Mythology in Our Midst: A Guide to Cultural References

Mythology in Our Midst: A Guide to Cultural References

Mythology in Our Midst: A Guide to Cultural References

Mythology in Our Midst: A Guide to Cultural References


Though nearly everyone is familiar with such great mythological figures as Hercules, Icarus, and Medusa, one may wonder what relevance these ancient characters, and their stories, hold for modern readers. This unique reference book brings mythology to life for students by exploring the connections between ancient myths and contemporary culture. An introductory essay sets the tone with its overview of the myriad areas of human endeavors--including the arts, science, psychology, language and literature, consumer products, and other aspects of popular culture--that mythology has influenced. The user-friendly volume is comprised of 50 narrative essays that trace the cultural connections and offer a lively retelling of each myth. For example, readers will discover the derivation of Freudian psychoanalysis from the myth of Oedipus, and fans of popular film and fiction may be surprised to learn the mythological inspirations for works like Beauty and the Beast, The Matrix, or Michael Crichton's Eaters ofthe Dead.


Like many of the Greek myths, the tale of Hephaestus and Aphrodite seems to be taken from the plot of a modern soap opera. She was the insatiable, lustful beauty and he was the ugly, crippled artisan. The couple's marriage was a union of opposites and characterized by infidelity.

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, lust, and mating. Her unusual birth predated the Olympians. She was born out of a rivalry between Cronus and his father Uranus. The son cut off Uranus' genitals and threw them into the sea, which gave rise to foam. Aphrodite emerged from the foam, and her name literally means “out of foam.”

The newly formed goddess floated on the sea until she landed on the island of Cythera, which was too small for her liking, so she set out again until she reached the island of Cyprus. When she set foot on the island, grass and flowers emerged beneath her feet. In some myths, she is called Cythereia or Cyprus in reference to the two islands. Sandro Botticelli painted an iconic image (The Birth of Venus) of Aphrodite, coyly standing in a shell covering her nakedness with her flowing hair and delicate hands. The story of her landings on the islands may be a reference to the possible Phoenician origins of Aphrodite. The islands had been the domain of the Phoenicians, and Aphrodite may have been based on Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of women, fertility, and the tides.

Once ashore, Aphrodite did not lead an industrious life. Instead, she began engaging in the activities for which she became known: having sex and making Olympians fall in love with mortals. Her magic girdle made the wearer desirable and gave rise to the idea of love potions. Interestingly, from her name comes our common term for a love potion, “aphrodisiac.” The term is derived from the Greek word “aphrodisiakos, ” which means “sexual.” When the word aph-

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