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  • Writer's pictureIngrid Nixon

A Myth Ain’t a Female Moth

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

Five Reasons to Know Old Greek Stories

Ingrid Nixon master storyteller

By Ingrid Nixon, Storyteller

I’m in seventh grade English and my teacher says, “Today we’ll begin our study of Greek myths. Open you books to page …” *snore* It would be safe to say that my junior high experience of studying myths left me cold.

As the years went on I remembered a few names – the biggies like Zeus, Hercules, Aphrodite, Poseidon. (This last one bolstered no doubt by the disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure.) I remembered a few plots, like Icarus flying too close to the sun and losing it. But mostly I found myself tripping across names I dimly recognized as from Greek mythology, yet the magic was lost on me. In time I was traveling, looking up at the stars, and learning stories. One fateful night I stood with a group of people in the high desert of northern Chile pointing out the constellations. I pointed out the “W” of Cassiopeia. Someone asked, “So who was Cassiopeia anyway?” Huh! Good question. I thought I’d better find out. And so in my quest to be a better star guide, I started reading Greek myths much more motivated and inspired then my former seventh-grade self. The study has opened up a world of characters and qualities that reveal truths about human nature still relevant today. Whether you’re a stargazer, a gardener, or just love a good drama, here are five reasons it’s worth it to have some working knowledge of Greek myths.

1. Greek myths have incredible staying power. Just think: These stories originated around 3000-1000 B.C., likely informed by even older stories. They provided the foundation of myth for Western Culture, migrating across landscapes around the planet, traveling through generations, inspiring theater and art to this day. Well told, they can be highly engaging, recounting the foibles of mortals and gods stumbling through the day-to-day. The characters are imperfect, fallible – just like us.

2. Greek myths explore love, hate, jealously, kindness, vanity, anger, fear, sacrifice, endurance, lust, strength, betrayal, revenge, forgiveness, loyalty, and so much more. These are qualities we continue to explore in our lives and our stories—no matter what kind of stories we tell. These concepts grab and hold the attention of our audiences. To understand the parallels between our experiences today and these age-old stories is to recognize challenges humans have been wrestling with for a long, long time.

3. Getting back to my stargazer moment: When you know Greek myths, the night sky comes alive with characters. Astronomers recognize 88 constellations in the night sky; about half of them were named by the Greeks. For example, a huge part of the night sky is given over to characters involved with Cassiopeia, the vain queen of Ethiopia, who insulted Poseidon and started a ruckus. (Let’s just say when it came to family, she put the “fun” in dysfunctional.) To know the Greek stories is a great launching point to learn the star stories of cultures around the world.

4. If you like plants, many myths speak to their origins, like the narcissus flower that commemorates the young man in love with himself. Also, a great many plants were named by the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, famous for his work in taxonomy. Still in use today, many of his plant names reference classic myths. For example, the Genus name of White Mountain Heather is “Cassiope” named after – yep – Cassiopeia. This plant has a delicate white bell-shaped flower that faces down. Linnaeus thought that the blossom facing down was like Cassiopeia hanging her head in shame after causing so much trouble.

5. Greek characters live on popular culture. We see and hear Greek mythological references daily. To name but a few:

  1. The wing-horse Pegasus as the logo of a movie company;

  2. Pandora is a music streaming service;

  3. We scrub our tubs with Ajax cleanser;

  4. Young reader can’t put down the books from the wildly popular Percy Jackson series, based on Perseus;

  5. We wear Nike shoes;

  6. Applaud the Apollo astronauts.

It bears mentioning that just to the north we have the Olympic Mountains, with the tallest peak, Mt. Olympus. We don’t even have to go to Greece to experience the Home of the Gods!

A scholarly deep dive isn’t necessary to gain familiarity with some of the more well-known Greek plots and characters. Cruise the library shelves for a popular text that provides an easy read—a book that holds your attention, unlike my seventh-grade text. And should you choose to read myths as you enjoy a glass of wine? Well, for that you can thank Dionysus. Cheers.

Easy Reads:

  1. Great Zeus and All His Children, Greek Mythology for Adults by Donald Richardson. Very readable, unvarnished myths.

  2. Mythology: Myths, Legends, and Fantasies published by Global Book Publishing, 2003. A gorgeous coffee table book with clear writing paired with beautiful art that begins with the Greeks and goes on to explore myths around the world.

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