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Collection Highlights

Bowl decorated with the head of the Medusa

Bowl decorated with the head of the Medusa
© BA Antiquities Museum/M. Sobhy

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0125

Inv.Inventory
 (Greco-Roman Museum) 26739

where to find


showcase 18

Bowl decorated with the head of the Medusa

Category:
Containers and related objects, vessels, bowls
Date:
Graeco-Roman Period (332 BCE-395 CE)
Provenance:
Unknown (Collection of King Farouk, form Montaza Palace)
Material(s):
Man made material, pottery (terracotta)
Height:
11.5 cm
Hall:
Greco-Roman Antiquities, showcase 18


Description

A round pottery container with the head of the Medusa and snakes for hair, in elevated relief.

The Medusa

The Gorgon Medusa represents one of the most famous figures in ancient Greek mythology. 

According to one story, the Medusa was a beautiful girl and lover of the god Poseidon, god of the sea.  Poseidon had met her in the sanctuary of the goddess Athena and made love to her.  The goddess got angry and turned her into an ugly being.  She developed canine teeth, her hair unfurled into snakes and anyone who gazed at her turned into stone.  Thereon she lived high in the mountains amidst the beasts.

The demise of the Medusa, who represented a real danger to humanity, came at the hands of the Greek hero Perseus.  The goddess Athena and the god Hermes helped Perseus get rid of the Medusa by providing him with a reflective shield, winged soles and the helmet of the god Hades which made him invisible whenever he wore it.  They also gifted him with a sword to cut her head off.  Perseus was able to find and kill the Medusa.  When he cut her head off, two small children appeared, namely the winged horse Pegasus and a giant by the name of Chrysaor.  These two figures are frequently represented together with the Medusa in many a work of art.

Perseus offered the head of the Medusa to the goddess Athena, who in turn stuck it on her shield.  The shield with the Medusa head often appears in paintings and sculpture pertaining to the goddess Athena, or she is represented with the Medusa on her chest.

The Medusa in Art

By the sixth century B.C., the Medusa became a popular motif in painting and sculpture, particularly in Corinth and its colonies. Her head adorned the friezes and frescoes in temples with the intention of instilling awe and fear into temple visitors.

However, the Medusa was also believed to fend off evil and was therefore considered a good luck charm.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • Osborne, Robin.  Archaic and Classical Greek Art. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Sacks, David. Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. New York: Facts on File, 1995.
  • "Medusa" In Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, edited by Carroll Moulton. Vo. III. New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1998.
  • Levi, Peter. Atlas of the Greek World. New York: Facts on File, 1991.
  • منى حجاج. أساطير الإغريق: ابتداع وإبداع. الإسكندرية: الرواد، 2007.
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