The Value, Viability, and Relevance of Greek Mythology in Today's Society

February 21, 2012
From even before the beginning of the Greek civilization, which began around the year 1100 BC, story-telling was a tool of record-keeping. The Greeks began a form of story-telling called "mythology". The Greek myths were often about the Greek gods, heroes, and mortals, and usually taught a moral lesson, or helped one remember and recognize the power of the gods. Greek mythology created reasons for the occurrence of natural disasters, the creation of the earth, and sickness and disease. In our present age, Greek mythology is commonly thought of as primarily a form of entertainment, like any other story, but during the time of the Greeks, mythology was considered sacred, meaningful, and true. Though Greek mythology is merely considered a form of entertainment these days, it has greatly shaped much of what we have achieved up to this point. Greek mythology has influenced countless areas including language, astronomy, astrology, business, medicine, sexuality, botany, psychology, products, athletics, weather, and even the Bible. Greek mythology is both beneficial to us in our everyday lives, and influential in many ways.

Two areas that Greek mythology and culture has influenced and changed over time are psychology and medicine. Two well-known psychological complexes in our common day and age are the "Oedipal complex" and the "Electra complex". An Oedipal complex is said of a man who is very close to his mother, but feels anger and hatred towards his father. This term originated from the Greek myth about Oedipus. Oedipus was, at birth, destined by fate to kill his father, the King of Thebes, and marry his mother. The people in Thebes had all heard this oracle and were determined to protect the king; in the hope of doing so, they sent Oedipus away as an infant. As an adult, Oedipus returned to the country of Thebes with the intent of killing his father and marrying his mother. It has been fabled that because of this oracle, Oedipus was destined to commit this act and did so because fate forced him to. The second complex, called the Electra complex, originated much in the same way. "Electra complex" is a psychoanalytic term used to describe a girl's positive feelings towards her father, and anger towards her mother. In Greek mythology, Electra was an Argive princess and the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. Legend has it that Electra plotted revenge against her mother Clytemnestra because of her divorce of her birth father and marriage of another man, her stepfather. Electra's hatred towards her stepfather and mother for murdering her father Agamemnon led her to commit this barbaric act. Because of her hatred towards her mother, Electra is the namesake of the Electra complex. The second area, medicine, has been influenced much by Greek mythology. One such example of this influence is found in the story of Achilles. Achilles was a hero born to a goddess mother, Thetis, and a man named Peleus. Thetis hated that her son was partially mortal, so with the guidance of the Fates, she dipped him into the River Styx to cleanse him of this mortality. This act was supposed to render him invincible. Thetis dipped him in the river, holding him by the heel as she did so. His heel remained untouched by the water, and so it was the only mortal part of Achilles' body. Decades later, when Achilles fought in the Trojan War, his enemies discovered his weak spot, and shot a poisoned arrow at his heel, killing him. The Achilles tendon, an area of the body located just in front of the heel of the foot, was named after the legendary hero Achilles.

Another area that has been influenced by Greek mythology is language. Many words in the English language are derived from the myths of the Greeks. For instance, the word "arachnid" is the scientific name for a spider. This was derived from the story of Arachne. Arachne was once a beautiful woman who was an excellent weaver. Because of her vanity, Arachne challenged an experienced old woman to a weaving contest. The old woman tried to correct her technique, but found no faults. Finally, frustrated with Arachne's skill, the goddess Athena revealed herself in the old woman and cursed Arachne to a life devoted only to weaving. Athena turned Arachne into a spider, doomed to eternal weaving of webs. And so, we derive from this the word "arachnid". Another word derived from the Greek language is the word "mentor". In Greek mythology, a friend of the hero Odysseus named "Mentor" was selected to counsel Odysseus' son Telemachus. The English word "mentor" is derived from the name of this man and means "experienced and reliable tutor and guide". This word has also been changed into the words "mentoring program", "mentorship", and "mentoree". Yet another word derived from Greek mythology is the word "narcissism". In the story of Narcissus, an impossibly handsome and vain man by the name of Narcissus fell in love with a reflection of himself in the waters of a pond. Because of his passionate attraction to the image, Narcissus sat by the pond for many days, staring at himself. Out of sadness and unrequited love, he doomed himself to death. Thus we derrive the word "narcissism" which is a condition involving someone who is in love with him or herself. This word is also used as a reference to an eponymous flower called the narcissus, which was said to have sprung up beside the pond where the man died.

Furthermore, the adjective "tantalizing", which refers to something "having or exhibiting something that provokes or arouses expectation, interest, or desire, especially that which remains unobtainable or beyond one's reach". This word is derived from the story of King Tantalus. Tantalus upset the Olympian gods upon many occasions, namely the time when he killed his son Pelops, cooked him, and served him to them. Because of this act, Tantalus was condemned to an afterlife in which he was tormented by interminable desire that could never be satisfied. He stood day after day in a pond of refreshing water that receded whenever he bent to drink from it and beneath a tree that bore fruit too high up on its branches for Tantalus to reach. Because of his torture, the word "tantalizing" is derived from the name of King Tantalus the Greek. In addition to single words, the Greeks also influenced English phrases. One such phrase is "I have been given a Herculean task", which means that it may not be impossible to achieve, but it is overwhelmingly large and requires the effort of a group, rather than oneself. This is derived from the story of Heracles, a Greek hero famous for his amazing strength. Heracles was challenged to many physical tasks called labors throughout his lifetime. Each time, Heracles successfully completed the labors because of his incredible strength. This phrase is used to describe a task that is so difficult that only Heracles alone could accomplish it. In the same way, the Achilles' heel is also used as a phrase in everyday language. It is used to refer to a weakness of someone, such as ice cream or chocolate or flowers may be a way of getting you to do something for someone if offered this.

In addition to these areas, Greek mythology has also influenced astronomy, astrology, and weather. For instance, many Greek heroes, gods, and mythological creatures have given their names to constellations found in the night sky. These fall under the category of astronomy, which is the scientific study of the individual celestial bodies (excluding the earth) and of the universe as a whole. For instance, the constellation "Orion's Belt" was given to a group of three stars by the goddess Artemis. Orion was a mortal hunter and the best friend of Artemis, the chaste goddess. Though Orion was just a friend to Artemis, her brother Apollo grew suspicious of Orion and though that he was taking advantage of her and spoiling her chastity. In his anger, Apollo murdered Orion. As a monument to Orion, Artemis threw his spirit into the night sky to be remembered forever and marked by three brightly shining stars. Greek mythology has also influenced astrology. Astrology is the study of the motions and relative positions of the planets, sun, and moon, interpreted in terms of human characteristics and activities. "Horoscopes" are usually defined by the astrological sign of a person, called a "zodiac sign". These twelve signs are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. In Greek mythology, Ares was the Greek god of war, Taurus was one of two untamable bulls, Gemini is a constellation representing two Greek twins by the names of Castor and Pollux, Cancer was a giant crab sent by Hera to defeat Hercules, Leo was a Nemeon lion given to Hercules to defeat as one of his many labors, Virgo was the goddess of innocence and purity, Libra was the name of Hades' golden chariot, Scorpio was a giant scorpion sent by Apollo to kill Orion, Sagittarius was a centaur, Capricorn was the son of the god Hermes, Aquarius was the "cupbearer to the gods", and Pisces was a fish used by Aphrodite. Greek mythology influenced weather in that the goddess of the harvest created the seasons summer, winter, fall, and spring, because of her sadness over the kidnapping of her daughter Persephone by Hades.

By these many examples, including psychology, language, etymology, botany, medicine, astrology, astronomy, and weather, we can see that Greek mythology and culture have greatly influenced, changed, and modified daily life today. All of these areas have been slightly or drastically influenced by the Greeks and owe the Greek culture gratitude for its overwhelming influence. Greek mythology has intensified diversity in the English language and in many other areas including botany and astronomy. We should be very grateful to the Greeks for their generous donation of words, phrases, and names to our language and culture. Because of Greek mythology, the world has inherited many ways of nomenclature and other things related to certain areas of expertise that are relevant in this age.

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This article has 12 comments. Post your own now!

RRicks9 said...
May 5 at 2:46 am
Greek Mythology is so cool
eshaansoman said...
Mar. 17 at 7:25 pm
This is awesome! Check out my work too :)
shrekislove said...
Oct. 18, 2016 at 2:58 pm
much wow super coolness doggo pupper mythology
asdfghjkl said...
Feb. 12, 2016 at 2:02 pm
I was surprised to see the connected between Greek myth and the Zodiac. I also didn't realize how many words were derived from Greek language. I'd always though majority of what we spoke was coming from Latin origin.
whooOOOOOO said...
Feb. 12, 2016 at 2:00 pm
Information that surprised me was that the Zodiac is based off of Greek myth. I hadn't known that the signs were named after famous Greek figures. I also found it interesting that so many words were derived from the Greek language. I'd always thought that most words came from Latin Origin.
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Feb. 12, 2016 at 11:54 am
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Rose said...
Feb. 12, 2016 at 10:36 am
Greek mythology has implanted itself in our everyday lives and until now I have failed to realize it. To my astonishment, I have never been revered to seek upon myths concerning things like medicine, horoscopes, and even dialect. I would've never knew that the adjective "tantalizing" originated from the story of king Tantulus.
Jabari said...
Feb. 12, 2016 at 10:34 am
I never knew how much Greek mythology impacted the English language and our lifestyles.
randomenglishstudent said...
Feb. 12, 2016 at 10:32 am
I agree with what the article says about oracles and fate. In Greek mythology you read many stories about people going to oracles, not liking what the oracle says then the person tries to change their fate. What the person/people don't realize until it's too late is that because they tried to change their fate they made it possible for it to happen.
Kiasi said...
Feb. 12, 2016 at 7:43 am
This is a well-written explanation of ancient Greek mythology and its relevance to modern society and culture. Allusions and references to Greek mythology are so fused within our everyday lives that they are hardly noticed until we learn more about the gods and goddesses of ancient Greek culture.
rah5985 said...
Jan. 7, 2015 at 2:29 pm
Any idea which issue this came from? I was hoping to find a more reader friendly version for my 6th graders in terms of larger font size, smaller paragraphs and maybe a picture or two...
elizmegburton replied...
Jan. 27 at 1:18 am
Hi, This was not published in any of the issues; it is only online. I hope you will use it, edit it, etc. as you wish :)
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