Greek mythology in popular culture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 19th-century statue of Athena, in front of the Austrian Parliament Building, illustrates "myth fill[ing] in where history failed" to provide an appropriate local personification of the political rise of the Parliament over the power of Emperor Franz Joseph (r. 1848–1916).[1]
Pegasus has frequently appeared on airmail stamps, such as this early example from Italy, 1930.
The champion Thoroughbred horse, Poseidon, had 11 wins as a three-year-old racer. In Greek mythology, the god Poseidon was credited with the creation of horses.[2]

Elements of Greek mythology appear many times in culture, including pop culture.[3][need quotation to verify] The Greek myths spread beyond the Hellenistic world when adopted into the culture of ancient Rome, and Western cultural movements have frequently incorporated them ever since,[4] particularly since the Renaissance.[5] Mythological elements feature in Renaissance art and in English poems,[6] as well as in film and in other literature,[7] and in songs and commercials.[8] Along with the Bible and the classics-saturated works of Shakespeare, the myths of Greece and Rome have been the major "touchstone" in Western culture for the past 500 years.[9][need quotation to verify]

Elements appropriated or incorporated include the gods of varying stature, humans, demigods, titans, giants, monsters, nymphs, and famed locations. Their use can range from a brief allusion to the use of an actual Greek character as a character in a work. Many types of creatures—such as centaurs and nymphs—are used as a generic type rather than individuated characters out of myth.

Use by governments and public institutions[edit]

A coin featuring the profile of Hera on one face and Zeus on the other, c. 210 AC

Roman conquerors of the Hellenic East allowed the incorporation of existing Greek mythological figures such as Zeus into their coinage in places like Phrygia, in order to "augment the fame" of the locality, while "creating a stronger civil identity" without "advertising" the imposition of Roman culture.[10]

In the 21st century CE, the initial Greek 2-Euro coin featured the myth of Zeus and Europa, and sought to connect the new Europe to the ancient culture of Greece.[11] As of December  2012 the European Central Bank had plans to incorporate Greek mythological figures into the designs used on its bank notes.[12]

In 1795 the American colonial revolutionary Thomas Greenleaf titled his New York newspaper The Argus[13] after the mythological watchman; Greenleaf adopted the slogan "We Guard the Rights of Man".[14][need quotation to verify]

The figure of Pegasus appears frequently on stamps, particularly on those used for air mail.[15] In 1906, Greece issued a series of stamps featuring stories from the life of Hercules.[16] Australia commemorated the laying of an underwater cable linking the Australian mainland to the island of Tasmania with a stamp featuring an image of Amphitrite.[17]

The United States military has drawn on Greek mythology to name equipment such as the Nike missile project.[18] The United States Navy has commissioned over a dozen ships named from Greek mythology. The ships include:[19][20]

Greek mythology has provided names for a number of ships in the British navy. Such ships include:[21][22]

The Royal Australian Navy continued this tradition;[23][24] it also has a training facility in Victoria called HMAS Cerebus.[25]

The Royal New Zealand Navy inherited Greek mythological names from the Royal Navy: it operated HMNZS Achilles and maintains the base HMNZS Philomel.

The Canadair CP-107 Argus of the Royal Canadian Air Force is named in honor both of the hundred-eyed Argus Panoptes (the "all seeing") and of Odysseus' dog Argus - the only one to identify Odysseus upon his return home.[26]

Governments and institutions worldwide make use of mythological abstractions such as Dike/Iustitia (Justice) in grand public buildings. Museums, libraries and art galleries may feature sculptures and images referencing classical Muses.

In science and technology[edit]

The Apollo 16 lunar module on the moon

The elements tantalum and niobium are always found together in nature, and have been named after the King Tantalus and his daughter Niobe.[27][28] The element promethium also draws its name from Greek mythology,[27][28] as does titanium, which was named after the titans who in mythology were locked away far underground, which reflected the difficulty of extracting titanium from ore.[29]

Oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau named his research ship, a former British Royal Navy minesweeper, RV Calypso after the sea nymph Calypso.[30] The ship later inspired the John Denver song "Calypso".[31]

The Trojan Horse, a seemingly benign gift that allowed entrance by a malicious force, gave its name to the computer hacking methodology called Trojans.[32]

Biology and medicine[edit]

The medical profession is symbolized by the snake-entwined staff of the god of medicine, Asclepius. Today's medical professionals hold a similarly honored position as did the healer-priests of Asclepius.[33]

The Gaia hypothesis proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. The hypothesis was formulated by the scientist James Lovelock[34] and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis[35] and was named after Gaia, the mother of the Greek gods.[36]

Astronomy and astrology[edit]

Many celestial bodies have been named after elements of Greek mythology.

Social science[edit]

In psychoanalytic theory, the term "Oedipus complex", coined by Sigmund Freud, denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrate upon a child's desire to sexually possess his/her mother, and kill his/her father.[42][43] In his later writings Freud postulated an equivalent Oedipus situation for infant girls, the sexual fixation being on the father. Though not advocated by Freud himself, the term 'Electra complex' is sometimes used in this context.[44]

A "Medea complex" is sometimes used to describe parents who murder or otherwise harm their children.[45]

In film and television[edit]

A director providing instructions to actors during a film production of the story of Orpheus


  • The Battlestar Galactica franchise (particularly the 2004 television series)[46] developed from concepts that utilized Greek mythology.[47]
  • Heroes is a series that plays on the concept of the new generation of gods overthrowing the old.[48]
  • The television series Lost uses Greek mythology, primarily in its online Lost Experience.[46]
  • The television Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess are set in a fantasy version of ancient Greece and play with the legends, rewriting and updating them for a modern audience.[49][50][51]
  • The use of Greek mythology in children's television shows is credited with helping to bring "the great symbols of world literature and art" to a mass audience of children who would otherwise have limited exposure.[52] Children's programming has included items such as a recurring segment on CKLW-TV[clarification needed] where Don Kolke would be dressed up as Hercules and discuss fitness and Greek mythology.[53]
  • Netflix's original animated TV series Blood of Zeus featured Greek gods and goddess such as Hermes; it premiered on 27 October 2020.


A 15th century depiction of Amazons in battle armor
  • Amazons, prior to their appearance in American Hollywood films where they have been presented in "swimsuit-style costume without armor" and "western lingerie combined with various styles of 'tough' male" clothing, had been traditionally depicted in classical Greek warrior armor.[54]
  • Jean Cocteau regarded Orpheus as "his myth," and used it as the basis for many projects, including Orphée.[55]
  • The film Orfeu Negro is Marcel Camus' reworking of the Cocteau film.[55]
  • The 2001 film Moulin Rouge! is also based on the Orpheus story,[56] but set in 1899, and containing modern pop music.[57]
  • The Disney production of Hercules (1997) was inspired by Greek myths, but "greatly modernizes the narrative" as it goes "to great lengths to spice up its mythic materials with wacky comedy and cheerfully anachronistic dialogue," which, Keith Booker says, is playing a part in the "slow erosion of historical sense."[58] Moreover, though the film depicts Greek mythology, the title character is named after the Roman hero, rather than the Greek "Heracles".
  • The film The Lighthouse was inspired by the myth of Prometheus, and depicts its younger lighthouse keeper in a pose similar to that of usual artistic depictions of Prometheus.

In games[edit]

Tabletop roleplaying games[edit]

  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Age of Heroes Campaign Sourcebook (1994).
  • Dungeons & Dragons HWR3: The Milenian Empire (1992). A Greek-inspired country within the Hollow World setting.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Mythic Odysseys of Theros (2020). Based on the Greek-inspired Theros setting from the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game.

Video games[edit]

  • The 1988 arcade game Altered Beast is set in Ancient Greece and follows a player character resurrected by Zeus to rescue his daughter Athena from the ruler of the underworld, Neff.
  • The 1996 video game Wrath of the Gods is an adventure game set in mythical Greece, including an educational component where players can learn about Greek myths and history and see images of Greek art in cut-a-ways.[59]
  • The 2006 game Persona 3 includes many personae based on mythical Greek figures, using Tartarus in particular as the game's main dungeon.
  • In 2003, GameSpy remarked that the 1986 video game Kid Icarus follows a trajectory similar to its namesake, Icarus, who had escaped imprisonment when his father created wings from feathers and wax.[60] The same could be said of the sequel, Kid Icarus: Uprising.
  • The God of War franchise of video games is loosely based on Greek mythology, with the main character being named after Kratos (though not the same character).[61] The video game Kratos is a warrior from Sparta and the son of the King of the Greek Gods, Zeus and is the personification of power. The series follows Kratos, who initially serves the Gods and later becomes a God himself but later goes on a path of vengeance against them after they betray and try to kill him.
  • Koei Tecmo's Warriors Orochi 4 follows a theme of mythology, and is set with combination between Asian Mythology, three kingdoms era, Japanese Warring States period, and Greek Mythology. Characters of this game are also focused in Greek Mythology, such as Zeus, Athena, Perseus, and Ares.[62]
  • The Ubisoft game Assassin's Creed Odyssey is set in the mythological history of the Peloponnesian War. The game features a DLC pack titled "Fate of Atlantis" in which Hermes appears, revealing himself to be a member of the precursor race, the Isu.
  • The 2020 game Hades incorporates gods and other figures of Greek mythology into narrative as a "dysfunctional family", which the player learns as they guide their character Zagreus to leave his father Hades and battle out of the underworld with the help of the other Olympian gods.[63]
  • In the 2002 Ensemble Studios game Age of Mythology, Greek mythology plays a large role. The Greek culture can utilize creatures from Greek mythology such as the cyclopses, chimeras, and centaurs in combat, and worship twelve different Greek gods such as Ares, Poseidon, or Hephaestus, gaining different advantages depending on the chosen god. The main campaign, which centers around an original character named Arkantos, features figures from many Greek mythological tales, with Chiron and Ajax playing the greatest roles among the Greek heroes.[64][65]
  • The video game Fate Grand Order, which is part of a larger universe from Type-Moon, depicts the Twelve Olympians and their ancestors as originally being Machine Gods in the form of Spacecraft meant to terraform planets. They lose these bodies at some point and reform as traditional Earthly gods, with their new bodies based on the humanoid terminals they used for interacting with humans.
  • Smite features many of the Greek gods and monsters and their Roman counterparts. From Zeus to Charon, Bellona to Vulcan, they are playable gods from the Greco-Roman pantheon.


  • Atalanta, Italian football club, took its name from the Greek heroine Atalanta. In addition, the club's crest depicts the face of the heroine.[66]

In marketing[edit]

In painting and sculpture[edit]

Particularly starting in the Renaissance, artists across Europe produced thousands of works of art depicting the Greek deities and their myths, for reasons ranging from the erudite to the political to the erotic. In particular, in certain periods it was permissible to depict pagan deities nude when it would have been scandalous to so depict a human model or character.

Romans would frequently keep statuary of the Greek god Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and pleasure, in their homes to use as a method of sanctioning relaxation without "any intellectual demands."[71]

Medusa's likeness has been featured by numerous artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Peter Paul Rubens, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin and Benvenuto Cellini.[72]

In literature[edit]

Percy Shelley's work translating the poem Prometheus Unbound (depicted here by Joseph Severn) also helped inspire Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Some stories in the Arabian Nights, such as the story of Sinbad blinding a giant, are thought to have been inspired by Greek myths.[74]

In 1816, Percy Shelley had been working on a translation of Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound for Lord Byron.[75] That summer, Shelley and his lover, Mary Godwin, as well as others, stayed with Lord Byron in Switzerland. As a contest, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Mary, who would eventually adopt the name Mary Shelley, began writing her Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which was declared the winner of the contest.[76][77] The fact that she overtly subtitled the novel emphasizes Shelley's inspiration from the story of Prometheus, drawing particular attention to the "metaphorical parallels."[78]

In Irish literature, writers such as Seamus Heaney have used the Greek myths to "intertextualize" the actions of the British Government.[79]

Andrew Lang rewrote the tale of Perseus as the anonymous "The Terrible Head" in The Blue Fairy Book.[80]

In C. S. Lewis's retelling of Cupid and Psyche, Till We Have Faces, the narrator is Psyche's sister.[81]

Roberta Gellis's Shimmering Splendor is a retelling of Cupid and Psyche.[82][unreliable source?]

In poetry[edit]

A draft of the Keat's poem Endymion.

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri used characters from the legend of Troy in his Divine Comedy, placing the Greek heroes in hell to show his contempt for their actions.[9] Poets of the Renaissance began to widely write about Greek mythology, and "elicited as much praise for borrowing or reworking" such material as they did for truly original work.[9] The poet John Milton used figures from classical mythology to "further Christianity: to teach a Christian moral or illustrate a Christian virtue."[9][83] Euphrosyne, Hymen and Hebe appear in his L'Allegro.[84] Works of Alexander Pope, such as "The Rape of the Lock", parody classical works, even as the income from his translations of Homer allowed him to become "the first English writer to earn a living solely through his literature."[9]

In Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats rejects "charioted by Bacchus and his pards."[85] In his poem "Endymion", the "song of the Indian Maid" recounts how "Bacchus and his crew" interrupted the maid in her solitude.[86] He titled an 1898 narrative poem Lamia.[87]

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Oenone" is her lament that Paris deserted her for Helen.[88]

When poets of the German Romantic tradition, such as Friedrich Schiller, wrote about the Greek gods, their works were frequently "erotically charged," as they were "openly sensual and hedonistic."[89]

In "The Waste Land", T. S. Eliot incorporates a range of elements and inspirations from Greek mythology to pop music to Elizabethan history to create a "tour-de-force exposition of Western culture, from the elite to the folk to the utterly primitive."[90] The work of Indian poet Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was heavily influenced by Greek mythology.[91]

Nina Kosman published a book of poems inspired by Greek myths created by poets of the twentieth century from around the world which she intended to show not only the "durability" of the stories but how they are interpreted by "modern sensibility."[92]

In theatre[edit]

Clio-Danae Othoneou as Medea in a 2005 production in Epidaurus

In children's and young-adult literature[edit]

The Midas myth, from Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys. Illustration by Walter Crane, published 1893.
The rainbow effect frequently seen at Niagara Falls had inspired the use of "Iris", the goddess of the rainbow, for local geographical features
Hydra the Revenge roller coaster
  • In the 19th century, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote children's versions of the Greek myths,[102] which he intended to "entirely revolutionize the whole system of juvenile literature."[103] His work, along with the works of Bulfinch and Kingsley, have been credited with "recast[ing] Greek mythology into a genteel Victorian subject.[103]"
  • The Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan imagines that the Greek gods continue to conceive demigods in the modern age; the titular Percy Jackson is a son of Poseidon.[104] Riordan created the character when trying to help his son, who has ADHD and dyslexia, get interested in reading. In the stories, Percy's learning disabilities are a result of his heritage, thus Riordan used Greek mythology "as it has always been used: to explain something that is difficult to understand."[105] Riordan continues exploring Classical mythology in his subsequent series The Heroes of Olympus and The Trials of Apollo, the latter told from the perspective of the titular god. Following the conclusion of The Trials of Apollo, Riordan began working on standalone books in the series with the first being The Sun and the Star taking place from the perspectives Nico di Angelo and Will Solace who were recurring characters in the Percy Jackson series as well as the upcoming Percy Jackson and the Chalice of the Gods which will take place between The Heroes of Olympus and The Trials of Apollo.

In comics and graphic novels[edit]

  • In the opera within Girl Genius, the Heterodyne daughter who falls in love with the Storm King is Euphrosynia.[106]
  • The Amazon queen Hippolyta was used as the mother of Wonder Woman in DC Comics.[107]
  • In 2016 the French philosopher Luc Ferry launched the comic book series La Sagesse des mythes (The Wisdom of the Myths), which retells the Greek myths in a popular form but informed by modern scholarship.
  • Some mangas and animes have been influenced by Greek mythology to create their own one. In Saint Seiya, for instance, Athena has an army of "saints" (聖闘士, "knights" in some translations) who fight for protecting her against her rivals Poseidon and Hades during the "holy wars", the saints (as other warriors) wear armours based on the constellations or mythological beasts. Sailor Moon's plot is based on the moon mythology. The protagonist is Usagi the reincarnation of the Moon Princess: Selene, as her boyfriend (Mamoru) is the Endymion's reincarnation, and the sailor guardians (セーラー戦士) are based on the mythology of the planets of solar system.

In geography, architecture, and other constructions[edit]

In music[edit]

Rejection of use[edit]

During the Middle Ages, writers disdained the use of "pagan" influences such as Greek mythology which were seen to be a "slight to Christianity."[9] From a current cultural perspective, the Greek Orthodox metropolitan Agustinos Kantiotis has denounced the use of Greek mythology such as the use of Hermes on a postage stamp and the incorporation of images from Greek mythology into universities' logos and buildings.[126]

Within the cultures of Latin America, beginning in the 19th Century, the inspiration for culture has been dominated by elements from the Native American cultural myths, rather than those of the Greco-Roman inspiration.[5]

Greek women poets of the modern era; such as Maria Polydouri, Pavlina Pamboudi, Myrtiotissa, Melissanthi and Rita Boumi-Pappa; rarely use mythological references, which Christopher Robinson attributes to the "problem of gender roles, both inside and outside the myths."[127]

Martin Winter says that the idea that many commentaries about the widespread use of Greek myths throughout Western culture does not take into account the vast difference between what a modern viewer takes from the story and what it would have meant to an ancient Greek.[128]

See also[edit]


Explanatory notes[edit]


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