They say if you start to take more than an average interest in myths and legends, it would take you an entire lifetime to understand and interpret them. Greek mythology is a colossal subject of its own. References to Greek Mythology can still be found in our discussions about science, arts, and literature, language, names, and brands. Marvel movies, The Percy Jackson series, brands such as Oracle, Nike, Dove all derive their inspiration from Greek Mythology. It has enormously contributed to our arts, culture, sports, astronomy, astrology, medicine, and as well as to enable a deeper understanding of human nature.
Perhaps the most well-known story in the subject is about Hercules and his twelve grueling labors that he was forced to perform by his stepbrother and arch-nemesis, Eurystheus. In order to restore his honor and to atone for the crime of killing his wife and his children when he was driven mad by Goddess Hera (Eurystheus’ mother, and stepmother to Hercules), he accepted the challenge. After overthrowing various magnificent beasts and completing the incredible tasks, he emerged victorious, fearless, and fierce, and that earned him glory and his throne. What’s missing here, however, is that it’s not a typical tale of heroism, but of penance and redemption. Hercules had committed a crime in his insanity, and by completing all the impossible tasks, it restored his moral compass in the eyes of readers. His desire to be held accountable for his actions was the motivation behind the twelve labors. However twisted it may seem, people who genuinely regret their actions and are in fact, willing to face the consequences, truly have the power to rewrite their stories.
We must have also heard about the dreadful lore of Medusa, the monster having a head of hair consisting of snakes. Anyone who directly looked into her eyes would be turned to stone. Medusa is greatly featured in the Percy Jackson series, originally the myth being the hero Perseus who decapitated her, killing the beast for once and all. But, are you aware that Medusa once was a charming woman, who worshipped the Goddess of wisdom, Athena? The reason for Medusa’s horrifying transformation is the result of Athena’s curse, because Poseidon, the God of the sea pursued her and violated her in Athena’s temple. Medusa was a victim, and Athena was driven by jealousy over Medusa’s beauty. It is so ironic to think that a Goddess who embodied the virtue of wisdom, to have acted out of her arrogance and pride, instead of being just and fair. What this particular anecdote tells us is that even the highest of the higher beings in Greek mythology are not absolutely flawless, and even they seem to possess human traits that diverts them from making a just judgment.
Narcissism. Entitlement. A higher sense of worth. All these words and phrases describe character flaws inevitably found in people around us. The very word ‘narcissism’ is derived from the name mythical character Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection he saw in a pond and was unable to leave. To think it wise, narcissism leads us to our own doom. Conceit is a sin, in the eyes of various religions, and for all the right reasons. Snobbery, ego, and arrogance are all negative traits, and it can cripple human relationships and have narcissists lost in their own fancies about themselves. It’s a curse that was placed on him by Goddess Nemesis, for he had rudely dismissed in his pride, a young maiden Echo who had fallen in love with him.
What would you do if you had a chance to fly? Wouldn’t you like to soar higher and higher, glide through valleys, over the seas, through the wisps of clouds, wanting to feel a pure thrill and the rush that you could conquer the world? That’s exactly what Icarus felt when he took the flight of freedom from his imprisonment, with the help of the wings that his father carefully crafted from feathers and wax. He was warned not to soar too high, or the wax would melt from the heat of the Sun, and he would fall into the ocean and would drown to death. Yet Icarus was a boy, he was immersed in ecstasy when he believed he could fly, and wanted to touch the sun. Traditionally, the moral of the story is, that extreme ambition is a fatal flaw that could end you. If you were to picture yourself in Icarus, what would you blame for your fall? Your extreme ambition to touch the sun, or the adrenaline rush that you felt? I would personally say that adrenaline rush isn’t a healthy form of happiness since it can blind you to deadly consequences, just the way it did for Icarus.
‘How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be.’ — Sophocles
Those who have the knowledge of their ill fate, always want to change it. But destiny is something that humans cannot control, for they aren’t as mighty as God. The Oracle of Delphi prophesied that the son of the king of Thebes would kill him and would marry the queen Jocasta, and to put an end to the misfortune, the king abandons the baby to die. The baby, named Oedipus is somehow accepted in the royal family of Corinth and comes to know of the prophecy. Believing that he is a bad omen to his “parents”, he leaves the kingdom of Corinth, only to end up in Thebes, killing the king in a fit of rage, when he was on his journey. After accomplishing some heroic deeds, he marries the queen, who becomes his wife. The tale ends tragically, with Oedipus pecking his eyes out, and Jocasta, who hangs herself, when both suspect the truth. This tale tells us that those who run away from their fate, ultimately meet it, and there is no way a deed goes unpunished.
It may appear to us that myths and legends feature larger-than-life heroes embarking epic journeys, fighting battles, slaying beasts, and performing other such acts. However, the narrative is still very valid in this day and age as well. It tells us how the characters responded to certain situations, and gave us a moral sense of right and wrong, testing our own individual judgments. Thus mythology still fulfills a purpose, as it always has, because it provides the insight that we all need.
Written by: Akanksha Sehgal
(Akanksha is a First-year student of Kirori Mal College )