100 Greatest Women On Coins Series: Medusa

This next spotlight in our 100 Greatest Women On Coins blog series features a well-known name. However, she is one of those that means different things to different cultures, leaving her legacy up to interpretation in a way. With help from author Ron Guth of this Whitman Publishing compilation, we will look at her impact both outside and within the numismatic hobby.

#42 - Medusa

Medusa is portrayed as a monster with venomous snakes for hair and a gaze that could turn anything and anyone into stone. Other than that, her story varies in different ways depending on the culture. In Hollywood, she was depicted with the body of a serpent (rattle included) with green eyes. She was defeated by a Young Perseus and beheaded, trading her head to the Kraken and freeing Andromeda. However, that’s Hollywood and nine times out of ten, liberties are taken. With that being said, her story beyond her monster reputation differs enough to where the liberties did not really cause anyone to cry foul.

In ancient Greek stories, she began her life as a monstrous Gorgon, or a creature in Greek mythology that refers to three sisters who are described as having hair made of living and venomous snakes with eyes who turned others into stone. In the Roman stories, she was a beautiful woman who was punished by Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, justice, law, and victory, for having intercourse in her temple with the sea god Neptune. Of the three Gorgons, Medusa was the only one that was mortal. Perseus picked on her more for this and from her beheaded body sprang her children by Neptune: Pegasus, the winged horse, and his brother, Chrysaor.

Cook Islands issued a colorized coin in 2009 featuring Medusa as part of their Mystical Creatures series. In 2010, Italy issued a 10-euro coin with a portrait of her and the bust of Cavaggio on the obverse, the Italian artist who painted the well-known Testa di Medusa (Head of Medusa). His painting was used as the source of her portrait on both coins. Rome issued a silver denarius coin in 49 BC with the winged head of Medusa in the center of a triskelion (ancient motif of a triple spiral showing rotational symmetry.)

Guth says collecting coins featuring Medusa is easy. However, the Roman denarii featuring her are rare and highly valuable.