Medusa Tattoos: The Ancient Greek Myth And Current Symbolism


Greek mythology is rich in epic battles and legendary stories, making it ideal for inspiration when it comes to choosing a new tattoo design. One of the most famous characters from this mythos is the snake-haired Medusa. 

Medusa Tattoo by Pablo Aponte

Her story – one of betrayal, punishment, and feminine power – has stood the test of time, and is still a popular choice for a tattoo with heaps of symbolism behind it. 

The Story Of Medusa

One of the three Gorgon sisters, Medusa didn’t always have snakes for hair – she was once beautiful, and was the only one of her sisters that was mortal. The start of her transformation occurred when the god of the sea took a liking to her.

As Greek Mythology explains,

“The great sea god Poseidon seems to have shared this admiration, for once he couldn’t resist the temptation and impregnated Medusa in a temple of Athena.”

Medusa forearm tattoo Tattoo Me Now

Enraged by this, Athena took revenge on Medusa by transforming her hair into snakes, and cursing her with vision that turns whoever looks upon her into stone.

This wasn’t the end of Medusa’s troubles. 

Son of Zeus, Perseus, at the behest of a king, sought out and beheaded Medusa. Even after being decapitated, Medusa’s head retained some of its power. 

Medusa Hand Tattoo Tattoo Me Now

“Not even death, however, could quell Medusa’s power, and Perseus had to keep her decapitated head in a special sack strong enough to contain it, called a kybisis. On his travels, he used the head to turn his enemies to stone and rescue the princess Andromeda from a sea monster, before giving it to Athena for her aegis [shield]”

Met Museum

A Story Reanalyzed and Reimagined 

Medusa wasn’t an immortal god with a fairytale ending – she was raped, endured a harsh punishment, ended up decapitated, and her head used by her enemies. This isn’t exactly a feel-good story, so why has this part of Greek mythology garnered so much attention over the years and been used for tattoo inspiration? 

As Tyler A. Donohue explains it in the Medium feature, Mishandling the Myth of Medusa,

“Medusa remains of temporal importance because she is the symbol of what female power looks like in the face of threatened male authority.”

Colorful Medusa Tattoo by Dino Nemec

In an effort to reimagine the Medusa story of rape, punishment, and death, artist Luciano Garbati sculptured a victorious Medusa, one hand holding a sword and the other Perseus’s head. This sculpture, “Medusa With the Head of Perseus”, which was created more than a decade ago, was unveiled in New York last year and

“was reimagined as a symbol of triumph for victims of sexual assault”.

A tattoo of Medusa can symbolize a woman reclaiming her power and switching up the narrative of women being punished and unjustly treated for being female. 

Symbolism Behind Medusa

There are many different avenues you can take when it comes to what a Medusa tattoo means – at the end of the day, it’s about what resonates with you.

Meanings behind a Medusa inking can be feminine power and rage – Medusa, despite her horrific circumstances, had the ability to turn people into stone – as well as the silencing of female voices. 

Shoulder Medusa Tattoo by Fabio Mauro

Symbol Sage points out,

“The beheading of Medusa can be seen as symbolic of silencing powerful women who voice their sentiments.”

Further to this ability to turn people into stone, depictions of Medusa were used as a type of protection against evil. It was even used during the French Revolution as a symbol of French liberation.

Related Post: 7 Tattoos as Symbols of Protection

Medusa Tattoo Ideas

There are many ways to approach a Medusa design, from realism to the depiction of ancient statues. 

Famous fashion designer, Gianni Versace, was so inspired by the myth of Medusa that he made her portrait the logo of his fashion house.

“The Versace Medusa head logo features the head of Medusa at its center portrayed as a beautiful woman with a supernatural aura. Rather than snakes for hair, the Versace logo depicts Medusa at a time when her golden hair overflowed. Her beauty is apparent in her proportional features and fulsome lips, but her eyes remain hollow, her intentions ambiguous”

Gevril Group
Reptile Medusa Tattoo by Shio

This depiction of Medusa in a Greek-patterned circle is one of the popular tattoo choices for this theme.

If you want a lifelike tattoo, then you may want to go the realism route. However, with the amount of detail that is required for this type of tattoo, you’ll most likely have to be comfortable with a large design to make sure the artist has enough space for the finer details to make your tattoo come to life.

Also, do your homework and look through portfolios so that you make sure you choose a tattoo artist well versed in realistic tattoo designs.

Related Post: Portrait Tattoo Styles

You don’t have to go big with a Medusa tattoo – less details won’t necessarily make for a less impactful design. A small Medusa tattoo can be an elegant portrayal of this myth. Also, you’re not limited when it comes to placement, as a mini tattoo or minimalist design looks great on hands and fingers.

Related Post: Minimalist Tattoos – the Essence of Modern Style

Medusa Women Tattoo Wild Tattoo Art

For a list of important points you need to know about hand and finger tattoos, click here

For the classical approach, there are many drawings, paintings, and statues out there that depict Medusa. Dive into the history books and online museum tours to find a Medusa statue that appeals to you for your tattoo. 

Other Ideas For Female Empowerment Tattoos

Venus Symbol

This symbol of femininity is depicted with a circle and cross below it.

Venus Tattoo Johnny Dagger

Goddess Moons

The pagan symbol of three moons represents the stages of a women’s life as well as the divine feminine. For more about pagan and wiccan tattoos, click here.

Moon Tattoo @zihwe_tattooer

Nike

No, not the brand, but the inspiration behind it. Nike was the Greek goddess of victory.

Medusa Black and White Tattoo @hayleyploos

While the story of Medusa can be described as a tragedy, the symbolism behind the myth and the analysis of the character is influential and can serve as excellent inspiration for empowering tattoos.

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