AskDefine | Define gorgon

Dictionary Definition

Gorgon n : (Greek mythology) any of three winged sister monsters and the mortal Medusa who had live snakes for hair; a glance at Medusa turned the beholder to stone

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Vicious female monsters from Greek mythology with sharp fangs and hair of living, venomous snakes.
  2. An intimidating, ugly, or disgusting woman.
    "Swilling martinis and spewing venom, Phyllis is a particularly unappetizing gorgon, telling us at one point that an acquaintance of hers is aroused by the Heimlich maneuver." — Washington Post, July 1, 2005

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Extensive Definition

about the Greek mythological monster In Greek mythology, the Gorgon (Greek: Γοργών or Γοργώ, transl. Gorgon or Gorgo, "terrible" or, according to some, "loud-roaring") was a vicious female monster with sharp fangs who was a protective deity from early religious concepts. Her power was so strong that one attempting to look upon her would be turned to stone; therefore, such images were put upon items from temples to wine kraters for protection. The Gorgon wore a belt of serpents that intertwined as a clasp, confronting each other.
In late mythology, it was said that there were three Gorgons and that the only mortal one of them, Medusa, had hair of living, venomous snakes that she received as a punishment from Athene. That image has become especially famous. However, the Gorgon exists in the earliest of written records of Ancient Greek religious beliefs such as those of Homer.
The Gorgon held the primary location at the pediment of the temple at Corfu. It is the oldest stone pediment in Greece and is dated to c. 600 BC.

Classical tradition

Gorgons are sometimes depicted as having wings of gold, brazen claws, the tusks of boars, but most often with the fangs and skin of a serpent. The oldest oracles were said to be protected by serpents and a Gorgon image often was associated with those temples. Lionesses or sphinxes frequently are associated with the Gorgon as well. The powerful image of the Gorgon was adopted for the classical images and myths of Zeus and Athena, perhaps being worn in continuation of a more ancient imagery.
Homer, the author of the oldest known work of European literature, speaks only of one Gorgon, whose head is represented in the Iliad as fixed in the center of the aegis of Zeus:
"About her shoulders she flung the tasselled aegis, fraught with terror...and therein is the head of the dread monster, the Gorgon, dread and awful, a portent of Zeus that beareth the aegis."(5.735ff)
Its earthly counterpart is a device on the shield of Agamemnon:
"...and therein was set as a crown the Gorgon, grim of aspect, glaring terribly, and about her were Terror and Rout."(11.35ff)
The date of Homer was controversial in antiquity, and is no less so today. Herodotus said that Homer lived 400 years before his own day, which would place Homer about 850 BC; but other ancient sources gave dates much closer to the Trojan War. Those who believe that the stories of the Trojan War derive from a specific historical conflict usually date it to the twelfth or eleventh centuries BC, often preferring the dates given by Eratosthenes, 1194–1184 BC, which roughly corresponds with archaeological evidence of a catastrophic burning of Troy VIIa. For modern scholarship, 'the date of Homer' refers to the date of the poems as much as to the lifetime of an individual. The scholarly consensus is that "the Iliad and the Odyssey date from the extreme end of the ninth century BC or from the eighth, the Iliad being anterior to the Odyssey, perhaps by some decades." They are presumed to have existed as an oral tradition that eventually became set in historical records. Even at that early time the Gorgon is displayed as a vestige of ancient powers that preceded the historical transition to the beliefs of the Classical Greeks, displayed on the chest of Athene and Zeus.
In the Odyssey, she is a monster of the underworld:
"...and pale fear seized me, lest august Persephone might send forth upon me from out of the house of Hades the head of the Gorgon, that awful monster..."(11.635)
In Ancient Greece a Gorgoneion (or stone head, engraving, or drawing of a Gorgon face, often with snakes protruding wildly and the tongue sticking out between her fangs) frequently was used as an apotropaic symbol and placed on doors, walls, floors, coins, shields, breastplates, and tombstones in the hopes of warding off evil. In this regard Gorgoneia are similar to the sometimes grotesque faces on Chinese soldiers’ shields, also used generally as an amulet, a protection against the evil eye. In some cruder representations, the blood flowing under the head can be mistaken for a beard.
In Greek mythology, blood taken from the right side of a Gorgon could bring the dead back to life, yet blood taken from the left side was an instantly fatal poison. Athena gave a vial of the healing blood to Asclepius, which ultimately brought about his demise. Heracles is said to have obtained a lock of Medusa’s hair (which possessed the same powers as the head) from Athena and to have given it to Sterope, the daughter of Cepheus, as a protection for the town of Tegea against attack. According to the later idea of Medusa as a beautiful maiden, whose hair had been changed into snakes by Athena, the head was represented in works of art with a wonderfully handsome face, wrapped in the calm repose of death.


The concept of the gorgon is at least as old in mythology as Perseus and Zeus. The name is Greek, being from "gorgos" translating as terrible. Other scholars find the goddess to have early origins in Ancient Greek religion.
Author Marija Gimbutas (Language of the Goddess) believed she saw the prototype of the Gorgoneion in Neolithic art motifs, especially in anthropomorphic vases and terra cotta masks inlaid with gold.
The large eyes, as well as Athena's flashing eyes, are a symbol termed "the divine eyes" by Gimbutas (who did not originate the perception), appearing also in Athena's bird, the owl. They can be represented by spirals, wheels, concentric circles, swastikas, firewheels, and other images.
The fangs of the Gorgons are those of snakes and are likely derived from the guardians closely associated with early Greek religious concepts at the centers of oracles.

Gorgons in popular culture

During the late sixteenth century or early seventeenth century, the Baroque artist, Caravaggio, painted Medusa as a beautiful woman who was horrified by her own locks that had been converted into serpents, as displayed to the right.
As with Cyclopes, harpies, and other beasts of Greek mythology, Gorgons have been popularized in modern times by the fantasy genre such as in books, comics, role-playing games, and video games.
Charles Dickens talks about the 'Gorgon's head' and compares the Gorgon to the Marquis St. Evremonde in Chapters 8-9 of 'A Tale of Two Cities'.
Libba Bray has also included a Gorgon character bound to a boat by the Order, a group of sorceress, in her trilogy; "A Great and Terrible Beauty", "Rebel Angels", and "The Sweet Far Thing"
Medusa the Gorgon appears in the 1981 film "Clash of the Titans". Stop-motion animation by the legendary Ray Harryhausen.



gorgon in Bulgarian: Горгони
gorgon in Catalan: Gorgones
gorgon in Czech: Gorgony
gorgon in Danish: Gorgonerne
gorgon in German: Gorgonen
gorgon in Modern Greek (1453-): Γοργόνες (μυθολογία)
gorgon in Estonian: Gorgod
gorgon in Spanish: Gorgonas
gorgon in Persian: گورگون
gorgon in French: Gorgone
gorgon in Croatian: Gorgone
gorgon in Italian: Gorgoni
gorgon in Hebrew: גורגונה
gorgon in Georgian: გორგონები
gorgon in Lithuanian: Gorgonės
gorgon in Hungarian: Gorgó
gorgon in Dutch: Gorgonen
gorgon in Japanese: ゴルゴン
gorgon in Polish: Gorgona (postać mitologiczna)
gorgon in Portuguese: Górgona
gorgon in Romanian: Gorgone
gorgon in Russian: Горгоны
gorgon in Slovenian: Gorgona
gorgon in Serbian: Горгона (утвара)
gorgon in Finnish: Gorgot
gorgon in Swedish: Gorgoner
gorgon in Thai: กอร์กอน
gorgon in Turkish: Gorgonlar
gorgon in Ukrainian: Горгони
gorgon in Chinese: 戈耳贡
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