Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dionysus, the God of Wine

Dionysus was probably one of the more interesting of the Olympian gods.  He surely had the most unusual birth!  Zeus had fallen in love with Semele, a mortal woman, which of course made Hera jealous yet again.  Everything was going swimmingly between Zeus and Semele until one day Hera whispered to Semele that Zeus never appeared to her in his true form, and that actually he was a horrifyingly ugly monster.  This of course got Semele thinking that maybe Zeus WAS indeed an ugly monster (so easily was she tricked).  The next time she and Zeus saw each other she said that she wanted to see what he really looked like.  Zeus told her that that would be a very bad idea, but Semele had been so hoodwinked by Hera that she absolutely insisted.  Zeus warned her one last time; in a temper, Semele screamed that she wanted to see exactly what he looked like, and Zeus finally, in anger, revealed his true self ....
     And she was instantly vaporized.  For the gods are actually pure light that the human eye cannot withstand.  However, the child that she was carrying, Dionysus, was not ready to be born, so the god Hermes, who happened to be close by, snatched him up before he fell to the ground, sliced open Zeus's thigh, and sewed him into it.  After another 3 months or so, Dionysus was ready to be born, so he came out of Zeus's leg!  Hence, like Athena, who also had two mothers (both Metis and Zeus), so too did Dionysus, both Semele and Zeus!  Only could this happen in the strange world of the gods.
     Each year, at the harvest of the grapes, Dionysus would throw a huge party, to which he would always invite the Maenads (Roman Bacchantes, as the Roman name for Dionysus was Bacchus).  After having had a little two much wine, the Maenads would get a little crazy and start chasing around Dionysus, waving their thyrsi, which were wands wrapped in ivy leaves and dripping with honey.  Dionysus would run off; after the Maenads wouldn't give up, they would finally catch up, and proceed to tear him to pieces, chop him into little bits, and stamp his remains into the earth!
     End of Dionysus?  Are you kidding?  Remember, the gods are immortal.  The next spring, when the vine leaves would once again come back to life, Dionysus would reappear, fresh and young as ever.  The next fall, when the grapes were harvested again, Dionysus would promptly throw a party, invite the Maenads, and yet again be torn apart, having forgotten all about what had happened the year before.  Such was the yearly life of the god of wine.
    The best friend of Dionysus was Silenus, an old satyr, or 1/2 man, 1/2 goat.  One day Silenus went missing, was found by Midas, who returned the old faun (Roman for satyr) to Dionysus.  Dionysus was so happy to see his best friend again that he offered King Midas anything that he wanted, and he opted to have everything that he touched turned to gold.
      But that's another day and another story!
*Interesting Fact*  The difference between jealousy and envy is this:  you can be jealous about another person, but you are only envious about things that other people possess.  Thus, jealousy has more to do with relationships between people, whereas envy would have more to do with not having that smart phone that your friend has. 

*Interesting Fact*  The word divinity, another word for a god, means "that which shines with its own light."  Divine beings are inherently self-shining, that is, the immortals shine with their own light, whereas mortals, like us humans, are not capable of generating light by ourselves.  So, when the goddess Aphrodite walks into a dark room, she literally "lights it up."

*Interesting Fact*  The female counterpart to Dionysus was the goddess Cybele, who was also a little on the wild side.  She had a chariot that was pulled by a lion and a lioness: Hippomenes and Atalanta.

**Book Nook**   Rick Riordan fan?  Check out Demigods and Monsters, a book of fun essays about the Percy Jackson series.  All the inside information is here!

Cheers!  Mr. Brunner

Interested in English vocabulary and its Latin and Greek roots?  Take a look at, a site which describes the most comprehensive dictionary available based on English derivatives that come from Latin and Greek root words.  Interested in studying completely online for the SAT or GRE?  Take a look at a completely new and revolutionary way to learn SAT and GRE vocabulary, and remember it!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Athena--Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Crafts, and War

Greetings, Greek mythology fans!  I now turn my thoughts to Athena, the Greek goddess most notably associated with wisdom, but also with war and crafts.  Athena, of all the Olympian divinities except maybe for Dionysus, had the most interesting of births.  Zeus had fallen in love with Metis, the Titaness of wisdom and knowledge, who soon announced her pregnancy.  Zeus, like his father Cronus before him, feared that this child would be more powerful than he was;  recalling that his father in that situation had simply swallowed most of his children (except for him, Zeus), Zeus decided to try a similar but even more effective trick--he simply swallowed the pregnant Metis herself whole!

Problem solved!

Awhile after this rather unusual solution he developed a splitting headache.  Has your head ever hurt SO MUCH that you just wanted to split it wide open?  This is exactly how even Zeus himself felt.  So he, unlike the rest of us who just have to suffer or hope that one's Advil works, went to his son Hephaestus and asked him to take his very biggest and sharpest axe and ... you guessed it, split open his head.  Since gods don't have to worry about dying Zeus really wasn't too concerned about the whole "surgical" procedure.  Hephaestus hit Zeus so hard that he split him completely in two.  Out of Zeus's head was born Athena, fully grown, and in full battle armor.  No wonder he had had such a huge headache!  That would be the "mother" of all migraines.  And yes, Athena therefore had two mothers, both Metis who gave birth to her inside of Zeus, and Zeus himself, who birthed her to the outside world via the aid of the midwife (midhusband?) son Hephaestus.  Family relationships in mythology were just a tad on the strange side!

Athena (Roman name Minerva) was a highly powerful goddess.  As goddess of war she was formidable; in fact, she was easily able to defeat her half-brother Ares.  One day when Ares threw his mighty spear at her she simply glanced at it and it swerved out of the way.  Now that's power!  Her symbols are the owl (for wisdom) and the olive tree (see below). She wielded the aegis, a great shield, on which resided the fearsome head of Medusa.  Imagine fighting an opponent that you could not gaze upon because you would be turned to stone.  Athena also had great skill to craft those things she needed for battle, which were of the highest quality, and also those more utilitarian crafts needed for everyday life.

Athena was often referred to as Pallas Athena.  She once had a mortal best friend named Pallas (much like Apollo had a mortal best friend Hyacinthus).  She and her friend often liked to cast the spear about, and one day, with a little too much enthusiasm, Athena cast her spear and accidentally killed her friend.  Ever after, she put her name, Pallas, before her own.  The great palladium, or wooden statue of Athena that resided in the city of Troy, was named after Pallas Athena--it was said that if the palladium remained there safely, Troy would never fall.  A palladium today is anything that is protective.

The great city-state of Athens was named after Athena.  In those days, gods often vied to be patrons or tutelary (protective) deities of cities.  For instance, Jupiter was the patron of the great city of Rome, and Venus of Pompeii.  When the Athenians were deciding to whom to offer their city, both Poseidon and Athena contested for the honor.  Poseidon offered the Athenians the horse, whereas Athena offered the olive tree.  The Athenians obviously chose the latter ... can you see why?  They named their city after her, Athens; hence the city of Athens is an eponym, or a place named after a name.  The Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens was probably the most noteworthy of ancient temples, a building dedicated to the great Athena.  You can either go to Greece to see this, or Nashville, Tennessee, which has a wonderful replica not only of the temple itself, but also the effigy of the goddess within the temple. It's truly amazing!!

One other noteworthy story concerning Athena is in her guise as the goddess of craft, in particular weaving.  Arachne was a young girl whose skill at weaving was simply unmatched.  She began to get a big head about this, and soon was bragging all about the land that her skill rivaled that of Athena's herself.  One day an old woman approached Arachne who questioned her about her skill, and she boastfully repeated that she was the best weaver that had ever lived, either mortal or immortal.  The old woman at once turned into Athena, and the contest began.  Arachne wove an incredible tapestry depicting all the passionate loves and terrible deeds of the gods.  Although Athena also wove a beautiful tapestry, Arachne had clearly won.  Athena, in a fit of anger at being outmatched, destroyed the cheeky girl's loom and transformed her into a spider.  Considers the words arachnid, arachnoid, and arachnophobia, all of which concern spiders, and all of which are, therefore, eponyms.

There are many myths which concerns transformations of humans into things not human.  Check out my book nook below which gives an incredible book to read that concerns all these strange, shape-changing tales.

*Interesting Fact*  Other mythological eponyms include Europe, Hellespont, Pillars of Hercules, Scylla, and all of the planets.  Can you think of others?

**Book Corner**
       The great Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (he of the big nose), more popularly known as Ovid, wrote a book entitled the Metamorphoses, which are all about transformations of humans and gods into animals and plants.  This is a truly amazing read!

Interested in English vocabulary and its Latin and Greek roots?  Take a look at, a site which describes the most comprehensive dictionary available based on English derivatives that come from Latin and Greek root words.  Interested in studying completely online for the SAT or GRE?  Take a look at a completely new and revolutionary to learn SAT and GRE vocabulary, and remember it!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Theseus and the Minotaur, Part III

Greetings, Greek mythology fans!  Theseus has just killed the Minotaur!  Phew!  But, oh no!  He's still inside the Labyrinth created by that most daedalian and clever inventor, Daedalus!  But wait!  He still has the key to get out!  All he has to do is follow the golden glowing thread all the way back to the great double bronze doors where the 13 other children await his return.

I will not trouble you with the byzantine, winding, anfractuous, perplexing,  twisty-turny, dare I say topsy-turvy trip back to them.  Suffice it to say, Theseus finally makes it back, after grabbing a horn of Asterion, the great Minotaur, for himself, and safely arrives back to the doors.  The children all breathe a sigh of huge relief, begin to all talk at once, but Theseus is tired, and tells them to hush.

He knocks thrice upon the huge doors, and Ariadne, his new bride, opens the doors, and off they run, quickly and silently, to the ship with the black and white main sail, and off they sail before King Minos and Queen Pasiphae are even aware that they are leaving.  For how could they escape the inescapable?  No one pays any attention.  And so off they go, free, alive, smelling the fresh air of the open sea, so, so different than the close smell of death within the lair of the horrible Minotaur's now tomb.

Ariadne smiles upon Theseus, but he, alas, broods.  What could be wrong?  Hasn't he done the heroic thing?  Hasn't he saved them all?  Does he not have a beautiful princess as a wife?  Does he not have the incredible trophy of the horn of the Minotaur?  Yet he frowns.  Perhaps he is merely tired, thinks Ariadne. Perhaps he is homesick, for it is now the middle of September, and they have been gone since the 6th of April.

One day, at long last, Theseus is smiling.  He walks up to Ariadne and tells her that he is tired of  the ship, and needs a break from the children, who are making way too much noise.  He tells Ariadne that they have not yet had a chance to have time to themselves, to have a proper honeymoon.

     "Lo, see yonder island, my love?  Shall we weigh anchor and just the two of us spend a few days alone together upon the island, which looks so pleasant?" asks Theseus.
     "Yes, my beloved, that would be wonderful," beams Ariadne, delighted at this sudden turn of events.

And so they disembark from the ship, leaving the children with the sailors.  Theseus is in such a good mood! Finally, after much talk of love they settle down for a nap, or so Ariadne thinks.  Theseus waits until Ariadne falls asleep under a beautiful oak tree, and then he quickly jumps up, runs off to the ship, and tells the captain to set sail. The captain looks puzzled, but Theseus gives the command once again, in the name of his father King Aegeus, and off they sail.

A little while later, as the sun is heading towards the horizon, Ariadne wakes up, sees that Theseus is nowhere to be seen, and calls out for her love.  Silence answers her, and then the calling of birds.  She runs towards the shore, a panic of suspicion rising within her, and finds not the ship.  She screams, runs to the nearest tree, and hangs herself.

Ah!  There is an alternate ending to this myth, much the better.  For the island was Naxos, the isle of Dionysus, the god of wine.  Dionysus hears Ariadne calling for her love, and so he himself answers, falls madly in love with Ariadne, and marries her himself. What a turn of events!  To be married to a man who really does not love you, and then the next day to be married to a god who really does!  Ariadne, abandoned, now becomes Ariadne the beloved of a divinity.  Maybe change, which appears bad, really isn't so bad after all.  At least in some cases.

Theseus, meanwhile, is really most pleased with himself.  He begins to gloat over his success ... the Minotaur horn shines in the setting sun, and he is heading home.  In fact, Theseus is so pleased with himself these days that he forgets to do something of paramount importance.

King Aegeus, the father of Theseus, has arrived once again upon the cliff where he has been looking for the return of his son and the other Athenian youths, hoping against hope that Theseus indeed has slain the Minotaur.  It is the morning of October the 8th, over 6 months since the ship has set sail to Crete.  The day is dawning, and as he looks out with hope upon the horizon towards the south he sees a ship!  Could it be the ship of Theseus?  Is the white sail up?  Is he alive?  Can he relay good news to the families of those children who were sent off to be eaten?  At first he cannot look, but as the sun gets stronger and the light gets brighter and the sun gets closer he, he cannot believe ... it's the black sail!  Aegeus, in despair, jumps off the cliff into the sea to his death, thinking that all has been lost.

For Theseus, of course, had forgotten to turn around the sail to the white.

*Interesting Fact*  The ancient people of Crete were known as the Minoans, named after their king, Minos.  A cretin, on the other hand, is someone who is stupid and foolish, and has nothing to do with the island of Crete.

*Interesting Fact* The Aegean Sea, that sea that lies between the countries of Greece and Turkey, is named after King Aegeus.  When a word is created from someone's name, it is called an eponym.  There are all kinds of mythological eponyms, such as Europe, the Hellespont, the Pillars of Hercules, daedalian, hector, etc.

**Book Corner**
       Want to learn a little more about historical Crete and the legend behind the Labyrinth and the Minotaur?  Take a look at In Search of Knossos: The Search for the Minotaur's Labyrinth

Interested in English vocabulary and its Latin and Greek roots?  Take a look at, a site which describes the most comprehensive dictionary available based on English derivatives that come from Latin and Greek root words.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Theseus and the Minotaur, Part II

Greeting, Greek mythology fans!  My last post concentrated on approximately the first half of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.  I will now continue this fascinating tale.
     As you will most likely recall, we last left Theseus having arrived in Athens and having learned that 14 children are to be sent to the horrible Minotaur in Crete to be eaten.  Theseus, wanting none of this, storms off to find his father (who, mind you, he does not even know).  When he finds King Aegeus he runs up to him, and hesitates; Aegeus recognizes him because he is only wearing one sandal, a prophecy come true.  The two embrace, father to son, and Theseus immediately informs his father that he is going to be one of the 14 children sent to the Minotaur, except for the fact that he is going to slay that horrible beast.

     Aegeus:  "No you're not."
     Theseus:  "Yes, I am."
     Aegeus:  "No, You're NOT."
     Theseus:  "Yes, I AM!!"

Aegeus realized that he would get no further with his son, with whom he was secretly pleased, and so he told him that he could go, only that he must promise to do something for him.  Aegeus would provide Theseus with a ship that had a sail the color black on one side, and white on the other.  Aegeus would watch every day from a nearby cliff for the return of Theseus--if Theseus had been successful, Aegeus instructed him to have the white part of the sail facing forward, if not, the black.  In this way Aegeus would be able to tell whether or not the mission had been successful, or if all the children and Theseus had been devoured by the hungry Minotaur.

And so, according to mythological sources, Theseus, another 13 somewhat less doomed children, and the sailing crew set forth on the 6th of April.  Usually myths aren't that specific, but nevertheless, the 6th of April it was.  Soon they arrived at the port at Crete, where Ariadne, the beautiful daughter of King Minos came to greet them.  As soon as she cast her eyes on Theseus she knew that she had met her doom.  She immediately fell in love with him.

That night, at a huge feast set forth to fatten up the children to further delight the Minotaur, Ariadne sat next to Theseus, glancing over at him many a time, waiting for him to speak.  Ariadne was dazzlingly beautiful, and was used to much attention placed upon her.  When Theseus did not appear particularly interested (how could he be when he was to come face to face the next day with a beast that towered over him and was treble his strength?), Ariadne spoke up:

Ariadne:  "You know, Theseus, even if you manage to kill my step brother Asterion, you'll never get out of the Labyrinth alive."
Theseus:  (casting his widening eyes upon Ariadne as if seeing her for the first time)  "How's that?"
Ariadne:  "Because you'll never find your way out again, and die of hunger."
Theseus: (in typical male fashion does not answer)
Ariadne:  "You know Theseus, you can either die ... or you can marry me and I'll give you the secret of the Labyrinth."
Theseus: (thinking quickly to himself:  death or drop down dead gorgeous princess to marry?  death ... or beautiful princess?  hmmm ... ).  "Will you marry me?"

And so the next morning, as the procession of children was led to the huge double bronze doors of the Labyrinth, Ariadne snuck a magically glowing golden ball of thread to Theseus, which he promptly hid in his tunic.  (Ariadne had procured this key to the Labyrinth from Daedalus himself the night before, who was remaining at the court of King Minos).  As soon as the children and Theseus were led inside the Labyrinth, they heard the terrible grinding and booming close of the bronze doors, and then a deafening silence, and then a horrible roar, a horribly hungry roar, a borborygmic bellowing way off somewhere in the darkness and depths of the horrible Labyrinth.

Keeping his wits about him, Theseus told the children to stay put, to stay by the door, lest they become lost forever.  The children had no trouble complying with this order!  Theseus set down the magical ball of golden thread, which began to unwind by itself, first taking Theseus left, then right, then left, then right, then right, then yet another right, then back to the left, then straight for some time, then right yet again, then left, left, left, then right, right, right, right, then left yet again, then left, straight for seemingly forever (because the hunger pangs of the Minotaur began to become louder and louder), then left, left, right, right, right, right, left, half-right, half-left, diagonally, then ... whoa!!!!!!!!!!

What Theseus saw before him made him gasp.  Imagine a floor piled with human bones.  Imagine a 30' tall looming figure with huge horns of a bull standing in the center of those bones, bellowing with hunger, and flexing its enormous muscles.  Asterion, the great Minotaur, had caught the scent of Theseus, and with no further ado, came crashing after him, crunching on all those human bones.

A goner, you say?  Theseus held his ground until the very last second, then nimbly leapt out of the way, which caused the befuddled Minotaur to smash into the wall.  However, quick as lightning Asterion pulled away, and ran after Theseus once again, who feigned (or maybe not so!) to be running away, far to the other wall of this central chamber of the Labyrinth, again waiting until the very last second ... and dodging out of the way.  This time it took a second more for the Minotaur to disengage its horns which had hit with terrible force into the wall of the Labyrinth, just enough time for Theseus to leap onto his back!  And then, nimble wrestler that he was, he was barely able to encircle his arms around the terrifically strong Minotaur's neck, gave a mighty, heroic twist, and broke his neck!

Stay tuned for my next post, Theseus and the Minotaur, Part III, which will conclude the exciting story of Theseus defeating the Minotaur. Will he find his way back?  Will he save the children?  Will he and Ariadne remain happily married? What will King Minos do once he realizes that Asterion is dead?  Ah, so many questions to be answered ...

*Book Corner*  A wonderful fully illustrated graphic novel, Theseus: Battling the Minotaur: A Greek Myth, is available from Amazon that fully delineates and illustrates this fabulous Greek myth.  

Interested in English vocabulary and its Latin and Greek roots?  Take a look at, a site which describes the most comprehensive dictionary available based on English derivatives that come from Latin and Greek root words.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Theseus and the Minotaur--Part I

Greetings fans of Greek and Roman mythology! After having recently written about Hades, Hephaestus, and Ares, I'm going to take a break from the major Olympians and tell some of fabulous tales of the heroes, beginning with Theseus. 
     Aethra, Queen of Athens, has given birth to a baby boy, Theseus!  A joyful event to be sure, except for the fact that Athens, led by her husband, King Aegeus, is at war with King Minos of Crete.  King Aegeus and Queen Aethra together determine that it is not safe for Theseus to remain in war-torn Athens, so Aethra, with a retinue of slaves, departs for the countryside to the land of Troezen, where she raises Theseus.
     Theseus grew into a very powerful young man.  Not only was he good at hunting, throwing the spear, and wielding the sword, but he could out wrestle anyone else his age.  One day, upon his 16th birthday, Theseus begged his mother Aethra to tell him where and who his father was.  Relenting, she led him out into a field in which there was a huge boulder.  She said that if Theseus could roll aside the boulder, he would be old enough to know who his father was.  Theseus, excited by this proclamation, did not roll aside the boulder, but picked it up and hurled it away instead!
     Theseus found, to his great astonishment, a pair of sandals and a sword lying underneath, ancient symbols of royalty.  Theseus looked towards his mother in puzzlement.  Aethra told Theseus that his father had given these to her for safe keeping, and were not to be given to him until he had reached the age of manhood.
     The goodbye was heart-wrenching for Aethra, but Theseus was more than thrilled to set off for Athens to discover his long-lost father.  The journey, however, was not to be easy, in fact it was not easy at all.  The Labors of Theseus were four, and required not only strength to complete, but also brains.
     The countryside through which Theseus was traveling alone was beset by thieves and robbers.  The great oaf Corunetes first attacked Theseus with his great brazen (bronze) club.  Although Theseus did not match Corunetes in strength, he was more agile than he was, and soon Corunetes was panting with exhaustion; Theseus easily finished him off, and commandeered his club, which he kept with him ever after.
     Theseus next was walking innocently along when all of a sudden he heard a slight sound beneath him—it was a trap!  Because Theseus had such great dexterity he was able to leap out of the way of a rope just in time.
The rope would have encircled him, stretching him to the breaking point as two pliant pine trees snapped upwards, holding the victim of the trap at full arms’ length, and then some, spreadeagled and unable to move.  Theseus managed to reset the trap, and then lured Sinis, the creator of the trap, into it.  The second robber was thus defeated by his own diabolical trap.
     Theseus continued along, quite pleased with himself, until he was walking along a cliffside, the sea roaring beneath him.  Suddenly he came upon an old man, Sciron by name, who asked him if he would help him tie his sandal as he had a hard time bending over due to a bad back.  Theseus gladly acquiesced, his back to the cliff.  Suddenly the old man tried to kick Theseus over the cliff, but luckily Theseus was so dexterous and agile that he managed to dodge and fling Sciron over the cliff instead!  There he saw that a huge turtle devoured the robber, who was in league with the turtle: Sciron would kick unwary travelers over the edge of the precipice, the turtle would eat them, but would spit out all their valuables, which Sciron gathered for his own.  The third labor was completed.
     Theseus, tired after a long journey, approached an inn.  There he met an innkeeper, whose name was Procrustes.  Procrustes said that he had a special bed for Theseus that he would certainly enjoy after his long journey.  Unbeknownst to Theseus, Procrustes would tie sleeping travelers to this bed, and cut off their legs if they were too long for the bed, or stretch them until their limbs popped if they were too short.  Luckily Theseus was a light sleeper; as soon as Procrusted snuck into the room where he was sleeping and started tying on the bonds, Theseus figured out what he was up to and dodged him nimbly.  He tied Procrustes to his own iron bed, leaving him to rot.
     Theseus at long last reached Athens, a little bit disenchanted with the world.  As he walked into the city, he noticed that everyone was sad, wearing black clothes of mourning.  Puzzled, he approached an old man, who told him this sad tale:
     “Today is the day that 7 youths and 7 maidens are to be chosen to be sent to Crete to be eaten by the Minotaur, a horrible half-man, half-bull.  No one knows for sure how the horrible Minotaur came to live at the palace of King Minos at Knossos; some say that Pasiphae gave birth to this man monster, others that it was sent as a curse by the gods.  The toddler Minotaur was an absolute terror, running about the palace and ramming his horns into everything, smashing everything into smithereens.  Finally both Minos and Pasiphae had had enough, so they hired Daedalus, the great inventor, to create a home for the Minotaur.  Daedalus invented the Labyrinth, a place that one could never escape from after entering because of its winding passages that completely confused those who entered.  After the Minotaur was placed within the Labyrinth, no amount of food could satisfy his hunger.  He would wail and caterwaul and cry so loudly that everyone in the palace was going insane.  Whole cows, huge sows, enormous boars were fed to him, but nothing availed.  Until one day, one of Minos’s slaves died, and, in his desperation, King Minos fed the corpse to the Minotaur, and he was quiet for a month.
      After King Aegeus lost the war to King Minos, one of the conditions of the treaty was that the Athenians must send 7 youths and 7 maidens to be eaten by the Minotaur once every 9 years.  This is now the 3rd time we have to do it.  This horrible condition was for the payment of the death of King Minos’s son, Androgeos.  So today is that same fateful day.  Alas and alack!”

What will Theseus do?  How much tougher can life get?  4 nasty robbers!  A man-eating Minotaur!  His father’s city in mourning, having to send away 14 of its children!  Stay tuned for my next blog post as I continue the mighty story of Theseus and the Minotaur!!

Book Corner:  Check out Rick Riordan's new book, The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero.  My students all say they love it! 

*Interesting Fact*
  The people of Crete were known as the Minoans, after their traditional King Minos.
*Interesting Fact*  The Minotaur comes from two different words: Mino- comes via Minos, and taur comes from the Latin taurus, bull, or Greek tauros, bull.  Hence, the Minotaur was the Bull of Minos.
*Interesting Fact* The palace of King Minos at the capital of Crete, Knossos, was labyrinthine in form, with many winding halls and many,many rooms in which it was easy to get lost.

*Interesting Fact*  The Minoans were into bull-leaping or bull-vaulting , in which the bull vaulter would valiantly run forth head on towards a bull, leap into the air, place his hands between his horns (hence becoming one with the bull, or a half-man, half-bull for a fraction of a second) and gracefully leap over the bull, just as the modern vault is performed today in gymnastics.  And you thought that today's gymnastics were difficult!

*Interesting Fact*   The word “Procrustean” refers to someone who deliberately and forcefully tries to make others conform to existing modes of thought, even in a violent fashion.  What is the connection between the meaning of this word (a mythological eponym) and the robber Procrustes?

*Interesting Fact* The personal name of the Minotaur was Asterion or Asterius.

Interested in English vocabulary and its Latin and Greek roots?  Take a look at, a site which describes the most comprehensive dictionary available based on English derivatives that come from Latin and Greek root words.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ares: Greek God of War

Greetings fans of Greek and Roman mythology! After having recently written about Persephone, Hades, and Hephaestus, I will now move on to the brother of Hephaestus, Ares.  Since Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera, so too would Ares be the sibling of Hephaestus (the only other child of Zeus and Hera was Hebe, the cupbearer of the gods, who married Heracles).  The symbol of Ares was this:  ♂.  This symbol depicts the shield and spear of Ares (or Mars, the Roman name for Ares), which has become a symbol for man, just as the hand mirror of Aphrodite (♀) became the symbol for women.
     Ares, despite the fact that he was the god of war, was quite cowardly.  He would not think twice about switching sides during a battle if the other side were winning.  He would also not think twice about killing a rival.  In the story of Adonis and the boar, the beautiful goddess Aphrodite was madly in love with Adonis, probably the most handsome of all mortals.  Before this, of course, up on Mt. Olympus, Aphrodite was in love with Ares, despite the fact that she was married to Hephaestus.  We must keep in mind that we are dealing with gods, and gods do not behave like (most) mortals do.  Everything seems pretty crazy, but that's only because we're not gods!  Anyway, Aphrodite decided to get married to Adonis, and settle down with him on Earth, leaving Mt. Olympus itself.  Adonis must have been one amazingly handsome guy. But then, of course, Aphrodite would do anything for love since she was, after all, the goddess in charge of that overwhelming emotion!
    Aphrodite and Adonis were living simply a peaceful, beautiful life until the friends of Adonis began bugging Adonis to go hunting with them.  Adonis had once loved to go hunting, but Aphrodite, once getting married to him, would no longer let Adonis go on the hunt since he might get injured, or perhaps die.  In those days, hunters would go after boars, terribly large pigs with great tusks that could easily gore and kill a human.  Hunters hunted only with spears in those days, so they had to get close to their prey (unlike today, where you can comfortably shoot prey from a tree, or from half a mile away).  Boars, terribly strong (even my Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs are enormously strong, and they are relatively small ... I had to move one once from my garden to its enclosure, and it almost killed me!), would often rip through hunters, eviscerating them on the spot.  One can little wonder then why Aphrodite was nervous about Adonis going after such a ferocious creature.
     But one day the friends of Adonis had had enough.  They hadn't seen him for months, and they missed their hunting buddy, so one morning, very early before Aphrodite got up, they knocked on the door of Adonis and asked him if he'd like to go hunting with them, since there was a terribly ferocious boar that had just wandered into that neck of the woods, and the hunt for him would be fine and highly exciting.  When Adonis hesitated, his friends began to taunt him; you can imagine them calling him "chicken" and "hen-pecked" and "boar bullied" and things that were probably less nice than that.  Adonis, young and foolish, caved, hoping that Aphrodite wouldn't find out. Off he went on the hunt.
     And did not return.  Unfortunately, the boar had killed Adonis.  Aphrodite found his dead body, abandoned by his friends (no one wanted to face her wrath).  Aphrodite mourned and mourned, but eventually returned to Mt. Olympus and Ares (oh, and Hephaestus, when she wanted some new jewels).
     Aphrodite never discovered that the boar had actually been Ares in disguise.

*Interesting Fact* The goddess Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Battle, was so much more powerful than Ares that a mere glance from her could cast aside the great spear of Ares when he hurled it at her.

*Interesting Fact* Another enormous boar, the Calydonian Boar, was the subject of another even more famous hunt, which I shall write about when I discuss the heroine Atalanta.  Yet another boar, the Erymanthian Boar, was the 4th Labor of Heracles.

*Interesting Fact*  Mars, the Roman name of Ares, is nicknamed the "Red Planet" because of its red sands.  The planet was so named Mars because it resembled the color of blood, much of which is shed during war.  Note that the names of the planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto --  yes, yes, I know that Pluto was demoted, but really ...) are named after the Roman names of Greek gods.

*Interesting Fact* The month March was also named after Mars.  Martial campaigns would take a break during the winter months, but when spring began in March, armies would once again go off to war.

*Interesting Fact* The Latin name for our day "Tuesday" is Martis, or "Day of Mars."  This crossed directly over into Spanish Martes, French Mardi, and Italian Martedi.  All, apparently, good days for war.  Our day Tuesday, in fact, is named after the Norse god of war, Tiw.  So, "Tiw's Day," or "Tuesday."

*Mythology Book Corner*   The story of the Erymanthian Boar is nicely told and depicted in a stunningly illustrated graphic novel entitled Hercules: The Twelve Labors: A Greek Myth.  All the other 12 Labors of Heracles are described as well.  For those of you who love to read myths and love to see pictures as well, this book is certainly for you!

Interested in English vocabulary and its Latin and Greek roots?  Take a look at, a site which describes the most comprehensive dictionary available based on English derivatives that come from Latin and Greek root words.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hephaestus, Olympian Blacksmith

Greetings fans of Greek and Roman mythology! After having recently written about AphroditePersephone, and Hades,  I shall now move on to one of the more troubled gods, Hephaestus (Vulcan in Roman, also known as Mulciber).  Hephaestus was one of only three children of Zeus and Hera (the other two being Ares and Hebe), and his troubles began at birth.  You might ask immediately why it would be such a bad thing to be born an immortal god (ah!  an oxymoron!  all gods are immortal!  whoops!  except for Pan, the god of the satyrs, who was reported to have died in the 1500s ... but let's move on), but sadly enough for Hephaestus, it was (well, kind of).  When Hera gave birth to him, he was weak with a pitiful appearance, so his mother, highly displeased, simply tossed him off of Mt. Olympus!  That would make a great modern-day American short story!  Hera, fortunately, had quite the arm, so he did not fall upon the hard land, but fell into the sea, quite the distance from Mt. Olympus.

Having landed, thankfully unscathed, into the sea, he was found by the goddess Thetis.  One of the innate talents of Hephaestus was to make beautiful jewelry, and so he, in gratitude, began to bedeck Thetis with gorgeous necklaces and splendid, shining diamond rings.  This he did for a full nine years.  One day, however, Hera discovered that Thetis had better jewelry to wear than she did, in fact, Thetis had better jewelry than any of the Olympians (more on this fact later), so Hera asked Thetis where she had gotten it.  Finally she wrested the fact that her very son Hephaestus was making those pretty, priceless baubles for her, and the trick was up.  Soon enough, Hephaestus was reentered into the good graces of his mother, and was "allowed" to return to Mt. Olympus so he could make things now, in "gratitude," for his mother (one might think for a moment about what Hephaestus thought about all of that!).

Things went "swimmingly" for a while up on Mt. Olympus until one day Hephaestus and his father Zeus got into a bit of a tiff, and Zeus promptly threw him off the other side of Mt. Olympus!  This time Hephaestus didn't fare so well ... he landed, splat!, upon the hard earth, and broke every bone in his body.  His legs were especially affected by the fall, as was his back--he would be kyphotic, or hunch-backed, ever after, and he would have trouble walking.  One might imagine the appearance of Quasimodo from Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame when one thinks of Hephaestus.  Later on, he was once again "pardoned," and allowed to return, albeit in much rougher shape than the first time he returned!

Because Hephaestus was now so ugly and deformed, limping along and bent over because of his horribly disfigured back, he decided to dwell within the depths of Mt. Olympus, and there established a forge where he made made items with his great skill as a blacksmith.  He made himself golden leg supports to help him walk.  He made golden mechanical women that came to life to help him in his smithy.  He also fashioned 20 three-legged tables with golden wheels that would move by themselves to transport items around his stygian, or gloomy, smithy. The Cyclopes, or one-eyed giants, also helped out in his forge.  With all this assistance, he was able to forge some of the greatest weapons of the gods and heroes, including the winged shoes and helmet of Hermes,  the shield of Achilles, the aegis (the shield of Athena that bore the head of Medusa), the golden chariot of Helios, and the bow and arrows of Eros, the god of love (Roman Cupid), to name a few. 

Hephaestus, despite the fact that he was the ugliest of the Olympians, did manage to marry Aphrodite, the most beautiful of the goddesses.  Can you guess why?  Consider the fact that Aphrodite loved to gaze at herself in her hand mirror ... ah, now you have it.  The gorgeous, shining, beauty-enhancing jewelry!  Yep, that's right, this was not a marriage for love (marriages for love were unknown for the most part in the ancient world; that concept really did not have its origin until the troubadours in the Middle Ages).  Aphrodite's interest in Hephaestus was purely in the sense of being a trophy wife ... he made her beautiful, beautiful items, which she accepted with evident and rapacious glee. In fact, he made her the cestus, a girdle that made her simply even more irresistible to men.  Why he did that we'll probably never know!  He probably wasn't the jealous type, I guess.

Hephaestus, besides being the god of blacksmiths, was also the god of fire, volcanoes, sculptors, metal, metallurgy, and technology.  From the depths of Olympus to Dell.  Isn't life interesting? 

Mythology Book Corner:  This book corner suggests great mythology reads.   Probably one of the best books on Greek mythology ever written was by Edith Hamilton, a book simply called Mythology.  It's been around forever ... you know that because I read it as a kid.  It's fabulous!

*Interesting Fact* A sailor reported that Pan had indeed died.  No one knows the name of that sailor. But he was really sure about that.

*Interesting Fact* The word "volcano" and "vulcanize" come from the Roman name for Hephaestus, Vulcan.

*Interesting Fact* The thunderbolts of Zeus were fashioned by the Cyclopes, not Hephaestus.