In Greek mythology, the Gorgon is a terrifying female creature, with hair of writhing, poisonous snakes. Her monstrous face turns those who gaze upon her to stone. This trait was considered rather useful, and the Gorgon image was often used on buildings to ward off evil.
Gorgons appear in the earliest written records of Ancient Greek religious belief. They are generally depicted as having snake skin and fangs, although sometimes they are shown with golden wings, claws and boar tusks. The best known Gorgon is Medusa. Her two sisters, Stheno and Euryale, were also gorgons.
According to Ovid, writing in 8 AD, of the three sisters only Medusa had serpents for hair, and this was the result of a curse by Athena. The sea god Poseidon had been aroused by the Medusa’s golden hair, and the two had copulated in a temple of Athena. Athena wasn’t at all pleased, and changed Medusa’s golden locks into writhing serpents.
Medusa was slain by the hero Perseus. He was able to carry out this feat by cutting off her head, while looking only at her reflection in a mirror. By avoiding her direct gaze he escaped being turned to stone.
According to some accounts, either Perseus or Athena then used the head to turn Atlas into stone, transforming him into the Atlas Mountains.
Jules Michelet (1798-1874) was an eminent French historian. His most important work, Histoire de France (History of France), was written between 1833 and 1867 and published in 19 volumes.
The English Shakespearean actress Adelaide Neilson was born Elizabeth Ann Brown, in 1848 in Leeds. She was the illegitimate daughter of an actress. She spent her childhood and early life living in poverty, working in a cloth mill and as a nursery maid. When she was about 15, she moved to London, where she worked initially as a seamstress and later as a barmaid at the Haymarket. Her introduction to the stage was as part of a ballet troupe. She later trained under the Actor John Ryder, and took the name Adelaide Neilson.
She made her stage debut in 1865 in Margate, England as Julia in The Hunchback. In July of the same year she appeared as Juliet at the Royal Theatre, London. For the next several years she performed at several London and provincial theatres, in a range of Shakespearean plays. She became one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actresses of her day.
She first performed in the United States in November 1872, as Juliet at Booth’s Theatre in New York. She was highly praised by American critics. She subsequently visited America on several occasions.
She died tragically at the height of her career, aged just 32, in the Bois de Boulogne,Paris, from an unexpected and unexplained internal haemorrhage.
The collection had been put together by the Italian-born amateur archaeologist and soldier Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832-1904) while he was the United States consul in Cyprus. Cesnola was appointed first director of the Metropolitan Museum in 1879.