So, the Gorgons had hairs of the snakes. Was it ever recorded what kind of snakes they were?

I have a couple of quotes

The spattered desert gave them life as snakes, smooth snakes of many kinds, and so that land still swarms with deadly serpents to this day."

The Gorgones' heads were entwined with the horny scales of serpents, and they had big tusks like hogs, bronze hands, and wings of gold on which they flew.

Mopsos, stepping forward with his left foot, brought the sole down on the tip of the creature's tail, and in its pain the snake coiled round his shin and calf and bit him halfway up the leg tearing the flesh . . . The poor man was doomed. A paralysing numbness was already creeping through him, and a dark mist began to dim his sight. Unable to control his heavy limbs, he sank to the ground and soon was cold . . . Mopsos was dead; and they could not leave him in the sunshine even for a short time, for the poison at once began to rot his flesh and mouldering hair fell from his scalp.

Can ya'll find the snake type? Or a quote that says so?


2 Answers 2


Most sources I know of simply use some form of "ὄφις" (snake) when describing Medusa or her sisters. That's not particularly helpful in identifying the species of the snakes.

One source that uses a different word is Nonnus, who describes Medusa's head as "εχιδνοκόμοιο" (Dionysiaca Book 30, 264 ff). Now, this could be translated as "viper hair", but could also be translated as "serpentine hair" or "snake hair". I'm afraid that's the closest we can get to an answer, if we only rely on ancient sources.

If, however, we also take into account that vipers are the only endemic species of venomous snakes in Greece, I think it would be safe to say that the Gorgons' hair were made of vipers.

  • 1
    Medusa lived on a island called Sarpedon. Depending on which of the legends you follow, this is near Turkey. So Montivipera xanthina, which is found in Turkey and Greece, might be the poisonous viper you are pointing at.
    – Walter
    Commented Jun 4, 2021 at 17:47

I did some research and the only poisonous snake in Greece which is also conveniently a viper is called the Ohia snake (Vipera ammodytes). Although when comparing that species to the 2 most famous statues of medusa's head (sculptors: Bernini and Cellini) the snakes do not match the Ohia. The head shape is similar but the scales on the heads of the snakes in both works are completely different from the head scales of the Ohia. They are more similar to the leopard snake or the European cat snake, neither of which are venomous. Another thing to consider is that one statue portrays the bodies of the snakes as completely smooth (Bernini) and the other as textured (Cellini). The textured snakes imply that the snake used to inspire the art would have had keeled scales which the Ohia snake does have and both the leopard and cat snake do not. One last important detail is that the Ohia snake has a distinctive horn that protrudes from its nose which is not depicted in either art piece. But it is worth noting that not every Ohia's horn is as prominent. Sorry for the nerd rant and I've attached pictures of each species and sculpture below.

European cat snake:

European cat snake

Leopard snake:

Leopard snake

Ohia snake:

Ohia snake

Bernini's Medusa:

Bernini's Medusa

Cellini's Medusa:

Cellini's Medusa

  • 2
    Interesting, but I don't know how relevant close analysis of these rennaisance artworks is, consider they were created well over a thousand years later.
    – femtoRgon
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 18:33
  • Oh, and on the other hand, I feel like Caravaggio's Medusa may be even more recognizable, and gives you more to go on for identifying a species.
    – femtoRgon
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 3:12

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