Greek mythology in popular culture

The 19th-century statue of Athena, in front of the Austrian Parliament Building, illustrates "myth fill[ing] in where history failed" to provide an appropriate local personification of the political rise of the Parliament over the power of Emperor Franz Joseph (r. 1848–1916).[1]
Pegasus has frequently appeared on airmail stamps, such as this early example from Italy, 1930.

Elements of Greek mythology appear many times in culture, including pop culture.[2][need quotation to verify] The Greek myths spread beyond the Hellenistic world when adopted (for example) into the culture of ancient Rome, and Western cultural movements have frequently incorporated them ever since,[3] particularly since the Renaissance.[4] Mythological elements feature in Renaissance art and in English poems,[5] as well as in film and in other literature,[6] and in songs and commercials.[7] Along with the Bible and the classics-saturated works of Shakespeare, the myths of Greece and Rome have been the major "touchstone" in Western culture for the past 500 years.[8][need quotation to verify]

Elements appropriated or incorporated include the gods of varying stature, humans, demigods, titans, giants, monsters, nymphs, and famed locations. Their use can range from a brief allusion to the use of an actual Greek character as a character in a work. Some types of creatures—such as centaurs and nymphs—are used as a generic type rather than individuated characters out of myth.

Use by governments and public institutionsEdit

 
A coin, featuring the profile of Hera on one face, and Zeus on the other side, c. 210 AC

Roman conquerors allowed the incorporation of existing Greek mythological figures such as Zeus into their coinage in places like Phrygia, in order to "augment the fame" of the locality, while "creating a stronger civil identity" without "advertising" the imposition of Roman culture.[9]

In modern times, the initial Greek 2 Euro coin featured the myth of Zeus and Europa, and sought to connect the new Europe through Western history to the ancient culture of Greece.[10] As of December 2012, the European Central Bank has plans to incorporate Greek mythological figures into the designs used on its bank notes.[11]

The American colonial revolutionary, Thomas Greenleaf, subtitled his newspaper "The Argus" after the mythological watchman and took the slogan "We Guard the Rights of Man."[12]

The Pegasus appears frequently on stamps, particularly for air mail.[13] In 1906, Greece issued a series of stamps featuring the stories from Hercules' life.[14] Australia commemorated the laying of an underwater cable linking it to the island of Tasmania through a stamp featuring an image of Amphitrite.[15]

The United States military has used Greek mythology to name its equipment such as the Nike missile project[16] and the Navy having over a dozen ships named from Greek mythology.[i][17][18] Greek mythology has been the source for names for a number of ships in the British navy,[ii][19][20] as well as the Australian Royal Navy[iii][21] which has also named a training facility in Victoria called HMAS Cerebus.[22] The Canadair CP-107 Argus of the Royal Canadian Air Force is named in honor of both the hundred eyed Argus Panoptes the "all seeing" and Odysseus' dog Argus who was the only one who identified Odysseus upon his return home.[23]

In science and technologyEdit

 
The Apollo 16 lunar module on the moon

The elements tantalum and niobium are always found together in nature, and have been named after the King Tantalus and his daughter Niobe.[24][25] The element promethium also draws its name from Greek mythology,[24][25] as does titanium, which was named after the titans who in mythology were locked away far underground, which reflected the difficulty of extracting titanium from ore.[26]

Oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau named his research ship, a former British Royal Navy minesweeper, RV Calypso after the sea nymph Calypso.[27] The ship later inspired the John Denver song "Calypso".[28]

The Trojan Horse, a seemingly benign gift that allowed entrance by a malicious force, gave its name to the computer hacking methodology called Trojans.[29]

Biology and medicineEdit

The medical profession is symbolized by the snake-entwined staff of the god of medicine, Asclepius. Today's medical professionals hold a similarly honored position as did the healer-priests of Asclepius.[30]

The Gaia hypothesis proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. The hypothesis was formulated by the scientist James Lovelock[31] and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis[32] and was named after Gaia, the mother of the Greek gods.[33]

Astronomy and AstrologyEdit

Many celestial bodies have been named after elements of Greek mythology.

Social scienceEdit

In psychoanalytic theory, the term "Oedipus complex", coined by Sigmund Freud, denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrate upon a child's desire to sexually possess his/her mother, and kill his/her father.[38][39] In his later writings Freud postulated an equivalent Oedipus situation for infant girls, the sexual fixation being on the father. Though not advocated by Freud himself, the term 'Electra complex' is sometimes used in this context.[40]

A "Medea complex" is sometimes used to describe parents who murder or otherwise harm their children.[41]

In film and televisionEdit

 
A director providing instructions to actors during a film production of the story of Orpheus

TelevisionEdit

  • The Battlestar Galactica franchise (particularly the 2004 television series)[42] developed from concepts that utilized Greek mythology.[43]
  • Heroes is a series that plays on the concept of the new generation of gods overthrowing the old.[44]
  • The television series Lost uses Greek mythology, primarily in its online Lost Experience.[42]
  • The television Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess are set in a fantasy version of ancient Greece and play with the legends, rewriting and updating them for a modern audience. [45][46][47]
  • The use of Greek mythology in children's television shows is credited with helping to bring "the great symbols of world literature and art" to a mass audience of children who would otherwise have limited exposure.[48] Children's programming has included items such as a recurring segment on CKLW-TV[clarification needed] where Don Kolke would be dressed up as Hercules and discuss fitness and Greek mythology.[49]

FilmEdit

  • Amazons, prior to their appearance in American Hollywood films where they have been presented in "swimsuit-style costume without armor" and "western lingerie combined with various styles of 'tough' male" clothing, had been traditionally depicted in classical Greek warrior armor.[50]
 
A 15th century depiction of Amazons in battle armor
  • Jean Cocteau regarded Orpheus as "his myth," and used it as the basis for many projects, including Orphée.[51]
  • The film Orfeu Negro is Marcel Camus' reworking of the Cocteau film.[51]
  • The 2001 film Moulin Rouge! is also based on the Orpheus story,[52] but set in 1899, and containing modern pop music.[53]
  • The Disney production of Hercules (1997) was inspired by Greek myths, but "greatly modernizes the narrative" as it goes "to great lengths to spice up its mythic materials with wacky comedy and cheerfully anachronistic dialogue," which, Keith Booker says, is playing a part in the "slow erosion of historical sense."[54] Moreover, though the film depicts Greek mythology, the title character is named after the Roman hero, rather than the Greek "Heracles".

In gamesEdit

Tabletop Roleplaying GamesEdit

  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Age of Heroes Campaign Sourcebook (1994).
  • Dungeons & Dragons HWR3: The Milenian Empire (1992). A Greek-inspired country within the Hollow World setting.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Mythic Odysseys of Theros (2020). Based on the Greek-inspired Theros setting from the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game.

Video GamesEdit

  • The 1988 arcade game Altered Beast is set in Ancient Greece and follows a player character resurrected by Zeus to rescue his daughter Athena from the ruler of the underworld, Neff.
  • The 1996 video game Wrath of the Gods is an adventure game set in mythical Greece, including an educational component where players can learn about Greek myths and history and see images of Greek art in cut-a-ways.[55]
  • The 2006 game Persona 3 includes many personae based on mythical Greek figures, using Tartarus in particular as the game's main dungeon.
  • In 2003, GameSpy remarked that the 1986 video game Kid Icarus follows a trajectory similar to its namesake, Icarus, who had escaped imprisonment when his father created wings from feathers and wax.[56] The same could be said of the sequel, Kid Icarus: Uprising.
  • The God of War franchise of video games is loosely based on Greek mythology, with the main character being named after Kratos (though not the same character).[57] The video game Kratos is a warrior from Sparta and the son of King of the Greek Gods, Zeus and is the personification of power. The series follows Kratos, who initially serves the Gods and later becomes a God himself but later goes on a path of vengeance against them after they betray and try to kill him.
  • Koei Tecmo's Warriors Orochi 4 follows a theme of mythology, and is set with combination between Asian Mythology, three kingdoms era, Japanese Warring States period, and Greek Mythology. Characters of this game are also focused in Greek Mythology, such as Zeus, Athena, Perseus, and Ares.[58]
  • The Ubisoft game Assassin's Creed Odyssey is set in the mythological history of the Peloponnesian War. The game features a DLC pack titled "Fate of Atlantis" in which Hermes appears, revealing himself to be a member of the precursor race, the Isu.

In marketingEdit

  • Corporations have used images and concepts from Greek mythology in their logos and in specific advertisements.

In painting and sculptureEdit

Particularly starting in the Renaissance, artists across Europe produced thousands of works of art depicting the Greek deities and their myths, for reasons ranging from the erudite to the political to the erotic. In particular, in certain periods it was permissible to depict pagan deities nude when it would have been scandalous to so depict a human model or character.

Romans would frequently keep statuary of the Greek god Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and pleasure, in their homes to use as a method of sanctioning relaxation without "any intellectual demands."[63]

Medusa's likeness has been featured by numerous artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin and Benvenuto Cellini.[64]

In literatureEdit

 
Percy Shelley's work translating the poem Prometheus Unbound (depicted here by Joseph Severn) also helped inspire Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Some stories in the Arabian Nights, such as the story of Sinbad blinding a giant, are thought to have been inspired by Greek myths.[65]

In 1816, Percy Shelley had been working on a translation of Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound for Lord Byron.[66] That summer, Shelley and his lover, Mary Godwin, as well as others, stayed with Lord Byron in Switzerland. As a contest, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Mary, who would eventually adopt the name Mary Shelley, began writing her Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which was declared the winner of the contest.[67][68] The fact that she overtly subtitled the novel emphasizes Shelley's inspiration from the story of Prometheus, drawing particular attention to the "metaphorical parallels."[69]

In Irish literature, writers such as Seamus Heaney have used the Greek myths to "intertextualize" the actions of the British Government.[70]

Andrew Lang rewrote the tale of Perseus as the anonymous "The Terrible Head" in The Blue Fairy Book.[71]

In C. S. Lewis's retelling of Cupid and Psyche, Till We Have Faces, the narrator is Psyche's sister.[72]Roberta Gellis's Shimmering Splendor is a retelling of Cupid and Psyche.[73][unreliable source?]

In poetryEdit

 
A draft of the Keat's poem, Endymion.

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri used characters from the legend of Troy in his Divine Comedy, placing the Greek heroes in hell to show his contempt for their actions.[8] Poets of the Renaissance began to widely write about Greek mythology, and "elicited as much praise for borrowing or reworking" such material as they did for truly original work.[8] The poet John Milton used figures from classical mythology to "further Christianity: to teach a Christian moral or illustrate a Christian virtue."[8][74] Euphrosyne, Hymen and Hebe appear in his L'Allegro.[75] Works of Alexander Pope, such as "The Rape of the Lock", parody classical works, even as the income from his translations of Homer allowed him to become "the first English writer to earn a living solely through his literature."[8]

In Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats rejects "charioted by Bacchus and his pards."[76] In his poem "Endymion", the "song of the Indian Maid" recounts how "Bacchus and his crew" interrupted the maid in her solitude.[77] He titled an 1898 narrative poem Lamia.[78]

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Oenone" is her lament that Paris deserted her for Helen.[79]

When poets of the German Romantic tradition, such as Friedrich Schiller, wrote about the Greek gods, their works were frequently "erotically charged," as they were "openly sensual and hedonistic."[80]

In "The Waste Land", T. S. Eliot incorporates a range of elements and inspirations from Greek mythology to pop music to Elizabethan history to create a "tour-de-force exposition of Western culture, from the elite to the folk to the utterly primitive."[81] The work of Indian poet Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was heavily influenced by Greek mythology.[82]

Nina Kosman published a book of poems inspired by Greek myths created by poets of the twentieth century from around the world which she intended to show not only the "durability" of the stories but how they are interpreted by "modern sensibility."[83]

In theatreEdit

 
Clio-Danae Othoneou as Medea in a 2005 production in Epidaurus

In children's and young-adult literatureEdit

 
The Midas myth, from Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys. Illustration by Walter Crane, published 1893.
 
The rainbow effect frequently seen at Niagara Falls had inspired the use of "Iris", the goddess of the rainbow, for local geographical features
 
Hydra the Revenge roller coaster
  • In the 19th century, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote children's versions of the Greek myths,[93] which he intended to "entirely revolutionize the whole system of juvenile literature."[94] His work, along with the works of Bulfinch and Kingsley, have been credited with "recast[ing] Greek mythology into a genteel Victorian subject.[94]"
  • The Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan follows Percy Jackson as the son of Poseidon.[95] Riordan states that he created the character of Percy when trying to tell a story to help his son who has ADHD get interested in reading. In the stories, Percy's ADHD characteristics are explained as being caused by his Olympian blood, thus Riordan was uses Greek mythology "as it has always been used: to explain something that is difficult to understand."[96]

In comics and graphic novelsEdit

  • In the opera within Girl Genius, the Heterodyne daughter who falls in love with the Storm King is Euphrosynia.[97]
  • The Amazon queen Hippolyta was used as the mother of Wonder Woman in the DC comic book line.[98]
  • In 2016 the French philosopher Luc Ferry launched the comic book series La Sagesse des mythes (The Wisdom of the Myths), which retells the Greek myths in a popular form but informed by modern scholarship.

In geography, architecture, and other constructionsEdit

  • At Niagara Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls had previously been called Iris Falls,[99] and Goat Island had previously been called Iris Island[100] as namesakes of the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris, because of the rainbow effects that appear in the mists at the falls.[101] A local newspaper which was published from 1846-1854 was also called The Iris, and the publication The Daily Iris became the Bingham Daily Republican.[102]
  • Francisco de Orellana gave the Amazon river its name after reporting pitched battles with tribes of female warriors, whom he likened to the Amazons.[104]
  • The original interior of the Glyptothek, the first public sculpture museum, was adorned with frescoes of Norse mythology by Peter Cornelius and his students which provided a "lively dialogue" between the building and its contents. When the building was repaired after war-time damage, the frescoes were not restored.[105]

In musicEdit

Rejection of useEdit

During the Middle Ages, writers disdained the use of "pagan" influences such as Greek mythology which were seen to be a "slight to Christianity."[8] From a current cultural perspective, the Greek Orthodox metropolitan Agustinos Kantiotis has denounced the use of Greek mythology such as the use of Hermes on a postage stamp and the incorporation of images from Greek mythology into universities' logos and buildings.[116]

Greek women poets of the modern era; such as Maria Polydouri, Pavlina Pamboudi, Myrtiotissa, Melissanthi and Rita Boumi-Pappa; rarely use mythological references, which Christopher Robinson attributes to the "problem of gender roles, both inside and outside the myths."[117]

Martin Winter says that the idea that many commentaries about the widespread use of Greek myths throughout Western culture does not take into account the vast difference between what a modern viewer takes from the story and what it would have meant to an ancient Greek.[118]

See alsoEdit

 
The myth of the titan Cronus eating his children was the subject of works by Rubens (above) and Francisco de Goya (below)[119]
 
The champion Thoroughbred horse, Poseidon, had 11 wins as a 3-year-old racer. In Greek mythology, the god Poseidon was credited with the creation of horses.[120]

ReferencesEdit

NotesEdit

CitationsEdit

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