Medusa is one of the most archaic and enduring images in Greek mythology. From her literary debut in Homer's Iliad to present day, she has been frozen in time as a petrifying and petrified head. While she has been re-imagined in art, feminism, and depth psychology, it is the image of her severed head frozen in rage—frozen in silence—that remains most firmly embedded in the Western psyche. She is asking now to be heard.
This dissertation explores Medusa's voicelessness, specifically, the silenced feminine in powerful women, by examining her relationship with Athena. Athena is the female voice of the patriarchy. She adopts the voice of the father in order to be heard in the culture, yet it is a voice that ultimately betrays because it is not her own. Medusa symbolizes both Athena's wound and vocation. Athena must re-member Medusa to reclaim her authenticity.
Using the imaginal methodology of archetypal psychology, I explore three images evoked by Caravaggio's Head of Medusa—Shield, Severed Head, and Snakes— that epitomize the paradox of Medusa. Perseus' Shield simultaneously reflects and deflects, symbolizing the identification and projection that occur when Medusa as shadow— the severed aspects of self—is viewed in the minor of the soul.
Medusa's Severed Head symbolizes the wound of the powerful woman—the mind disconnected from the body, instincts, intuition, and eros—with the attendant loss of authentic voice. The Snakes on her head represent a creative, vital life force and the way forward, which is more fluid, relational, and embodied—a less defended consciousness that requires Athena to remove her armor and dissolve the rigid boundaries that keep her defended from herself and others and that keep Medusa dismembered, literally and figuratively petrified in Western consciousness. Only then can Athena speak authentically with a voice resonant in her soul.
Being dismembered allows Medusa to be re-membered and re-storied. By telling our own stories, by claiming our authentic voices, women give Medusa voice and begin to loosen the literal interpretations that have frozen her in a silent scream for centuries.