I’m a jack of many interests and a master of none. Greek mythology is one of the many, but my knowledge mostly comes from trawling through Wikipedia pages for days on end. But even a rudimentary reading of the complex and devious world of the Greek gods reveals how much of our basic culture came from Ancient Greece. The founder of Western civilisation, which isn’t too much of an exaggeration.
For instance – Asclepius was a healing figure in Greek mythology. Son of Apollo, he was an important and sacred figure in Ancient Greek medicine; Hippocrates himself attended a college founded in honour of Asclepius. The rod of Asclepius is still a symbol used today, though lesser known that the two snakes entwined around a rod, which is a symbol of Hermes. But what I found most interesting is that Asclepius had a daughter who was the goddess of cleanliness, health and sanitation; her name was Hygieia, which I have to assume is where we got the word ‘hygiene’ from. He was also father to Panacea, goddess of universal health, who’s name is also a word for a cure for all ills.
Asclepius, the god of medicine
Mnemosyne was the Greek muse of memory, among other things. Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, who was blended with the water nymph who’d fallen in love with him, therefore becoming both sexes. This is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s like finding fossils of our ancestors, remnants of them that remain. It’s not just the Ancient Greeks either; ‘cereal’ comes from the Roman goddess of the harvest, Ceres.
All of these are just snippets of information pulled from my memory, but Greek mythology has a wide appeal. Lovers of drama will find plenty of juicy tales about adultery, wars, betrayal and jealousy. The Ancient Greeks may have put their gods on a mountain, but they certainly didn’t put them on a pedestal. Their stories read like something from a soap opera, which is what makes them hugely entertaining as well as interesting. In any case, it’s a great subject if you want to learn something and have fun along the way.
A coin to pay the ferryman, democracy, medicine and the Hippocratic oath, philosophy and learning; the Ancient Greeks gave us all of this. So when someone tries to make their country exclusive, and criticises immigration and its perceived threat on British culture, we should all remember where much of that culture came from. Democracy is a great thing, and its roots can be found far across the world and thousands of years ago. When you read through the stories of Greek Mythology, the many names of the gods, muses and creatures found there, it’s easy to see where we came from, and how much our society can trace back there.