Why Ancient Greek Mythology Is Still Relevant Today
Why Is Greek Mythology Important Today?
If there is one subject that is still widely taught today, it is the subject of ancient Greek mythology. It isn’t just taught as part of a literature curriculum at school but is also part of most history lessons. Some people might wonder why the world is still so interested in ancient Greek myths when they are nothing but stories and they came from thousands of years ago. However, one look at the vast amount of ancient Greek-themed movies and literature today, people will quickly come to the conclusion that the world is still fascinated with Greek mythology, although they might not always be able to say why.
For those who think that the stories of ancient Greek mythology are nothing more than a bunch of outdated tales, they just happen to be wrong. For sure, these stories may have been written hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, but it is good to remember they were written by wise men who had a hand in helping shape modern thinking.
These great men, Aristotle and Sophocles to name a few, were not mere story-tellers; they didn’t spend their days weaving tales just because they wanted to and had nothing to do. They were too good for that and this is why their Greek myths have withstood the test of time and are relevant today.
What Are Greek Myths?
To some people, Greek myths are simply epic tales of gods and goddesses gallivanting about the earth, achieving all sorts of impossible tasks. They are stories of people dealing with the gods and either they come out triumphant or they end up bloody and charred or turned into animals and plants.
Indeed, a person who doesn’t look beyond the surface will think these tales are nothing more than flights of fancy by old story-tellers from the past but a deeper look at the stories will tell you more than that. These myths aren’t just legends and while they are “just stories,” they are stories with a purpose and reason. A deeper look at Greek myths should reveal morals, philosophies, and even warnings.
These tales rarely have the happily-ever-after endings people are so used to these days, but remember, they weren’t written for entertainment—they were written with a higher purpose. One wouldn’t expect such great minds to waste their time telling a story for the sake of telling a story; they had to have a purpose and they had to impart knowledge. In truth, these myths give people a chance to glimpse at the way the Greeks lived and how they thought back then. It might seem hopelessly outdated and unimportant but the exact opposite of that is true.
What are some of the major Greek myths?
- The myth of Hades and Persephone
- The myth of Aphrodite and Adonis
- The myth of Pandora's box
- The myth of Eros and Psyche
- The myth of Perseus and Medusa
What Is the Importance of the Greeks?
Most people will not really notice it unless they are told to do so, but there are so many Greek influences around the world today. In fact, it is impossible to go around to completely understand the basics of things like fine arts, literature, and performing arts without touching on some Greek myths.
These myths were an integral part of ancient Greek culture because this was how they passed down lessons from one generation to the next without things getting boring and dull. Anyone who has ever picked up a book on Greek myths or seen a movie inspired by one can attest to its action-packed nature. Some might wonder what the point is to just passing down stories—stories that were made up and were in no way true—but that was the beauty of Greek mythology in ancient times. They became the perfect way to impart lessons without being dull or boring.
What Did These Myths Do?
These myths were told to people and it helped them realize the difference between right and wrong. It helped them come to terms with how they should be humble and never think themselves immortal or they might just be proven wrong in the most horrible and inopportune of ways. Also, these tales tell people of heroes and how true greatness was achieved by those who dared while at the same breath, showing the flaws of these heroes.
Any modern person who reads or hears of Greek myths will be hard-pressed to stay unaffected. They are simply that good and this proves just how relevant they still are. Anyone can pick up a book of Greek myths and get something from it.
Why Do We Study Greek Mythology?
Reading and hearing about Greek mythology is one thing, but why are modern people still made to study them? The answer to that is very simple: to learn. People still study the ancient Greeks and their myths much in the same reason they study other cultures and that is so they can learn from it. After all, when you study a culture as progressive as that of the ancient Greeks, you really can’t help but learn lessons.
These myths show modern people a glimpse of how people thought in the past, what they considered important, how their morals worked, etc. Another reason to study those Greek myths is that they have contributed a lot to classic and modern literature in the form of symbols.
It has been said that simply by studying or even just reading some of these myths, people can learn how to control their actions or at least think better of what they do. After all, a lot of these stories tell tales of how human follies, stupidity, and even hubris get people in trouble. In a sense, these myths serve as a warning for people on how they should and should not be. The irony of the situation is that most people still tend to go with their follies, choose to make stupid decisions, and have hubris. It is almost comical how these myths capture human behavior in the ancient times that are still alive and kicking today.
Famous Gods and Goddesses
God or Goddess
Claim to Fame
love, beauty, pleasure, procreation
wisdom, courage, warfare, strength
the hunt, the moon, chastity
music, poetry, archery, knowledge, the sun
harvest, life and death
wine, fertility, theater
marriage and birth
trade, eloquence, messenger of the gods
the sea, earthquakes, horses
the sky and thunder
Who Are Some of the Famous Greek Authors?
Below is a short list of some famous Greek mythology authors and their equally famous works:
- Homer – Homer's works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are among the most famous and earliest written sources of Greek mythology. The Iliad recites the stories of King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles during the Trojan War, while the Odyssey tells the tale of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his return home after the fall of Troy.
- Plato – This is perhaps one of the most famous of famous Greek writers. He is known for his popular dialogues including the Republic, Phaedo, Symposium, Phaedrus, Timaeus, and Philebus. Nothing much is known about Plato but it cannot be denied that his writings have had lots of influence on classic literature as we know it today.
- Sophocles – Sophocles wrote 123 plays during his career and while some people might expect a happy ending from those plays, they will be sorely disappointed. Sophocles was a tragedian and came up with famous tragedies like Oedipus, the King and Electra, and Antigone. Of his 123 plays, only 7 survived intact.
- Euripides – He was also a tragedian like Sophocles and while he wrote only 95 plays, at least 18 of them survived. Some of his famous works include Medea, The Bacchus, and Alcestis. What made his plays and stories stand out was that they tended to be realistic and would show strong women with wise slaves. He had a massive influence on the concept of European Tragedy.
- Aristophanes – This writer was a comedian and at some point, his pen was the most feared weapon in Athens. He wrote 40 plays but only 11 have survived. Plato even pointed out that the play The Clouds written by Aristophanes was responsible for the trial and execution of Socrates.
Modern Phrases From Greek Mythology
- Achilles' heel – According to Greek mythology, baby Achilles was dipped in the River Styx, which separated the living world from the dead, held on to only by his heel. Although he was a legendary war hero, he eventually met his death when a poisoned arrow struck the heel that had remained dry and unaffected by the river's magic. Today, the term refers to a fatal weakness that, despite overall strength, can lead to one's downfall.
- Trojan horse – During the Trojan War, the Greeks built a giant wooden horse and hid a battalion within it, while the remaining troops pretended to retreat in surrender. The horse was then brought paraded past Troy's otherwise impermeable city walls as a victory prize, allowing the Greek warriors to open the gates for their armies, destroy the city, and end the war. In modern times, the term "Trojan horse" is used to refer to strategies that use deceit or trickery to obtain an objective. It also refers to malicious computer software.
- Pandora's box – According to Greek mythology, Pandora was the world's first human woman, and one day she was given a box as a gift from Zeus but was warned not to open it. Unfortunately, her curiosity got the better of her and she opened it, unleashing all the world's evils. Today, people refer to "opening a Pandora's box" when discussing something that, when interfered with, has the potential to generate numerous complex problems.
References to Greek Mythology in Today's World
- Nike, Inc. is named after the Greek goddess of victory.
- Midas, a U.S. automotive services company, was named for the legendary king whose touch turned objects into gold.
- Dove, a personal care brand, was named after the bird, which a symbol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
- The character of Peter Pan is a reference to Pan, the Greek god of the wild and shepherds.
- The Starbucks logo is a siren, intended to symbolize the irresistibility of the brand's coffee.
- Trident gum claims to "fight off" cavities, similar to the sea god Poseidon's use of the trident in battle.
- Many are familiar with Sigmund Freud's psychosexual development term the "Oedipus complex," which is based on the Ancient Greek tale of Oedipus Rex, who kills his father and marries his mother.
- Atlas was a Titan who was condemned to hold up the sky after losing the Titan rebellion against Zeus. Now, atlas is a term used to describe books filled with maps, and also refers to the first vertebra of the spine, which allows us to hold our heads up and see the world.
Movies About Greek Mythology
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Wrath of the Titans (2012)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Helen of Troy (1956 and 2003)
Greek Creatures in Popular Culture
In Popular Culture
half-man, half-horse hunter
Chronicles of Narnia, Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter
Beauty and the Beast, Wrath of the Titans, Final Fantasy
giant, one-eyed monster
Futurama, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who
monster with the body of a man, with the head and tail of a bull
Clash of the Titans, Dante's Inferno, Prince Caspian
beautiful, white, winged stallion
Fantasia, My Little Pony, The Blood of Olympus
beautiful female bird-like creatures who lured passers-by to their deaths with song
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, Peter Pan, Lorelei (German folklore)