Ancient Greece has affected the modern world in many different ways – from more than 150,000 English words being derived from the Greek language to a host of philosophical ideas, from architecture to many scientific and mathematical advancements, and of course literature, and from that, mythology.
At the mention of Greek mythology many think about obscure stories of the gods and goddesses, wild extravagant beasts, and the insane tasks of heroes. But this is not what mythology is all about. These myths aren’t just legends, they are stories with a purpose and reason. These myths provided the Greeks with information about how to live and how to achieve happiness and harmony. They were created to supply valuable moral lessons to their original audiences which are still valid to this day, despite the drastic changes and variation in behaviours and attitudes of mankind.
These myths remain true today because they show us the extremes of our experiences: sudden and catastrophic events; radical reversals of fortune; seemingly arbitrary events that change our lives. They deal, in short, in the hard basic facts of human life.
A deeper look at Greek myths reveals their morals, philosophies and even warnings:
Homer’s Odyssey shows us that greedy, unrestrained, irresponsible leadership makes communal life intolerable for everyone. By contrast, good leaders respect their obligations to their people and ensure that their people are respecting them and their comrades. This produces order, harmony, and happiness for everyone – powerful and weak alike. The Odyssey encourages us to choose our leaders and role models carefully.
The story of Icarus ignoring Daedalus, his father, and then flying too close to the sun leading to his death is an example of one of the many myths that show us the importance of respecting our elders, and the value of experience.
The hero of Homer’s other epic, the Iliad, Achilles, was all-powerful except in his heel. The story tells us that that even the best of us have weaknesses, and that a small flaw can stop us from achieving our goals. Our politicians would do well to remember this. On the opposing side in the Trojan War, Hector, the son of King Priam of Troy, is forced to fight Achilles and runs for his life, only to return later and fight the battle to the finish. This story illustrates the importance of facing your fears.
The story of Theseus and the Minotaur teaches us to stop, pause and reflect even when we’re under stress.
Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection is used to show us that your looks don’t define who you are. It’s about looking inside yourself for true love and fulfilment .
And of course, there is King Midas and his golden touch. In an age obsessed by material wealth, the story of Midas illustrates that all things in life come and go, including wealth. Politicians, celebrities, and financially successful individuals do not deserve our respect for their unrestrained material acquisition and ostentatious consumption. The things that truly matter are the experiences you share with the people you love.
The relevance of some of these myths has been updated. In recent years there has been a blossoming of novels – such as Pat Barker’s The Women of Troy, Natalie Haynes’s Pandora’s Jar and Madeline Miller’s Circe – that have placed female mythological characters at the centre of stories.
The Greek myths are still pertinent in the twenty-first century because they have purpose and impart knowledge. Whilst still relevant to today’s world, the Greek myths are not timeless – and hence the rewriting of some of the myths from a female perspective, as above – but rather they are timely.
There are constant subtle reminders all around us of Greek mythology, reminding us of their valuable lessons. Many businesses have adopted names originated from Greek mythology because of the message behind them, such as Pandora and Hermes – the delivery brand taking its name from Hermes the messenger of the gods, even something simple like the element helium being named after the Titan, Helios. These constant, subtle reminders show how valid and influential Greek mythology has been, even if some of the ideas expressed are a bit outdated. The overall ideas and many of the stories have stood the test of time and are still of interest, and many authors, from Shakespeare to the modern day, use mythology as inspiration and reference in their works.
by Anna, Deputy Head Girl
Painting on copper by Carlo Saraceni: ‘The fall of Icarus’
Alinari Archives / Universal Images Group
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