Medusa Underground: An Occult Icon in Byzantium


Getty/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellowships in the History of Art


In myth, the gorgon Medusa was said to petrify those who saw her. Images of gorgons spread across the ancient Mediterranean as a way to ward off evil. Although these images became rarer in the Middle Ages, they continued to appear as hidden talismans and medical amulets in Byzantium. The efficacy of the gorgon's image was consequently defined more by its presence than by its visibility. Medusa Underground outlines the transformation of the Medusa image from visible warning to occult icon in the Late Roman and Byzantine Mediterranean. It follows the changing status and power of the gorgon image through a variety of objects and contexts, from the rewriting of pagan myths as horror stories about the occult to the adaptation of the image for medical amulets and pharmacology. The project explores the entanglement of material and iconic efficacy, and maps intersections in histories of medicine, myth, and art.