Tag Archives: greek myths

Powerless by Isabelle


Her feet slapped against the smooth stone floor. Each step a heavy thud as she dragged her body forward. The sound echoed against the empty walls, harsh in the silence.

The candles had long burned out. Only the moon filtered through the portico, offering a wash of silver light.

She stopped when she came upon the great statue, and fell to her knees. Continue reading

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Clytemnestra

Allow me to introduce you to one of the most terrifying women in Greek mythology.  Well, depending on which version of her story you’re hearing.

Clytemnestra was the daughter of Leda—yes, the same Leda that was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan—and Tyndareus, a Spartan king.  She was the wife of Agamemnon, a hero of the Trojan war.  According to Euripedes, he was her second husband—and had murdered her first, forcing her to marry him.  Whilst trying to return from the Trojan war, the gods turned the winds against Agamemnon, demanding that he sacrifice his daughter—Clytemnestra’s daughter—Iphigenia, to turn the winds back in his favor.  Agamemnon convinced Clytemnestra to send Iphigenia to him, under the lie that she would be married to Achilles, then did as the gods demanded.

When Clytemnestra learned that her husband had sacrificed Iphigenia to the gods, she was wild with grief.  She was also beyond furious.  She had taken Agamemnon’s cousin Aegisthus as her lover, and when Agamemnon returned home—with his concubine, the doomed prophetess Cassandra in tow—Clytemnestra and Aegisthus plot their deaths.  She waits until Agamemnon is at his most vulnerable—taking a bath—then ensnares him in a net and stabs him repeatedly until he dies.  (At least, according to Aeschylus’s Oresteia. Euripedes mentions others doing her bidding.)

Cassandra, meanwhile, is sitting in the chariot doing her best to get someone, anyone, to go in and stop Agamemnon from being murdered, which she’s seen in a vision, but because of her curse from Apollo (who she’d spurned) no one listens to her.  Knowing she’s fated to die, she walks into the palace and allows herself to be slain.  At least, again, in the Oresteia.  In some versions, she escapes.

Eventually Clytemnestra has to pay for her sins—at the hand of her own son, Orestes.

I don’t know why I’ve always had such a fascination with Clytemnestra.  Maybe because I feel so bad for her… her story is truly tragic.  Not that she handles it in the best of ways, but… you can’t help but feel a little sorry for her, despite everything she does.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Aether

A quick little post for today.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “into the ether.”  What you might not know is that Ether – or rather, Aether, is actually a Greek God—and one of the very first.

Aether was one of the Protogenoi, or an elemental god, like Chaos and Gaia.  Aether was the embodiment of the upper air or space or heaven.  He is also the pure air that the gods themselves breathed—which is different from the air that mortals breathed.  Aether is supposedly the son of Erebus (Deep Darkness) and Nyx (Night) but may also be the son of Chaos.  The Orphic hymns mention him as the “soul of the earth” from which all life emanates.  He is the father of Uranus (Father Sky) and possibly Aergia (Inactivity).

His realm encompasses the mountains, clouds, stars, sun and moon, and it is said that the stars were forged in the Aether’s fire.  Aether was also meant to be Zeus’ defensive wall, blocking Tartarus from the rest of the Cosmos.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Nike

Nike is one of my favorite Greek deities, though in truth there’s not a whole lot to tell about her.  She is known as the “Winged Goddess of Victory,” and was the daughter of the Titan Pallas, and Styx, a goddess of water.  She is known to be able to run and fly at great speeds, and is often praised for her wings or for her “fine ankles.”

Nike and her siblings (Cretos, Bia and Zelus) were brought to Zeus by their mother during the war of the Titans, and she became the divine charioteer, rewarding the victors in battle with power and glory.  Nike was a symbol of victory in many aspects of life, though, including athletics, which may not be a surprise, considering the shoe company that has taken her name.

She is connected closely to Zeus and to Pallas Athena, and originally was portrayed almost as a small fairy that would rest on the shoulder or arm of another deity… also, while in Athena’s company she is wingless, but when she is alone she retains her wings.

Nike is one of the most commonly-portrayed figures in classical art, which is another reason that I love her, being a bit of an art-history lover myself.  She is often depicted with wings, and holding a laurel and palm branch, symbols of the glory and stature she is capable of bestowing on people.  She was come to be seen as an intermediary of success between man and the gods.  Of course, like many of the classical gods, Nike was known to be capricious, and not always completely fair in her dealings of victory.

Thursday Myths and Legends 101: Ambrosia

Nectar and Ambrosia by dancingelf (deviantart)

Ambrosia: the food or drink of the gods, said to bestow ageless immortality on whoever consumed it. The word is often used interchangeably with nectar (hence the expression, nectar of the gods), though some ancient Greek works (like Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey) clearly differentiated between the two. Either way, both are considered delectable and divine, so fragrant they can even be used as perfume.

I find the entymology of both words interesting and strangely interchangeable, because although ambrosia literally means ‘not mortal’,  nectar translated from latin means ‘drink of the gods’,  pulling from the Greek word nektar, meaning overcoming death [ nek: death; -tar: overcoming].

It’s interesting to note what it says in the Handbook of Classical Mythology by William Hansen

“A key difference between gods and humans, according to the poet Homer,lies in their respective diets. Since the gods do not, like mortals, consume bread and wine, they are bloodless, producing instead a kind of immortal fluid,a thin substance called ichor. As a consequence they do not die. When they feast, they consume nectar and ambrosia, which preserve the gods in their present state, keeping them from aging” (Clay 1983, 144–148).

That quote sparks all kinds of theories! Would the gods then become mortal if they were to stop feeding on ambrosia and nectar? Is that why they deemed the theft of them so severe they would sentence the thief to Tartarus (see the story of Tantalus). Interesting things to ponder.

Though modern works (usually Greek myths retold) often reference ambrosia, it is usually being used in the most literal sense, that of a delicious, unparalleled drink, fit only for the gods. I would love to see it used in a more magical/fantasy setting, where it can literally bestow eternity upon its drinker. Can you imagine the stories that could be told?

Thursday Myths and Legends 101: Persephone

Of all the Greek myths, Persephone is probably one of the most well known. Aside from being used as an explanation for the changing of seasons, her tragic tale is often referenced in relation to the loss of innocence. According to myth, Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, Greek goddess of the earth, grain and fertility. Though she was beautiful and well desired by such gods as Ares, Hermes and Apollo, Demeter created a safe haven for her daughter away from the influences of the other gods, particularly the males vying for her attention. In this perfect bubble, Persephone lived a flighty and naive existence, frolicking through fields and dancing with nymphs until one day, Hades, god of the underworld, came and snatched her away. Whether devastated by her daughter’s abduction, or distracted by the search for Persephone, Demeter fails to let the earth produce causing nothing to grow, hence our winter.

Eventually, Zeus interfered, demanding that Hades return Persephone. But she would not leave the underworld for good. According to the law established by the Fates, anyone eating or drinking in the underworld is sentenced there for eternity. Tricked by Hades, Persephone ate pomegranate seeds, forcing her to return to the underworld for one season each year. During this time, the earth is barren.

I’ve read many different interpretations of this myth, ranging from the rape of Persephone to the meaning and symbollism of the pomegranate seeds. However you choose to look at it, you can find many modern parallelisms in stories that mirror or straight out retell the popular myth. Its themes are as real and prevalent today as they were in Ancient Greece. Some that stand out are Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman, and Frayed Tapestry by Imogen Howson.

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Phoenix

In mythology, the phoenix is largely known as the fire bird, decorated in colorful plummage, capable of rising from its own ashes reborn. It is commonly associated with immortality as the phoenix’s lifespan ranged from 500-1,000 years, only to be reborn and live another full lifespan.

In many cultures, the phoenix is associated with the sun. For instance, Egyptian mythology had a phoenix like bird they called Bennu, which literally translates to “rise” or “shine”. Mentioned in the Book of the Dead and other sacred writings, it is usually mentioned in relation to their sun-god Ra. The Greeks also believed that when their sun-god Helios heard the phoenix sing, he would stop his chariot in the sky and listen, mesmerized.

Other legends regarding the bird exist in Russian folklore, Chinese and Japanese myths, and Native American legend.

The main consensus is this: after its long lifespan the phoenix builds a nest of myrrh twigs and both the bird and the nest go up in flames. From its ashes a new, younger phoenix is born.

The most popular and perhaps well known use of the bird and its meaning is X-men’s transformed Jean Grey.

What I love most about the myth is its symbollic potential. In fact, I have an entire character who is in essence a phoenix and who controls fire. His journey is that of destruction and rebirth. But I feel in this age of paranormal and fantasy, this myth offers limitless potential.

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