This animation is based on the myth of Medusa.
The story was developed by pupils from Addington School in Reading for the Ure Discovery project.
It's made from three classical vases.
about the myth
The three Gorgons looked so horrific that anyone who saw them turned to stone. Sthenno and Euryale were immortal, but their sister, Medusa, wasn’t. In Apollodorus’ version of their myth, Medusa was beheaded when Perseus attacked her in her sleep (using a reflection to avoid looking at her directly). The winged horse, Pegasus, was born from her blood (later to have adventures with Bellerophon), while her head continued to have petrifying power (Apollodorus, Library 2.4.2-4). Gorgons were very popular in archaic art, often appearing on vases and in sculptural features on temples. Their fearsome appearance made them apotropaic – they could ward off evil. They were also used to decorate the shields of many warriors. The ancient Greek word for 'rock’ was 'petra’ from which the English word 'petrify’ is derived – certainly appropriate for this myth.
about the animation
This gorgon is much smaller than the ancient Greeks’ idea of the gorgons; she’s tiny so that she fits into the cup. That aside, the story in this animation is very much in the spirit of the ancient myth. The unsuspecting passer-by is literally petrified by the appearance of the gorgon and the warrior is only able to defeat her by ducking his head behind his shield and cutting her head off. The pupils at Addington School were very creative in their use of perspective. Instead of keeping to a single camera view, they used multiple angles, showing both the outside of the vase and the view of the inside that the passer-by has when he lifts it. By making us see from this character’s perspective, this view gives us a greater sense of his shock when the gorgon appears.
© The Trustees of the British Museum, 1849,0620.5
The vase this animation is primarily made from features only the head of the gorgon, not her full body. The body which you see is based on other ancient gorgon vase images, such as this one from the British Museum (left). The wings in particular are distinctive and common features in gorgon representations.
The gorgon’s victim is a figure from a second vase. His tunic is made from the throw over his arm, based on contemporary depictions of male clothing.
Look for him in the Ure Discovery animation, Eros & Aphrodite.
The warrior is from a third vase - a lekanis from the island of Euboea (Ure Museum 56.8.8).
Addington school pupils' storyboard compared frame-by-frame with the animation
The track on this animation is called Dithyrambos, which is a term referring to a sort of choral song to Dionysus. It was chosen because its rising rattling sounds suit the gradual appearance of the Medusa snakes. The track was created by ancient music specialist Professor Conrad Steinmann of Melpomen. Find out more about ancient music through our blog post on the subject and our interview with Prof. Steinmann.
Attic, black figure short-stem kylix cup featuring a central Gorgon image. Late Archaic, c.525-500. Ure Museum (accession number 39.9.3). The kylix is a broad, shallow drinking vessel, they were used for drinking wine at symposiums.
© Ure Museum (39.9.3)
© Musée du Louvre
This archaic black figure vase shows Heracles fighting the giant Geryones, who has a gorgon head on his shield. This vase is housed in the Louvre (vase F53).
On this classical red figure vase by the Pan Painter, we can see Medusa’s wings spread out and her head in Perseus’ bag. (BM: 1873_0820_352)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
W. Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution (HUP, 1992)
M. Garber & N.J. Vickers (eds.), The Medusa Reader (Routledge, 2003)
(a selection of literature featuring Medusa from across the ages)
M. Jameson, 'Perseus, The Hero of Mykenai,’ in Celebrations of Death and Divinity in the Bronze Age Argolid,
ed. R. Hägg & G. Nordquist (1990) pp.213-230
D. Ogden, Perseus, (Routledge, 2008) (a great introduction to the Medusa myths)
S. R. Wilk, Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon (OUP, 2000)
1) See what stylistic differences your pupils can identify between the first man who appears (from a 5th century, Attic, red figure vase) and the hoplite soldier who comes on afterwards (from an archaic, Euboean, black figure vase).
2) Explain to your pupils that the English word 'petrify’, meaning 'paralysed with fear or astonishment’, literally means 'turn to stone or rock’, from the ancient Greek word 'pétra’ or rather 'πέτρα’ meaning 'rock’. What other Greek words do they know through English?
3) Watch the animation together and look at other images of gorgons from vases and statuary. Now ask your pupils to storyboard their own version of the gorgon myth. Ask them to consider which part of the myth they would like to focus on – Medusa with her sisters? A gorgon petrifying a victim? Perseus’ attack on Medusa or the birth of Pegasus? or perhaps Medusa’s petrifying head being pulled from Perseus’ bag? Will they show the whole scene? Will they use close-ups? Which are the most important aspects to show?
4) Compare this Medusa with the gorgon in The Symposium animation. The Symposium page also contains a gorgon drawing activity sheet.
Ure Discovery was an innovative Arts Council funded project run at the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology in 2013.
Steve worked with staff and students at the University of Reading helping local secondary school groups interpret and respond to the Ure Museum collection.
The pupils created stories, storyboards, and other artwork based on a selection of vases and each storyboard was transformed into an animation made from images of the vase which inspired it. Ancient art, digital artistry, and teenage imagination combine to retell ancient myths and present new stories. The Ure Discovery and Ure View animations can be seen alongside their vases via a tablet trail that visitors can take around the museum.