Mythical Allusions, Abridged

Mythical Allusions, Abridged

According to the Random House Dictionary, an allusion is “a passing or casual reference, either directly or by implication.” It is a common practice in literature to make allusions to a variety of sources. The following is a list of allusions to mythological characters, places, and events.

  • Achilles heel: In Greek mythology, the warrior Achilles was made invulnerable as a baby by being dipped into the River Styx. Only his heel—the place he was held by when being dipped—was left unprotected, which led to his downfall when it was struck by an arrow. An Achilles heel refers to a person’s vulnerability or fatal flaw. He was a shrewd business man and investor, but his Achilles heel was gambling. 
  • Adonis: handsome young man; Aphrodite loved him.
  • Aeolian: anything pertaining to wind; god who was Keeper of Wind.
  • Apollo: a physically perfect male; the God of music and light; known for his physical beauty.
  • Argus-eyed: According to the Greek legend, Argus had 100 eyes. The Greek queen Juno had him spy on her wayward husband, Zeus. Argus-eyed refers to jealous watchfulness. “Why so Argus-eyed, my love?” cried Bill. “I swear I’ve been at the office this whole time!”
  • Athena/Minerva: goddess of wisdom, the city, and arts; patron goddess of the city of Athens.
  • Atlantean: strong like Atlas –who carried the globe (world) on his shoulders
  • Aurora: early morning or sunrise; from the Roman personification of Dawn or Eos.
  • Bacchanalian: Bacchanalia was a Roman festival in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine (called Dionsyius in Greek mythology). The holiday was eventually banned due to drunken and libertine excess. Something described as Bacchanalian is similarly decadent and uninhibited. What started out as a genteel and subdued dinner party degenerated into Bacchanalian abandon as the hours wore on. 
  • Calliope: series of whistles; circus organ; from the Muse of eloquence or beautiful voice.
  • Cassandra: a person who continually predicts misfortune but often is not believed; from (Greek legends) a daughter of Priam cursed by Apollo for not returning his love; he left her with the gift of prophecy but made it so no one would believe her.
  • Centaur: a monster that had the head, arms, and chest of a man, and the body and legs of a horse.
  • Chimera: a horrible creature of the imagination, an absurd or impossible idea; wild fancy; a monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail, supposed to breathe out fire.
  • Cupid: Cupid, or Amor, was the Roman god of love, who was also called Eros by the Greeks. He was usually depicted as a young winged boy with a bow and arrow. To play Cupid is to be a matchmaker, while someone who suddenly falls in love is said to have been struck by Cupid’s arrow. Diane knew Sam had asked her not to get involved in his personal life, but she couldn’t resist the urge to play Cupid and set him up with Rebecca. Also, Cupidity: eager "desire" to possess something; greed or avarice; Roman god of love (Greek name is Eros).
  • Erotic: of or having to do with sexual passion or love; Greek god of love, Eros
  • for excessive pride (he boiled his son and fed the broth to trick the gods).
  • Furor: (Latin- furere to rage) wild enthusiasm or excitement, rage; fury, "run like fury"; any one of the three Furies.
  • Gordian knot: According to Greek legend, King Gordius tied a wagon to a column with an extremely complex and intricate knot, which many tried and failed to undo. An oracle declared that whoever could untie the knot would rule the world. With a single stroke of his sword, Alexander the Great cut the knot in two, and went on to rule Asia. A Gordian knot is an intractable problem, and to cut the Gordian knot is to resolve a difficult problem with swift and bold action. The president believed he could cut through the Gordian knot of growing civil unrest by sending in the national guard with tear gas. 
  • Gorgon: a very ugly or terrible person, especially a repulsive woman.; Medusa, any one or three sisters have snakes for hair and faces so horrible that anyone who looked at them turned to stone.
  • Harpy: a predatory person or nagging woman; from harpy, a foul creature that was part woman, part bird.
  • Hector: to bully; from Hector, the son of Priam (king of Troy), and the bravest Trojan warrior. Killed Achilles’ friend Patroclus.
  • Helen (of Troy): Hellenistic; of or relating to Greece, or a Specialist of language or culture in Greece; symbol of a beautiful woman; from Helen of Troy, the daughter of Leda and Zeus—the cause of the Trojan War.
  • Herculean: Hercules was a hero in Greek mythology who was renowned for his strength and courage. He is best known for completing his 12 labors, which included killing or capturing legendary creatures, gaining various items, and diverting a river to clean out the stables of Augeas. A Herculean feat is one very hard to perform, especially one requiring great strength. With a Herculean effort, Valjean lifted the cart off the man trapped underneath. 
  • Hydra-Headed: having many centers or branches, hard to bring under control; something bad you cannot eradicate; from Hydra, the 9-headed serpent that was sacred to Hera. Hercules killed him in one of the 12 labors.
  • Junoesque: marked by stately beauty; comes from the word Juno, the wife of Jupiter, the Goddess of light, birth, women, and marriage.
  • Medea: sorceress or enchantress; from Medea who helped Jason and the Argonauts capture the Golden Fleece; known for her revenge against Jason when he spurned her for the princess of Corinth.
  • Mercury/Hermes: a carrier or tidings, a newsboy, a messenger; messenger of the gods, conductor of souls to the lower world, and god of eloquence; the fabled inventor, wore winged hat and sandals.
  • Muse: some creature of inspiration ; the daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, divine singers that presided over thought in all its forms.
  • Narcissism: being in love with our own self-image; named for Narcissus, a handsome young man who despised love. Echo, a nymph who was in love with him, was rejected and decreed, "Let he who loves not others, love himself." Hearing this, he fell in love with his image, while gazing in a pond, and drowned himself trying to capture it.
  • Nemesis: Nemesis was a Greek goddess of retribution, the incarnation of the gods’ revenge for violating their laws. As the gods’ retribution could not be avoided, a nemesis is not only an agent of punishment, but any challenge or opponent that a person is unable to defeat. He used all his willpower to stay on the diet, but the doughnut shop next door proved to be his nemesis. 
  • Neptune: the sea personified; the Roman god associated with Poseidon, god of the water and oceans.
  • Niobe: mournful woman; from Niobe, whose children were slain by Apollo and Artemis because of her bragging; the gods pitied her and turned her into a rock that was always wet from weeping.
  • Paean: a song of joy; a ritual epithet of Apollo the healer. In Homeric poems, an independent god of healing named Paean or Paeon, who took care of Hades when the latter was wounded.
  • Pandora’s box: Pandora, according to Greek mythology, was the first woman on earth. Created by Zeus in revenge for Prometheus’s stealing of fire, she was given a box that she was told not to open. Either she or her husband Epimetheus—tellings diverge on that point—opened the box, allowing all manner of evils to escape and plague the world. A Pandora’s box is anything that, upon investigation, leads to extensive and unexpected troubles. The investigation of drug use among the athletes opened a Pandora’s Box implicating half the league. 
  • Parnassus: Mountain was sacred to arts and literature; any center of poetic or artistic activity; .poetry or poets collectively, a common title for selection of poetry; named after the hero of Mt. Parnassus, the son of Poseidon and a Nymph. He founded the oracle of Python, which was later occupied by Apollo.
  • Pegasus: Poetic inspiration; named after a winged horse which sprang from the blood of Medusa at her death; a stamp of his hoof caused Hippocrene, the fountain of the Muses, to issue poetic inspiration from Mount Helicon.
  • Phoenix: a symbol of immortality or rebirth; named after the Egyptian Mythology phoenix, a long bird which lived in the Arabian desert and then consumed itself in fire, rising renewed from the flame to start another long life.
  • Plutocracy: a government by the wealthy; named after Pluton, the "Rich Man," a ritual tile of Hades. He was originally the god of the fields because the ground was the source of all wealth, ores and jewels.
  • Promethean: In Greek mythology, Prometheus defied Zeus, stealing fire from the heavens and giving it to the human race. His name has become associated with bold originality and creativity. Although religious authorities and moralists objected to the new procedure, the Promethean scientists would not be denied. 
  • Protean: Proteus was a Greek god who had the ability to change his shape. Someone or something that easily adapts to changing situations or roles by changing itself is described as protean. The senator’s protean policies always mirrored the whims of his electorate.
  • Psyche: the human soul, self, the mind; named after Psyche, a maiden who, after undergoing many hardships due to Aphrodite’s jealousy, reunited with Cupid and was made immortal by Jupiter; she personifies the soul joined to the heart of love.
  • Pygmalion: someone (usually a male) who tries to fashion someone into the person he desires; from a myth adapted into a play by George Bernard Shaw; a woman-hating sculptor who makes a female figure of ivory who Aphrodite brings to life for him.
  • Pyrrhic victory: a costly victory; from Pyrrhus, a Greek king who defeated the Romans in 279 BC, but suffered extremely heavy losses in the fight
  • Saturnalia: a period of unrestrained revelry; named after the ancient Roman festival of Saturn, with general feasting in revelry in honor of the winter solstice.
  • Saturnine: sluggish, gloomy, morose, inactive in winter months; named after the god Saturn, often associated with the god of the Underworld.
  • Sibyl: a witch or sorceress; a priestess who made known the oracles of Apollo and possessed the gift of prophecy.
  • Sisyphean: greedy and avaricious; from the shrewd and greedy king of Corinth, Sisyphus, who was doomed forever in Hades to roll uphill a heavy stone, which always rolled down again.
  • Stentorian: having a loud voice; after Stentor, a character in the Iliad who could shout as loudly as 50 men. He engaged in a shouting match against Hermes and was put to death after losing.
  • Stygian: dark and gloomy; named after the river Styx, a river in the Underworld. The water is poisonous for human and cattle and said to break iron, metal and pottery, though it is said a horse’s hoof is unharmed by it.
  • Tantalize: from King Tantalus, who reigned on Mt. Sipylus and was condemned to reside in a beautiful river with sumptuous fruits just out of reach and the water undrinkable, always tempting him as punishment.
  • Terpsichorean: pertaining to dance; for Terpsichore, one of the nine muses, sometimes said to be the mother of the sirens and the protector of dance.
  • Zeus – a powerful man; king of the gods, ruler of Mt. Olympus, vengeful hurler of thunderbolts.

See Greek encyclopedia for more.

Written by The UnNovelist
The Unnovelist