After Perseus killed Medusa, he gifted her head to Athena, who mounted it on a shield and used it in battle to turn her enemies into stone. How did she keep herself from being turned into stone by looking at the shield?

  • From a metaphoric standpoint, Athena appropriates the power of the Gorgon, specifically the power to numb her enemies with fear. That is the significance of adding the Gorgon's head to her armor.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


Well, according to Ovid, she din't put Medusa's entire head on the shield, just the snakes from her hair:

Jupiter’s daughter turned away, and hid her chaste eyes behind her aegis. So that it might not go unpunished, she changed the Gorgon’s hair to foul snakes. And now, to terrify her enemies, numbing them with fear, the goddess wears the snakes, that she created, as a breastplate.’

Because Ovid (that translation anyway) says "terrify" and not "turn to stone", it would suggest that Athena didn't actually wear the entire head in her armor, just the snakes; which perhaps on their own didn't turn anyone to stone.

However, it was certainly not because Medusa could not turn gods to stone; Perseus turned Atlas, a Titan, to stone (again according to Ovid):

Perseus delaying resolutely, and combining that with calm words. Inferior in strength (who could equal Atlas in strength?), he said, ‘Well now, since you show me so little kindness, accept a gift’ and turning away himself, he held out Medusa’s foul head, on his left hand side. Atlas became a mountain, as huge as he himself had been. Now his hair and beard were changed into trees, his shoulders and hands into ridges. What had been his head before was the crest on the mountain summit. His bones became stones. Then he grew to an immense height in every part (so you gods determined) and the whole sky, with its many stars, rested on him.

  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Not entirely sure the Atlas Perseus killed is the Titan. From what I remember, it was a mortal king that had somehow insulted Perseus in the past. What's the source of your quote?
    – yannis
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 18:25
  • @Yannis That quote is also from an Metamorphoses translation, that's why I didn't cite again, sorry.
    – durron597
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 18:26
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Ah, yes, since Ovid tells us that Atlas was the son of Iapetus, he's clearly referring to the Titan.
    – yannis
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 18:31
  • You can an immortal being into stone?!
    – user35971
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 0:05
  • Terrify can be understood as a metaphor for turning to stone, as in you freeze up in fear. (@durron597 The Latin text uses the word "terreat" so "terrify" is a direct rendering.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 16:41

Athena probably wouldn't have been turned to stone from Medusa's head since Athena was the one who cursed Medusa to look like that in the first place using her own power. Like if someone tried to use Zeus's thunderbolts against him; I don't think it would work since they are his.

  • 1
    This is a very interesting idea, but I'm not sure if it worked like that. Asked a new question to find out!
    – Ouroboros
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 8:20

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