The Language of the Gods, part 3

So far, we have explored the words and expressions Don’t be such a Kassandra, Achilles’ Heel, Trojan Horse, Chaos, Geography, Geology, Geometry, George/Georgina, Genesis, Genitals, Generate, Progeny, Ocean, Chronic, Chronological, Aphrodisiac, Panic, Pan-flute, Fauna, Satire, Pine and Echo.

But of course there is so much more! There is a plethora (another Greek word – albeit not from mythology) of mythical origins in English expressions that are not as obvious. For example, when we say that someone is looking like he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders we are really talking of the ancient titan Atlas. Atlas was an enormous being who was forced to carry the world on his shoulders as a punishment for revolting against the gods. He lived near Gibraltar and thus gave his name to the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually he was turned into the Atlas mountain range in North Africa after he had stared into the eyes of the terrible Medusa. Medusa was a scary creature whose hair was made of snakes and anyone who looked into her eyes was turned into stone. Ring a bell? Ever heard of the expression if looks could kill…? Ancient Greek mythology is everywhere!

Another common expression is to be caught between a rock and a hard place. This expression comes from the legendary journeys of Odysseus. At one point his ship had just managed to sail past a rock where the horrible sirens lived and was then forced to navigate between two terrible sea monsters called Scylla and Charybdis. Unfortunately for the crew, the ship came a little too close tone of the monsters who devoured a few of the men but at least the rest were saved. The sirens, incidentally, have loaned their names to police forces and fire brigades all over the world as their singing could be heard from far away. The difference is, however, that today’s sirens do not involve getting eaten alive if you hear them.

For those of you interested in the arts there is a myriad of expressions derived from Greek mythology. The god Apollo was the patron of art and light and his nine daughters the Muses have given us the words music, museum and amuse. The Muses protected the arts and sciences and still today, we call someone who is a source of inspiration just that – a Muse, whether it is to do with painting, writing, music or fashion.

If money is your main goal in life you may wish to have the Midas Touch! King Midas had managed to capture a satyr and his ransom was to be granted his only desire in life: that everything he touched would turn into gold. The satyr gave him what he wished for and was thus released and Midas went back to his palace to enjoy his new talent. As tales always go, the wish turned into a curse and Midas ended up unable to eat, drink or touch another living being as everything he touched turned into the precious metal. Let the ancient myth be a lesson to us all: be careful what you wish for!

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