The Medulla Oblongata is the lowest bud on the brain stem. It encloses the fourth ventricle "a fluid-filled cavity formed by the expansion of the central canal of the spinal cord upon entering the brain,"1 and is continuous with the spinal cord at the opening at the base of the skull. Carrying on various complex integrative functions, its nuclei are associated with most of the cranial nerves and fiber tracts, which link it to the higher nerve centers.

The medulla's' mythological personification is found in the phonetic imagination, as Medusa. Originally a lovely woman, a granddaughter of Gaia, the Earth Mother, she was seduced by Poseidon in a temple of the goddess Athene, a desecration for which Athene changed her into a hideous Gorgon, chained in a cave in the underworld.

Injuries or disease of the lateral medulla can cause loss of pain and temperature sensations. Along with the pons and the thalamus, the medulla also has some influence on are arousal from sleep, as well as regulating vertigo, vomiting, coordination, and relaying the taste sensation of the tongue.

Medusa's tongue "lolls," much like that of  the Indian goddess Kali, as well as other images found on Rhodes.2 In Old Europe, this Gorgon's image began to appear in the Upper Paleolithic, and continued for thousands of years before her entrance into Greek mythology. A Master of Animals, primarily of birds and snakes (her owl-like eyes and snaky coiffure), her posture was that of feminine empowerment.

Where the transition from the medulla to the spinal cord takes place, there are two major crossings of nerve fibers; thus, injury or disease affecting one side of the medulla produces symptoms at the opposite side of the body. So vital is this essential organ, this marrow, that any injury to it can result in paralysis, or death.

Briefly, in the Greek myth a young would-be hero named Perseus sets out to get the Gorgon's head. As anyone who gazed on Medusa was turned to stone, this task seemed impossible. But Athene showed Perseus how to use his shield as a mirror, and so murder Medusa without directly looking at her. She also gave him a helmet that made him invisible, a sickle for the deed, winged sandals for a fast getaway, and a magic wallet in which to safely carry the, still powerful, severed head.

(1) Encyclopedia Britannica.
(2) J. Campbell, The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York, 1970. p.25