Allan Davey

The Snake-Haired Monster

Most people stay as far away from Medusa as possible. Perseus isn’t most people.

By By Spencer Kayden
From the October/November 2018 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will learn about a plot that commonly appears in myths: A hero goes on a difficult quest to prove himself (or herself) or to achieve something important.

Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50
Topics: Mythology,

In some myths, a hero must go on a difficult journey to achieve something great. As you read, look for the stops along Perseus's journey and what he achieves.

Scene 1

S1: Our story takes place long ago in ancient Greece.

S2: An honorable woman named Danae . . .

Perseus: . . . and her brave son, Perseus, . . .

S3: . . . live a quiet life on the island of Seriphos.

S1: But all is not well. The evil king wishes to marry Danae.

Danae: And he will not take no for an answer.

S2: One day, the king finds Danae in her garden.

King: Danae, I could have any woman I wish, and I choose you.

Danae: Your people are suffering and you do nothing to help them. Why would I want a husband like that?

King: You dare to refuse me?

S3: He starts to draw his sword. Perseus runs in.

Perseus: Do not threaten my mother!

King (smirking): Ah, Perseus. Always a pleasure to see you.

Perseus: Perhaps it is time for you to leave.

King: You will be sorry—both of you.

Scene 2

S1: Back at the palace, the king sits on his throne. His advisers stand before him. 

King: I must get rid of Perseus. If he were gone, I’m sure I could convince Danae to be my wife. 

Adviser 1: Perseus thinks he’s so brave. Ha! Give him a dangerous task. 

Adviser 2: Yes! Send him on a quest he cannot possibly resist—or survive. 

King: I like this idea!

S2: The king comes up with a plan.

S3: He announces that he is marrying a different woman. He hosts a party to celebrate.

S1: Guests have brought lavish presents. 

King: Perseus, what gift have you brought me?

Perseus: Gift?

King: Are you so lazy that you have nothing to offer your king? 

Perseus (furious): I am not lazy. I will bring you whatever gift you desire!  

King: Then the gift I want is . . . 

S2: The king drums his fingers on his throne. 

King: The head of the gorgon Medusa.

Crowd: Gasp!

Danae: No! Medusa is a deadly monster! Instead of hair, she has horrible, live snakes on her head. Anyone who looks at her turns to stone! Perseus, don’t do it.

S3: Perseus’s eyes slowly slide back to the king.

Perseus: As you wish, my king. 

Danae (pleading ): It’s too dangerous. Everyone who has challenged Medusa has failed. 

Perseus: Then killing her means I will become immortal, for my name will be remembered forever.

King (to himself ): No, fool. You will die and be forgotten.

The Goddess Athena

In ancient Greece, people believed in many gods and goddesses, who controlled everything from the weather to who won battles. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts. She also liked to lend a helping hand to heroes—like Perseus!

Scene 3

S1: Medusa’s location is a mystery. For months, Perseus travels over land and sea trying to find her. 

S2: One night, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, appears. With her is Hermes, the messenger of the gods.

Athena (to Hermes): Perseus is a good man, but he’s becoming weary from his search.

Hermes: Yes, it’s time for us to help him. 

Athena: Perseus, take my metal shield. It is the key to your success. 

Hermes: And take this magic sickle. Its diamond blade can cut through any surface. 

S3: Perseus bows to them. 

Perseus: Do you perhaps know where I can find Medusa?

Athena: Only the Gray Sisters can tell you. 

Hermes: They live on a cliff by the edge of the sea. Follow us. 

S1: Athena and Hermes lead Perseus to the Gray Sisters. 

Athena: You must go alone now. 

S2: Perseus climbs into the Gray Sisters’ lair and hides behind a rock, watching them. 

S3: The sisters are old and hunched, with shriveled, gray skin. 

S1: They are blind except for a single eye, which they pass back and forth.

Gray Sister 1: Give me the eye. I want to look around. 

Gray Sister 2: You just had it. 

Gray Sister 1: Well, I want it again. 

Gray Sister 2: Fine. Take it. 

S2: Sister 2 removes the eye and hands it to Sister 1.

S3: Perseus slowly creeps closer.

Gray Sister 3: I heard something. 

Gray Sister 2: It’s only the wind. 

Gray Sister 3: I want to see for myself. 

Gray Sister 1: But I just got the eye! 

Gray Sister 3: Selfish, selfish. 

Gray Sister 1: OK, here. 

S1: Sister 1 plucks the eye from her socket. As she reaches out to give it to her sister, Perseus snatches it. 

Gray Sister 3: Well, where is it?

Gray Sister 1: I just gave it to you. 

Gray Sister 3: My hand is empty. 

Gray Sister 2: Did you drop it, clumsy oaf? 

Gray Sister 3: No!

Gray Sister 1: Then who has it?

Perseus (stepping forward): I do. 

All Gray Sisters: Give it back!

Perseus: I will if you tell me where to find the gorgon Medusa!

Gray Sister 2: We will never tell. 

Perseus: Then I will throw your eye into the sea. 

All Gray Sisters: Nooooo!

Gray Sister 3: We’ll tell, we’ll tell!

Gray Sister 1: Only the Nymphs of the North know where Medusa is. 

Perseus: How can I find them? 

S2: The sisters whisper in his ear. He returns their eye. 

Scene 4

S3: Perseus finds the nymphs dancing at the edge of the water. 

Nymph 1: Greetings, Perseus. The winds told us you were coming. 

Nymph 2: Medusa is an evil creature. We would be honored to help you. 

Nymph 1: Take these winged sandals. Use them to soar through the air to the gorgons’ cave at the end of the world. 

Nymph 2: Take this cloth sack. Even after Medusa’s head is cut off, it can still turn you to stone if you look at it. 

Nymph 1: Take this Helmet of Darkness. It will make you invisible to Medusa’s sisters as you escape. 

Nymph 2: Now go. Be swift. And be brave. 

Perseus: Thank you! 

S1: Perseus sails on his winged sandals, farther and farther, until he reaches the entrance to Medusa’s cave. 

S2: Everywhere he looks, he sees statues . . .

S3: . . . statues that used to be humans and animals, turned to stone when they looked at Medusa.

Perseus (to himself): How can I cut off Medusa’s head if I can’t even look at her? 

S1: Perseus catches his reflection in Athena’s shield. 

Perseus: That’s it!

S2: Perseus creeps into the cave, walking backward and using the shield as a mirror to see behind him. 

S3: Medusa and her sisters are sleeping. 

S1: As Perseus nears, the snakes on Medusa’s head begin hissing and twisting.

S2: Medusa’s eyes fly open. She shrieks with rage. 

Medusa: Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! How dare you enter this cave!

S3: Still looking at the reflection, Perseus raises the sickle and swings it behind him. 

Medusa: Just you wait until . . . Nooooooooo!

S1: Medusa’s head rolls away from her body. Without looking at it, Perseus shoves the head into the sack. 

S2: Medusa’s sisters awaken and see her headless body. 

Gorgon 1: Sister! Who has done this? 

Gorgon 2: There he is! 

S3: The gorgon sisters fly after Perseus as he throws the Helmet of Darkness onto his head and becomes invisible.  

Perseus the Hero

Like other heroes in Greek mythology, Perseus had great courage. He needed it to enter Medusa’s cave! What other traits helped him complete his nearly impossible mission?

Scene 5

S1: Perseus returns to Seriphos. He finds his mother scrubbing floors in the palace.

Perseus: Mother, what are you doing here?

Danae: Son, you are alive! The king has made me a slave because I still won’t marry him. 

Perseus: I thought he chose another woman to be his wife!

Danae: It was all a lie to get rid of you.   

S2: The king enters. He is amazed to see Perseus alive.

King: You? Here? How is that possible?

Perseus: I have returned with a gift for you.

S3: Perseus holds out the sack. 

King (laughing): You have Medusa’s head in that bag?

Perseus: I do. Would you care to see it?

King (not believing): Of course I would. 

Perseus: Mother, shield your eyes!

S1: Perseus lifts Medusa’s head out of the sack. 

S2: The king’s eyes widen in shock. He immediately turns to stone—his face forever frozen in an expression of awe and horror.

S3: Perseus puts the head back into the sack. Danae opens her eyes. 

Danae: My son, you have killed a monster with a monster. Your name will indeed be remembered forever.

Write to Win

What challenges did Perseus face on his quest for Medusa’s head? How did he overcome them? Write an essay answering both questions. Send it to “Perseus Contest” by Dec. 1, 2018. Ten winners will receive Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess by George O’Connor.

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Activities (9)
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Answer Key (1)
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Activities (9) Download All Activities
Quizzes (2)
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Answer Key (1)

More About the Story


fluency, vocabulary, character, inference, key details, interpreting text, synthesizing, evaluating, supporting an argument, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors


The play retells the myth of the Greek hero Perseus and his quest for the head of the gorgon Medusa. It introduces students to the concept of a hero's quest.


The play has five chronological scenes.


The play includes numerous words related to mythology and mythological creatures, such as quest, lair, gorgon, and nymph

Knowledge Demands 

Familiarity with Greek mythology will aid comprehension.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary (20 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • Read the Up Close box on page 21 and discuss with students what a myth is: a story from ancient times that explains something about nature, history, or people. In Greek myths, gods play major roles in controlling what happens on Earth. Some myths focus on heroes who were human or half-human and half-god (like Perseus, whose father was Zeus).
  • Together, look at the pictures of Athena on page 23 and Perseus on page 24. Ask volunteers to read the captions aloud.
  • The highlighted vocabulary includes words often found in mythology. Show the vocabulary slideshow or distribute the vocabulary activity to preview them. Highlighted words: quest, lavish, immortal, sickle, lair, nymphs, awe

2. Reading the Play

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes, activity sheet online)

Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class. After reading, discuss the close-reading and critical-thinking questions.

Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • What can you tell about the king from Scene 1? (character) The king is selfish and cares only about getting what he wants, like marrying Danae. He is also mean. He threatens Danae and Perseus.
  • Reread Scene 2. Why do the king and his advisers want to send Perseus on a dangerous quest? (characters’ motivation) They want to get rid of him so the king can marry Danae, and they believe he won’t be able to survive the quest. They also seem to resent Perseus because he is brave.
  • Why do you think Perseus accepts the challenge to get Medusa’s head? (inference) Answers will vary. Students may say that he is brave, so he isn’t afraid of any challenge. Others may say he is angry that the king called him lazy and will do anything to prove him wrong. He is also proud; he wants to prove that he can do what no one else has done and become immortal.
  • What main problem does Perseus face in Scene 3? What happens that moves him closer to solving it? (plot) Perseus has traveled for months and become exhausted looking for Medusa, but he doesn’t know how to find her. Athena and Hermes come to his aid. They lead him to the Gray Sisters, who send him to the Nymphs of the North.
  • In Scenes 3 and 4, what objects are given to Perseus to help him? Why is each one important? (key details) Athena gives Perseus her shield, which he eventually uses as a mirror so he can kill Medusa without looking directly at her. Hermes gives him a sickle to cut off her head. The Nymphs of the North give him winged sandals to fly to Medusa’s cave, a sack to put her head in, and a Helmet of Darkness so he can become invisible and escape.
  • In Scene 4, what character traits does Perseus show in getting Medusa’s head? (character) Perseus shows incredible courage, especially since Medusa’s cave is surrounded by statues of others who have turned to stone. He shows cleverness; he figures out that he can use Athena’s shield to see Medusa’s reflection, so he doesn’t have to look right at her. He shows determination; nothing stops him from going after his goal.
  • At the end of the play, what does Danae mean when she says, “you have killed a monster with a monster”? (interpreting text) She means that Perseus used a monster—Medusa—to kill the king. She refers to the king as a monster because of the uncaring way he treats his people and his nonstop demand that Danae marry him.

Critical-Thinking Questions (activity sheet online)

  • Who did Perseus help by going on the quest for Medusa’s head? (synthesizing) He helped all the people of Seriphos, because he used the head to rid them of their cruel king. He helped his mother by freeing her from the king as well. And he helped himself. He wanted to become immortal; because he killed Medusa, his name will be remembered forever.
  • On his quest for Medusa’s head, Perseus relied on both assistance from others and his own traits. What do you think most helped him succeed? (evaluating) Answers will vary.
  • What do you think it means to be a hero? In your opinion, was Perseus a hero? (supporting an argument) Answers will vary.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Plot

  • Distribute the plot activity and have students complete it in small groups. Then have them respond to the writing prompt on page 24.

4. Watch a Video

  • Show students our delightful video “Medusa: My Side of the Story,” which retells the myth from Medusa’s point of view. Afterward, invite students to discuss how their feelings about Perseus and Medusa might have changed.

  • Design a Board Game Have students work in groups to design a “Perseus and Medusa” board game in which Perseus moves along a path toward getting Medusa’s head. The game should include the challenges he faces and assistance he receives along the way

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Help students understand the play by working together to make a list of the important events in the order in which they happen. Alternatively, create a randomly ordered list of the events and have students put them in the correct order.

For Advanced Readers

Ask students to read myths about other Greek heroes, such as Jason, Hercules, or Theseus. Ask them compare the quests of each of these heroes then prepare posters to display their findings.

For ELL Students

Because the context and vocabulary might be unfamiliar to English learners, introduce the myth with a simple retelling in a picture book or on a website.

For Whole Class

Have a class discussion about who students consider heroes today and what their traits are. How are these the same as or different from Perseus’s heroic traits?