Yet, whether alluring or monstrous, Medusa’s ultimate fate always remains the same: She’s decapitated by Perseus. Aided by Athena, the young man uses his heavily polished shield as a mirror to avoid direct eye contact during battle. Her severed head, capable of transfixion even in death, is carted away to help him defeat the villain of his story, the king Polydectes.
Medusa’s beauty—and, in particular, her femininity—remains as dangerous as her original monstrosity. As Karoglou points out, the majority of hybrids (half-human, half-animal monsters like sirens or Gorgons) in ancient Greece were female. “In a male-centered society, the feminization of monsters served to demonize women,” she said.
These female monsters can be considered very early versions of the “femme fatale,” a trope that emerged in the late 19th century as the role of women in public life began to expand. As Karoglou writes in an essay accompanying the exhibition, “Female hybrids represent a conflicting view of femininity, one that is seemingly alluring but with a threatening or sinister underside.” Medusa was always the most popular hybrid, and remains the most identifiable even today.