* Trigger warning: Brief discussion of rape in myths.
When I went off to college, I was dead set on majoring in English and ONLY English. I knew I wanted to write, I knew I was fascinated by words, and that was literally the only thing I could think about. Then, in my Freshman year, I took a semester of Latin to satisfy my language requirement. By the end of month one, we were translating straight out of Cicero, Ovid, and Caesar. We studied myths, learned about Roman culture, and talked about all the ways Latin has influenced the modern-day romance languages.
I. Was. Fascinated.
One semester of Latin turned into two, then three, then five. What was supposed to be a simple language requirement became a minor, then a second major. In the end, it turned into my senior thesis, one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.
You’re probably wondering what the heck this has to do with my writing and coaching career. Well, it turns out language is not the only thing we got from the classical world. In fact, the majority of modern story structure comes, in some form or another, from classical myth.
Since reading Percy Jackson in middle school, mythology has played a huge part in my writing. It’s inspired characters, concepts, and entire stories. But it wasn’t until studying classical language and mythology that I realized just how intertwined mythology and story are.
This is why I decided to write a post about my favorite myths. Hopefully, in reading this post, you’ll learn a little about classical myth and be inspired along the way!
The Myth of Hades and Persephone
The myth of Hades and Persephone was my first mythical love, and it goes something like this:
Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was playing amongst the flowers when Hades, lord of the underworld, first saw her. Hades, instantly smitten, decided to abduct her and take her into the underworld with him.
When Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, found out about her daughter’s disappearance, she began to search. In her anger, she allowed the plants and greenery to die off, leaving the earth barren and dead and sad. It remained this way until she discovered Hades’ part in the abduction and demanded he return Persephone to her. Hades agreed only under the condition that Persephone be returned to him for a part of every year.
This is one version of antiquity’s explanation for the seasons. Each year, when Persephone returned to the underworld, Demeter’s sadness and anger caused the earth’s greenery to wither and die. Then, when Persephone returned, it came to life again.
This story has always been especially fascinating for me because of its evolution over time. More specifically, what was once a rape narrative has now become a modern romance trope: Dark and powerful man intrigues naive girl, pulls her into his world, and propels her from innocent girl to mature “queen.” I’ve often wondered what could have caused this shift from rape narrative to romance narrative, especially given that many of these modern romance stories actually focus on the woman’s shift from innocence to power.
I don’t have any concrete answers, but I’ve found this question especially inspiring and thought-provoking. Do you have any thoughts on this? Share with me in the comments!
The Myth of Odysseus
Odysseus’s journey home as depicted in Homer’s Odyssey, is one of the most famous classical myths, and for good reason. In its simplest form, the Odyssey is the story of Odysseus’s journey home after the Trojan war. Over the course of this epic tale, Odysseus encounters various mythical figures. These include the cyclops, Polyphemus and the famous hero, Heracles.
Scholars have been theorizing about the Odyssey for years, and Odysseus’s story has come to represent the ultimate Hero’s Journey. In fact, I would argue that the Iliad and Odyssey epitomize Joseph Campbell’s theory of the mono-myth and cyclical storytelling, as presented in his The Hero With a Thousand Faces. (I have a never-ending stream of thoughts about the Hero’s Journey… More on that in another blog post😊.)
My fascination with Odysseus comes from the way his story has informed modern storytelling. In fact, it is SO widespread that Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (a book laying out exactly how to write a novel that follows the hero’s journey) has nearly 3,000 reviews on Amazon!
What do you think about this? Let me know in the comments.
If you ask me, classical myths are kind of awesome. They may have originated thousands of years ago, but they are still prevalent today, especially when it comes to creative writing. I never saw myself as a classics nerd, but here I am, and I have to say… it’s made me not only a better thinker, but also a better writer.
What’s your favorite myth? Comment down below and let me know!
With Love, Cats, and Coffee 💖,
The Present Active Writer