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Archive for the ‘Greek hero’ Category

Jason bringing Pelias the Golden Fleece; a win...

Jason bringing the Golden Fleece to Pelias (image via Wikipedia)

Consider this:  Young Greek hero Jason is preparing to defy death in his quest for the Golden Fleece. He and his comrades will face unholy dangers in their quest:  strength, courage and wits will be crucial for survival.   Knowing this, Jason selects as one of his ship’s crew not Hercules, but Joe the Stoner.      Wait… what?

Or this: Hector, Prince of Troy, has just completed a diplomatic mission to the kingdom of Sparta.  Hector learns en route to Troy that his brother, Paris, has abducted Helen, Queen of Sparta. Hector shouts, “Dude, are you insane? Turn this ship around!” and returns Helen to her husband.    Behold, no Trojan War.

How about: Bellerophon, hero who tamed Pegasus, flies all over the world on his winged horse.  He considers flying to Olympus, home of the gods… then decides that’s not the smartest idea he’s ever had. Bellerophon lives to a ripe old age.

Or, finally:  Pirithous approaches his pal, Theseus,  for help with  a road trip. Pirithous wants to marry Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.  The guys will have to fight their way into Hades, grab Persephone (her husband, Hades, might object… he’s the lord of death, by the way) and fight their way out.    Pirithous wants Theseus to come along and help him. Theseus recalls that  no living soul has ventured into the Underworld and returned alive.  “Man, that sounds like a bad deal,”  Theseus says.  “No thanks.”  Theseus and Pirithous avoid being glued to chairs in the underworld… for eternity, in Pirithous’ case.

As you probably guess, the actual story arcs in these myths did not go as described above.  Hercules was a member of the celebrated crew of the Argo (at least for a while), Hector did not take Helen back to Sparta and the ensuing Trojan War brought down his father’s kingdom.  Bellerophon decided to fly Pegasus to Olympus, so the winged horse bucked the hero’s  impudent butt off high over  Arcadia.  Pirithous and Theseus did charge into the underworld, intent on kidnapping Persephone; Hades was not amused, and glued them to chairs. Forever.

Teaching with stories has been a useful model since Aesop and his fables.  Jesus used parables quite often in the Bible, and Buddha taught with stories as well.  The “story as learning tool” model works.  Children and teenagers enjoy mythology, and a life skills discussion that starts with a story is less likely to seem like the much-dreaded “lecture”.   Personally, I find that  myths make terrific stepping-stones for conversations with my preteen son.

“Yes, there he sat, on the back of the winged ...

Bellerophon, revving Pegasus' engine (image:Wikipedia)

One: Choice of Friends.  An excellent book for teens and parents is  The Six Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make  by Sean Covey.  “Choice of Friends” ranks high on Covey’s list of life-changing choices.  The first myth cited above, Jason and the Argonauts, plays into that discussion.  The crew of the Argo did not pick Jason! Jason recruited his crew for that adventure, knowing that his choice of companions would be vital to not only to the success of the mission, but also to everyone’s survival.   My son and I have had fun imagining what would have happened if Jason had screwed up and did take Joe the Stoner instead of Hercules.  None of the outcomes are good; often they are hilariously bad.

Two: Conscious Loyalty.  The conflict between Hector’s loyalty to his brother versus his loyalty to what’s right makes this decision one of my favorite tools from The Iliad.  It is easy to translate this situation aboard the ship bound for Troy to a modern scene:  a teen sees a friend endanger himself or someone else, for instance.  Telling a responsible adult about a buddy’s bad behavior violates The Boy Code according to Dr. William Pollack  and girls dislike being “snitches”, too.  Counteracting this issue could involve a conversation about such choices, a talk prefaced by retelling this part of The Iliad to your teen.  It is a great story, and the importance of Hector’s action is obvious.

Three: Self-regulation.   Teens can be surprised to learn that sometimes it’s best not to do something, even though they can. Having more freedom as a teen equals more opportunities to screw up in that regard, unfortunately.  Bellerophon’s story of overreaching with his supernatural horse is like that of  a teen who realizes that Mom and Dad are out, but the keys to Mom’s Charger are on the kitchen counter.  Yes, she could take the 425-horsepower chariot out for a drive… but should she?

Four: Handling Peer Pressure. This issue is one that keeps parents up at night.  Sean Covey ranks peer pressure as a subset of his “Choice of Friends” category for major life decisions.  Teens have one main mission: to be cool at all times, no matter what. The Theseus/Pirithous story is a perfect lead-in for a conversation about what to do if one of your teen’s friends approaches him/her with a dangerous, destructive, or just plain stupid idea.  For instance, I have used this story with my son in talking about whether to get in a car with a buddy who has been drinking.

The power of mythology reaches across milennia, as its lessons in life issues apply still today.  Creative parents can put a modern spin on a myth, like any of those above, and have an effective tool for talking with their children about important choices.

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PegasusIt’s true:   The Greek god Zeus had an eagle.  Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, had her ever-present hunting dogs and stags with silver horns to pull her chariot.    For us lesser beings, one of my favorite things about mythology is Joseph Campbell’s concept of “magical helpers” along the path.  These often (but not always) appear as animals. Some interpreters of Greek myths add that the animal companion symbolizes Nature’s approval of the hero, or of his mission.

If one cares to look, Greek mythology is a garden of animals with fascinating powers, often acting as helper or companion to a hero.    Here is an introductory list:

  1. Pegasus, probably the most famous mythical animal of the Greeks, was a magnificent winged horse which sprang from the neck of Medusa after she had an unpleasant encounter (read: beheading) with the hero Perseus.  Pegasus’ name in Greek means “springing forth”.  The Greek hero Bellerophon tamed Pegasus before riding him into airborne battle with the monstrous Chimera.  The “magical helper” part of their relationship ended when Pegasus gave Bellerophon a forcible dismount: the hero, drunk with victory,  attempted to use the magical steed to ride to the home of the gods. The winged horse, however, was welcomed to Olympus, becoming a member of Zeus’ stable and a famous constellation as well.   Pegasus is known as Zeus’ thunderbolt carrier; the arrival of his constellation is the herald of spring.
  2. A loyal hound named Argus was the companion of young Odysseus, hero of the Iliad and of the Odyssey.  Argus was renowned for his speed, power, and near-supernatural ability to track game; the hound was at Odysseus’ side when the hero received his famous scar on the thigh (it later helped him prove his identity).   Argus stayed behind when Odysseus  left his kingdom of Ithaca for the decade-long Trojan War, followed by the Odyssey ‘s ten years of struggle to return home.   Argus was still waiting when, twenty years after his departure, Odysseus entered his own palace courtyard dressed as a beggar; despite all of that, the elderly Argus recognized his master, greeted him with a tail wag, and then died.  Argus is a touching, enduring example of love and loyalty: today, the Argus Institute at Colorado State University is named for him.
  3. The nearly-invincible hero of the Trojan War, Achilles, was a true demigod: his mother was a sea goddess.   The two magnificent horses that pulled Achilles’ war chariot, Balius and Xanthus, were wedding presents to Achilles’ parents from the Greek sea god, Poseidon.   As gifts from Poseidon, creator of horses, Balius and Xanthus were immortal, swift, and fearless.  Their father was Zephyr, the west wind.  Legend says that Balius and Xanthus hung their heads and wept when their charioteer, Patroclus, was killed in the Trojan war (Greek war chariots had a charioteer to handle the horses and  a soldier- Achilles in this case-  to do the fighting).  When Achilles took their reins in battle-rage, ready to ride for revenge upon Patroclus’ killer, Xanthus spoke, warning  him, “The day of your death is near… for you there is destiny to be killed in force by a god and a mortal” (Homer).   The Iliad then describes Achilles’ glorious charge toward Troy, his armor shining like the sun,  the two immortal horses’ hooves gleaming as they raced through the battalions with the speed of their sire, the West Wind.
The ancient storytellers knew of nature’s bonds with mankind.  This is but a tiny slice of the treasure trove of myths about marvelous animals:  as helpers, companions, and fellow warriors, their tales march down the halls of the ages still.  For further reading, you might enjoy this article about magical helpers.  

References:

Homer, Iliad, 19.32 via Theoi Greek Mythology

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