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Ancient Greek Mythical Characters Essay


Daedalus

Daedalus is a character from Greek mythology, a famous artist and craftsman known for his numerous inventions, as well as for building the Labyrinth on Crete. He is also known as the father of Icarus; he made wings for Icarus and himself to escape from Crete by air together. The story of Icarus and Daedalus is told in a Roman source, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”; the Isle of Crete was blocked by the order of King Minos, but Daedalus wanted to return to his home, Athens. Thus, he devised the wings for himself and his young son; but the son disobeyed his instructions and sank in the sea.1 It is stated that Daedalus is a symbol of the ability of Athenians to invent and solve extremely complicated problems. Making The Labyrinth is one of the embodiments of this ability; creating the wings enabling people to fly is another.

Artemis

Artemis is the Ancient Greek goddess of wild animals and hunting, of fertility and virginity; she is also the embodiment of femininity. This daughter of Zeus and Leto is usually portrayed as a huntress with a bow and arrows, sometimes accompanied by a deer. According to one of the myths, Agamemnon angered Artemis during the Troyan War by slaying one of her animals. Agamemnon was advised to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to appease the goddess.2 Apparently, the Ancient Greeks, who very much disliked human sacrifice, believed Artemis to be rather cruel and ruthless if they thought she would wish Iphigenia to be sacrificed. That the goddess of femininity and virginity possessed such traits is not surprising; it was common in that (rather a sexist) culture to think of women as of ruthless and cunning beings.

Medusa

Medusa, a mythical being of the Ancient Greece, was one of the three of the Gorgon sisters, the only one mortal among them. She had the appearance of a hideous human female with snakes instead of hair; her gaze was able to turn anyone into stone permanently. Ovid tells the story of how Perseus beheaded Medusa in order to protect her mother from Polydectes, who fell in love with her and whom Perseus believed to be dishonorable.3

Numerous gods helped Perseus and equipped him for battle so that he could slay Medusa. Thus, Perseus killed one woman in order to protect another. Interestingly, late classical myths state that Medusa was at first a beautiful woman who offended Athena and was transformed into a beast of malevolence, an embodiment of female rage. Thus, Medusa was first abused by one woman, and then slain to save another, which, perhaps, also shows the attitude of the Ancient Greek (male-dominated) culture towards women.

Heracleidae

Heracleidae, or Heraclids, were the numerous descendants of the Ancient Greek hero Heracles and his multiple consorts. The words are most often used to denote the descendants of the oldest son of Heracles, Hyllus, one of the generations of whom were able to capture the Peloponnesus, a land once owned by Heracles. According to Euripides, the children of Heracles were pursued by the Herald Copreus working for King Eurystheus, who was responsible for many of Heracles’ problems and thought the hero’s sons would take revenge on him.4 The play finishes with the death of Eurystheus; other myths state that Heraclids would recapture the Peloponnesus later. According to some historical hypotheses, the recapture is associated with the Dorian invasion, which might have taken place in the latter half of the 2nd millennium B.C. These hypotheses reflect the fact that some historical events often might stand beyond the stories told in myths and beliefs.

Seven against Thebes

Seven against Thebes is the third (and the only one extant) part of Aeschylus’ trilogy about Oedipus; it was first staged in 467 B.C. The story starts when Polynices leads an army to Thebes in order to take power from Eteocles; both are sons of Oedipus, who married his own mother and, having learned of it, left their children to divide the kingdom via bloodshed. According to the story, Polynices leads six other heroes to attack and capture Thebes; there are seven bloody battles, in which most of the heroes die.

Tydeus, a fallen hero, even eats the brains of Melanippus.5 Noteworthy, the story was written circa 467 B.C., approximately 10-12 years after the unsuccessful invasion of Xerxes supported by Thebes; thus, Thebes was rather disliked by the other polises. It is, therefore, not surprising that the cruelty, greed, and other adversities of human nature are depicted as attributes of Thebans.

Theseus

Theseus was one of the most famous Ancient Greek heroes, the 11th King of Athens, the son of either Aegeus (an Athenian king) or Poseidon (the God of the Sea), and Aethra. Theseus was famous for numerous feats, including the death of the Minotaur. According to Plutarch, Theseus, assisted by Ariadne who had fallen in love with him, killed the Minotaur, the beast who had been terrorizing the population of the Isle of Crete.

Theseus then found the way out of the Labyrinth using Ariadne’s thread, and sailed off Crete with Ariadne and “the youths.”6 Interestingly, by finding the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, killing him, and finding the way out, Theseus shows his Athenian strength and intelligence (even though he was helped by Ariadne). Importantly, the Labyrinth was built by Daedalus, and is, thus, also a result of Athenian ingenuity. Thus, Athenians attempted to make Theseus one of their most famous heroes, and a symbol of their wisdom, intelligence, and strength.

Bibliography

Aeschylus. “Theoi Greek Mythology. Web.

Euripides. “The Internet Classics Archive. Web.

Euripides. “The Internet Classics Archive. Web.

Ovid. “Theoi Greek Mythology. Web.

Ovid. “.” The Internet Classics Archive. Web.

Plutarch. “Theoi Greek Mythology. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Ovid, “Metamorphoses, Book 8,” Theoi Greek Mythology. Web.
  2. Euripides, “Iphigenia at Aulis,” The Internet Classics Archive. Web.
  3. Ovid, “Metamorphoses,” The Internet Classics Archive. Web.
  4. Euripides, “The Heracleidae,” The Internet Classics Archive. Web.
  5. Aeschylus, “Seven against Thebes,” Theoi Greek Mythology. Web.
  6. Plutarch, “Life of Theseus,” Theoi Greek Mythology. Web.
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IvyPanda. 2020. "Ancient Greek Mythical Characters." July 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ancient-greek-mythical-characters/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Ancient Greek Mythical Characters'. 1 July.

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