, they are not shown with wings.

On the upper garment of the Gorgon on the right are traces of a scaly pattern. In contrast to the hideous heads, the bodies and poses of the sisters appear relatively graceful. Their twig-like arms and ill-defined hands are stretched out in front of them. They wear split skirts from which their surprisingly shapely left legs protrude (as in the plate from Kamiros below). They appear to be running to the right; although, according to the myth, they pursue Perseus after he has killed Medusa, the poses suggest that they are fleeing or even dancing.

Their way is blocked by Athena to the right (see photo, right). Only part of her head, her arm holding a spear or staff, part of her long garment and her feet and ankles peeping from below it, are preserved.

On the other side of the vase, to the left of this scene, Medusa's decapitated and bloated corpse lies or floats horizontally (see photo below). The part of the amphora showing her head has not been preserved, and only the black legs of Perseus can now be seen.

These are among the earliest depictions of figures clearly identifiable as Gorgons, and of the myth of Perseus killing Medusa. [13] It is thought to be an original composition of the painter, and may have been an illustration of oral traditions or even a written version of the myth: Hesiod's poem Theogony [see note 2] may have been in circulation by this time. At 52 cm high, they are the largest figures yet found on an ancient Greek vase. The depiction of Athena is also one of the earliest in Attic art.

The neck of the amphora shows Odysseus blinding the Cyclops Polyphemos (a short article with a photo of the entire amphora). The amphora also features a lion confronting a boar on the shoulder, large intertwining "snakes" formalized as cable patterns, numerous space-filling, orientalizing abstract and floral motifs, and "fretwork" handles.

Athena holding a spear on the Eleusis Amphora at My Favourite Planet

Athena on the "Eleusis Amphora".
She holds a spear or staff indicated
by a simple brushstroke.
 
A 7th century BC bronze cauldron on a tripod from Delphi at My Favourite Planet

A bronze cauldron on a tripod (from another
cauldron) of iron rods. This type of cauldron
was first made in Greece in the 7th century
BC. The rims were often decorated with
attached heads of griffins and sirens.

Delphi Archaeological Museum.
Medusa's decapitated body on the Eleusis Amphora at My Favourite Planet

Medusa's decapitated and bloated body on the "Eleusis Amphora".
Ivory plaque with a carving of Perseus killing Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Reconstruction drawing of a fragmentary Laconian ivory plaque
with a carving depicting Perseus decapitating Medusa with a sword.
One of the earliest known representations of the scene [see note 13].

Circa 630-620 BC. Excavated in front of the temple at the
Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta. Height 11 cm, width 8.25 cm.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 15365.

The fragments of the small, rectangular ivory relief are incomplete, but the bearded Perseus appears to be standing in profile, with the sword in his right hand, and his left grasping two of the snakes which grow from Medusa's head. The sickle-winged Gorgon, depicted as much larger than Perseus, with a huge head and wearing a long skirt, has her back to him and has fallen to her knees, with both legs together. Perseus has his left foot on the back of her calves. The archaeologist Alan Johnston, commenting on the similar pose of Odysseus blinding the Cyclops Polyphemos on the "Eleusis Amphora", noted: "He kneels on his opponent like a pharaoh." * The head of Medusa too appears to be influenced by Egyptian art, although the state of the fragments allows no certainty. The plaque has been reconstructed to show her with a potruding tongue.

Two holes can be seen in the horizontal centre of the plaque, one immediately left of Medusa's head and the other behind of Perseus' left heel. These were for nailing or riveting the plaque to another object.

This was one the enormous number of ancient objects discovered by British archaeologists at the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta during excavations in 1906-1910, including several Archaic representations of Gorgons: on vase fragments (the earliest around 625 BC); terracotta masks (see below); an ivory plaque apparently showing a Gorgon as a sphinx (image, right); a small lead figure of a running Gorgon (see below, right), and a high relief of a Gorgon head on a fragment of a large marble lustral bowl (6th century BC). Many of the objects were dated according to the type of pottery found at the same level in the earth (Laconian I-VI, Protocorinthian, Corinthian, etc).

Most of the finds are now in the Sparta Archaeological Museum, some are in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, and others in the British Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The majority are in storage and not on display.

* Alan Johnston, Pre-Classical Greece, in John Boardman (editor), The Oxford history of classical art, page 32. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Image source: Richard MacGillivray Dawkins (editor), The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia at Sparta, excavated and described by members of the British School at Athens, 1906-1910. The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, Supplementary Paper No. 5. Macmillan, London, 1929. At the University of Chicago Library.
Perseus and Medusa, Plate CVI, 1, and text on pages 211 and 213. Gorgon/sphinx, plate CII, 1, and text on pages 209-210.

See also an ivory plaque depicting the Judgement of Paris from the sanctuary on the Hermes page.
 
Gorgon on an ivory plaque from Sparta at My Favourite Planet

Reconstruction drawing of a Gorgon
on a fragmentary ivory plaque from the
Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, Sparta.

The figure has a lion-mask head
with long wavy hair, a pointed
beard and a sickle shaped wing.
She has the body of a seated lion
as in depictions of sphinxes.

Early 7th century BC.
Height 6 cm, width 4 cm.
Gorgon mask from the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, Sparta at My Favourite Planet   Gorgon mask from Sparta at My Favourite Planet
A photo and a drawing of terracotta Gorgon masks
found at the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, Sparta.

Mid 6th century BC.

Sparta Archaeological Museum.

Mask left, Inv. No. 1948a. On display.
Height 15.5 cm, inside width 7 cm, thickness 1 - 1.6 cm.

Mask right, unknown.

Two of a large number of small terracotta votive masks and thousands of fragments found at the sanctuary during the 1906-1910 excavations. Some date from the early 7th century BC, while the majority are from the 6th century BC, after the building of the second temple of Artemis Orthia around 600 BC, when the dedication of votive masks appears to have become more popular. They depict Gorgons (15 masks and fragments), satyrs, grotesque caricatures with furrowed faces and humans, which may have been females ("old women"), youths and warriors. Some appear more realistic and were perhaps portraits or idealized heroes.

Many were brightly painted in purple, brown and black. Generally, the noses were not hollowed behind, and some had no holes at all. This and their small size led archaeologists to conclude that they were not meant to be worn, but were hung from walls and trees. Along with other types of Spartan ceramic objects, the number, quality and originality of masks diminished from around 550 BC, and no examples were found of Gorgon, satyr or "portrait" type masks from the 5th century BC.

The purpose of the masks is unknown, but perhaps they had an apotropaic function or were used in rituals. Connections with funerary (sepulchral) offerings or ex-votos for cures from illness have been ruled out due of the temple context and because Artemis was not a healing deity. Their grotesque designs would render most unsuitable as honorific masks. Although there was no developed drama at this time in Sparta, they may have been associated with some sort of theatre or sacred performance, perhaps with the ritual orgiastic dances known to have been performed at Sparta. From ancient sources, it appears that such dances were performed in honour of Artemis by men in feminine masks made of wood (κύριθρα, wooden masks). Such wooden masks have not survived, but these may be replicas. Another suggestion is that the masks may have been connected with the rites of passage undertaken by Spartan boys.

Both of the Gorgon masks illustrated above have round eye-holes and potruding tongues, but, like many of the masks from the sanctuary, neither has ears. The mask on the left has a long, flat face, with an opening for the mouth which has long fangs. It appears masculine, with heavy eyebrows and beard, and a long, straight, rectangular nose, which is not hollow. Details were made with modelled relief and black and purple paint. The spiky hair, side whiskers and the wrinkles on either side of the nose are painted, as are the rings of the hair crest above the forehead (on other Gorgon depictions shown as snailshells, spirals or waves), here represented by a row of dotted circles. Although the design is primitive, the pigments used are thought to correspond with those of Laconian IV pottery, around 550-500 BC. The mask may have been made from a mould, perhaps of wood, but no mask moulds were discovered during the excavations.

The mask on the right, which seems more jolly, has a snub nose with wrinkles, a large, round tongue, and a row of even top teeth. Neither the nose nor the mouth are pierced, and it is considered to be too small to have been worn. Slight traces of red-brown paint have been preserved. The spirals on the cheeks may imitate tattoos.


Gorgoneion on a lead ring from Sparta at My Favourite Planet

A bearded Gorgoneion on the back
of a scarab-shaped bezel of a lead
votive ring from the Sanctuary of
Artemis Orthia, Sparta. 700-635 BC.

Among around ten thousand
votive lead objects, in a variety of
forms, found during excavations
at the sanctuary, 1906-1910.
Lead figurine of a running Gorgon from Sparta at My Favourite Planet

Lead votive figurine of a running
bearded female, probably a Gorgon.
6th century BC. From the Sanctuary
of Artemis Orthia, Sparta.

Drawings from R. M. Dawkins,
The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia
at Sparta
, see below.
Image source (masks): The Annual of the British School at Athens, Volume 12, 1905-1906,
plates X and XIa; text on pages 324-327 (R. M. Dawkins) and 338-343 (R. C. Bosanquet). At the Internet Archive.

The annual contains reports by archaeologists on the first year of excavations at Sparta, with brief descriptions of finds. The photo on Plate X is in colour, but the scanned version is in black and white.

See also: Richard MacGillivray Dawkins (editor), The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia at Sparta, excavated and described by members of the British School at Athens, 1906-1910. The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, Supplementary Paper No. 5. Macmillan, London, 1929. At the University of Chicago Library.
Masks, plate LVI, 2 and 3; text in chapter 5, pages 163-186, particularly 169 and 183. Gorgoneion on scarab ring bezel, Fig. 118, d, text page 255. Lead Gorgon figurine, Fig. 126, k, text page 271.

A scan of the book The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia at Sparta is also available At the Internet Archive, but only with plates upto CVI (106).

The chapter on the terracotta masks was written by Guy Dickins of the British School at Athens (see the note in Demeter part 2). He called the masks of the first half of the 6th century, "vigorous and individual creations, the more elaborate examples of fantasy and realism" (page 166). He also described one of the masks (Plate LVI, 3, the drawing on the right, above) as "diminutive", but unfortunately he did not state the sizes of the masks. Over a century later, many of the masks have still not been published, and very little has been published specifically about the Gorgon masks.

See also: masks of Dionysus
 
Amphora showing two running Gorgons and the body of the decapitated Medusa at My Favourite Planet

An Archaic vase painting of two running winged Gorgons.
Behind them the body of the decapitated Medusa.

Detail of the body of an Archaic Attic black-figure neck amphora,
circa 620–610 BC. Known as the "Nessos Amphora", it is the name
vase of the Nessos Painter, named after the inscribed painting on
the neck depicting Herakles fighting with the Centaur Nessos.

Watercolour by Émile Gilliéron (1850–1924).

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 1002 (CC 657).

The 122 cm tall amphora was excavated in Pireaus Street, Keramaikos, central Athens in 1890.

Medusa's sisters, Stheno and Euryale, wearing short, belted chitons, run or fly to the right in the "Knielauf" position. The face of the Gorgon in the centre has detailing in red. Strangely, her left arm is shown behind her wing, which may be an oversight or whimsy of the painter. On the left, the headless body of Medusa slumps forward, her wings and arms lowered, and blood pours from her neck. A bird of prey hovers above the corpse.

The faces of the Gorgon sisters are painted in a variant of the lion mask. Their wavy hair is neatly parted in the middle, and they have what appear to be beards, in the form of thick curls hanging around the line of their jaws. These "beards" probably originated from images of Medusa's head in which dripping blood or bloody veins and sinews hang below her head like spikes (see, for example, the Gorgoneion below). The tips of their noses and nostrils are indicated by an outline shaped like a ram's head (or Ionic capital).

Below the Gorgons are a row of leaping dolphins, perhaps suggesting that the scene is taking place near the sea. Perseus does not appear on the amphora which is only decorated on one side: the rear, although fragmentary, is marked only with three brushstrokes. It has been suggested that Perseus may been painted on a twin amphora, now lost.

The painting on the neck shows Herakles fighting the centaur Nessos. The scene has given the name to the vase and the Nessos Painter.

Source of images: Valerois Stais, Paul Wolters, Amphora aus Athen, in Antike Denkmäler Band I, pages 46-48 and plate 57. Kaiserlich Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Verlag von Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1891. At Heidelberg University Library.


A now lost fragmentary louterion (λουτήριον, wide spouted krater), also attributed to the Nessos Painter, was found in a well in the ancient city of Aegina, among other ceramic fragments, mostly of Corinthian pottery. Two of the inscribed painted panels from around the top of the vessel's body had survived. One showed Athena (name inscribed) standing behind Perseus (name inscribed) running or flying to the right in the "Knielauf" position, pursuing the headless Medusa and her two Gorgon sisters (figures missing). The other panel depicted two winged Harpies (inscription ΑΡΕΠΥΙΕ), running/flying to the right. Fragments of a lower band showed sphinxes and animals (horses, panthers, bulls). Height of louterion 28 cm, diameter 55 cm. State Museums Berlin (SMB). Inv. No. F 1682.

See: Adolf Furtwängler (1853-1907), Beschreibung der Vasensammlung im Antiquarium, Erster Band. Königliche Museen zu Berlin. Pages 220-221, No. 1682 (2636). W. Spemann, Berlin, 1885. At the Internet Archive.
 
A drawing of an Archaic Attic amphora by Emile. Gillierion at My Favourite Planet

A reconstruction drawing of the front
of the amphora by Émile Gilliéron.
Perseus flies with the head of Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Perseus flies with the head of Medusa.

Fragments of a painted terracotta plaque, probably a metope, from the wooden
temple of Apollo, Thermon (Θέρμος), Aetolia, central Greece. Circa 630-620 BC.
Thought to be the work of a Corinthian workshop. Excavated at Thermon in 1889.

Watercolour by Émile Gilliéron (1850–1924).

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 13401.

A youthful Perseus, with a goatee beard, strides to the right in the "Knielauf" position. He wears a black petasos (brimmed sun hat), a short, belted chiton and winged boots. A scabbard hangs from a strap slung diagonally over his right shoulder: part of the sword's hilt can still be seen. Under his right arm the top of Medusa's frontal head appears over the top of the kibisis (κίβισις), the pouch he has been given by the Nymphs. The mouth is visible through the fabric of the pouch.

Image source: Georg Kawerau, Giorgios Sotiriades, Der Apollotempel zu Thermos,
in Antiker Denkmaler Band II, 1902-1908, pages 1-8 and plate 51.1.
Kaiserlich Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Verlag von Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1908.
At Heidelberg University Library.
 
Painted Gorgoneion metoped from Thermon at My Favourite Planet

Gorgoneion.

Fragments of a painted terracotta plaque, probably a metope, from the wooden
temple of Apollo, Thermon (Θέρμος), Aetolia, central Greece. Circa 630-620 BC.
Thought to be the work of a Corinthian workshop. Excavated at Thermon
in 1889. Height 87-89 cm, width 99 cm, thickness 5.5 cm.

Watercolour by Émile Gilliéron (1850–1924).

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

Bloody tendrils hang from the severed head, which has enormous eyes, wrinkled cheeks and a nose indicated by a countoured shape, like a ram's head (as on the "Nessos Amphora" above). The head of a griffin can be seen growing from the head, top left, and a snake on the right.

Ovid wrote that as Perseus flew over the Libyan desert carrying Medusa's head, drops of blood from it fell onto the sand and turned into deadly snakes which infested the land:

"... as he bore
the viperous monster-head on sounding wings
hovered a conqueror in the fluent air,
over sands, Libyan, where the Gorgon-head
dropped clots of gore, that, quickening on the ground,
became unnumbered serpents; fitting cause
to curse with vipers that infested land."

Brookes More (translator), Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 4, lines 604-705.
Cornhill Publishing Co., Boston, 1922. At Perseus Digital Library.

Image source: Georg Kawerau, Giorgios Sotiriades, Der Apollotempel zu Thermos,
in Antiker Denkmaler Band II, 1902-1908, pages 1-8 and plate 52.
Kaiserlich Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Verlag von Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1908.
At Heidelberg University Library.
 
A reconstruction drawing of part of the entablature of the Apollo temple at Thermon at My Favourite Planet

A reconstruction drawing by the German architect and archaeologist
Georg Kawerau (1856-1909) of part of the roof and entablature of the
Doric temple of Apollo at Thermon, showing the antefixes and metopes.

See more about antefixes below.

Image source: Georg Kawerau, Giorgios Sotiriades, Der Apollotempel zu Thermos,
in Antiker Denkmaler Band II, 1902-1908, pages 1-8 and plate 49-1.
Kaiserlich Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Verlag von Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1908.
At Heidelberg University Library.
A triangular statue base with the relief of a head at each corner at My Favourite Planet

An inscribed triangular statue base from Delos with the relief of a protome (head)
at each corner. At the front is the head of a ram. At the rear: on the right the
head of a lion (see photo below), and left a Gorgoneion (see photo below).

Around 650-600 BC. Found in 1885, during excavations by the French Archaeological
School, north of the Prytaneion, on the south side of the Sanctuary of Apollo, Delos.

Delos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. A 728.

On top of the marble statue base is part of the left foot of a male kouros statue on a wedge-shaped base fragment which fits exactly into the front of the cavity carved for the sculpture. It is thought that the kouros fragment A 4052 (photo, right) may belong to the base.

The face of the ram on the corner at the front of the triangular base is totally smooth: either the features have been destroyed or worn away, or it was left unfinished.

Around the top of the lion head (photo below) on the right corner at the rear of the base is a mane. It has a protruding tongue and the jug-handle shaped ears are set high on its head. The ears are the only features that appear to distinguish it from a Gorgoneion, particularly since the nose is now missing, and some scholars have interpreted it as a head of Gorgon or Phobos.

The Gorgoneion (photo below) is also very worn, and no ears are visible. It has a protruding tongue, but the nose appears more human than lionine. Depictions of Gorgon heads in the form of a "lion mask" or "humanoid lion" are known from the late 7th century BC (see images above and below). Here we appear to have carvings of a lion and a Gorgon which are very similar. It may be that the features were further distinguished by paint.

The inscription on the right side of the base is the signature of the sculptor and dedicator Euthykartides, one of the earliest surviving signatures of a Greek sculptor. It is written in boustrophedon (βουστροφηδόν, ox-turning, as in ploughing a field), that is with the lettering and direction of the writing reversed on alternate lines. The punctuation is in the form of tricolons (or triple colon).

ευθυκαρτιδες ⋮
μ´α ⋮ νεθεκε ⋮ ηο
Ναησιοσ ⋮ πο
ιεσας

(Euthykartides m'anetheke ho nahsios poiesas)

Euthykartides the Naxian dedicated me, having made [me].

Inscription IG XII 5, 2.

See:

Jeffrey M. Hurwit, Artists and signatures in Ancient Greece, pages 3-10. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Euthykartides' feet: Reflections on signatures, status, and originality in Greek art. A video of a lecture given by Jeffrey M. Hurwit at the Athens Centre, Pangrati, Athens, on 23th July 2013. At Youtube.

See also a Gorgoneion antefix from Delos below.
 
The kouros associated with the Delos statue base at My Favourite Planet

The lower part of the kouros statue
thought to belong to the statue base.
End of the 7th century BC.

Delos Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. A 4052.
The lion head on the kouros base in Delos at My Favourite Planet

The lion protome (head) on the right corner at the rear of the kouros base in Delos.
The Gorgoneion on the kouros base in Delos at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion on the left corner at the rear of the kouros base in Delos.
A plate showing a winged goddess with a Gorgon head at My Favourite Planet

Ceramic plate showing a winged goddess with the head of a Gorgon,
wearing a split skirt, and holding in each hand a water bird by its neck.

Made on Kos about 600 BC. From Kamiros, Rhodes.
Height 2.5 cm, diameter 32 cm, weight: 1.19 kg.

The goddess is thought to be Potnia Theron (Πότνια Θηρῶν), the Mistress of Animals,
depicted in ancient Minoan, Mycenaean, Greek and Etruscan art as a winged goddess
holding animals in both hands. It is not known why the figure on this plate has a Gorgon's
head, or to put it another way, why a Gorgon was depicted as the Mistress of Animals.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1860.4-4.2. Acquired in 1860.
Medusa holding Pegasus on the leg of a bronze tripod from Olympia at My Favourite Planet

A cast relief of Medusa holding Pegasus on the leg of a bronze tripod.

Made in a Corinthian workshop, around 600 BC.
Excavated at the Sanctuary of Olympia, Greece.

Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. B 7000.

One of several bronze artefacts, tripod legs and shield straps, discovered at Olympia with series of reliefs depicting mythological scenes, in vertically arranged panels (like a film stip or comic strip), comparable to reliefs on the horizontally arranged metopes of ancient Greek temples. This image is in the lowest of six surviving panels on a bronze tripod leg made in Corinth around 600 BC. All of the images are predominatly zoomorphic (featuring animals), and one depicts Odysseus escaping from the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemos by hiding beneath a giant ram (see Homer).

The Gorgon is decidedly of the ugly type, and with her horns, terrible eyes and grimace, quite demonic. She has a snaky fringe and two snakes rise from behind her ears. Although the artist has put considerable effort into the details of her head, the rest of her body is quite plain. She has thin arms and an oblong ipper torso, like the head shown frontally. The waist appears to be tightly drawn by a belt (which was perhaps inlaid?), but this is no longer to be seen. She sits awkwardly on what appears to be the capital of an Ionic column, with her lower torso and thighs - shown just as an oval form - shown in profile. The bottom of her long skirt and a foot are visible to the left of Pegasus. She holds her equine child under its stomach with her right hand, and its front legs with the left.

On the wall to the left of her head is a lizard, described by the museum label as "an underworld being symbolizing the gorgon's death". The bottom of the panel's frame is decorated with a meander pattern.
 
The tripod leg in Olympia at My Favourite Planet

The tripod leg
in Olympia.
Terracotta plaque of a Gorgon carrying Pegasus from Syracuse, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Restored painted terracotta plaque with a relief of a running/flying
winged Gorgon, carrying winged Pegasus under her right arm.

End of the 7th century BC. Found in the Via Minerva, Ortygia, Syracuse, Sicily.
Height 56 cm, width 50 cm.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse, Sicily.
Inv. No. 34540, 34543, 34895 (fragments).

The fragments of the figure were discovered during excavations in 1913-1914 around the site of the temple of Athena on the island of Ortygia, Syracuse. The first temple was built there in the 8th century BC, and enlarged in the second half of 7th century. It was replaced in the early 5th century BC by a Doric temple built by the tyrant Gelon (Γέλων, died 478 BC) to commemorate the Sicilian Greek defeat of the Carthaginian invasion at the Battle of Himera in 480 BC, at the same time as Xerxes' Persian invasion of Greece was thwarted at the Battle of Salamis (Herodotus, The Histories, Book 7, chapter 166, section 1).

The Cathedral of Syracuse was built by Bishop Zosimo in the mid 7th century AD over the remains of the temple, using the ancient columns and other architectural elements which can still be seen inside and outside the building. The Via Minerva is today known as the Piazza Minerva, a large square on the north side of the cathedral which covers part of the sanctuary of Athena. The Gorgon plaque may have decorated an altar or a metope of a Protoarchaic building in the sanctuary.

The plaque, made in a mould and finished by hand, is of orange clay with a pale yellow-beige slip, painted in blue, black, red, purple and yellow, with a black backgound. The four, symmetrically arranged holes indicate that it was nailed to a wooden support.

Medusa, wearing a short tunic, a split skirt and winged boots, runs/flies to the left in the "Knielauf" position. Her frontal, lion-mask head is topped by two symmetrical rows of spiral curls; locks in incised chequered patterns fall over her shoulders. Her three (of originally four) sickle-shaped wings, like those on her boots and Pegasus, are tightly curled like sea waves, with rows of stylized feathers painted red and blue. She has an earring (or hole for one), marked by a red dot on her right earlobe.

She holds her child Pegasus in her lowered right hand, supporting it below the stomach on bent fingers. The reconstructruction of the left hand shows her to have very long fingers. It is thought that she originally held her son Chrysaor on her left arm and shoulder (see photo below).

This is one of the earliest of a large number of ancient depictions of Gorgons found on Sicily. According to Thucydides (Book 6, chapter 3), Syracuse was founded by colonists from Corinth around 734 BC, and the iconography of such depictions may have been influenced by Corinthian models [14].
 
A Gorgoneion on the handle of a ceramic vessel from Tanagra at My Favourite Planet The Gorgoneion handle from Tanagra at My Favourite Planet
A fragment of the handle of a painted ceramic vessel in the form
of a figure, now headless, holding a Gorgoneion with both hands.

6th century BC. Possibly an Attic work. Found in
Tanagra (Τανάγρα), Boeotia, central Greece.

Thebes Archaeological Museum.
Repousse Gorgoneion from Boeotia at My Favourite Planet

Fragment of a bronze sheet with a repoussé relief of a Gorgoneion.

6th century BC. From a grave at Akraiphnio (ancient
Akraiphia, Ἀκραιφία), Boeotia, central Greece.

One of two almost identical examples displayed in the museum.

Thebes Archaeological Museum.
A winged Gorgon on a bronze fibula from Boeotia at My Favourite Planet

Fragment of a bronze fibula (fastening pin) decorated with a relief of a winged
Gorgon in the "Knielauf" position, Next to her right leg is a flying bird.

Late 6th century BC. From a grave at Akraiphnio (ancient
Akraiphia, Ἀκραιφία), Boeotia, central Greece.

Thebes Archaeological Museum.
Terracotta arula with a relief of Medusa from Selinunte, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Fragmentary terracotta arula (small, portable altar) with
a relief of a winged Gorgon in the "Knielauf" position.

From the Sanctuary of Demeter Malophoros, Selinous
(Σελινοῦς; today Selinunte), southwest Sicily. 560 BC.

Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum, Palermo, Sicily.

See another altar with a relief of Medusa from Gela, Sicily, below.
Metope relief of Perseus killing Medusa from Selinunte, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Metope with a relief of Perseus killing the Gorgon Medusa, with the aid of
Athena (left), from Temple C, on the acropolis of Selinous (Selinunte), Sicily.

540-510 BC. Local limestone from Menfi, northeast of Selinunte.

Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum, Palermo, Sicily.

Medusa, in the "Knielauf" position, holds Pegasus with her right hand. Perseus, wearing winged sandals, averts his gaze from the Gorgon and decapitates her with a sword in his right hand, while with his left hand he grasps the hair on the top of her head.

This metope (metope VII) was one of ten which decorated the east end above the entrance of the Doric temple, thought to have been dedicated to Apollo. Three of the metopes, with reliefs of mythological scenes, as well as four triglyphs and other parts of the entablature, are wonderfully displayed in the Palermo museum. The pediment, only fragments of which have survived, was decorated by an emormous polychrome terracotta Gorgoneion mask.
 
Altar with a relief of Gorgon Medusa carrying Pegasus and Chrysaor, Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Ceramic arula (altar) with a high relief of Medusa carrying Pegasus and Chrysaor.

Pink clay. 500-480 BC. From the emporion (ἐμπόριον, trading centre) of the
Bosco Littorio, Gela, Sicily. Height 116 cm, width 35 cm, length (at base) 77 cm.

Gela Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily. Inv. No. Sop BL 10.

One of three similar, well-preserved portable altars with reliefs of extraordinarily fine quality, discovered with fragments of others at the Bosco Littorio archaeological site in December 1999, during excavations by Lavinia Sole under the direction of Sopraintendente Rosalbe Panvini. The relief on one of the other two altars depicts Eos abducting Kephalos, and the third is thought to represent Demeter, Persephone and Hekate or Aphrodite. All three altars are exhibited in the excellent Gela museum.

These light-weight altars, probably made in the same workshop, had apparently never been used, and may have been made for sale or export to customers who for some reason never received them. The site at the Bosco Littorio, on the coast of Gela, south of the acropolis (Lindioi) and west of the mouth of the Gelas river, is thought to have been an emporium due to finds of objects related to trade, including transport amphorae and imported vessels from Attica and Chalcis (Euboea) in Greece. The buildings at the site have been dated to the early 6th to early 5th centuries BC, and the altars appear to have been abandoned there around 480 BC, when the buildings of the area were violently burnt and destroyed.

The bodies of the altars, made of clay slabs, are hollow and perforated by large holes (see photo, right), making them lighter and easier to transport. These are among several portable altars found in Sicily (see, for example, the portable altar from Selinunte above). The reliefs, which were made separately then attached to the bodies before firing, were originally highly coloured, with red used as a background colour, and a yellow pigment which became almost vitrified (glass-like) during firing.

The almost life-size figure of Medusa is made of pink clay and has a highly polished finish. Although the strong, flat colours of the Gorgon plaque in Syracuse (above) have immediate appeal and fascination, the plasticity of this figure lends it a powerful physical presence which may have been enhanced or diminished by the addition of paint. In contrast to the bulky, muscular Gorgon (particularly the thighs), the figures of Pegasus and Chrysaor appear thin and less convincing. Below Medusa's right shin is one of her ankle wings in the form of a concave disc with a semi-circular curve cut out of the top left.

It is not known for which deity sacrifices would have been made at this altar, but it is thought that the figures on this and the other two altars from the Bosco Littorio were in some way associated with fertility, birth and rebirth. On her death Medusa gave birth to Pegasus and Chrysaor, and Ovid wrote that the Gorgon's blood falling on the sands of the Libyan desert gave birth to snakes (see above). It has been suggested that Medusa, or sacrificial blood, may have thus been associated with these three phenomena.

See: Dirk Booms and Peter Higgs, Sicily: Culture and Conquest, exhibition catalogue, pages 58-62. The British Museum, London, 2016.

The archaeological site at the Bosco Littorio is not usually open to the public, but is sporadically opened on special occasions.

See also some Gorgoneion antefixes from Gela below.
 
The rear of the gorgon altar from Gela at My Favourite Planet

The rear and left side of the altar,
showing the holes in the clay slabs
which form the hollow body. This
construction method made the
altar lighter and easier to transport.
Pegasus and Chrysaor on the Gorgon altar in Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Pegasus and Chrysaor on the altar relief in Gela. Medusa tightens her belt of
snakes, which here appear to protect her children. Pegasus' snout nuzzles her
right breast, while Chrysaor's right arm and hand are attached to her left breast.
Gorgon Medusa riding Pegasus in Syracuse, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Gorgon Medusa riding Pegasus on a fragmentary
Middle Corinthian vase. 600-575 BC.

From an ancient necropolis of Syracuse, Sicily.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse, Sicily. Inv. No. 52244.

Only two fragments of the ceramic figure have survived. The upper fragment represents Medusa's lion-mask head and part of her slim-waisted upper torso. Each of her hands grasp a snake, decorated with dark blue dots, which she wears like a scarf around her shoulders, the ends twisted together. Her belt also appears to be a snake (or snakes).

The lower fragment is in the form of the front of a horse with raised forelegs. Part of the Gorgon's right leg can be seen hugging the side of its body. The rectangular base has a chequered pattern painted on the front.

This is the only ancient object I know of with a Gorgon riding Pegasus. As with the ceramic relief of Medusa with Pegasus above, depictions of Medusa with her children are rare, presumably since the myths relate that they were born after she had been killed by Perseus. Her association with horses was suggested in the first known depictions of her, the earliest of which is on a amphora found in Thebes, dated to around 670 BC, where she is represented as a female centaur [13].

So far I have found no literature with further information about this object. The few publications which mention it refer to a short essay by Enrico Paribeni, which I have not yet seen:

Enrico Paribeni, The riding Gorgon, in Lucy Freeman Sandler (editor), Essays in memory of Karl Lehmann (Marsyas Supplementum 1), pages 252-254. Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1964.

If you have any further information, please get in contact.
 
Gold plaque with a figure of a Gorgon from Delphi, Greece at My Favourite Planet

A semi-circular gold plate riveted onto a bronze plaque, with a
relief of a running/flying Gorgon holding a snake in each hand.

One of two similar plaques found in Delphi, among several objects
associated with a chryselephantine statue of a female figure, probably
Artemis. They may have been fibulae, attached to the statue's dress
at the shoulders. The Gorgon's head is truly "horrid" and beast-like.

From a workshop in East Greece (Ionia), probably Samos. 6th century BC.

Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece.
Small bronze figure of Medusa from the Sanctuary of Hera, Perachora Corinthia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Small bronze figure of a running/flying Gorgon.

A decoration of a bronze vessel. From the Sanctuary
of Hera, Perachora, Corinthia, Greece. 580-525 BC.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 16149.
Small bronze figure of Medusa from the Sanctuary of Olympia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Small bronze figure of a running/flying Gorgon.

Probably a decoration of a bronze vessel. From the
Sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia, Greece. 6th century BC.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 6088.
Bronze figure of a Gorgon standing on a lion's paw at My Favourite Planet

A small bronze figure of a winged Gorgon, wearing a
chiton (tunic) and standing on an oversized lion's paw.
Probably a support for a bronze untensil.

6th century BC. From the sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia.

Olympia Archaeological Museum.

See other Gorgons from Olympia below.
 

A Gorgoneion attachment on a bronze vase handle from Olympia at My Favourite Planet

A bronze vase handle with an attachment
in the form of a Gorgoneion.

6th - 5th century BC. From the
sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia.

Olympia Archaeological Museum.
   
Bronze handle of a ritual vessel with a head of the Gorgon Medusa at My Favourite Planet   Bronze handle with a head of a Gorgon, Delphi, Greece at My Favourite Planet
Vertical handles of bronze ritual vessels terminating
in Gorgon heads. From Delphi, 6th century BC.

Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece.
Winged Gorgon Medusa from the pre-Parthenon Athena Temple, Athens at My Favourite Planet

Fragments of an Archaic marble statue of the winged Gorgon Medusa, reconstructed
as an akroterion (roof decoration) on the gable of a temple. It is thought that the
statue was set up above the entrance to the pre-Parthenon Athena temple on
the Athens Acropolis known as the Hekatompedon, built around 575-550 BC.

Reconstruction in the Old Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. Acr. 701.

The reconstructed figure in the photo above used to be a prize exhibit in the Old Acropolis Museum until 2007, but may no longer exist in the new museum. Recent photos show the fragments of the Gorgon separately, and there is no mention of the reconstruction as an exhibit in the offical guide book, the museum's website or other recent publications. [15]

The story of the reconstruction may be remarkable (although not necessarily unusual), but the few mentions of it by historians and archaeologists are brief and vague.

A number of marble sculptural fragments were found in December 1888, southwest of the Parthenon. The well-executed, life-size head was evidently that of a Gorgon of the lion-mask type. A second fragment, with traces of paint, is not so well sculpted or detailed, and depicts what appears to be a belt tied with a Herakles knot, grasped by two hands, over one of which is part of a snake. Another fragment has parts of toes from a right foot attached to part of a slightly concave base with a low chequered relief. The marble was first thought to be Pentelic, but is now considered to be Hymettian.

Marble head of Medusa. Inv. No. Acr. 701.
Life-size. Height 28.6 cm, width 19.6 cm.

Marble belt fragment. Inv. No. 3798.
Width 25 cm.

Marble foot fragment. Inv. No. 3618.
On part of a broken baseplate,
height 15 cm, width 22 cm, depth 5 cm.

The oval shaped head of the Gorgon is shown frontally. The hair over the forehead is arranged in neat, scalloped waves parted at the centre. Above this is a taneia (band), and the top of the head is covered by a regular chequered pattern relief. The eyes, with incised pupils, are set deep beneath ridged brows and above full, rounded cheeks. The nose is wrinkled by four horizontal grooves. The wide, grimacing mouth has ridged lips, upper and lower fangs at each end, among regular rows of teeth, and a flat, tongue potruding over a broad chin. The ears are placed high, flat against the sides of the head.

The style and carving technique of the head have been compared to those of the famous "Moschophoros" (Calf Bearer) statue from the Athens Acropolis, which has been dated to around 570 BC (see photo, below right).

During the mid to late 19th century archaeological excavation on and around the Acropolis was at its most intensive phase, with the discovery of an enormous number of artefacts and fragments. Sorting, conserving, storing, examining, analysing and identifying the objects were enormous tasks, and many still await detailed study.

Archaeologists were eager to trace the history and evolution of the Acropolis and identify the remains of ancient buildings and monuments, some of which had survived only as architectural fragments or traces of foundations. To a great extent they had to rely on mentions of them by ancient authors, and several conflicting theories developed, some of which remain subjects of debate.

Two monumental temples of Athena were thought to have been built on the Acropolis during the Archaic period, before the Classical Parthenon, the identification and history of which are still being debated. The first may have been the temple referred to by ancient authors as the Hecatompedon (ἑκατόμπεδος, Hekatompedos, hundred-footer), although the length of the building may not have been exactly 100 Attic feet (32.8 metres). It has been also referred to by modern historians as the "Parthenon 1", "UrParthenon" (primal Parthenon), "Bluebeard temple" or, less romantically, "Building H". It is thought to have been built around 570-550 BC (later according to some theories), and has been associated with the establishment of the Great Panathenaia festival in 566/565 BC, during the archonship of the aristocrat Hippokleides. Several sculptures from this temple are now in the Acropolis Museum.

The first temple was replaced by the "Pre-Parthenon" or "Parthenon 2", which was under construction around 488-480 BC, but had not been completed by the time of the Persian invasion of Xerxes in 480-479 BC, when the buildings on the Acropolis were burnt down (see a model of the Acropolis as it may have appeared in 480 BC on Athens Acropolis gallery page 2).

The German archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld (1853-1940) took a particular interest in the pre-Parthenon temples of Athena, and excavated the foundation of a building he believed was the Hekatompedon. The foundation was named the "Dörpfeld foundation" (or "Dörpfeld temple") after him. [16]

Meanwhile, the Gorgon fragments had been placed in the recently-built Acropolis Museum (the old museum on the Acropolis, completed 1874, with an extension built in 1888). It seems no connection had been made between them, and the two largest (the head and belt) were kept on different shelves. [17]

The German archaeologist Johann (Hans) Hermann Schrader (1869-1948), working on the excavations at the Acropolis under Dörpfeld, had been given the task of processing sculptural finds. Based on a handful of small, apparently disparate fragments and the conclusions of other archaeologists (Dörpfeld, Theodor Wiegand) he set about attempting to reconstruct the Gorgon and a marble panther (or leopard) as part of the gable end of the roof of the Hekatompedon. [18] The result of his work is the reconstruction above, showing a running/flying Gorgon in the kneeling position, on the apex of the gabled roof (see Shrader's drawing below).

His bold efforts received encouragement from colleagues at the time [19], and the reconstruction was evidently considered convincing enough to have been exhibited in the museum for many decades. Although there appear to have been no published criticisms of the piece, it is notable that it has ignored by several books on the Acropolis and the museum. Such adventurous reconstructions of ancient sculptures had been de rigeur since the Renaissance, especially in Italy. However, by the end of the 19th century they were frowned upon by more scientific archaeologists, and mostly avoided in Athens.

See photos and articles about the Parthenon on Athens Acropolis gallery pages 13-17

The Gorgon Medusa akroterion in the Acropolis Museum at My Favourite Planet

The head and belt fragments of the
reconstructed Gorgon akroterion.
 
The head of the Acropolis Gorgon at My Favourite Planet

The head of the Acropolis Gorgon.

Acropolis Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. Acr. 701.
The Moschophoros (Calf Bearer) statue in the Acropolis Museum at My Favourite Planet

The "Moschophoros" (Calf Bearer)
statue from the Athens Acropolis.
Hymettian marble. About 570 BC.
Found in 1864 during the digging
of the foundations of the Acropolis
Museum. The base and feet were
found in 1887 in same area.
Height 165 cm.

Acropolis Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. Acr. 624.
Hans Schrader's reconstruction drawing of the Gorgon Medusa on the roof of the Hekatompedon at My Favourite Planet

Hans Schrader's reconstruction drawing of the Gorgon Medusa
on the roof of the Hekatompedon [see note 18 below for source].
Fragment of a painted terracotta figure of a Gorgon from Megara Hyblaea, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Fragment of a painted terracotta figure of a Gorgon
from Megara Hyblaea, Sicily. Circa 500 BC.

The top part of a Gorgon figure with a Daedelic hairstyle. Her hands grasp
a belt in the same way as the "Hekatompedon" Gorgon above. The hole
under her right arm suggests that it was part of a plaque nailed to a building.

Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum, Syracuse, Sicily.
A ceramic relief of Gorgon Medusa and an ancient mould from Akragas, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

A modern ceramic pinax (plaque) with a relief of Medusa (right), made from an ancient mould (left).

Second half of the 6th century BC. From Akragas (Ἀκράγας, today Agrigento), Sicily.

Three of the Gorgon's four sickle shaped wings are visible. The figure has
a "lion-mask" head, a short chiton and winged boots, and runs/flies in the
"Knielauf" position. As in the "Hekatompedon" Gorgon and the Megara
Hyblaea figure above, both her hands grasp a belt made of snakes.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse, Sicily. Inv. No. 48096.
A ceramic relief of Medusa from an ancient mould, Agrigento, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Another Medusa pinax relief from an ancient mould from Akragas, Sicily. 6th century BC.

The moulds were found during excavations directed by Pirro Marconi and Pietro Griffo
in and around the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities (underworld gods), where traces
of kilns from pottery workshops connected with the sacred area were discovered.

Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum. Inv. No S 16.
A winged Gorgon on a marble grave stele from Kerameikos, Athens at My Favourite Planet   The restored Gorgon Stele from Kerameikos at My Favourite Planet
A relief of a winged Gorgon on a marble grave stele, shown in
the kneeling posture that signified rapid motion in Archaic art.

Made of island marble, about 560 BC. From Kerameikos, Athens.
Height of stele 239.5 cm, width 43.5 cm.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 2687.

The stele, often referred to as the "Gorgon Stele", was found in 1905 in Kerameikos, built into the Themistoklean Wall. The main panel depicts the full figure of a slim, young doryphoros (probably a warrior) in profile, facing right. The Gorgon is in the register below. The figures had been hammered before being fitted into the wall. It is displayed in the museum next to a plaster cast (photo, right), restored with a capital and a crouching sphinx on top.

A number of such tall, slim Archaic grave steles are known to have been made in Athens and Attica around 600-530 BC, and at other places such as Thessaly. One of the best preserved, the "Brother and Sister stele", also topped with a sphinx, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [20]. Part of another 6th century BC Attic marble stele, dated to circa 550–525 BC, in the Metropolitan, known as the "Kalliades Stele", also shows a running/flying Gorgon [21]. The sphinxes, lions, Gorgons and (later) sirens on the steles are thought to have been apotropaic protectors of the graves, perhaps reflecting the Egyptian tradition.

The Gorgon has been very carefully sculpted, with fine detailing. The thickly braided hair is reminiscent of earlier artworks of the "Daedalic Period" (650-600 BC), but the anatomical details and modelling are now much more sophisticated.

The figure, in the "Knielauf" position, wears a short chiton (tunic) covered with a geometrical pattern, and the bands around the collar and short sleeves are decorated with continuous spiralling (see drawings, right). The body is muscular, with the thick thighs typical of Archaic sculpture, particularly of depictions of Medusa, and the artist has made an effort to show the weight and forms of flesh, muscle and bone. The feathers of the upraised, sickle-shaped wings are separated by ridged contours.

The face of the Gorgon is missing, but she probably had the usual "lion mask" features shown on other depictions of her from the late Archaic and early Classical periods, as on the coins and the head of Medusa from the Athens Acropolis above, and on the "Kalliades Stele".

Drawing of the patterns on the Gorgon Stele from Athens at My Favourite Planet

Reconstruction drawing showing the
patterns on the "Gorgon Stele".
 
Drawing of the maeander pattern on the Gorgon's chiton at My Favourite Planet

Reconstruction drawing of the maeander
pattern on the Gorgon's chiton.

Source of images:
F. Noack, Die Mauern Athens, in Mitteilungen
der kaiserlich deutschen Archäologischen
Instituts, Athenische Abteilung
, Band XXXII,
Figs. 29 and 30, pages 524-526.
Beck und Barth, Athens, 1907.
A bronze Gorgoneion from the Athens Acropolis at My Favourite Planet

A bronze Gorgoneion (Gorgon's head), probably a device on the shield
of a statuette of Athena. From the Athens Acropolis, late 6th century BC.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. NAMA 6509.
Bronze head of the Gorgon Medusa from the Acropolis, Athens at My Favourite Planet

Bronze Gorgon's head, probably from a shield of a statuette of Athena
or a bronze vessel. From the Athens Acropolis, late 6th century BC.

Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. NAMA 6510.
(Previously in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens)
Head of the Gorgon Medusa from Sparta at My Favourite Planet

Bronze Gorgon's head, probably an attachment. From the
Sanctuary of Athena Chalkioikos, Sparta, late 6th century BC.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. Καρ. 15917.
A lekanis with a Gorgon head, surrounded by a frieze of deer, lions, sphinxes and a siren at My Favourite Planet

Ceramic lekanis (bowl) with a Gorgon head, surrounded by a frieze of deer,
lions, sphinxes and a siren. outside decorated by a continuous frieze of
animals and sirens, with spaces filled by rosettes, as on the inside.

Early Corinthian, around 610-590 BC. Attributed to the Medallion Painter,
one of the leading artists of the Gorgoneion Group. From Kamiros, Rhodes.
Height 8.6 cm, width 36.2 cm, weight 1.19 kg.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1861.4-25.46. Purchased in 1861

For further information about lekanides and lekanai,
see the note on the Dioskouroi page.
Ceramic plate with a bearded Gorgon, Kerameikos Museum, Athens at My Favourite Planet

Attic black-figure plate with a bearded Gorgon head in the centre. The human figures and
the sphinx surrounding the Gorgoneion are thought to represent a mythological scene.

Mid 6th century BC.

Kerameikos Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 3128.
A Gorgoneion in the tondo of the Bomford Cup at My Favourite Planet

A Gorgoneion in the tondo of an Athenian black-figure
kylix (κύλιξ, drinking cup), known as "the Bomford Cup".

Around 550-501 BC. Height 12.5 - 13.8 cm, diameter 34.4 cm.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN 1974.344.
Acquired in 1974 from the Bomford Collection.

The kylix was broken and skillfully repaired in antiquity, when cracks and damaged parts were painted over. It is thought that the Gorgon may have lost her fangs in the process.

Around the tondo, six men recline outdoors at a symposium (drinking party). One of the revellers threatens a nude boy serving wine from an oinochoe (wine jug) with a sandal or slipper. Another plays an aulos (αὐλός, double pipes), and the figure in front (right) of him may be singing. Three of the men wear sakkoi (σάκκος, sackcloth; plural σάκκοι, sakkoi) and robes normally associated with women, a style of dress often referred to as Anakreontic, after the lyric poet Anakreon of Teos (Ἀνακρέων ὁ Τήϊος, circa 582-485 BC), famous for his songs celebrating love and wine. This and the threatening of the boy, as well as similar scenes on painted ceramics, have led to much speculation and debate concerning cross-dressing, effeminacy, homosexuality and pederasty in ancient Greek society. Other scholars maintain that the dress was merely part of the imitation by Athenian aristocrats of the luxurious "eastern" lifestyle of wealthy Ionians or Lydians, introduced to the Greek mainland around the time that Anakreon was in Athens.

In the background above the symposiasts hangs a continuous grapevine, from which pieces of cloth are suspended, and two lyres. Although it has been suggested that the scene is taking place in a vineyard, it is just as likely that the vine is growing from the wall of a garden or courtyard of a house.

It is an eye-cup, with pairs of eyes painted on each of the outer sides. Between each pair of eyes is the frontal head or mask of a satyr (see also an Attic black-figure neck amphora with a Dionysus mask between two large eyes). The foot of the cup is in the form of a phallus and testicles, and it is the most famous of the four known Attic cups with feet in the form of male genitals.

The archaeologist Michael Vickers (at the time Assistant Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum) attributed the painting to the manner of the Andocides painter (employed in the workshop of the potter Andokides) and dated it to around 500 BC. However, the art historians John Boardman and Sir John Beazley attributed it to the manner of the Lysippides painter, shortly after 520 BC, based on the similarity of the satyrs with the satyr mask on an Attic eye-cup signed by the potter Nikosthenes (Νικοσθένης, active around 550-510 BC), now in the Louvre, Inv. No. F130. [22]
 
Terracotta Gorgon mask from the area of Temple B, Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Restored terracotta Gorgoneion which probably decorated a pediment.
Discovered in the area of Temple B, Gela, Sicily. 600-580 BC. Height 105 cm.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse. Inv. No. 34241.
Gorgoneion antefix from the sanctuary of Chthonic gods, Akragas, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Painted Gorgoneion antefix from the Sanctuary of Chthonic Deities,
Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily. End of the 6th century BC.

One of a number of antefixes discovered during
excavations at the sanctuary in 1953-1955.

Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.

An antefix is an ornamental plaque covering the end of a roof tile (kalypter) which covered the lower edge of a wooden framed roof or the apex of a gable (sima) of a temple, mostly during the Archaic period. Rows of such antefixes, usually in the form of heads (often referred to as protomes [23]) of mythical figures, often decorated the sides of roofs. Antefixes covering apex tiles were usually larger.

The technique is thought to have been invented in Corinth, and was used on several temples in Sicily, where Gorgoneions were among the most common antefix motifs.

An now-lost primitive Archaic antefix found in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, is said to have resembled the masks found at Tiryns (see above), and was thus dated to the 7th century BC and thought to be a Gorgoneion. Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to discover more information about the object or a photo or drawing of it. However, if it was a Gorgoneion it would have probably been the earliest example of the motif in Greek architecture. [24]

The antefixes and tiles below show a wide variety on the Gorgon theme, and artists around the Greek world - Ionia (West Greece), Thrace, Magna Graecia (Italy) and Sicily - depicted her in very different ways between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. Although there was a general tendency towards less hideous and more attractive Gorgons, the Archaic types continued into the 4th century BC, as can be seen from an Archaistic Gorgon antefix from Gela below.

With the development of architecture from the Classical period (5th - 4th century BC) and the replacement of wood and ceramics with stone, including stone roof tiles, antefixes gradually ceased to be employed. Rows of decorative stone heads (similar to gargoyles), often of lions, continued to be used as water spouts on the edges of roofs (eaves or sima) along the sides of temples and other buildings.
 
Gorgoneion antefix from the Oikos of the Naxians, Delos at My Favourite Planet

Semicircular marble antefix with an incised Gorgoneion, originally decorated with paint.
From the Oikos of the Naxians (House of the Naxians) in the Sanctuary of Apollo, Delos.

Around 575-560 BC. Height 18 cm, width 29 cm.

Delos Archaeological Museum, Greece. Inv. No. A 7682.

One of six similar antefixes from the oikos exhibited
in the Delos museum, Inv. Nos. A 7677 - A 7682.

The long building on the southern side of the Sanctuary of Apollo, known as the Oikos (οἶκος, house) of the Naxians, was built of large granite blocks by the people of the Cycladic island Naxos in the late 7th century BC and dedicated to Apollo. Around 575 BC it was reconstructed with white Naxian marble, and it was the first building ever to have an upper part and roof of marble.

The hall, with porches at the west and east ends, was 19.38 metres long and around 10 metres wide, and had eight Ionic columns along the centre of its long axis, supporting the sloped roof of marble tiles. The porch at the west end was supported by two Ionic columns (distyle) in antis, and that on the east end, which was added later, had four prostyle Ionic columns. There was also a doorway halfway along the long north side, outside which stood the 9 metre tall "Colossus of the Naxians", a kouros statue of Apollo, made from a single piece of marble around 600 BC. The 32 ton inscribed base of the statue still stands outside the northwest corner of the oikos, and the two surviving parts of the kouros, the torso and the pelvis, can still be seen near the remains of the building.

The building may initially have served as an early temple of Apollo, and is thought to been used later as a meeting or dining hall. It has been described as a sort of "clubhouse" or "guildhall". It may have also functioned as a treasury for the storage and display of sacred vessels and votive objects.
 
Terracotta antefix with a Gorgoneion in in Mykonos at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta antefix with a bearded Gorgoneion "in a seashell". 6th century BC.

Aegean Maritime Museum, Mykonos, Greece.

Partially restored, the antefix is in a good condition, and some of the colour has survived. The strongly modelled face of the "horrid type" Gorgoneion is unusual in a number of ways. For example, the centrally parted hair above the forehead is only slightly wavy, The ends of the four braids on either side of the head resemble crabs' claws rather than snakes' heads, and the prominent nose and cheeks are unwrinkled. The sixteen petal-shaped lobes radiating from around the head, painted alternately red and blue, have been interpreted as representing a seashell.

The inside of the shell is separated from the Gorgon's head by an arched frame. Either side of the head, two flat, red-painted bands, representing snaky locks of hair, descend from behind the frontal ears and curl outwards around the lower ends of the frame (or round objects) to form circles.

The countours of the eyebrows and eyes are confidently painted with fine lines and the pupils are concentric circles of red, white and blue, similar to bullseyes. The surviving left ear is painted blue, and the round earring has six red dots around a larger central red dot. The open mouth has finely modelled lips, an even row of top teeth, upper and lower fangs at the corners, and a red protuding tongue. Below the jaw hangs a wavy "beard" (see above).

The excellent Aegean Maritime Museum in Mykonos town is, as the name indicates, primarily concerned with the history of seafaring - in the wider Mediterranean as well as the Aegean Sea. However, it also contains a small number of ancient artefacts not directly connected with sea travel, except in that they were found in shipwrecks or are examples of goods traded by ship. The label of the Gorgon antefix points out that Gorgoneions were used as apotropaic figureheads on the prows of ships.

The exhibits were collected by George M. Drakopoulos (Γεώργιος Δρακόπουλος), who founded the small private museum in 1983 and opened it to the public in 1985. The labelling is informative, but as with many private collections, little or no information is provided about archaeological context or provenance for the objects.

The website of the Maritime Museum Mykonos: aegean-maritime-museum.gr (in Greek and English)
 
A terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from the Athens Acropolis at My Favourite Planet

A terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from the Athens Acropolis.

6th century BC.

Acropolis Museum, Athens.

One of two polychrome antefixes (Acropolis Museum, Inv. Nos. Acr. 78 and Acr. 79) discovered in 1836 in a deposit of objects beneath the southeast corner of the Parthenon, during excavations 1834-1836 led by the German archaeologist Ludwig Ross with architects Eduard Schaubert and Hans Christian Hansen (see Athens Acropolis gallery page 12). The earth around the findspot was burnt, suggesting destruction by a fire, perhaps that caused by the destruction of buildings on the Acropolis during the Persian invasion in 480 BC. It has thus been suggested that they may be from the Archaic Pre-Parthenon temple (Parthenon 2) or the Archaic Propylon, the monumental gateway to the Acropolis which was replaced by the Classical Propylaia.

In 1888 fragments of another seven antefixes (Inv. Nos. Acr. 80, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87), made from the same mould as the first two, were found at various locations to the east and west of the Parthenon. The style of the nine Gorgoneions has been described as Type IX or Ionic (East Greek) type, "in der ältesten Form geschmückt" (decorated in the oldest form), although it has also been compared to West Greek examples of the 6th century BC from Olympia (Olympia Archaeological Museum) and the metope in Selinunte (540-510 BC, see above). One source suggests a date of around 510-500 BC.
 
The right side of the Gorgoneion antefix from the Athens Acropolis at My Favourite Planet

Hansen's drawing of the right side
of the antefix, showing the broken
covering tile behind.
The hair on the top of the head falls in thick wavy bands, ending in a row of thirteen spiral curls above the forehead, and at each side with a row of four long beads, alternately red and black. There are no ears, but large round earrings. The face is broad, with wrinkles on the brow, at the outer edges of the eyes and at the top of the short, flat nose. She has an open grinning mouth with full lips, gums, a row of four regular top teeth, four long fangs in the place of incisors, then rows of pointed top and bottom teeth at the sides, and a potruding tongue. At either side of her chin appears a coiled snake, described as "bearded". The earrings, eyes, lips, tongue and gums are dark red. The hair, eye pupils, eyebrows and snakes are painted black turning to reddish purple. The face and background are pale yellow.

The two best preserved antefixes, Inv. Nos. Acr. 78 and Acr. 79, although broken, are almost complete and still have part of the tile.

Inv. No. Acr. 78. Height 19.5 cm, width 20 cm, length 16 cm.

Inv. No. Acr. 79. Height 21.5 cm, width 20 cm, length 15 cm.

Inv. No. Acr. 85. Only the bottom half of the Gorgnoeion has survived, from just below the eyes, and part of the tile. Height 11.3 cm, width 20.5 cm, depth 12 cm, length of tile at back 7 cm.

The fragments of the other six antefixes are of various shapes and sizes.

A fragment of a larger terracotta Gorgoneion mask (Inv. No. Acr. 88, height 11 cm, width 85 cm), probably an antefix, was also found on the Acropolis. Only an ear and part of the hair have survived, but it appears to have been worked in the round not flat like the others.

Image source: chromolithograph by J. G. Bach of Leipzig, from a drawing by Hans Christian Hansen (1803-1883), in Ludwig Ross (1806-1859), Archäologische Aufsätze, Erste Sammlung: Griechische Gräber; Ausgrabungsberichte aus Athen; Zur Kunstgeschichte und Topographie von Athen und Attika, Tafel 8, Fig. 1; text on pages 105 and 109-110. B. G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1855.

See also:

Stanley Casson, Catalogue of the Acropolis Museum, Volume II, Sculpture and architectural fragments, with a section on the terracottas by Dorothy Lamb Brooke Nicholson, pages 35, 289-290, 322, 426. Cambridge University Press, 1921.

Ernst Heinrich Buschor (1886-1961), Die Tondächer der Akropolis. I. Simen. II. Sternziegel. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin und Leipzig, 1929.
 
Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from ancient Oesyme at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from the sanctuary on the acropolis
of ancient Oesyme, northern Greece. 550-525 BC.

Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.

The ancient Thracian city of Oesyme (Οίσύμη) was located on the North Aegean coast, near the modern settlement of Nea Peramos, just to the west of Kavala (ancient Neapolis), opposite the island of Thasos. It was mentioned by Homer (The Iliad, Book 8, lines 253-343) as Aisyme (Αίσύμη), the birthplace of Kastianeira, one of the wives of King Priam of Troy.

In the second half of the 7th century BC it became one of the coastal colonies of Thasos and part of the Thasian Peraia. The city's acropolis was on a fortified hill and had an Archaic temple, perhaps dedicated to Athena, which was replaced in the early 5th century BC. Oesyme also had a sanctuary dedicated to the nymphs. Following the conquest of the city by Philip II of Macedonia around 350 BC, it was renamed Emathia (Ημαθία), after the ancient name for Macedonia and its mythical founder hero.

The features of this round-headed Gorgoneion are in the style favoured around the Aegean and at Athens during the mid 6th to 5th century BC (see, for example, the "Hekatompedon" Gorgon and the coins from Lesbos and Athens above). Although Gorgoneion antefixes have also been found at Langaza, Torone (Polygyros Archaeological Museum, Halkidiki), Mesembria, Naoussa and Thasos (e.g. Thasos Archaeological Museum, Inv. No. 286π), relatively few Gorgons as architectural decoration from the Archaic or Classical periods have so far been found in the Macedonian and Thracian areas of northern Greece, and it appears that the Gorgon theme generally may not have been so popular here as in other parts of Greece, Italy and Sicily.
 
Coin of ancient Neapolis with a Gorgon's head at My Favourite Planet

Silver stater coin of Neapolis.
510-490 BC.
Obverse: Gorgon's head.

Kavala Archaeological Museum.
A terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from Olympia at My Favourite Planet

A Laconian type terracotta Gorgoneion antefix, with some surviving red and purple colour.

End of the 6th century BC. One of several similar fragmentary antefixes
found in the ruins of the Bouleuterion (βουλευτήριον, council chamber),
on the south side of the sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia. Width 31.8 cm.

Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 3L49.
Gorgoneion antefix with traces of colour, Paestum at My Favourite Planet

A terracotta Gorgoneion antefix of the "horrid type", with traces of colour.

6th century BC. From the southern sanctuary of Poseidonia (today Paestum).

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.

One of a number of Gorgoneion antefixes found in the southern sanctuary of Poseidonia. They are thought to have decorated smaller temples and thesauri (θησαυροί, plural of thesauros, θησαυρός, treasury, storehouse) built soon after the foundation of the city.

Five of the antefixes are exhibited in the Paestum museum. Each is of a different form and type, and the museum label suggests that they are displayed more-or-less in chronological order (see the other four in the photos below). The depictions of the Gorgon are successively less horrid.

Poseidonia, (Ποσειδωνία) in Magna Graecia (on the west coast of southern Italy) was founded around 600 BC by Greek colonists from either Sybaris (Σύβαρις, Gulf of Taranto, founded by Achaeans and Troezenians in 720 BC) or Troezen (Τροιζήν, Argolid Peninsula, northeastern Peloponnese), or perhaps by Achaeans and Troezenians together. The city was renamed Paistos by the Lucanians who conquered it at the end of the 5th century BC, and later Paestum by the Romans who took over in 273 BC.
 
Modern reproduction of a Gorgoneion antefix, Paestum at My Favourite Planet

A modern reproduction of the Gorgoneion antefix above, with restored
colours, displayed in the Paestum museum for educational purposes.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.
The second Gorgoneion antefix in the Paestum museum at My Favourite Planet

The second terracotta Gorgoneion antefix in the Paestum museum.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.
The third Gorgoneion antefix in the Paestum museum at My Favourite Planet

The third terracotta Gorgoneion antefix in the Paestum museum.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.
The fourth Gorgoneion antefix in the Paestum museum at My Favourite Planet

The fourth terracotta Gorgoneion antefix in the Paestum museum.

This is the only intact antefix, and it is still attached to the tile.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.
The fifth Gorgoneion antefix in the Paestum museum at My Favourite Planet

The fifth terracotta Gorgoneion antefix in the Paestum museum.

This antefix is around twice the size of the other four. The round,
plate-like frame has been restored, but enough of the colour has
survived to give an impression of the antefix's original appearance.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.
Terracotta Gorgoneion from Selinunte at My Favourite Planet

A terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from the area of Temple C,
on the acropolis of the Greek colony of Selinous (Σελινοῦς;
today Selinunte), on the southwestern coast of Sicily.

One of several Gorgon antefixes of various styles connected with
different phases of construction on the acropolis from around 540 BC.

Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum, Palermo, Sicily.
Gorgoneion antefix from Selinunte at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from Selinous, Sicily. Around 500 BC.

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Inv. No. 1984.521.
Purchased with funds from the Campe'schen Historischen Kunststiftung.
Terracotta Gorgoneion from Randazzo, near Catania at My Favourite Planet

Part of a terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from the necropolis of Randazzo,
in the valley of the Alcantara river, Catania province, Sicily.

Among artefacts, dating from the 6th to 3rd centuries BC,
excavated 1889-1890 by Antonino Salinas. The ancient Greek city
to which the necropolis belonged has not yet been identified.

Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum, Palermo, Sicily.
Gorgoneion antefix from Monte Bubbonia, Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

A terracotta Gorgoneion antefix of the "horrid type".

2nd half of the 6th century BC. One of two identical antefixes (from the same mould)
discovered at the site of a small temple in the residential area of Monte Bubbonia,
20 km north of Gela. Both have been restored, though this one is better preserved.

The site on Monte Bubbonia may be Maktorion (Μακτώριον), mentioned by
Herodotus (The Histories, Book 7, chapter 153) as "a city above Gela".
It is thought to have been inhabited by Greek and native Sicilian Sicians.

Gela Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily, Italy.
Gorgoneion antefix from Scalo Ferroviario, Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

A painted terracotta Gorgoneion antefix.

6th century BC. From Scalo Ferroviario, Gela.

A remarkable and unusual Gorgon antefix, for its time finely modelled
and coloured. Not quite the "horrid type" (most of the Gorgons from
Gela not are truly horrid), but not yet of the "beautiful type". Next to the
head is some sort of note of authentication with an official wax stamp.

Gela Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily, Italy.
Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix (decorated end of a roof tile).

Greek, around 500-450 BC. Found in the sea off the coast of Gela, Sicily. It is
covered by several "worm casts" of sea creatures. Height 50 cm, width 40 cm.

Soprintendenza per i Beni culturali e ambientali del Mare, Palermo. Inv. No. 4237.

Exhibited in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, during the
exhibition "Sicily and the sea", 16 June - 25 September 2016.
Terracotta Gorgoneion with a krobylos, from Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta antefix depicting Medusa's head with a krobylos hairstyle.

From Gela, Sicily. Around 490 BC.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1899.7-18.2 (Terracotta 1137).
Donated by J. R. Anderson.

There are a number of antefixes of this type, known as "gorgone con krobylos", including three in Gela Archaeological Museum; the best preserved is Inv. No. 8411. All show the Gorgon wearing a wide, curved headdress or taenia (hairband) above rows of black curls and the elaborate krobylos (κρώβυλος) hairstyle popular during the Archaic period, as well as large round earrings with concentric circles.

One fragment from Gela, on which the paint has been well preserved, shows the strong colours used, including "rouged" cheeks. [25] The face is quite human, although to the modern eye with something of a cartoon or clown character. There are no snakes, wrinkled nose or fangs, in fact the teeth are in perfectly even rows. The faded paint in this example suggest a faraway, distance look in the eyes, although the Gela fragment belies this illusion. However, this is not a glance that would petrify or even scare the viewer.

Like the Gorgonians in the two photos further above, this type can not be accurately described as either "horrid" or "beautiful", and it appears to cross a boundary from the type immediately above into the realm of jolly, comical or even downright silly. Whatever the Sicilian Greeks of the Archaic period thought of Gorgons, or however they considered depictions of them, it is difficult to imagine that they would have viewed such a figure with dread.
 
Gorgoneion antefix from the acropolis of Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

An Archaistic (imitating the Archaic style) Gorgoneion antefix, harking back to
the "horrid type". From the acropolis of Gela, Sicily. End of the 4th century BC.

Gela Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from Syracuse, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix. 6th - early 5th century BC.

Excavated in the area of the railway station, Syracuse, Sicily.

An unusually well modelled, three-dimensional depiction of Medusa,
with a degree of realism heightened by the bold painting.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse. Inv. No. 84845.
Terracotta Gorgoneion from a temple in Naxos, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta Gorgoneion from a temple building in the east of
the ancient city of Naxos, Sicily. First half of the 5th century BC.

Naxos was the oldest Greek colony in Sicily, founded on the east
side of the island in 734 BC by settlers from Chalcis in Euboea.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse.
Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from Rubi at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix of the "horrid type" from Rubi (ancient Rhyps or Rhybasteion;
today Ruvo di Puglia, Apulia, southern Italy). Made in Taranto about 490-470 BC.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1875.6-15.1 (Terracotta 1251 bis).

Semi-circular Gorgoneion antefixes, made in a mould and finished with a stick, were produced
at Taranto from the mid 6th to the 3rd century BC. One of the earliest surviving examples,
made around 525-500 BC, is in the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto, Inv. No. 17580.
Terracotta Gorgoneion from Taranto at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta Gorgoneion antefix from Taranto (Ancient Greek Τάρᾱς, Taras;
today in Apulia, southern Italy). Made in Taranto about 450 BC.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1889.8-10.1 (Terracotta 1270).
Terracotta Gorgoneion from Mediolanum at My Favourite Planet

Fragment of a terracotta antefix with a Gorgoneion in a palmette.

Roman Imperial period, 1st century AD. Found in 1936
in Piazza Fontana, Milan (ancient Mediolanum).

An unusual late example of a terracotta antefix with an Archaistic Gorgoneion.

Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. A 0.9.28492.
Gorgon relief on a ceramic tile from the acropolis, Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Relief of a running/flying Gorgon on a locally made ceramic tile.
From the area of the acropolis, Gela, Sicily. 6th century BC.

Gela Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
Gorgon relief on a ceramic tile from Paestum, Italy at My Favourite Planet

Relief of a running/flying Gorgon on a ceramic tile from the Northern Sanctuary
of Paestum, Italy. Made in an East Greek (Ionian) workshop, 6th century BC.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.
Gorgoneions on the handles of a Laconian volute krater, Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Painted Gorgoneions on the volutes of the handles of an Archaic Laconian
black-figure volute krater. 6th century BC. The painting on the neck depicts
a lion confronting a boar among birds and other animals.

Gela Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
The Gorgoneion on the volute of a Laconian krater, Gela at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion on the right-hand volute of the krater above.
Gorgoneions on the volutes of an Apulian red-figure krater in Milan at My Favourite Planet

Painted Gorgoneion "mascaroons" on the volutes
of an Apulian red-figure volute krater.

2nd half of the 4th century BC.

Greek section, Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. St. 135026.

The krater (vessel for mixing wine and water) is a funerary vase. The painting on the body depicts the deceased woman, identified by her pale skin, holding a coffer and sitting in her funerary monument which is in the form of a naiskos (ναΐσκος, diminutive of ναός, temple). She is visited by two female figures holding gifts, including an alabastron (perfume bottle), a fan and bands.

Each of the moulded Gorgon mascaroons has a white face, brown eyes and hair, and wears a white diadem (see photo below). Around the head are painted, snake-like locks. On the neck of the vessel a female head rises from a flower between symmetrically arranged tendrils. On each shoulder, between the bottom of the handles and the neck, is an attachment in the form of a black swan's head.

A similar krater displayed next to it in the museum depicts a deceased young man, shown in heroic nudity with his horse, also in a naiskos. The form and iconography of both kraters are typical of the "Ornate Style" (also referred to as the "Rich Style") of south Italian red-figure vase painting, thought to have been developed by the Iliupersis Painter around 375-350 BC.
 
A Gorgon mascaroon on the Apulian krater in Milan at My Favourite Planet

The pretty Gorgon mascaroon on the left-hand volute of the krater above.
 

Archaic flask in the form of a Gorgon at My Favourite Planet

Archaic flask in the form of a Gorgon
bust with traces of colour.

East Greece. 590-570 BC.

Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums,
Rome. Inv. No. 306.
 
Glass vessel in the form of the head of Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Glass flask in the form of the head of Medusa.

From Folkling, Moselle department, France.
3rd century AD.

Neues Museum, Berlin.
Bronze strainer with a Gorgon head from Syracuse at My Favourite Planet   Gorgon head on a strainer from Syracuse at My Favourite Planet
The Gorgon head on the handle of a bronze strainer.

From Syracuse. Made in Sicily, perhaps in Syracuse, about 500 BC.

The museum labelling states that the terminal of the
strainer shows the river god Acheloos, but it is almost
impossible to discern the figure on the corroded object.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR.1851.8-13.100 (Bronze 574).
From the Comarmond Collection.
Marble frieze with a relief of a Gorgon from Didyma at My Favourite Planet

Corner of a marble frieze with a relief of a Gorgon.

From the Sanctuary of Apollo, Didyma (Δίδυμα),
Ionia (Yenihisar, Turkey). Archaic, 530-525 BC.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 2182 T. Cat. Mendel 239.

See also colossal Roman period Medusa heads in Didyma below.
Cypriot statue of a male wearing an apron decorated with a Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet   Detail of the statue from Idalion, Cyprus at My Favourite Planet
A fragment of a limestone Egyptianizing statue of a male wearing a kilt with a
central panel (apron or loincloth) decorated with a low relief of a Gorgoneion
and the Uraeus, the double serpent symbol of Egyptian pharoahs.

From Idalion (Ιδάλιον, today Dali), near Nikosia, Cyprus.
Late 6th century BC. Height 72 cm, width 44 cm.

Acquired at Idalion by the archaeologist Ludwig Ross
(1806-1859), during his visit to Cyprus in 1845.

Neues Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. ANT Sk 508.

One of a number of similar statues and statuettes found on Cyprus. The type of figure is referred to as a "male votary in Egyptianizing dress". The styles and subjects of Cypriot art during the Archaic period were eclectic, with influences from Greece, Egypt, Anatolia and the Levant. From around 560 BC the island was dominated by Egypt, and elements of Egyptian iconography, including representations of deities such as Isis and Bes, were adapted by local artists.

The Gorgoneion is clearly of the Greek type seen elsewhere on this page, with rings of snakes writhing around the top of the head. From below its ears the bodies of two snakes curve down to the left and right, then coil, with the heads rising and facing outwards. From beneath the chin, the bodies of two Uraeus snakes descend straight down to the bottom of the panel, then the winged heads topped by solar discs rise to face outwards. The royal symbol of the pharoahs appears to have been transformed by the Cypriot sculptor into part of the Gorgon's apotropaic armoury.

The heads on the kilts of two similar statuettes in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, have been described as depicting Bes, but look more like Gorgoneions, one heavily bearded, although undoubtedly influenced by representations of the Egyptian god.

"His kilt is decorated with an accumulation of apotropaic symbols treated in the Cypriot manner: winged cobras, a head of 'Bes' (unusual iconography of the god), an eye and and an eyebrow."

See: Antoine Hermary and Joan R. Mertens, The Cesnola Collection of Cypriot art - Stone sculpture, Catalogue Nos. 40-61, pages 58-74, especially Cat. 51, page 67 and Cat. 61, page 74. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2014. Free PDF catalogue.

Ross' account of his visit to Cyprus in 1845: Ludwig Ross, Reisen auf den griechischen Inseln des ägäischen Meeres, Band 4: Reisen nach Kos, Halikarnassos, Rhodos und der Insel Cypern, pages 81-212. C. U. Schwetschke und Sohn. Halle, 1852. At Heidelberg Universtiy Digital Library.

English translation of Ross' book: Claude Delaval Cobham (1842-1915), A journey to Cyprus, February and March 1845. "Phone" Office, Nicosia, 1910.

According to Karl B. Stark, who first published information and an illustration of the sculpture, Ross left it and other antiquities to the Berlin Museum in his will (Nachlass). It entered the museum in 1860, but was at first mistakenly placed among Roman and Etruscan exhibits.

Karl B. Stark, Der cyprische Torso des Berliner Museums. Archäologische Zeitung 21, 1863, columns 1-12 and Tafel (plate) CLXXI. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1863. At the Internet Archive.
 
Medusa gives birth to Chrysaor and Pegasus on the Golgoi sarcophagus at My Favourite Planet

Chrysaor and Pegasus are born from the Gorgon Medusa's neck.
Perseus walks away with the kibisis containing Medusa's head.

A low relief on one of the short sides of a limestone sarcophagus,
known as the "Golgoi sarcophagus". 475-450 BC. Discovered by
tomb robbers in November 1873 in the necropolis of Golgoi, Cyprus.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Inv. No. 74.51.2451.
From the Cesnola Collection. Purchased by subscription, 1874-76.

The sarcophagus rests on four, large rectangular feet. It is decorated on all four sided with mouldings and low flat reliefs with apparently unrelated figural scenes: on the long sides a banqueting scene and a hunting scene; on the other short side two males riding a two-horse chariot. The surfaces of the gabled lid are plain, but at each corner there is a sculpted recumbent lion with a protruding tongue, facing out towards the short end.

The small figures of Chrysaor (Χρυσάωρ, Gold Blade) and Pegasus (Πηγασος, Of the Spring) emerge from the open neck of the decapitated Medusa. The kneeling Gorgon's body, turned to the left, has four sickle-shaped wings and is dressed in a long belted chiton (tunic) with short sleeves. Her arms are raised to assist the birth of her children. Perseus ignores the birth and walks away to the right with Medusa's head in the kibisis, which hangs behind him from a staff he carries over his left shoulder. Six incised vertical lines project from above the staff. In his right hand he carries a harpe. The bearded hero wears a conical cap and a short belted chiton, and like Medusa, he is barefooted. A dog sitting in the centre of the scene watches Perseus' departure.

Height of sarcoghagus 96.5 cm, length 202 cm,
width 73.2 cm.
Height of lid 34.3 cm, length 207 cm, width 74 cm. Height of feet 12.7 cm.

Image Source: public domain photo at
metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/242004

See also:

Antoine Hermary and Joan R. Mertens, The Cesnola Collection of Cypriot art - Stone sculpture, Cat. 491: The "Golgoi sarcophagus", pages 363-370. Free downloadable PDF catalogue. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2014. Excellent photos, descriptions and commentaries on a wide range of beautiful ancient sculptures and stone objects from Cyprus.

The catalogue also includes a fragmentary limestone statuette of the triple-bodied monster Geryon, one of the foes of Herakles, holding three shields. The shield on the left (to the viewer) has a lively low relief depicting Athena on the left, and Perseus in the centre about to kill Medusa on the right. Around 550-500 BC. From the sanctuary of Golgoi-Ayios Photios. Inv. No. 74.51.2591, Cat. No. 340, pages 252-253.

Patrick Schollmeyer, Der Sarkophag aus Golgoi: Zur Grabrepräsentation eines zyprischen Stadtkönigs. In Dynastensarkophage mit szenischen Reliefs aus Byblos und Zypern, Volume 2, pages 189-233. Mainz am Rhein, 2007.
 
The end of the Golgoi sarcophagus with the Perseus and Medusa relief at My Favourite Planet

The end of the "Golgoi sarcophagus"
with the Perseus and Medusa relief.
Athena and Perseus holding the head of Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Athena stands next to Perseus who holds the head of Medusa in
his left hand. In his right hand is a harpe (ἅρπη, a sickel-shaped
weapon) with which he decapitated the Gorgon. [26]

Detail of an Attic red-figure calyx-krater, made in Athens about 460-450 BC.
From Kamarina (Καμάρινα), south coast of Sicily (Ragusa province).
Attributed to the Mykonos Painter. Height of krater 53 cm.

Museo Civico, Castello Ursino, Catania, Sicily.
Inv. No. 4399. From the Biscari Collection.

See: Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 205773.

Perseus wears a petasos (broad-brimmed hat), a himation (cloak) and winged boots. To the left Athena, her hair in long, thick locks, holds a spear and wears a crested Attic helmet and the aegis over a long chiton. On the far left a draped female figure (Danae or a nymph?) sits on a rock. On the right a male figure with a crown and sceptre (Polydektes?) sits on a chair. This appears to be the scene in which Polydektes is turned to stone by the Gorgoneion on Seriphos. The head of Medusa appears to have Negroid characteristics, perhaps alluding to versions of the myth in which she was from north Africa. [note 5]

The other side (Side B) shows a woman (Andromeda?), a draped male figure leaning on a staff, Poseidon and running Gorgons.

See also an Etruscan statuette of Perseus holding Medusa's head and a sickle below.
 
Gorgoneion on the front panel of the Monteleone Chariot at My Favourite Planet

Thetis hands the armour made by Hephaistos to
her son Achilles during the siege of Troy. The shield
is decorated with a Gorgoneion and a lion's head.

Around 575-550 BC. Bronze with ivory inlays.
The front panel of the Monteleone Chariot, discovered in 1902
in an Etruscan tomb at Monteleone di Spoleto, Umbria, Italy.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Inv. No. 03.23.1.
Purchased on the Paris art market in 1903 by General Luigi
Palma di Cesnola (1832-1904), the first director of the museum.

The Etruscan parade chariot has three panels made of bronze inlaid with ivory. The front panel is much larger than those on either side; all three are decorated with reliefs thought to depict episodes from the life of Achilles. The front panel (photo above) shows the veiled Thetis, on the left, facing her son Achilles, with both figures in profile. They hold a Corinthian helmet with a crest supported by a ram's head, and a large shield decorated with a Gorgoneion above a lion's head. Below the shield is the body of a deer on its back, and above the head of each figure a flying bird of prey descends vertically, head down.

The panel on the left side of the chariot (see image below) depicts a duel between two warriors, perhaps Achilles and the Trojan Memnon, both standing in profile over the body of a fallen warrior. Both warriors wear crested Corinthian helmets and greaves, with a spear raised in one arm and holding a shield in the other. The figure on the left has a round shield, while the shield of the figure on the right is similar to that given to Achilles on the front panel, although here the lion's head is above that of the Gorgon.

The right-hand panel depicts the the apotheosis of Achilles, with the hero ascending in a chariot drawn by winged horses. Other reliefs, over the wheels, are thought to depict Achilles as a youth with his mentor, the centaur Chiron, and Achilles as a lion killing his enemies as a stag and a bull.

For further information about the Monteleone Chariot, see Homer.

Source of images: Woldemar Graf Uxkull-Gyllenband, Archaische Plastik der Griechen, Band 3, Abbildungen 21 (above), 22 (below). Verlag Ernst Wasmuth, Berlin, 1920.
 
Gorgoneion on the left panel of the Monteleone Chariot at My Favourite Planet

The bronze panel on the left side of Monteleone Chariot, depicting a duel
between two warriors, perhaps Achilles and the Trojan Memnon. The shield
of the warrior on the right is decorated with a lion's head above a Gorgoneion.
The Gorgoneion on a hammered bronze shield device in Olympia at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion on a repoussé (hammered) and cut out,
round, bronze shield device (ἐπίσημον, episemon).

Probably made in a workshop in East Greece (Ionia and the eastern Aegean islands),
perhaps in Samos, around 650-600 BC. Excavated at the Sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia.

Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. B 4772.

All around the head are protomes (heads) of snakes, and around the disc, on the eyebrow and top of the nose are holes for attaching the device to a shield. The eye sockets probably contained inlaid eyes. According the museum label the forehead is "decorated with incised anthemia and foliate ornaments", although only two rosettes, on the right ear lobe and immediately to the right of it, are visible.

The device was originally affixed to the outside of a round wooden shield (ἀσπίς, aspis, or ὅπλον, hoplon). Such shields, other items of armour and weapons, often captured from defeated enemies, were brought to the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia as thanks offerings to the god and other deities worshipped there.
 
Warriors with round shields decorated with devices on an vase from Athens at My Favourite Planet

A fragment of a black-figure vase with
a depiction of three warriors carrying
round shields decorated with devices,
and four-horse chariots.

750-700 BC. From Kerameikos, Athens.

Kerameikos Archaeological Museum.
The Gorgoneion on a hammered bronze shield device in Olympia at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion on a hammered and cut out bronze shield device. The Gorgon's
head, with eyes of inlaid bone and surrounded by writhing snakes, is set in a
medallion, around which are three swirling, sickle-shaped wings (see photo below).

Made in a Peloponnesian or Ionian workshop, first half of the
6th century BC. Excavated at the Sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia.

Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. B 110.
Detail of the Gorgoneion shield device from Olympia at My Favourite Planet

Detail of the Gorgoneion medallion on the bronze shield device above.
A winged Gorgon on a bronze shield device, Olympia Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

A winged Gorgon on a repoussé (hammered) and cut out bronze shield device. She wears a crested
helmet, has a fringe of small snakes and inlaid eyes, and grasps two larger snakes which rise from
her belt (see photo below). Her torso is scaly, and her wings, shown in front of her arms, appear
to grow out her breast. Below the waist she has attributes of a monster (referred to by some
archaeologists as a dragon), the tail of a fish and the running front legs of a lion. A unique
depiction of a Gorgon of exceptionally fine workmanship. The round shield used as a background
is a modern reconstruction which includes ancient bronze fragments found with the device.

Made in a workshop in Magna Graecia (southern Italy), second
half of the 6th century BC. From Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece.

Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. B 4490.
Detail of the winged Gorgon on the shield device in Olympia Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

Detail of the winged Gorgon on the shield device above.
A Greek warrior on a plate by Psiax at My Favourite Planet

The centre of an Attic black-figure plate painted by the Athenian vase painter Psiax,
540-510 BC, depicting a warrior. Found in the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, Greece.

The bearded warrior, wearing a crested helmet, cuirass and greaves, strides
to the left, his spear held at head-height with the front pointed downwards.
He carries a Boeotian shield, decorated with an aegis and Gorgoneion.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. F 2099.

Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 320364.
The Gorgoneion on the shield of a Achaean warrior on a relief in Delphi at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion on the round shield of a Achaean (Greek) warrior on a high
relief depicting a battle with Trojans during the Trojan War (see Homer).

Detail of the Archaic marble relief from the east side of the
frieze of the Siphnian Treasury, Delphi, built for the people
of Siphnos around 525 BC (before 524 BC).

Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece.
Dancers and Gorgoneions on an Etruscan bucchero oinochoe at My Favourite Planet

Detail of an Etruscan bucchero pesante oinochoe (wine jug) with an ovoid body,
decorated all around with rows of naked dancers and Gorgoneions in relief.

6th century BC. Height 50 cm, maximum diameter 23 cm, diameter of foot 18.8 cm.

Etruscan Section, Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan.
Inv. No. A 0.9.296. From the Seletti Collection.

The figures on the side of the oinochoe (οἰνοχόη) have been interpreted as dancers taking part in a sacred ritual dance, perhaps at a funeral, and the Gorgoneions probably had an apotropaic function.

Many of the objects in the Etruscan Section of the Milan Archaeological Museum are from excavations at the cemeteries of the Etruscan city Caere (today Cerveteri), northwest of Rome, while others, such as this oinochoe, are from private collections. The provenance of this jug is unknown, but it is thought to have been produced in Chiusi (Siena), southeastern Etruria. It was owned by the Milanese lawyer and historian Emilio Seletti (1830-1913), who donated most of his collection to Milan's civic museums at the end of the 1900s.

Bucchero (perhaps from the Spanish búcaro, or the Portuguese púcaro; derived from the Latin poculum, a drinking vessel) is the modern name given to Etruscan black ceramic ware with a glossy black surface, obtained by the reduction method of resticting oxygen in the kiln during firing. In the 6th century BC a variety of the bucchero type was developed, known as bucchero pesante or heavy bucchero. Such vessels had thicker walls, were often squatter and were decorated with reliefs, moulded separately and affixed to the still-damp clay before firing. The use of bucchero ware declined from the early 5th century BC due to the increasing popularity of imported Greek ceramics and then locally made vessels adapting new styles and techniques of pottery production and painting.

This oinochoe (Ancient Greek, οἰνοχόη; from οἶνος, oinos, wine, and χέω, kheo, I pour; plural oinochoai or oenochoai) is of the type known as trefoil, due to the form of its mouth which resembles a three-lobed ivy leaf. The inside of the mouth, at the top of the handle and at each side, is decorated with three relief heads (protomes, see photo below and note 23).

The Etruscan bucchero oinochoe in the Milan Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

The Etruscan oinochoe in the Milan museum.
 
Gorgoneion on an Etruscan oinochoe at My Favourite Planet

One of the Gorgoneions on the oinochoe.
Protomes on the trefoil mouth of the Etruscan bucchero oinochoe in Milan at My Favourite Planet

The protomes on the trefoil mouth of the Etruscan bucchero oinochoe in Milan.
Gorgons dancing on an Etruscan neck amphora at My Favourite Planet

Detail of an Etruscan black-figure neck amphora ("Round Dance"), 525-500 BC,
by the Micali Painter, with dancing or running three-winged Gorgons, followed
by a winged male figure (Perseus?). All three figures also have winged ankles.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. V.I. 3226.
Acquired from the Collection Ancona in 1892.
The Round Dance amphora in Berlin at My Favourite Planet

The front of the Etruscan "Round Dance" neck amphora in Berlin.
A Harpy, the Demon of Death, on an Etruscan hydria at My Favourite Planet

Detail of an Etruscan black-figure hydria, 530-500 BC, possibly by the
Micali Painter, showing a Harpy, the Demon of Death, with a head similar
to that of a Gorgon. The four-winged Harpy, with the body of a bird, holds
a naked human figure by the wrist in each hand of her outstretched arms.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. F 2157. Acquired in 1834.
A bronze handle with Tritons and sleeping Gorgons at My Favourite Planet

A bronze handle of a lid or dish, with Tritons and sleeping Gorgons (see detail below).

Made in southern Italy, perhaps at Croton, around 500 BC.
One of a pair; the other is in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

British Museum. GR 1824.4-89.31 (Bronze 576).
From Naples. Bequeathed by R. Payne Knight.
Sleeping Gorgons in the British Museum at My Favourite Planet

The sleeping Gorgons on the bronze handle above. The winged Gorgons also
have wings on their ankles, and stretch out their arms to touch each other.
Gorgoneion on the tondo of a band cup from ancient Smyrna at My Favourite Planet

Gorgoneion on the tondo of a band cup from
Smyrna (today Izmir, Turkey). 6th century BC.

Izmir Archaeological Museum, Turkey.
Gorgoneion as the tondo of a fragment of a kylix, Syracuse, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Gorgoneion as the tondo of a fragment of a kylix (drinking cup).

5th century BC. Found in the area of an Ionic temple
in the Via Consiglio Regionale, Syracuse, Sicily.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse. Inv. No. 45673.
A terracotta Gorgoneion from Orchomenos, Boeotia at My Favourite Planet

A small terracotta Gorgoneion, as a votive offering at
the rural sanctuary of the Chthonic deities to the west
of Orchomenos (Ὀρχομενός), Boeotia, central Greece.

4th century BC.

The underworld deities worshipped at the sanctuary included
Demeter and Persephone and the Graces (Χάριτες, Charites),
whose cult, according to Pindar and Pausanias, was one of
the most ancient at the lakeside city Orchomenos.

Thebes Archaeological Museum.
The lid of a terracotta relief pyxis with a Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet

The lid of a large Apulian terracotta relief pyxis with a Gorgoneion.

Around 300 BC. From Canosa, Apulia, southeast Italy.

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Inv. No. 1917.680 a-b (pyxis and lid).
From the Johannes W. F. Reimers Collection.

A pyxis (πυξίς; plural, Πυξίδες, pyxides; from πῠ́ξος, pyxos, boxwood), was a type of box with a separate lid, generally cylindrical and originally made of wood, but later made of metal or clay. Pyxides were used mainly by woman to hold cosmetics, toiletries, jewellery and other small objects.

This example was found in "Tomba Reimers" (or Ipogeo Reimers), a chamber tomb at Canosa (Ancient Greek, Κανύσιον; Latin, Canosium; Italian, Canosa di Puglia), Apulia, southeast Italy, named after the businessman, painter and collector Johannes W. F. Reimers, who was present when the grave was discovered and purchased all the ceramic objects found there. After Reimers' death in 1913, the Hamburg museum, after some difficulty, managed to acquire his large collection of antiquities in 1917, including over 1500 Greek and Italic ceramic objects.

Reimers appears to have travelled widely, built his collection with relatively modest means, and later displayed objects in his own museum. Considering the size and importance of his collection, surprisingly little has been written about him or the objects.
 
A Canosa askos with a painted Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet

A Canosa askos, a large polychrome ceramic vase, with
a painted relief of a Gorgoneion applied to the body.

Around 350-300 BC. From Canosa, Apulia, southeast Italy.

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Inv. No. 1917.971.
From the Johannes W. F. Reimers Collection (see above).

It is thought that other masks were also originally applied around the body of the vessel. An askos (ἀσκός, tube; plural, ἀσκοί, askoi) was originally a wineskin, but askoi were later made of metal or clay, often used for storing oil.

Askoi of several types were made in Apulia around 350-300 BC, probably exclusively for use in graves. They were painted with water-soluble pigments (perhaps a mixture similar to tempera) in blue, pink/red, purple, yellow and brown, on a white background. Reliefs and three-dimensional figures (including Gorgoneions, Nikes, winged heads) were fired separately and fixed to the body with an adhesive made of a resin-like pitch. Some feature elaborate statuette-like figures on the top of the body or handles. The non-durable colouring and fragile attachments indicate that the vessels were not intended for practical use, and had a purely sacred decorative function.

Although this askos is displayed in the same case as objects from the "Tomba Reimers" at Canosa (see above), the museum labelling does not state its age or provenance. The Gorgoneion is similar to those on a sphageion (σφαγείων, vessel for collecting blood during ritual sacrifices) with two Gorgoneions from Canosa, dated late 4th - early 3rd century BC, now in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
 
The Strangford shield at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion in the centre of an Amazonomachy relief on the "Strangford Shield",
a fragment of a marble replica of the shield of Athena Parthenos.

From Athens, 3rd century AD.

British Museum. GR 1864.2-20.18 (Sculpture 302). Strangford Collection.

The fragment was acquired in Athens by the British politican Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780-1855), one of the antiquities he collected while British ambassador to Ottoman Turkey, 1820-1824. It was purchased by the British Museum in 1864 from Percy Smythe, the 8th Viscount Strangford.

During the Roman period many copies were made of the colossal chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Athena Parthenos by Pheidias, which stood in the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis. The "Strangford Shield" is the only surviving part of one of these replicas (see two smaller replicas: the "Athena Lenormant" statuette and the "Varvakeion statuette" on Athens Acropolis gallery page 13). Traces of the original paint have survived. Only the front of this shield has a relief, the back is blank. Ancient authors indicate that the outside of the original shield showed an Amazonomachy (battle between Greeks and Amazons), and the inside a Gigantomachy (battle between gods and the Giants).

According to Plutarch (Life of Pericles, 13), Pheidias was accused by enemies of Pericles of stealing gold intended for the Athena Parthenos statue, and of impiety for portraying Pericles and himself among the figures of the Amazonomachy on the statue's shield. On this replica, Pheidias and Pericles are thought to be the two men standing back-to-back below the Gorgoneion: Pheidias is the balding, naked figure on the left with an axe in his raised arms; Pericles stands to his right, wearing a helmet and armour, his left foot resting on a fallen Amazon, his right arm raised and obscuring his face. Having been warned by Pericles to carefully weigh the gold, Pheidias was able to disprove the charge of theft, but he was found guilty of impiety, and died while in prison.
 
Winged head of Medusa on the shield of the Varvakeion Athena statuette

Winged, baby-faced head of Medusa on the shield
of the "Varvakeion statuette", a small replica of
the Athena Parthenos statue by Pheidias.

From Athens, 3rd century AD.

(See Athens Acropolis gallery page 13)

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 129.
Cast of the Medusa Rondanini in Dresden at My Favourite Planet

A plaster cast of the "Medusa Rondanini", a marble
winged head of Medusa of the beautiful type.

Late Hellenistic or Augustan. Height 38.8 cm.

Abguss-Sammlung, Semperbau, Dresden. Inv. No. ASN 2935. From the
Cast Collection of Anton Raphael Mengs (see the Niobe page for further details).

The original, made of Parian marble, is in the Glyptothek, Munich. Inv. No. 252.

The "Medusa Rondanini" is named after the Palazzo Rondanini, in the Via del Corso, Rome, where it was formerly exhibited. Parts of the snakes and hair and the tip of the nose have been restored. The slightly larger than lifesize marble head first came to the attention of northern European scholars due the praise it received from Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), who was deeply impressed by it on his visit to the palazzo in December 1786. He acquired a cast of the head but had to leave it in Italy when he returned home.

The head was used by the sculptor Antonio Canova as a model for his marble statue of Perseus with the head of Medusa (1798-1801), made to replace the ancient Apollo Belvedere statue in the Pio Clementino Museum of the Vatican Museums, which had been confiscated by Napoleon's troops.

It was purchased in 1811 (according to another source, in 1814) by Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (from 1825 King Ludwig I of Bavaria), who had it sent to Munich. In 1826 he gave a new cast of the head to Goethe.

For many years it was widely accepted that the head was a copy of the Gorgoneion on the shield of the Athena Parthenos statue by Pheidias (late 5th century BC), which stood in the Parthenon (see photo above). There appears to have been no evidence to support this theory which has since been rejected. It is now thought that the work was made either in the late Hellenistic period or around the time of the reign of Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD).

See also the Medusa head from Aphrodisias and the marble bust of Medusa by Bernini below.
 
The head of Medusa on a mosaic floor from Dion, Macedonia at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa in the centre of a mosaic floor from
the Villa of Dionysos, Dion, Macedonia. 2nd century AD.

Dion Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.
A mosaic floor from Piraeus with winged head of the Gorgon Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a mosaic floor found in 1892 in Zea, Piraeus. Made in the 2nd century AD,
using the opus tessallatum technique. The winged head of Medusa in the central rondo
portays her as an attractive, blond, young woman with snakes in her hair. The mosaic
also features the popular geometric pattern of intersecting radial spirals and concentric
circles, defined by triangles. Like the image of Medusa, it is thought that the pattern
was believed to have supernatural apotropaic properties (able to avert evil).

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Mosaic head of Medusa, Baths of Diocletian, Rome at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa with snakes, in the centre of a floor mosaic from Rome.

1st - 2nd century AD. Found in the Via Ardeatina, near the church of S. Palombo, Rome.

Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome.

See also a small emblema with a bust of Dionysus from the same floor mosaic.
Mosaic head of Medusa, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa in the centre of a floor mosaic from Rome.

Roman Imperial period, end of the 1st - mid 2nd century AD.
Found in 1939 in a necropolis, Rome.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 125532.
Mosaic head of Medusa from Pergamon at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa in the centre of a floor mosaic. From the
Lower City of Pergamon. Roman period, 3rd century AD.

Bergama Archaeological Museum.
Mosaic head of Medusa from the Terrace Houses, Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

The head of Medusa in a polychrome emblema (panel) of a floor mosaic
in one of the Terrace Houses in Ephesus. Roman period, 3rd century AD.

Terrace House 2 (Hanghaus 2), Dwelling Unit 3, Room 16a.

The Gorgon's head is shown in the manner typical of the Roman era, with the tails of two snakes tied in a Herakles knot on her throat. The snake's bodies writhe around the sides of her winged head, and their heads appear above, facing each other. Medusa's round face is quite human, feminine and pretty. The x-shaped backgound has a pattern of grey scales, probably representing the aegis. The finely executed image has a black oval frame within a thinner black quadrilateral frame, surrounded by a large oblong mosaic area consisting of a black and white recurring pattern of intersecting circles.

The image has been dated stylistically to the 3rd century AD, although some scholars have suggested the 2nd century and even the 5th century (Volker Michael Strocka and Werner Jobst). [27]

In the same room, to the left (west) of this mosaic, is another of the same size and style with an emblema containing a bust of Dionysus.

Also on this page:

Gorgoneions on sarcophagi from Ephesus

a Gorgon relief in the "Temple of Hadrian", Ephesus

a Gorgoneion on the Library of Celsus, Ephesus
 
 

Relief of Apollo, Minerva and the Muses at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a sarcophagus relief of Apollo,
Athena/Minerva and the Muses.

Left: Apollo of the Lykeios type with kithara and griffin (?).

Centre: Athena/Minerva wearing
Corinthian helmet and Gorgoneion.

Right: A muse with a kithara.

Marble. From the Via Appia, Rome, around 200 AD.

Altes Museum. Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 844.
 

Bronze Gorgoneion from Taranto, Italy

Detail of a greave (leg armour) from a bronze statue
of a mounted warrior, with the head of a pretty,
jolly-looking Gorgon on the knee.

Made in Taranto, southern Italy, around 470-450 BC.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1886.3-24.1 (Bronze 265).
Barone and Piot collections.

Athena on coin from Amphipolis

Tetradrachm coin of Antigonos
Gonatas, from Amphipolis, Greece,
circa 270 BC. Helmeted Athena
wearing the aegis and holding
a shield with the Gorgoneion.

Bode Museum, Berlin.
 

Statue of Athena Lemnia wearing the aegis and Gorgoneion in Dresden

Reconstructed statue of "Athena
Lemnia", attributed to Pheidias,
450-440 BC, wearing the aegis
and Gorgoneion.

Skulpturensammlung,
Albertinum, Dresden.
Replica B. Inv. No. Hm 050.
 

Relief of Athena wearing the aegis and Gorgoneion from Pergamon

High relief of Athena wearing the
aegis and Gorgoneion. From the
theatre of the Lower City,
Pergamon. Marble. Roman period.

Bergama Archaeological Museum.
 

A Gorgoneion on a bronze arm guard from Olympia at My Favourite Planet

A bronze guard for a right upper arm, with a
repoussé (hammered) and incised Gorgoneion
with inlaid bone eyes on the shoulder.

Made in Magna Graecia (southern Italy)
around 550-500 BC. Found during excavations
on the north embankment of the stadium
in Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece.

Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. B 4880.
 
A bronze vambrace with a Gorgoneion

A bronze vambrace, armour for a right
arm, with a Gorgoneion on the shoulder.

Around 550 BC. From Olympia, Greece.
A votive offering, probably war booty.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Misc. 6402.
Acquired from the Komnos Collection, 1874.
Bronze pilos helmet decorated with a Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet Gorgoneion attachment on a bronze pilos helmet at My Favourite Planet
Bronze pilos helmet decorated with a Gorgoneion attachment.

Beaten cast bronze. 4th century BC. Provenance unknown.

Greek section, Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. A 987.05.03.

The Gorgoneion is one of four attachments which originally decorated the sides of the helmet.

A pilos (πῖλος, felt; Latin, pileus, pilleus or pilleum) was a conical cap, made of felt or leather, often shown worn by men in ancient Greek and Roman art, particularly in depictions of the Dioskouroi, Hephaistos and Odysseus. It is thought that the pilos helmet was developed from the hat in Sparta in the 5th century BC. During the same century the helmet became popular among infantry soldiers in other Greek city states. An Attic funerary stele of around 410 BC shows two Athenian soldiers wearing pilos helmets (see Thucydides). A marble funerary relief from Pella, Macedonia, dated 430-420 BC, depicts a soldier wearing a pilos (see Pella gallery page 18).

Many of the artefacts in the Milan museum were donated or purchased from various private collections, and their provenance is unknown.
 
Athena wearing the aegis and Gorgoneion on an Etruscan relief at My Favourite Planet

Athena wearing the aegis and Gorgoneion on an Etruscan ceramic high relief
depicting two episodes from the Greek myth of The Seven against Thebes.

From the rear pediment of Temple A of the sanctuary of the Etruscan goddess
Uni (equivalent of the Roman goddess Juno, Greek Hera and Phoenician
Astarte) at Pyrgi, the port of Caere (today Cerveteri), Latium. 470-460 BC.

National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia, Rome.
 

Statuette of the Etruscan goddess Menvra wearing the aegis at My Favourite Planet

Bronze statuette of the Etruscan goddess
Menvra, modelled on Greek figures of Pallas
Athena, or Palladion, with raised spear and
shield and wearing the aegis. The helmet,
similar in form to the Attic helmet on Greek
copies of the Athena Parthenos statue
by Pheidias, is shown with the cheek flaps
raised. Unusually, the goddess is barefoot,
lacking the usual sandals.

From Apiro, Italy. 4th century BC.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Fr. 2176.
 
Statuette of the Etruscan goddess Menvra wearing the Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet

Bronze statuette of Menvra wearing
the aegis and Gorgoneion. The head
of the Gorgon is as large as that of
the goddess. Her right rather than
left leg is bent. The handle in her
left hand and spigot on the forearm
indicate where a shield was
attached to the figure.

From central Italy. Circa 500 BC.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Fr. 2178.
Bronze medallion of Athena Promachos wearing a Gorgoneion and Aegis at My Favourite Planet

A cast bronze roundel of Athena Promachos, wearing a sleeveless peplos, fastened
at the right shoulder with a round fibula, a helmet in the form of Medusa's head,
and the aegis with a snake on the border over her left shoulder. Her right
arm is raised as if about to throw a spear, as in statues of Athena Promachos.

A decoration from a formal chariot used for parades, perhaps belonging to a wealthy
hetairos (royal officer) or a member of the Macedonian royal family. Possibly from
a workshop in Delos. Hellenistic, first half of the 2nd century BC. Diameter 27 cm.

Excavated on Kyprion Agoniston Square, Thessaloniki, during a rescue dig
in a Hellenistic public building, possibly the palace of the Macedonian kings.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 17540.
Female dancers around Palladion on a Campana plaque at My Favourite Planet

Female dancers around Palladion, 1-50 AD.

Athena/Minerva in the pose of Palladion with raised spear and shield, wearing a helmet, aegis
and Gorgoneion. A "Campana plaque": colourfully painted ceramic reliefs depicting scenes from
mythology and daily life which decorated the interior and exterior walls of sacred, public and
private buildings from the mid 1st century BC until the first half of the 2nd century AD. [28]

"But there came a phantom, as it seemed to us onlookers,
of Pallas, with plumed helm, brandishing a spear."

Euripides, Heracles, lines 1002-1003.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. TC559. Acquired in 1696 from the Bellori Collection.
Palladion wearing the aegis and Gorgoneion on a Campana plaque at My Favourite Planet

Palladion wearing the aegis and Gorgoneion on the Campana plaque above.
Detail of a statue of Athena wearing the aegis and a Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a marble statue of Athena wearing a Corinthian helmet,
with the aegis and a winged Gorgoneion on her breast.

2nd century AD.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6321. Farnese Collection.
The Gorgoneion and snakes of the aegis on a statue of Athena in Naples at My Favourite Planet

The Gorgoneion and snakes of the aegis on the statue of Athena above.
A caryatid from the Lesser Propylaia in Eleusis at My Favourite Planet   A Gorgoneion on a caryatid from Eleusis at My Favourite Planet
A Gorgoneion with protruding tongue on the crossed band of
a caryatid (or kistephoros) from the facade of the Lesser Propylaia
of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis (see Demeter).

Pentelic Marble. Circa 50 BC. Height 209 cm.

Eleusis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 5104.

The other, not so well preserved caryatid was taken from Eleusis
in 1801 by Edward Daniel Clarke, who in 1865 donated it to
the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Inv. No. GR.1.1865.
Alexander the Great wearing the Gorgoneion on the breastplate of his armour at My Favourite Planet

Alexander the Great wearing the Gorgoneion on the breastplate of his linothorax
(armour made of layered and stiffened linen). Detail of the "Alexander Mosaic"
depicting Alexander fighting the Persian king Darius III at either the Battle of Issos
in 333 BC or the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. Thought to be based on a lost painting.

Floor mosaic, made using the opus vermiculatum (Latin, worm-like work) technique of local
stone and some glass tesserae. 125-120 BC. Found in the House of the Faun, Pompeii.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 10020.

See more photos and information about this mosaic on
the Alexander the Great page of the MFP People section.
A statue of Emperor Claudius wearing a cuirass with a Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet The Gorgoneion on the breastplate of Emperor Claudius
Marble bust from a statue of Emperor Claudius (reigned
41-54 AD) wearing a cuirass with the Gorgoneion.

From Nikomedia (Izmit, Turkey). 1st century AD.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 87 T.
A statue of Emperor Hadrian wearing a cuirass with the Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet The Gorgoneion on the breastplate of Emperor Hadrian at My Favourite Planet
Detail of a marble statue of Emperor Hadrian (reigned
117-138 AD) wearing a cuirass with the Gorgoneion.

From the agora of Thasos, Greece. 130 AD.

Thasos Archaeological Museum.
An imago clipeata bust of Emperor Hadrian wearing a cuirass with a Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet

A marble bust of Emperor Hadrian wearing a cuirass decorated
with a rather masculine Gorgoneion. An imago clipeata, a portrait
framed by a round frame, resembling a shield (Latin, clipeus).

From Thespiai (Θεσπιαί), Boeotia, central Greece. Mid 2nd century AD.

Thebes Archaeological Museum.

The original architectural context of this clipeus is unclear, and the guide to the Thebes museum merely states that it "had perhaps been boxed into a wall". The reverse side of the clipeus depicts a snake, a symbol of Asklepios (see photo on the Asklepios page), probably a reference to the Asklepieion at Thespiai. The fact that it was sculpted on both sides suggests that it was designed for a free-standing monument, perhaps a propylon (gateway).

Hadrian visited Thespiai during his stay in Boeotia in 125 AD. While there he is said to gone hunting, and an inscribed epigram records that he dedicated a boar he had killed to Eros at the god's sanctuary in the city (inscription IG VII 1828). It has recently been suggested that the dedication was intended for his deceased favourite Antinous in the guise of Eros.

Unusually, the excellent new museum displays the clipeus in a metal frame suspended from the ceiling, high above the other exhibits. Thankfully, It is the only artefact in the museum to be displayed in this manner. A strange design decision, perhaps to save space or as a piece of exhibition showmanship. The reason usually given by museums for the recent trend of placing some exhibits so high (as well as that of displaying floor mosics horizontally rather than on a wall) is that it is meant to give visitors an impression of how they originally appeared to ancient viewers. Many of us would rather be able to see an exhibit than merely have an impression of it.
 
A statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius wearing a cuirass with the Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet Jolly-looking Gorgon on the breastplate of the statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at My Favourite Planet

Jolly-looking Gorgon on the
breastplate of the statue
of Marcus Aurelius.
Detail of a marble statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (joint
emperor 161-180 AD) wearing a cuirass with the Gorgoneion.

From Italy. The head and body of the much restored sculpture are from
separate statues. The body, 50-80 AD, was found near Tivoli. The head,
of the second type of portrait of Marcus Aurelius, is dated to 150 AD.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 368. Acquired in 1761.
A bust, probably Marcus Aurelius, wearing a cuirass with a Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet

A marble bust, probably of Marcus Aurelius, wearing a cuirass decorated with a Gorgoneion.
Unusually, the deadly gaze of the Gorgon has been covered by the cloak. To the modern
viewer, at least, an apparent touch of humour, but perhaps a subtle piece of propaganda,
meant to broadcast the emperor's mercifulness or benevolence towards his subjects on Delos.

From the Samothrakeion, Delos. Mid 2nd century AD.

Delos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. A 7779.
The Gorgoneion and aeigis on a Roman statue, Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet   Gorgoneion and aeigis on a Roman statue in Thessaloniki at My Favourite Planet
A not-so-hideous Gorgoneion on the aeigis of a marble statue, perhaps depicting a Roman emperor,
now headless and unidentifiable. The work is a replica of a Hellenistic statue of Alexander the Great,
known as the "Alexander Aigiochos", which was probably from Alexandria.

From Thessaloniki. Roman Imperial period, 117-138 AD.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
A bronze handle attachment of a situla in the form of a Gorgoneion at My Favourite Planet

A handle attachment of a bronze situla (used for mixing
wine and water at banquets) in the form of a Gorgoneion.

From a cist grave in Dangli Street, Stavroupolis, Thessaloniki.
Late 5th - early 4th century BC.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. MΘ 5124.
A gilded terracotta disc with a Gorgon head from Thermi, Macedonia Greece at My Favourite Planet

One of a number of gilded terracotta discs with Gorgon
heads, excavated from Tomb C, Sedes (ancient Thermi),
Macedonia Greece. 320-300 BC.

The discs were originally sewn onto fabric and deposited
as grave offerings. Similar golded discs have been found
at other locations in Macedonia, such as Veria (see below).

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. MΘ 5536-5538.
Gold buttons with Gorgon heads from a tomb in Mieza, Macedonia at My Favourite Planet

Two of a number of gold buttons with Gorgon heads, among offerings found in
the cist grave of a girl (Kavallaris Plot), Mieza, Macedonia, Greece. 350-325 BC.

Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece. Inv. Nos. M 1690 a-στ, M 1692, M 1692.
Colossal marble Gorgoneion at the entrance to Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Colossal marble head, thought to be a Gorgoneion,
dated to the first half of the 2nd century BC, at the entrance
to the Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.

Height 164 cm, width 116 cm, depth 69.5 cm.

Discovered in October 1943, it is the largest Gorgon head found in Greece, thought
to have been attached to the gate of the northern defensive walls of ancient Veria
(Βέροια) as an apotropaic symbol to scare off attackers. The features of the head,
particularly the hairstyle, resemble those of Alexander the Great. The knot at
the top is thought to have originally been a knot of snakes.
Black-glaze pyxis with a Gorgoneion relief, Veria, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Black-glaze pyxis decorated in the "West Slope" style, with a Gorgoneion relief.
Found among grave offerings of the rock cut chamber tomb on the Spanos Plot,
in the ancient necropolis of Veria, Macedonia. 2nd century BC.

Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece. Inv. No. Π 2379.
Megarian ceramic skyphos with a Gorgoneion relief, Thebes at My Favourite Planet

A Megarian ceramic skyphos with relief decoration. On the bottom is a
Gorgoneion in a medallion, surrounded by four feet in the form of seashells.

3rd - 2nd century BC. From Thebes, Boeotia, Greece.

Thebes Archaeological Museum.
The head of Gorgon Medusa on the tondo of a gold hairnet at My Favourite Planet

A gold hairnet with a tondo showing the head of Gorgon Medusa.
From Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily. 3rd century BC.

Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum, Sicily.
A relief of Gorgon Medusa above the doorway of the Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

A relief of a figure which has been interpreted as the Gorgon Medusa on a marble
lunette panel above the doorway to the "Temple of Hadrian" in Ephesus, built 130 AD.

The naked female figure with wavy, snake-like hair, is visible to the top of her thighs.
She stands with her arms outstreched in the stem of a fabulous plant, the branches
of which spiral out symmetrically to either side of her.

Kuretes Street, Ephesus archaeological site, Selçuk, Turkey.

Also on this page: Gorgoneions on sarcophagi from Ephesus
Gorgon Medusa in a plant above the doorway to the Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

Gorgon Medusa in a plant above the doorway to the "Temple of Hadrian", Ephesus.

See also a Dionysiac relief from Pergamon with a similar giant plant motif.
A Gorgoneion relief on the facade of the Library of Celsus, Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

A Gorgoneion relief of the "beautiful type" on the facade
of the Library of Celsus, Ephesus, completed around 135 AD.

The library's highly ornate facade has four projecting roofed porch areas (aediculae or tabernacles) on the ground floor, each supported by two columns with composite capitals (a mixture of Ionic and Corinthian elements). The porch roofs in turn support the Corinthian columns of three roofed areas on the first floor (see photos on Ephesus gallery page 30). The pediments of the upper porches each has a tympanum decorated with a relief of a Gorgoneion flanked by floral and spiral tendril motifs, and framed along the top by an egg and dart motif.

This Gorgoneion tympanum is on the left-hand (south) pediment. That it is a modern copy is made evident by the contrast to the original white marble fragment fitted into the pediment during the reconstruction of the facade in 1970-1978 (see photo below). The fragmentary reliefs of the other two pediments appear to be original but less complete.

The original tympanum is now in the Ephesos Museum of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Inv. No. Antikensammlung, I 1632 (at present not on display).
Height 67 cm, width 172 cm, depth 63.5 cm.

See www.khm.at/de/object/0e7e392d9c/ (in German)

See also a photo of the original pediment by Andreas Praefcke on Wikipedia Commons.
 
Close-up of the Gorgoneion on the facade of the Library of Celsus, Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

Close-up of the Gorgoneion tympanum on the facade of the Library of Celsus above.
Marble head of the Gorgon Medusa from Aphrodisias, Caria at My Favourite Planet

Relief head of Medusa of the "beautiful type" on a marble console (corbel).

Excavated in 1904 by Paul Augustin Gaudin at the Baths of Hadrian,
Aphrodisias (Ἀφροδισιάς), Caria (western Turkey). 2nd century AD.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 2279. Cat. Mendel 497.
Marble relief of a colossal head of the Gorgon Medusa at the Temple of Apollo, Didyma at My Favourite Planet

Marble relief of a colossal winged head of Medusa at the Sanctuary of Apollo,
Didyma (Δίδυμα), Ionia (today Didim, Aydin Province, Turkey). 2nd century AD.

The Sanctuary of Apollo at Didyma was a pre-Greek oracle, taken over by Ionic Greek colonists of the nearby city of Miletus at the beginning of the first millenium BC, and dedicated to Apollo as Didymeus (Διδυμευς). A sacred way lined with monuments connected the oracle to the city, 10 km to the north. The Archaic temple, which housed the oracle, was built around the late 8th - early 7th century BC, and was destroyed by the Persians in 494 BC.

The building of the enormous new Ionic temple was inaugurated by Alexander the Great, following his conquest of Ionia in 334 BC, and the oracle proclaimed him as the son of Zeus in 331 BC. (Alexander also dedicated the temple of Athena Polias in Priene in 334 BC.) However, construction appears not to have got underway until about 300 BC, during the rule of Seleucus I Nicator, the founder of the Seleucid Empire. According to Vitruvius (On architecture, Book 7, Introduction, section 16), the architects were Paeonios of Ephesus and Daphnis of Miletus. The marble was quarried at nearby Lake Bafa (Bafa Gölü).

Building work at the sanctuary continued intermittently for several centuries, until about 200 AD, as can be seen from the differing styles of various sculptural elements. However, the temple was never completed, a fact noted by Pausanias (Description of Greece, Book 7, chapter 5, section 4), and a number of infinished columns can still be seen at the site.

The two marble blocks with heads of Medusa on this page (see the other below) are the best preserved of several on display at the archaeological site. The blocks formed a frieze on the architrave of the temple, as symbolic protection for the secretive oracle within. They have been dated stylistically to around the time of the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). The quality and style of carving on the blocks are markedly different, indicating that they were made by different artists, perhaps some time apart.

The Gorgoneions are generally in the style popular during the Roman Imperial period, often shown on sarcophagi. The oval shaped heads are winged and have thick, wavy hair, falling as a fringe over the forehead and to the sides as long locks. The tails of two snakes around the neck are tied in a Herakles knot at the throat. The eyebrows are thick and prominent, and those of the head above, and the Gorgoneion from Aphrodisias further above, are creased as if she is frowning; although they are of the "beautiful type", they appear quite masculine.
 
Marble relief of the Gorgon Medusa's head, Temple of Apollo, Didyma at My Favourite Planet

Another of several marble reliefs of colossal winged heads of Medusa
on display at the Sanctuary of Apollo, Didyma. Circa 100-200 AD.
A colossal Gorgoneion relief used as a column base in the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul at My Favourite Planet

One of the two colossal marble blocks with reliefs of Gorgon heads
reused as column bases in the Byzantine Basilica Cistern in Istanbul.

The enormous, 9,800 square metre underground Basilica Cistern (known in Turkish as Yerebatan Serayi, Sunken Palace, or Yerebatan Sarniçi, Sunken Cistern) was built around 532-542 AD (after the Nika Riots of 532 AD) by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (reigned 527-565 AD) to provide water for the Great Palace and nearby buildings. The cistern was mentioned by the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea (Buildings, Book I, chapter 11, sections 10-15). It may have replaced an earlier cistern at this location.

Much of the building material was taken from older monuments which had presumably been destroyed by the time of Justinian. The ceiling, over 8 metres high, is supported by 336 columns of various types and sizes, including 98 with acanthus capitals. Many of the columns are thought to have come from the Great Nymphaeum (Nymphaeum Maius) in the Forum of Theodosius, commissioned in the second half of the 4th century by the urban prefect Clearchus, who in 373 inaugurated the Valens Aqueduct which supplied water to the nymphaeum. One of the columns in the cistern (photo, right) has peacock-eye shaped reliefs on the shaft similar to column fragments found at the site of the Forum of Theodosius.

The Medusa blocks are made of Proconnesian marble from the nearby Sea of Marmara. The head in the photo above has been set upside down, while the other is placed on its side (see photo below). It has been suggested that this was to negate the terrible power of the Gorgon's gaze. The Christians of Constantinople may have considered it quite appropriate to banish the pagan monster heads to the dark underworld of the cistern. More probably, the blocks were simply turned to fit to the height required. The difficulty the builders had in fitting the blocks and the columns can be seen in the roughly finished stone slabs wedged between the tops of the blocks and bottoms of the column bases. The rectangular bases are intricately carved with egg-and-dart reliefs, suggesting that they were originally parts of a grand monumental building.

The original location of the two redeployed Medusa blocks and the possible reasons for their use in the cistern are questions which have been much debated since they were uncovered from beneath tons of mud and rubble during extensive restoration work in the 1980s.

A very similar marble block with a Gorgoneion relief on either side was discovered in the area of the Forum of Constantine (see photo below), and in 1916 was moved to the inner courtyard of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, where it still stands today. According to a recent theory, the blocks in the cistern are two halves of the keystone of one of two entrance arches to the forum, the block at the museum being the keystone of the other arch.

See:

Anthony Kaldellis, The Forum of Constantine in Constantinople: What do we know about its original architecture and adornment? Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 56 (2016), pages 714–739.
 
A column in the Basilica Cistern with peacock-eye relief decoration at My Favourite Planet

A column in the Basilica Cistern
with "peacock-eye" decoration,
also referred to as hen's eye or
teardrop (German, Tränendekor),
perhaps representing a stylized
trunk of a cypress tree, associated
with the club of Herakles.

Part of another column of this type
stands in the inner courtyard of the
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 4568.
A marble head of the Gorgon Medusa in the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul at My Favourite Planet

The other marble block with a relief of Medusa's head, this one placed
on its side in the damp gloom of the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul.
Colossal Gorgoneion relief in the courtyard of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

A marble block with a colossal Gorgoneion relief on either side.
Discovered in the area of the Forum of Constantine in Istanbul,
and thought to be a keystone of one of two entrance arches.

Moved to the courtyard of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in 1916.
A sarcophagus decorated with Gorgoneions, Erotes and heads of Pan, Istanbul Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

A large marble sarcophagus decorated all around with reliefs of Gorgoneions and
garlands supported by Erotes (figures of Eros), and heads of Pan at each corner.

See a photo of one of the heads of Pan on the Pan page.

From Byzantium (Istanbul). Roman Imperial period, 2nd century AD.
Height 243 cm, width 342 cm, depth 170.5 cm.

In the courtyard of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 513.
Acquired by the museum in 1880.
A Gorgoneion on a sarcophagus in Istanbul at My Favourite Planet

A winged head of Medusa (Gorgoneion) on the left side of the sarcophagus above.
A Gorgoneion on a marble sarchophagus from Sardis at My Favourite Planet

A Gorgoneion on the end of a marble sarchophagus from Sardis. Roman Period.

Izmir Museum of History and Art.
A winged Gorgon with wild hair, Izmir Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

A winged Gorgoneion with wild hair on a marble sarchophagus from Ephesus. Roman Period.

Izmir Archaeological Museum.
A Gorgoneion on a marble sarchophagus from Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

A relief of a Gorgoneion of the "beautiful type" on the front
of a marble sarchophagus from Ephesus. Roman Period.

Outside the Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Selçuk, Turkey. Inv. No. 4/4/74.

The Gorgoneion is in the centre, flanked by busts of a mature woman (left) and bearded man. Below each figure is a garland (or swag) of fruit and flowers, hung with a bunch of grapes and a vine leaf, and fastened to the next garland with ribbons tied with bows. The garlands are held up by two erotes (cupids), standing on pedestals either side of the Gorgoneion, and at each of the four corners by a winged Nike on a pedestal. The left end of the tomb is also decorated with a not-so-attractive, masculine-looking Gorgoneion above a garland (see photo below). The relief head (or emblem) on the right side is too worn to be identified. The rear may also be decorated but is obscured by plants growing on the fence behind.

Roman period, 140-180 AD. Found in 1954 at the foot of the Astyagou Pagos, west of the Lysimachian city wall of Ephesus. Dimensions (without lid):
Height 104 cm, length 229 cm, depth 108 cm.
 
A beautiful type Gorgon head from Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

A "beautiful type" Gorgon head.
The masculine-looking Gorgoneion on the left side of the sarchophagus from Ephesus at My Favourite Planet

The masculine-looking Gorgoneion on the left side of the sarchophagus from Ephesus above.
A Gorgoneion on a funerary stele from Mediolanum at My Favourite Planet

The top of an inscribed funerary stele with a relief of a Gorgoneion
and dolphins, from the Roman city Mediolanum (Milan).

Musso marble. Late 1st - early 2nd century AD.

According to the inscription, the stele was commissioned by
a woman, Bolana Secunda, and includes details of her will.

Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. A 0.9.6600.
A Gorgoneion on the funerary stele of shoemaker from Mediolanum at My Favourite Planet

The top of the inscribed funerary stele of the shoemaker Gaius Atilius Iustus, with
a relief of a Gorgoneion and dolphins from the Roman city Mediolanum (Milan).

Musso marble. 2nd century AD. Found in the 16th century in Porto Nuovo, Milan.

Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. A 0.9.6620.
Lenos shaped marble sarcophagus with reliefs of Gorgon heads at My Favourite Planet

Lenos (grape treading tank) shaped marble sarcophagus with
a strigillated relief pattern and Gorgon heads at either end.

From Panormou (ancient Palermo), Sicily. 3rd century AD.

Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum, Palermo, Sicily.
Gorgon head reliefs on a fragment of an Attic sarcophagus at My Favourite Planet

Part of a frieze in the form of triglyphs and metopes, in each of which is a relief of
a Gorgoneion. Detail of a fragment of an Attic marble sarcophagus. Below the frieze
is part of a relief depicting Priam ransoming the body of Hektor (see Homer).

Second half the 3rd century AD. Provenance unknown.

Thebes Archaeological Museum.
Painting of Perseus holding Medusa's head from Pheidias' workshop, Olympia at My Favourite Planet

Fragments of a plate with a red-figure painting of
Perseus holding the head of Medusa in the tondo.

Second half of the 5th century BC. Found in Pheidias'
workshop in the sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia, Greece.

Olympia Archaeological Museum.

Perseus, naked apart from a petasos (πέτασος, a broad-brimmed hat) hanging behind his head and a short cloak, stands frontally with his head turned to the right to avoid the deadly gaze of Medusa, whose severed head he holds in his outstretched right hand. In his left hand he holds what appear to be two spears. ΠΕΡΣΕ, part of the name Perseus, is inscribed above his left arm. Medusa's hair, like that of Perseus, is brown with black contours. She is shown cross-eyed with her tongue hanging out, but appears quite harmless, more like a cartoon character than a petrifying monster. The background of the tondo is black, with a thick red outline around the figure.

The three fragments of the plate were discovered by archaeologists in the building identified as the workshop where the Athenian sculptor Pheidias made the sculptures for the Temple of Zeus, including the colossal chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of the god.
 
 

Etruscan bronze statuette of Perseus holding the head of Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Etruscan bronze statuette of Perseus,
wearing a winged helmet, holding the
head of Medusa in his raised left hand,
and a sickle in his lowered right hand.

1st half of the 4th century BC. Height 13.3 cm.

Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg.
Inv. No. 1929.22.
   
Marble statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa, Ostia at My Favourite Planet   The head of Medusa from the Ostia statue at My Favourite Planet
Marble statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa.

Original creation of the Flavian-Trajanic period, late 1st
or early 2nd century AD. Found in "the Villa of Perseus",
near the baths at Porta Laurentina, south of Ostia.

Ostia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 99.
Marble relief of Andromeda and Perseus holding the head of Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Marble Neo-Attic relief of Perseus rescuing Andromeda.
Behind his back the hero hides the head of Medusa.

Luna marble. First half of the 1st century AD.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6686. Farnese Collection.
A bronze head of Medusa from one of Caligula's Nemi ships at My Favourite Planet

A bronze head of Medusa from one of Emperor Caligula's Nemi ships.

Lost wax cast, finished with burin and chisel.
Made during the reign of Caligula (37-41 AD).

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. National Museum of Rome.
Marble bust of Medusa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at My Favourite Planet

Marble bust of Medusa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680),
4th-5th decade of the 17th century AD.

Perhaps made during the early years of the papacy of Innocent X, between 1644 and 1648,
when Bernini was out of favour at the papal court. The myth concerning Athena and Medusa,
as related by Ovid, was retold in verse by Giovan Battista Marino. In Marino's version,
Medusa accidentally sees her own petrifying reflection and is herself turned to stone.

Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Iron parade shield with the head of Medusa at My Favourite Planet

19th century iron parade shield with the head of Medusa as the central boss.

Described as "European", the shield was previously believed to have been
made in the Renaissance, but is now thought to be from the 1800s, imitating
the work of the Milanese armourer Filippo Negroli (circa 1510-1579).

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. WA. OA1447.
Perseus riding a chariot and brandishing the head of the Gorgon Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Modern bronze sculpture (19th century?) of Perseus riding triumphantly in a chariot
pulled by two winged horses and brandishing the head of the Gorgon Medusa.

The sculpture can sometimes be seen parked on a trailer in various streets of Berlin,
Germany, with a for sale sign. Apparently it is an antique dealer's advertising gimmick.

Photos © David John 2008
Perseus holding the head of the Gorgon Medusa at My Favourite Planet

Perseus raises Medusa's head threateningly. The Gorgon looks a little green.
The facade of the Athena restaurant and bar, Marinella-Selinunte, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

The facade of the Athena restaurant and bar, Marinella-Selinunte, Sicily,
designed in imitation of an ancient Doric temple, with a Gorgoneion
mask and snakes on the pediment, aktroteria and metopes with reliefs.
 
 
 
Vyzantino Greek Restaurant, Plaka, Athens, Greece
NEWGEN Travel Agency, Athens, Greece
Hotel Orestias Kastorias Thessaloniki, Greece - The heart of hospitality beats at the heart of the city
Hotel Liotopi, Olympiada, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece
Hotel Germany, Olympiada, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece
Big Dino's Galini, self-catering beach hotel, Nea Vrasna, Macedonia, Greece
A gold diadem decorated with Gorgoneions at My Favourite Planet

A gold diadem decorated with Gorgoneions.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN. Oldfield. 2.
 
Medusa Notes, references and links

1. The Gorgon in Homer

In The Iliad, Athena puts on the aegis and the Gorgoneion:

"About her shoulders she flung the tasselled aegis, fraught with terror, all about which Rout is set as a crown, and therein is Strife, therein Valour, and therein Onset, that maketh the blood run cold, and therein is the head of the dread monster, the Gorgon, dread and awful, a portent of Zeus that beareth the aegis."

Homer, The Iliad, Book 5, lines 739-740

The Gorgoneion was also part of the decoration on the shield of Agamemnon:

"And thereon was set as a crown the Gorgon, grim of aspect, glaring terribly, and about her were Terror and Rout."

Homer, The Iliad, Book 11, lines 1-46

Homer, The Iliad, translated by A.T. Murray, in two volumes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.; William Heinemann, London. 1924. At Perseus Digital Library.

In The Odyssey, Odysseus speaks of his terror of the Gorgon's head during his descent to Hades:

"... so many thousands of ghosts came round me and uttered such appalling cries, that I was panic stricken lest Persephone should send up from the house of Hades the head of that awful monster Gorgon."

Homer, The Odyssey, Book 11, 633

Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Samuel Butler. At Perseus Digital Library.

2. The Gorgons in Hesiod

The poet Hesiod (Ἡσίοδος) is thought to have lived between 750 and 650 BC.

"And again, Ceto bore to Phorcys the fair-cheeked Graiae, sisters grey from their birth: and both deathless gods and men who walk on earth call them Graiae, Pemphredo well-clad, and saffron-robed Enyo, and the Gorgons who dwell beyond glorious Ocean in the frontier land towards Night [i.e. the west] where are the clear-voiced Hesperides, Sthenno, and Euryale, and Medusa who suffered a woeful fate: she was mortal, but the two were undying and grew not old. With her lay the Dark-haired One [Poseidon] in a soft meadow amid spring flowers.

And when Perseus cut off her head, there sprang forth great Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus who is so called because he was born near the springs [pegai] of Ocean [Okeanos]; and that other, because he held a golden blade in his hands. Now Pegasus flew away and left the earth, the mother of flocks, and came to the deathless gods: and he dwells in the house of Zeus and brings to wise Zeus the thunder and lightning.

But Chrysaor was joined in love to Callirrhoe, the daughter of glorious Ocean, and begot three-headed Geryones. Him mighty Heracles slew in sea-girt Erythea by his shambling oxen on that day when he drove the wide-browed oxen to holy Tiryns, and had crossed the ford of Ocean and killed Orthus and Eurytion the herdsman in the dim stead out beyond glorious Ocean.

And in a hollow cave she bore another monster, irresistible, in no wise like either to mortal men or to the undying gods, even the goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth. And there she has a cave deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal men. There, then, did the gods appoint her a glorious house to dwell in: and she keeps guard in Arima beneath the earth, grim Echidna, a nymph who dies not nor grows old all her days."

Hesiod, Theogony, lines 270-303.

The myth of Persus and Medusa also appears in the poem Shield of Heracles, attributed to Hesiod, but thought by some scholars to be a later derivative work. It describes the relief of figures and scenes decorating the magic shield.

"There, too, was the son of rich-haired Danae, the horseman Perseus: his feet did not touch the shield and yet were not far from it, very marvellous to remark, since he was not supported anywhere; for so did the famous Lame One [Hephaistos] fashion him of gold with his hands. On his feet he had winged sandals, and his black-sheathed sword was slung across his shoulders by a cross-belt of bronze. He was flying swift as thought. The head of a dreadful monster, the Gorgon, covered the broad of his back, and a bag of silver - a marvel to see - contained it: and from the bag bright tassels of gold hung down."

Hesiod, Shield of Heracles, lines 216-244

Both quotations from Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.; William Heinemann, London. 1914. At Perseus Digital Library.

3. The myth of Perseus and the Gorgons in Pherecydes

Pherecydes (Φερεκύδης) was a 5th century BC writer, referred to variously as Pherecydes of Leros (Φερεκύδης ὁ Λέριος) or Pherecydes of Athens (Φερεκύδης ὁ Ἀθηναῖος), with differing opinions on whether they were the same person. He is thought to have been a native of the island of Leros who spent much of his life in Athens.

His Genealogies (οι Γενεαλογίαι), also referred to as Histories, was a work of ten books in the Ionian dialect, recording the popular myths of Greek gods and heroes with a particular emphasis on their genealogies. It was possibly written as propoganda, to demonstrate the divine and heroic pedigrees of prominent families in Attica, who may have been his patrons. The original work is lost, but several passages were quoted or used as sources by later ancient writers.

A fragment of Pherecydes' account of the myth of Perseus and Medusa can be read in:

Stephen M. Trzaskoma, R. Scott Smith, Stephen Brunet, Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary Sources in Translation, "Pherecydes, The Histories, fragments", "11 The story of Perseus (fr. 11 Fowler)", page 354. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 2004. At googlebooks.

The Library (Βιβλιοθήκη, Bibliotheki) of Apollodorus, an extensive and important source of Greek mythology, was long attributed to Apollodorus of Athens (Ἀπολλόδωρος ὁ Ἀθηναῖος; circa 180 – after 120 BC). However, many scholars now believe it was written at a later date, around 100-200 AD, and the author is often referred to as Pseudo-Apollodorus. He frequently used Pherecydes' works as a source for his retelling of the myths. Book 2 of the Library, deals at length with the mythical history of Argos and events leading up to Perseus' quest to acquire Medusa's head.

Sir James George Frazer (translator), Apollodorus, The Library, Book 2. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann Ltd., London. 1921. At Perseus Digital Library.

The translator's notes: "The following legend of Perseus (Apollod. 2.4.1-4) seems to be based on that given by Pherecydes in his second book, which is cited as his authority by the Scholiast on Ap. Rhod., Argon. iv.1091, 1515, whose narrative agrees closely with that of Apollodorus."

For a brief overview of sources of the Perseus myth, see:

Ulrike Kenens, Greek Mythography at Work: The Story of Perseus from Pherecydes to Tzetzes. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 52 (2012), pages 147–166.

4. The Gorgons in Euripides

Euripides (Εὐριπίδης, circa 480-406 BC). A speech by Queen Kreusa of Athens, in the tragedy Ion, written around 414 BC.

"Kreusa: There the earth [Gaia] brought forth the Gorgon, a dreadful monster."

Euripides, Ion, lines 966-997

Ion, translated by Robert Potter, in Euripides, The Complete Greek Drama, Volume 1 (of 2), edited by Whitney J. Oates and Eugene O'Neill Jr. Random House, New York, 1938. At Perseus Digital Library.

See also:

Euripides, Ion, written 414-412 BC. Translated by George Theodoridis.

At Poetry in translation, A. S. Kline's FREE Poetry Archive.

Euripides, Heracles, 977, in Euripides, The Complete Greek Drama, edited by Whitney J. Oates and Eugene O'Neill, Jr. in two volumes. 1. Heracles, translated by E. P. Coleridge. Random House, New York, 1938. At Perseus Digital Library.

Euripides is satirized by Aristophanes (circa 446-386 BC) in his comedy Thesmophoriazusae, written in 411 BC:

"Euripides now enters, costumed as Perseus.

Euripides: 'Oh! ye gods! to what barbarian land has my swift flight taken me? I am Perseus; I cleave the plains of the air with my winged feet, and I am carrying the Gorgon's head to Argos.'

Scythian Archer: What, are you talking about the head of Gorgos, the scribe?

Euripides: No, I am speaking of the head of the Gorgon."

Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, Lines 1098-1135

Aristophanes, Women at the Thesmophoria. Eugene O'Neill Jr., The complete Greek drama, Vol. 2. Random House, New York, 1938. At Perseus Digital Library.
 

5. The home(s) of the Gorgons

a) Near the Garden of Hesperides

The name of Hesperides (Ἑσπερίδες) is derived from hesperos (evening), the origin of the name Hesperus, the evening star (Venus), and was associated with the west. The Hesperides were the nymphs of evening and the golden light of sunset, the "daughters of the evening" or "nymphs of the west". They lived in the Garden of Hesperides at the western edge of the known world, on the world-encircling ocean (Okeanos, the modern Atlantic Ocean), near the Atlas Mountains in North Africa.

It was here that Herakles received the Golden Apples of Hesperides from Atlas. The famous rocks on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar - the boundary between the Mediteranean and the Atlantic - are known as the Pillars of Hercules.

For Hesiod on the home of the Gorgons near the Hesperides, see note 2 above.

b) Libya

The Greeks used the name Libya (Λιβύη) to refer generally to the area of north Africa west of the Nile, known later as Cyrenaica (Κυρηναϊκή, Kyrenaike) after the city of Cyrene (Κυρήνη; Benghazi, Libya), particularly during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. As the name of an area loosely defined in geographical terms, it may roughly correspond to Hesiod's mythological Hesperides.

Herodotus, The Histories, Book 2, chapter 91

Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 2, chapter 21, sections 5-6

Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 4 lines 604-705.

All at Perseus Digital Library.

c) Sarpedon

A number of places named Sarpedon (Σαρπηδών) were mentioned by ancient authors, including locations to the east, rather than west, of Greece:

Cape Sarpedon, east of the river Hebros (Evros), Thrace (Strabo, Geography, Book 7, fragments);

Cape Sarpedon in Cilicia, on the south coast of Anatolia (Asia Minor), opposite Cyprus (Strabo, Geography, Book 5, chapter 5 and Pliny the Elder, Natural history, Book 5, chapter 22).

However, a commentary on the poem Song of Geryon by the Sicilian Greek poet Stesichorus (Στησίχορος, Stesikhoros, circa 630-555 BC), mentions Sarpedon as an island in Okeanos, west of Greece:

"Stesikhoros in his Geryoneis calls an island in the Atlantic sea Sarpedonian."

Stesichorus, Geryoneis Fragment S86 (from Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius).

See: http://www.theoi.com/Kosmos/Erytheia.html

A fragment of an Archaic Greek poem (also from the Song of Geryon?) locates the Gorgons on a western Sarpedon island:

"By him she conceived and bare the Gorgons, fearful monsters who lived in Sarpedon, a rocky island in deep-eddying Oceanus."

Herodian, On Peculiar Diction, The Cypria, Fragment 21: the Gorgons. From the Epic Cycle, fragments of epic poems composed between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, describing the Titan war, the Theban saga and the Trojan War.

See: www.theoi.com/Text/EpicCycle.html

The Song of Geryon deals with myths, including Herakles stealing the cattle of the three-bodied giant Geryon, the grandson of Medusa, on the island Erytheia (Νησος Ερυθεια, Red Isle) in the western Mediterranean.

d) Kisthene

In Aischylos' play Prometheus Bound (written around 430 BC), Prometheus tells Io that the Graiae and Gorgons live at a place called Kisthene on "the Gorgonean plains", east of Greece:

"Well, since you are bent on this, I will not refuse to proclaim all that you still crave to know. First, to you, Io, will I declare your much-vexed wandering, and may you engrave it on the recording tablets of your mind.

When you have crossed the stream that bounds the two continents, toward the flaming east, where the sun walks, ...

crossing the surging sea until you reach the Gorgonean plains of Cisthene, where the daughters of Phorcys dwell, ancient maids, three in number, shaped like swans, possessing one eye amongst them and a single tooth; neither does the sun with his beams look down upon them, nor ever the nightly moon. And near them are their three winged sisters, the snake-haired Gorgons, loathed of mankind, whom no one of mortal kind shall look upon and still draw breath."

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, lines 780-818, translated by Herbert Weir Smyth. Harvard University Press. 1926. At Perseus Digital Library.

"The stream that bounds the two continents, toward the flaming east" must refer to the Hellespont, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus which divide Europe from Anatolia (Asia Minor). The virtual traveller must then cross "the surging sea" to reach the Gorgonean plains of Cisthene. The Gorgonean plains are otherwise unknown, but Kisthene (Κισθήνη) was the name of two ancient Greek settlements in Anatolia:

A coastal city of Mysia, northwest of Pergamon, deserted by the time of Strabo (64/63 BC – circa 24 AD, Strabo, Geography, Book 13, chapter 1);

An island with a city of the same name off the coast of Lycia, southwestern Anatolia (Strabo, Geography, Book 14, chapter 3, section 7), identified by some scholars as Kastellorizo.

6. The Gorgons in Ovid's Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses by Ovid, Book IV, lines 753-803, "Perseus tells the story of Medusa".
At poetryintranslation.com.

A. S. Kline has provided an excellent prose translation in clear modern English. Mythological, historical and geographical names in the text are hyperlinked to a cross-referenced index which also acts as a glossary.

An older, arcane translation:

Brookes More (editor), Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 4, lines 706 to end. Cornhill Publishing Co., Boston, 1922. At Perseus Digital Library.

In several translations of Ovid, Medusa is "violated" (A. S. Kline) or "abused" (Arthur Golding, 1567) by Poseidon. The earlier versions of the myths do not specify that Poseidon raped Medusa. Hesiod, for example, wrote: "With her lay the Dark-haired One [Poseidon] in a soft meadow amid spring flowers." [see note 2 above] The poetic setting of soft meadow amid spring flowers lends the incident a more tender, almost romantic tone.

7. Perseus and the Gorgon's head in Anatolia

There were other local Greek myths and legends about Perseus' use of the Gorgon's head as a weapon. The Greeks took over an ancient city of Phrygia or Lycaonia in Anatolia which they called Ikonion (Ἰκόνιον, also Εἰκόνιον; Latin, Iconium; today Konya, Turkey). According to local tradition, Perseus defeated the local population there by using the Gorgon's head (εἰκών, icon, image), founded the city and set up the Gorgoneion on a pillar. Coins of Ikonion show Perseus walking left, holding a harpa and the head of Medusa.
 

8. Pausanias on the Acropolis Gorgoneion

Antiochus is thought to have been Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Ἀντίοχος Δ΄ ὁ Ἐπιφανής, Antiochos D' o Epiphanes, God Manifest, circa 215-164 BC), king of the Seleucid Empire (ancient Syria) 175-164 BC. It has been suggested that the curtain in Olympia may have been the veil of the Holy of Holies from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (the Second Temple) which Antiochus had desecrated and looted in 168/167 BC:

"And so he stripped the temple, carrying off the vessels of God, the golden lampstands and the golden altar and table and the other altars, and not even forbearing to take the curtains, which were made of fine linen and scarlet, and he also emptied the temple of its hidden treasures, and left nothing at all behind, thereby throwing the Jews into deep mourning."

Titus Flavius Josephus (circa 37-100 AD), Antiquities of the Jews, Book XII, chapter 5, section 4).

Josephus, Volume 7 (of 9), Jewish Antiquities, Books 12-14, translated by Ralph Marcus. Loeb Classical Library, 1957. At the Internet Archive.

Josephus elsewhere provides a fuller description of the veil, which is similar to that in the Old Testament, Exodus, chapter 26, verses 1-37.

The suggestion was first made by Charles Clermont-Ganneau (1846-1923), in Le dieu Satrape et les Phéniciens dans le Pélaponèse: notes d'archéalogie orientale, pages 56-63. Extract from the Journal Asiatique. Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, 1878. At the Internet Archive.

See also:

André Pelletier, Le "Voile" du temple de Jérusalem est-il devenu la "Portière" du temple d'Olympie?, in Syria, Revue d'art oriental et d'archéologie, Tome 31, pages 289-307. l’Institut français d'archéologie de Beyrouth, Paris, 1955. At persee.fr.

Peter Levi (translator), Pausanias, Guide to Greece, Volume 2: Southern Greece, Book 5, chapter 12, section 4, note 110 on page 231. Penguin Books, 1971.

9. Νiccοlo da Martoni on the Acropolis idol

See:

James Morton Paton, Chapters on Mediaeval and Renaissance visitors to Greek lands, edited by L.A.P., Chapter 3 Niccolò da Martoni, pages 30-35. Gennadeion Monographs III. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Princeton, New Jersey, 1951. PDF e-book at ascsa.edu.gr.

Crusader Athens III: Florentine Athens (1388 - 1456) by John L. Tomkinson. At anagnosis.gr.

10. Medusa on coins

See the photos and articles at medusacoins.reidgold.com.

11. Medusa: from beast to beauty

See: Susan M. Serfontein, Medusa: from beast to beauty in Archaic and Classical illustrations from Greece and south Italy. M.A. thesis. Hunter College of the City University of New York, 1991.

"The primary aim of this thesis is to determine when the transformation of Medusa from a hideous monster into a beautiful woman initially occurs and whether this transformation is simultaneous with regard to both her full-figure representations and the gorgoneia."

12. Servius on the aegis

Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil, A. 8.435, (in Latin). Edited by Georgius Thilo. B. G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1881. At Perseus Digital Library.
 
Marble head of Antiochus IV Epiphanes at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Around 175 BC. Provenance unknown,
said to be from the collection of Giampietro
Campana [see note 28]. Height 24.3 cm.

The smaller than lifesized head was made
for a statue. The headband, short hair
and exceptional features match depictions
of the king on coins.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. 1975.5.
Purchased on the art market in
Frankfurt am Main in 1975.

13. Earliest depictions of the Gorgon myth

1) The earliest known depiction of a Gorgon is on a Cycladic terracotta pithos (amphora) found in 1897 in Thebes, Boeotia, dated to around 700-660 BC, decorated with an incised and stamped relief depicting Perseus killing Medusa.

Medusa is shown as a female centaur: naked, in human form to the waist; the body and hind legs of a horse project behind her, below the waist. Her midriff and front legs appear to be covered by a belted skirt which covers the feet (perhaps a solution to the problem of whether to show the front feet as human or equine). Her head and upper body face frontally, the equine part is shown in profile. A long hair braid hangs from either side of her triangular head. She has large round eyes and sharp, triangular teeth. She also has very long, slim fingers, and both figures look undernourished.

The depiction of Medusa as a centaur may have been due to an association with the story of her sexual relationship with Poseidon, who was also worshipped as Hippios (Ἵππιος), "tamer of horses". According to one myth he mated with a creature who consequently gave birth to the first horse. Pegasus, who sprang from the body or blood of the slain Medusa, was considered by some mythographers to be her child from Poseidon.

Perseus, also with large round eyes and long braids, stands in profile to her left. He wears Hades' cap which makes him invisible, a short chiton and Hermes' winged boots. A scabbard is slung on his back, and from a long strap around his right shoulder hangs the kibisis (κίβισις), the pouch he has taken from the Nymphs to contain Medusa's head. With his left hand he grasps one of Medusa's braids, and with the other he is cutting through her throat with his sword. His head is turned backwards so that he can avoid her deadly glare.

Louvre, Paris. Inv. No. CA 795 (not on display). Height of amphora 130 cm.

2) A fragment of another amphora from Thebes, also dated to around circa 670 BC, has part of a similar relief showing Perseus in the same way.

Louvre, Paris. Inv. No. CA 937.

See also an Archaic Corinthian vase in the form of Medusa riding Pegasus above.

3) Bronze fragments of a large hammered ring (originally a disc), diameter 77 cm, surrounding a cut-out, shallow sheet relief figure of a Gorgon. From the Athens Acropolis, mid 7th century BC. Thought to be an akroterion (roof decoration) from the pediment of a small temple on the Acropolis, perhaps the first temple of Athena Polias, a predecessor of the Erechtheion. This is the earliest known depiction of a Gorgon from the Aropolis.

The remains of the frontal Gorgon figure appear to be of very primitive workmanship, although it is difficult to imagine how it looked when it was complete, with other attachments and probably coloured. The large head sits directly on the remains of the wings; the inner edges of their bases touch on the breast. A long chiton reaches to just above the ankles, revealing feet which are also shown frontally. The garment is drawn at the waist, suggesting it was girdled.

A bow-shaped ridge at the top of the head marks her hairline. The eyebrows, formed by another ridge like a simple drawing of the outline of a flying bird, appears to be attached (i.e. continues on the same raised plane) to a broad flaring nose. The eyes are glaring but unremarkable. The rectangular mouth has rows of square teeth, fangs at each end and a tongue hanging above a squarish cleft chin. It looks like an early attempt at the lion-mask form.

It has been suggested that the figure represents "Potnia Theron", Mistress of Animals (as on the plate from Kamiros, Rhodes above), and perhaps held a lion with each hand.

Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 13050.
(Formerly in the National Archaelogical Museum, Athens.)

4) A fragment of an ivory relief from the sanctuary of Hera on Samos, dated to the fourth quarter of the 7th century BC, also shows Perseus killing Medusa. The quality of the carving is superb.

Perseus, with his hair in long braids, faces frontally. He wears a conical cap or helmet, a short chiton, belted at the waist, and a strap passing diagonally from his right shoulder, across his chest to the waist. With his left hand he grasps Medusa's enormous head, and with his right hand he decapitates her with a sword. The frontal head is in the form of the lion-mask, which must be one of the earliest of this type. Her huge winged body can be seen falling behind the head. The head, arm and hand of another figure can be seen on the left of Perseus. This is probably Athena encouraging the hero.

Samos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. E1.

5) Fragments of a small, rectangular ivory relief from Sparta, circa 630-620 BC, showing Perseus decapitating Medusa in a similar way (see illustration above).

6) A bronze shield band (ochana) from Olympia, circa 560 BC, shows Athena taking an active part in killing the Gorgon. Winged Medusa, in a frontal kneeling/fleeing position, has four snakes rising from her head. Perseus on the left, and Athena on the right (both in profile), each grasp one of the snakes with their left hands. Athena appears to be holding on to Medusa's neck with her right hand. Perseus is looking away from Medusa and about to decapitate her with the sword in his right hand. He wears a cap and a short, belted chiton with a diagonal shoulder strap, but is naked below the waist. All three figures are barefooted.

Medusa wears a short, belted chiton, and her straight wings are lowered. With her bent left arm she reaches up to her right shoulder, perhaps about to defend herself from Perseus' sword. Her right hand appears to be grasping the under side of her left thigh. Her head is shown as a variant of the lion-mask.

Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. B 975.
 

14. Greek influence on Gorgon iconography in Sicily

Although a number of Archaic depictions of Gorgons have been attributed to Corinthian workshops (for example, the terracotta metopes from Thermon above), Katrina Marie Heller has pointed out that "Corinth has only one recorded Gorgon found on temple architecture, Crete, as seen has a total of eight across the whole island, Megara Hyblaea, in Sicily has only one, and the Greek Megara does not show a record of any Gorgons."

Katrina Marie Heller, Iconography of the Gorgons on temple decoration in Sicily and Western Greece, pages 28-29. BSc thesis. The Archaeological Studies Program, Department of Sociology and Archaeology, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 2010.

Heller's figures are based on data collected by Janer Belson, who recorded the number of Gorgons found throughout the Greek world for her 1981 PhD dissertation, The Gorgoneion in Greek architecture (see note below). Heller also addresses several other questions, including whether Gorgon iconography was developed independently on Sicily, and whether Gorgon imagery had an apotropaic or merely decorative function.

15. The Hekatompedon Gorgon reconstruction

The excellent official guidebook to the new Acropolis Museum includes a drawing of the reconstruction with superimposed photos of the two fragments, but without comment, and there is no mention of it in the main text.

Dimitrios Pandermalis, Stamatia Eletheratou, Christina Vlassopoulou, Acropolis Museum Guide, fig. 109, page 106 and page 108. Acropolis Museum Editons, Athens, 2014.

The substantial Latsis volume on the Old Acropolis Museum includes photos of the Gorgon head and the reconstruction, but is equally tacit about its history and the reconstruction.

Ismene Trianti, The Acropolis Museum, page 29 and figs. 2-3. John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and EFG Eurobank Ergasias S.A.. OLKOS, Athens, 1998. 452 pages. E-book in English and Greek at the Latsis Foundation website.

16. Wilhelm Dörpfeld on the Hekatompedon

See, for example:

Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Untersuchungen am Parthenon, Seiten 283-362 and Tafel XII, in Mittheilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Institutes in Athen, sechster Jahrgang. Karl Wilberg, Athen, 1881.

17. The Gorgon akroterion fragments in the Acropolis museum

"6th shelf. Various. No. 3798 shews a hand holding two snakes - in relief. Schrader (op. cit., p.6, fig.3) assigns it to the Gorgon head, No. 701."

Stanley Casson, Catalogue of the Acropolis Museum, Volume II: Sculpture and architectural fragments, page 305. Cambridge University Press, 1921. At the Internet Archive.

18. Schrader's reconstruction of the Hekatompedon gable

Hans Schrader, Archaische Marmor-Skulpturen im Akropolis-Museum zu Athen, Seiten 5-16. Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut. A. Hölder, Wien, 1909. At the Internet Archive.

See also the photos and drawing on Athens Acropolis gallery page 13.

19. Support for Schrader's reconstruction

"Schrader has rightly restored the figure as a running gorgon by the help of some other fragments in the museum, and has fixed it as the central akroterion of the oldest Athena temple. In style the face shews close resemblance to the Moschophoros, especially in the treatment of the grooves between eyelids and eyebrows, and in the folds outlining nostrils and mouth."

Guy Dickins (1881-1916), Catalogue Of The Acropolis Museum, Volume I: Archaic Sculpture, page 269. Cambridge University Press, 1912. At the Internet Archive.

Read more about the British archaeologist Guy Dickins in Demeter and Persephone Part 2.
 

20. The "Brother and Sister Stele"

Tall marble grave stele, known as the "Brother and Sister Stele", said to be from Attica. High Archaic, circa 540-530 BC. Total height 423.4 cm.

The main part of the stele has a low relief of a youth and young girl in profile, facing right. From a fragmentary inscription, it is thought that they may represent children of Megakles. It is topped with a seated sphinx with sickle shaped wings. The body is in profile, facing right, but the head is frontal, with long wavy hair and a diadem decorated with a painted maeander.

The stele, reconstructed from several fragments, is on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Inv. No. 11.185a–d, f, g, x.

A further fragment, with traces of colour, showing the head and hand of the girl holding a pomegranate is in the State Museums, Berlin (SMB). Inv. No. 1531.

21. Gorgon from the "Kalliades Stele", New York

The Archaic marble slab from Attica is part of the grave stele of "Kalliades, son of Thoutimides", identified from a three line inscription on the bottom left corner. Circa 550–525 BC.

The front of the slab is almost completely taken up by the figure of a running/flying Gorgon, in a pose similar to the Gorgon Stele in Athens. However, the figure is much more dynamic, and since she is not confined by a base line or frame, appears to flying in space. In the museum's description she is described as "fleeing", but a fleeing monster would hardly inspire confidence as a fearsome apotropaic protectress.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Inv. No. 55.11.4.

See: www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/254818

See also the grave stele of Aristion sculpted by Aristokles.

22. The Bomford cup, eye-cups and Anakreontic vases

The earliest surviving Athenian eye-cup is thought to be the "Dionysus Cup", a kylix signed by Exekias, and dated around 540-530 BC (Antikensammlungen, Munich, Inv. No. 2044). However, the type may either have been invented around 540 BC in Chalkis, Euboea, or was developed independently at Chalkis and Athens from the so-called "eye bowls" manufactured in East Greece from the late 7th to the mid 6th centuries BC. The new style appears to have caught on quickly in both cities, but production ceased around 480 BC at the end of the Archaic period.

See:

John Beazley, Attic black-figure vase-painters. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1956.

John Boardman, Athenian black figure vases. Oxford University Press, 1974.

John Boardman, A curious eye-cup. Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1976, Heft 3, pages 281-290. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Walter de Gruyter Verlag, Berlin.

Michael Vickers, Recent Acquisitions of Greek Antiquities by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1981, Heft 4, pages 541-561.

H. Alan Shapiro, Courtship scenes in Attic vase-painting. American Journal of Archaeology, Volume 85, No. 2 (April 1981), pages 133-143. At jstor.

Sarah D. Price, Anacreontic Vases Reconsidered. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, Volume 31, No. 2 (1990), pages 133-175. At Duke University Libraries, Durham, North Carolina.

Guy Hedreen, Involved spectatorship in Archaic Greek art. Art History, Volume 30, Issue 2, April 2007, pages 217-246.

Andrew Prentice, Athenian eyecups of the Late Archaic Period. emaj (electronic Melbourne art journal), Issue 2, 2007.

For the eye-cup with the satyr mask, signed by Nikosthenes, in the Louvre, see:

Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 302281

Only a few East Greek eye bowls have survived, some just as fragments, and literature concerning them is also rare. A multiple eye-cup with a graffito dedication to Aphrodite by Rhoikos, made in north Ionia in the second quarter of the 6th century BC, was found in Naukratis, Egypt. British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1888,0601.392 (Vase A1260). See:

www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/...

Eye bowls are briefly mentioned among other types of Archaic East Greek pottery (e.g. Wild Goat Style and Fikellura ware) in:

Robert Manuel Cook, Greek Painted Pottery, page 118. Methuen, London, 1966.

23. Protome

A protome (Greek, προτομή, foremost or upper part of something; from the verb προτέμνειν, protemnein, to cut off the front) is a depiction of the head, bust or forepart of an animal, human or fabulous creature, usually a frontal view, in art and architectural decoration, on utensils, coins, etc.

The earliest known use of the word was by the English doctor, clergyman, antiquarian and natural philosopher William Stukeley (1687–1765), who also pioneered the archaeological investigation of Avebury and Stonehenge. The word protome was used - without explanation - in:

William Stukeley, The family memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley, M.D., and the antiquarian and other correspondence of William Stukeley, Roger & Samuel Gale, etc., Volume III, pages 56 and 61 (extracts from diary entries for September 1737 and July 1739). Publications of the Surtees Society, Volume LXXX for the year 1885. Durham, London, Edinburgh, 1887. At the Internet Archive.

William Stukeley, The medallic history of Marcus Aurelius Valerius Carausius, Emperor in Brittain, Book I, pages 29 and 144. Charles Corbet, bookseller, London, 1757. At Google Books.
 

24. "Gorgoneion" antefix from Thessaloniki

See: Janer Danforth Belson, The Gorgoneion in Greek architecture, pages 10-11, catalogue No. G.M. 32. PhD dissertation. Bryn Mawr College, 1981.

25. Gorgoneion with krobylos from Gela

See: Marina Castoldi, Vera da cisterna con Gorgoneia da Gela, Numismatica e antichità classiche (Quaderni Ticinesi), XXXIX, 2010, pages 61-76.

A fragment of a "gorgone con krobylos" antefix from Gela, dated to around 500 BC, with well-preserved colours, is in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Inv. No. 1984.522.

26. Perseus beheading Medusa in New York

See also an Attic red-figure pelike (jar), circa 450–440 BC, attributed to Polygnotos, with a finely drawn depiction of Perseus beheading the sleeping Medusa. Perseus, naked except for cloak, winged cap and boots, looks back to Athena while using a harpe to decapitate Medusa as she sleeps. One of the earliest depictions of Medusa as a beautiful young woman rather than a hideous monster.

Metropolitan Museum, New York. Inv. No. 45.11.1.

See: metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/254523

27. Gorgon mosaic in Terrace House 2, Ephesus

See: David Parrish, Architectural function and decorative programs in the terrace houses in Ephesos, Topoi, volume 7/2, 1997, pages 579-633. At persee.fr.

An important article on the decoration of the Hanghäuser, with plans, photos and citations of the key studies of the subect. Parrish refers to Terrace House 2, Dwelling Unit 3 (on the plan "Hanghaus 2, Wohnung 3") as House 3.

28. Campana plaques

Campana plaques, also known as Campana plates or Campana reliefs, are named after the Italian art collector Giampietro Campana (1808-1880) who acquired a large collections of ancient Greek and Roman artefacts, and who first published information about the reliefs in 1842.
 
 
Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:

Germany
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Neues Museum
Dresden, Albertinum, Skulpturensammlung
Dresden, Semperbau, Abgusssammlung
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Münzkabinett
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe

Greece
Athens, Acropolis Museum
Athens, Kerameikos Archaeological Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Delos Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Dion Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Eleusis Archaeological Museum, Attica
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Mykonos, Aegean Maritime Museum
Nafplion Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Olympia Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thebes Archaeological Museum, Boeotia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Veria Archaeological Museum, Macedonia

Italy
Milan, Civic Archaeological Museum
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Ostia Archaeological Museum
Paestum, National Archaeological Museum, Campania
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo

Italy - Sicily
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum
Castelvetrano, Museo Civico
Catania, Museo Civico, Castello Ursino
Gela Regional Archaeological Museum
Palermo, Antonino Salinas Archaeological Museum
Syracuse, Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum

Turkey
Bergama (Pergamon) Archaeological Museum
Didyma archaeological site
Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Selçuk
Ephesus archaeological site
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Istanbul, Basilica Cistern
Izmir Archaeological Museum
Izmir Museum of History and Art
Manisa Archaeological Museum

United Kingdom
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum

Many thanks to the staff of these museums,
especially at Dion, Gela, Manisa and Veria.

Flying Gorgon pendant from Agrigento, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Flying Gorgon pendant from Agrigento,
Sicily. Second half of the 6th century BC.

Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum,
Syracuse, Sicily.
 
Gorgoneion on the Schiller Monument, Dresden at My Favourite Planet

Gorgoneion mask on a gatepost of the Schiller
Monument (Schillerdenkmal) in Dresden.

1914. White Lasa marble.

The monument to Johann Christoph Friedrich
von Schiller (1759-1805), the German doctor,
historian, philosopher, poet and playwright,
was designed by architect Oswin Hempel
(1876-1965), with a marble statue of Schiller
and reliefs illustrating his works by the
sculptor Selmar Werner (1864-1953).
Originally conceived in 1905 to commemorate
the 100th anniversary of Schiller's death, it
was completed and unveiled in May 1914.
The relief on the other (right) gatepost
depicts the head of a Silen.
Gorgoneion on a poster in the Museo Civico, Castelvetrano, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

A Gorgoneion on a poster for "Selinunte: una città che riemerge"
(Selinunte: a city that emerges), a presentation of archaeological
finds from Selinous (Selinunte), Sicily, using reference cards with
QR codes, designed by the students on the Technical Museum and
Cultural Services course at the ECAP community college, Trapani.

Museo Civico, Castelvetrano, Sicily, 2015.

See: padlet.com/annalisa_lobuon/Selinunte_unacittacheemerge
Photos and articles © David John, except where otherwise specified.

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