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The Gorgon Medusa – The Temple of Artemis Corcyra

December 21, 2013

This post was inspired by a twitter conversation yesterday. The Temple of Artemis Corcyra (Corfu) was built in approximately 580 BCE. It was designed in the Archaic Doric style with a colonnade of 8 x 17 columns. This was the first Doric Temple built entirely from stone. The pediment sculpture is also the earliest example of Greek sculpture carved entirely in stone. It is unknown who designed the temple and it’s sculpture. Excavations of the temple began in 1911 by Kaiser Wilhelm II, Federiko Versakis and Wilhelm Dörpfeld.

The pediment sculpture is exceptional and worthy of study, though for this post I intend to only focus only on the central figure of the Gorgon Medusa. Medusa is depicted wearing a skirt with snakes in her hair, wings and a girdle made of serpents. These attributes indicate who the central figure is but also the dress and girdle accentuate the womanly form. This makes the Medusa appear as a powerful, yet frightening, female.

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Cast of the Gorgon Medusa from the Faculty of Classics Museum of Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge.

Medusa is depicted in flight, her legs and arms are at angles suggesting movement. The representation possibly hints at Medusa fleeing Perseus who intends to kill her. However, there is no indication in the remains of the pediment that the figure of Perseus was represented. Medusa is flanked by two large leopards that indicate her authority as mistress of animals. This is a fitting representation for The Temple of Artemis as she too was the goddess of the hunt and protector of animals.

This early pediment sculpture is colossal in comparison to later designs and as such is less sophisticated. Medusa and her leopards are oversized and dominate the pediment. However, this also likely served a purpose. The figure of the snake haired Medusa could be seen as frightening and intended to warn off evil from the temple. Unlike later temples the sculpture was the same on both pediments which I believe would support the suggestion that the figures were intended to protect the sanctuary and its supplicants.

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