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Stheno: The Forgotten Gorgon Sister

In Greek mythology, Stheno is one of the monstrous Gorgon sisters. While she’s nowhere near as famous as her sister Medusa, Stheno is an interesting character in her own right. Here’s why she deserves more recognition.

Who is Stheno?

Medusa Head Ring
Image of a Gorgon, possibly Medusa used in jewelry. Source.

Stheno, Medusa, and Euryale were three Gorgons, whose parents were Phorcys and Ceto. Depending on the writer of the myth, Stheno lived in the Western Ocean, on the Island of Cisthene or in the Underworld. There isn’t a lot of information about Stheno, but as she was a Gorgon, we can assume that the descriptions of the Gorgons in general fit her too.

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According to some accounts, Stheno was born a hideous monster. However, in other accounts, she was a beautiful woman turned into a Gorgon by Athena for trying to save her sister Medusa from getting raped by Poseidon, god of the seas.

As the story goes, Medusa was a beautiful woman who attracted the eye of mortals and gods alike. She was coveted by Poseidon who wanted to sleep with her. Medusa sought shelter from Poseidon in Athena’s temple, but Poseidon chased her and had his way with her. On discovering this, Athena was angry and punished Medusa by turning her into a monster, along with her sisters who had tried to stand with Medusa.

When Perseus came to cut off Medusa’s head, Stheno and Euryale were unable to save their sister because Perseus was wearing Hade’s cap, which rendered him invisible.

What Did Stheno Look Like?

Gorgon origins
Depiction of a Gorgon. PD.

Stheno, like her sisters, is described as a thin gorgon monster, with red, venomous snakes for hair.  In earlier accounts of Stheno’s appearance, she’s described as having brass hands, claws, a long tongue, tusks, fangs and a scaly head.

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Unlike Medusa, Stheno was immortal. She was also the most independent, the deadliest, and most vicious of the three sisters and is said to have killed more people than both her sisters combined. Her name means strong, and she lived up to it. Some accounts state that, like Medusa, she could also turn people to stone with her stare.

There is some contention that the image of Stheno was inspired by the cuttlefish (known for its strength), while Medusa was inspired by the octopus (characterized by its intelligence) and Euryale was based on the squid (known for its ability to jump out of the water). This could be possible as the Greeks based many of their myths on real-world phenomenon, but there’s no evidence to confirm this.

What Are Stheno’s Powers?

Medusa - Gorgo - Snake-Haired Gorgon
A powerful Gorgon sister. See this here.

As we’ve already mentioned, Stheno was a powerful Gorgon, often said to be the strongest. Here are some of her attributes and symbols. Many of these are powers of the Gorgons, which would apply to Stheno as well.

  1. Petrifying Gaze: The most famous power of the Gorgons is their ability to turn anyone who looked directly into their eyes to stone. This ability is most famously associated with Medusa, but traditionally, all the Gorgons had this power.
  2. Immortality: Unlike Medusa, who was mortal, both Stheno and Euryale were immortal. This means that they could not be killed by conventional means.
  3. Serpentine Hair: One of the most recognizable symbols of the Gorgons is their hair made of living, venomous snakes. This symbol is not just a mark of their monstrous nature, but it also suggests danger.
  4. Ferocity and Strength: While specific powers of Stheno are not often mentioned, she is sometimes described as the most fierce, strong, and deadly among the Gorgon sisters.
  5. Protective Talisman: While not a power per se, the image of the Gorgon (Gorgoneion), often based on Medusa but by extension representative of all Gorgons, was used as a protective symbol in ancient Greece. It was thought to ward off evil. It would be hung on places like doors and entrances to ward off evil.

Stheno Facts

  1. Who were Stheno’s parents? Ceto and Phorcys.
  2. Who were Stheno’s siblings? Medusa and Euryale.
  3. What happened to Stheno? While we know what happened to Stheno up till Medusa’s death, what happened to her afterwards is unclear.
  4. What does Stheno mean? It means forceful and strong.
  5. How did Stheno become a Gorgon? She was either born as a Gorgon or turned into one by Athena for trying to save her sister from getting raped.

Wrapping Up

While not as famous as her sister Medusa, Stheno is a powerful and independent female character of Greek mythology. Whether there was more to her story, which got lost with time, or whether the writers of the myths simply relegated her to a minor character, she remains an interesting personality and a part of the horrible trio of sisters.

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Affiliate Disclosures
Juan Salazar Sanchez
Juan Salazar Sanchez

Juan Sanchez has been a freelance writer for years, with a particular focus on Mythology and History, especially Greek mythology. He has been a part of the Symbol Sage team for several years, and has contributed immensely to the team. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling and reading.