Fangirl Fridays – Greek Myth in Books We Love

Greek Mythology + Sci-Fi / Fantasy Books
I may have said it before and I will gladly say it again: I love the ancient Greek Myths (GM), and I also love science-fiction and fantasy stories. So I decided to try and combine these two loves into one fangirl post.

I know that Greek (and other classical) mythologies provide the foundation of many sci-fi and fantasy tales.

Just think about what we have here: Gods and Humans, immortal and mortal, mythological and magical creatures, power and magic with intrigues, quarrels, and jealousy. Myth is basically the result of humans trying to explain their surroundings — nature phenomena like thunder, lightning, and earthquakes, the unknown, and the unrecognized. Myth is also a way to explain and advise human behavior by way of storytelling. For example, the story of Narcissus the hunter is a lesson in excessive pride and its punishment.

I hope you’ll come explore with me a few of my sci-fi and fantasy favorites that were influenced by tales of the Greek Myths.

The ancient Greeks were the first to make their gods in their own image. The Greek gods loved and laughed, quarreled and fought, loved to eat and drink, and displayed the full spectrum of admirable and less admirable human characteristics like honor, jealousy and suspicion, bravery and corruption, and honesty and betrayal. The gods lived “above” mankind on Mount Olympus, but they behaved like mortals and had human emotions. (For example, Zeus had a lot of love affairs. Which he tried to hide from his jealous wife, Hera, even though he was king of the gods.) The Greeks knew they had to be careful and honor the gods, or else risk the gods’ fury. On the other hand, mortals could interact with gods on many levels, no fear there.

Atomic Leda,
Salvador Dali, 1949
Zeus, the king of the Olympus gods, could perform physical transformations (an ancient shape shifter?) among other abilities. There is a story about Zeus falling in love with Ganymede, a young shepherd from Mount Ida. Zeus came to Ganymede in the form of an eagle and carried him to Mount Olympus, where he became cupbearer to the gods. Once, Zeus transformed into a swan in order to seduce Leda, the wife of the king of Sparta.

There is the story of Theseus, the great Athenian hero, and the Minotaur: Every year king Aegeus of Athens had to send young men and women to Crete, as a punishment for the death of King Minos’s son in Athens. King Minos’s men drew lots to select the young women and men who would be sacrificed to the Minotaur — a monster, half bull, half human, who lived in a labyrinth in Crete. Theseus volunteered to sail to Crete, in place of one of the chosen men, and slay the monster. Remember The Hunger Games? Katniss volunteered for the games in place of her young sister, whose name came up in the lottery bowl.

Epic quests and journeys are a popular theme in many GM and fantasy stories. Think about Odysseus and his adventures, or Jason and the Argonauts, awesome heroes with a long journey or a quest to fulfill. Now think about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and what I consider to be THE epic quest!

In the mythic voyage of Jason and the Argonauts, they come upon two rocks that clashed together and crashed any ship passing between them. With a king’s aid, the Argo passed through the rocks safely. In Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the questing party passed through the Argonath, known also as The Gates of Argonath or The Pillars of Kings, a monument comprising two enormous statues carved in the likenesses of Isildur and Anarion, standing upon either side of the River Anduin.

In the Mistborn series, by Brandon Sanderson, there are many adventures and difficulties on their mission. What if the hero of their prophecy fails?

In Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind, Richard and Kahlan undertake a courageous and dangerous quest.

Of course, these are only a few examples, there are many more.

There are a few witches or sorcerers in the GM, such as Hecate and her daughters, Medea and Circe. Hecate is associated with the underworld and magic; she is considered to be “Queen of Witches”. She had a great knowledge of herbs and drugs, which she passed along to her daughters. She is known also as the Triple Goddess, the Maiden-Mother-Crone Goddess. Neil Gaiman referred to the Triple Goddess in The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Roald Dahl wrote a wonderful children’s book called The Witches:
Real witches don’t ride around on broomsticks.... They are vile, cunning, detestable creatures who disguise themselves as nice ladies, they really loath children....

Just like Medea.

In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the Maid, the Mother, and the Crone are three aspects of the seven parts of the god of the Faith of the Seven, which is the primary faith in Westeros.

This one is not a book, but I just have to add that Hecate is mentioned in Buffy the Vampire Slayer a few times, like here:

Amy: “Alright. You wanna fry a witch? I’ll give you a witch! Goddess Hecate, work thy will!”
Buffy: “Uh-oh...”

~ Gingerbread, Season 3, Episode 11

We have written about several books featuring witches on our blog: The Hollows, the All Souls Trilogy, Downside Ghosts.

Do you know the story of Medusa? The golden-haired priestess who was raped by Poseidon, the Sea God, inside Athena’s temple? She was punished by the goddess. Her curls became snakes, and those who looked into her eyes turned to stone. Vampires, anyone? There is also a story about Asclepius, who received a gift from Athena — two drops of Medusa’s blood, one of which had the power to cure and even resurrect, while the other was a deadly poison. Vampire Myth?

The Greek gods and goddesses had immortality and everlasting youth, which they ensured by drinking and eating nectar and ambrosia, much like vampires drink blood.

If you have read The Others series by Anne Bishop, you probably remember Tess and her writhing hair, like Medusa’s snake hair. Looking into Medusa’s eyes will turn a person to stone; looking at Tess’a eyes will kill you, too.

The Pythia, otherwise known as the Oracle of Delphi, was the priestess in Apollo’s Temple in Delphi, Greece. I “met” her in book 7 of that series we do not name:

An ancient vampire is sitting in a throne like chair — the Ancient Pythoness....
~ All Together Dead

I "met" her again in the wonderful Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance. A recent legacy made Cassandra Palmer heir to the title of Pythia, the world’s chief clairvoyant.

Nymphs, the spirits of rivers, are found in the Chicagoland Vampires series by Chloe Neill.

The look he gave back didn’t offer much hope. “I suppose it’s possible,” he quietly said, “that the nymphs’ magic would dissipate completely and they’d lose their connection to the water altogether. I assume I’ll get stronger the farther I get, but they can only go so far from the water for so long.”
~ Drink Deep

Rick Riordan and his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series entertain us with gods, demigods, Titans, mythological creatures and monsters, and one Perseus, Percy Jackson.

The Webmage series, by Kelly McCullough, combines GM and computers. Ravin is a computer genius, who is also the descendant of the three Greek Fates. He tries desperately to locate and shut down a magical computer program.

In the Dark-Hunter series, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, the dark-hunters are a group of warriors. Every one of them was offered immortality and revenge by Artemis in return for eternal service in her private army.

In Dan Simmons’s Ilium series, the Trojan War rages at the foot of Olympos Mons on Mars, manipulated by Zeus and his immortal family.

In Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips, the 12 Greek gods are in London. It’s the 21st century. I laughed so much.

In the Goddess Summoning series, by P.C. Cast, we have Demeter and Hecate, Artemis and Apollo, Achilles and the Trojan War.

The Age of Zeus, by James Lovegrove, combines the ancient pantheon Gods with modern-day technology.

Mary Shelley wrote her famous Frankenstein novel in 1816. Its full name was Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. She wanted her readers to know that the myth of Prometheus was the inspiration for her story. The most popular version of Prometheus’s story, which had a key role in Zeus’s victory over the Titans, is that he was punished by Zeus for stealing the fire from the Olympos and giving it to mankind. He was bound to a rock for all eternity, while an eagle ate his liver every day. The great Hercules released Prometheus from his chains many years later.

Because we are the Wenches, I think you need to hear one more tale connected to the above story. Zeus was angered by the act of giving fire to mankind, and as a punishment (ya, he was great at punishment) ordered Hephaestus (the god of fire, metalworking, stonemasonry, and the art of sculpture) to create the first woman, Pandora, from clay. And ever since Pandora opened that forbidden box she’s so famous for, women were blamed for the negative aspects of life, all that plagues the human race – evil, illness, war, and death... you name it.

There are so many more Greek Myths and so many other modern-day stories that were shaped by that mythology. My post is not even the tip of the iceberg. I have mentioned only a few of the Olympic Gods. There are also a lot of similarities between the heroes of Greek Mythology and the superheroes of comic books and graphic novels. And innumerable movies and TV series based on these myths.

It is very interesting, to me at least, to see how the modern writers interpret the classical text of Greek Mythology and translate it into modern tales of fantasy and science fiction.

So, Saucy Wenches, do you like the stories of Greek Mythology? Maybe you know other books based on these stories? Come and share your knowledge with me!


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