Mythology

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Summary
Analysis
These are less important myths, so Hamilton only describes each of them briefly. Amalthea is the goat whose milk fed the infant Zeus. Her horn is the Horn of Plenty, or “Cornucopia,” and is always filled with fruit and flowers. The Amazons are a famous race of women warriors, though they rarely appear in mythology. Amymone is one of the Danaïds, who is pursued by a satyr and then saved by Poseidon.
A few of these myths contain names that are familiar to modern readers, but mostly they are small examples of the themes the longer myths explored in depth, or else backstories of characters that briefly appeared elsewhere. They are generally small morality or explanation tales.
Themes
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Antiope is a princess of Thebes who bears two sons to Zeus: Zethus and Amphion. Later Antiope is treated cruelly by the ruler of Thebes, Lycus, and his wife Dirce. When Antiope’s sons are grown, they kill Lycus and Dirce.
This story is an example of justice being delayed for years while children grow into adults, as in the story of Orestes.
Themes
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Arachne is a peasant girl who claims to be Minerva’s equal at weaving. Minerva challenges her to a contest, and Arachne accepts. They both produce equally beautiful cloth, and the jealous Minerva turns Arachne into a spider.
This is a famous story, and another example of the gods punishing those too proud of their success. Arachne actually does produce cloth as beautiful as Minerva though, so her punishment is more like jealous vengeance.
Themes
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Arion is a poet who wins a prize and is then attacked by sailors. Apollo warns him of his danger, and Arion plays his lyre and then jumps into the sea to avoid the sailors. Dolphins, who had approached at his song, carry Arion away to safety.
Like Orpheus, Arion is beloved by the gods and the natural world because of the beauty of his art. He can also use his music as a form of power, in this case to save himself.
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Aristaeus is a beekeeper whose bees all die, so he catches the shape-shifter Proteus (in the same way Menelaus did, by clinging to him as he transformed), who tells him the proper sacrifice to make for new bees to appear. Tithonus is the husband of Aurora and the father of Memnon of Ethiopia. Aurora asks Zeus to make Tithonus immortal, but forgets to ask to keep him young, so Tithonus grows old and loses his mind but cannot die.
The figure of Proteus represents the constantly shifting sea. He has great knowledge and wisdom, but clearly only answers someone who can survive his many transformations. Memnon was the hero who replaced Hector in Troy. The story of Tithonus is a strange cautionary tale about the rewards and punishments of the gods.
Themes
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Biton and Cleobis yoke themselves like oxen to take their mother, Clydippe, to see a statue of Hera. Everyone admires their filial piety, but the brothers die at the journey’s end. Callisto is a girl whom Zeus falls in love with and impregnates. After Callisto has a son, the jealous Hera turns her into a bear, hoping her son will hunt and kill her, but Zeus rescues Callisto and places her among the stars. Her son, Arcas, later becomes the Lesser Bear constellation. Hera, still angry at Callisto, keeps the bear constellations from descending into the sea like the other stars.
The Bear constellations, which we know as the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, have their source in these lesser-known myths. This is a rare example of a tragic hunting fate being averted. Hera and Zeus each fulfil their usual roles in the story. This story gives an early explanation for why these two constellations never sink below the horizon.
Themes
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Chiron is one of the Centaurs, but unlike the rest of his violent race he is wise and good. He trains many young heroes in his life, but Hercules accidentally kills him. Clytie is a maiden who falls in love with the Sun-god. She sits outside, watching the Sun all day, and then is changed into a sunflower. Dryope is a woman who accidentally picks flowers from a nymph disguised as a tree. Dryope is punished by being transformed into a tree herself.
Chiron appears in the stories of Aesculapius, Hercules, and Prometheus, among others. Clytie’s story is a simple flower-myth that uniquely does not end tragically. Dryope, like Actaeon, is punished for an accidental sin against a goddess.
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Epimenides is a man who sleeps for fifty-seven years, and later, unrelatedly, purifies Athens of a plague. Ericthonius is a half-man, half-serpent ruler of Athens who might be the same character as Erechtheus. Leander the youth and Hero the priestess are in love, and every night Leander swims across the bay between them. One night Leander drowns, and Hero kills herself.
Many of these myths have not survived in their specifics, but rather as archetypes, like Epimenides as a “Rip Van Winkle” type, or Hero and Leander as the traditional tragic, star-crossed lovers.
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The Hyades are six daughters of Atlas. They take care of the baby Dionysus, and so Zeus rewards them by changing them into stars. Ibycus is a poet who is murdered and calls out to a passing flock of cranes to avenge him. Later the murderer reveals himself when the cranes appear again, and he is put to death.
Sometimes being transformed into an inanimate object is a punishment, but for the Hyades it is a reward. Ibycus is another poet rewarded for his holy art by gaining the support of the natural world.
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Leto is one of Zeus’s lovers. When she is pregnant she seeks a place to give birth, but no island will take her because they are all afraid of Hera. Only Delos, a tiny, floating island, accepts her, and she gives birth to Artemis and Apollo there. Delos then becomes the home of Apollo’s temple. Linus is one of Apollo’s sons. He is torn apart by dogs, and his name then becomes an expression similar to “alas!”
Leto’s story is short and included in the less-important myths, though she is the mother of two of the most important gods: Artemis and Apollo. Delos also becomes Delphi, which features so prominently in many myths as the home of the Oracle.
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Marpessa loves Ida, an Argonaut, but Apollo falls in love with her as well. Zeus lets her choose between them, and Marpessa chooses Ida, but she is not punished. Marsyas is a satyr who first plays the flute after Athena invents it and discards it. Melampus is a man who has two snakes as pets, and they teach him to understand the languages of all animals.
Marpessa’s story is unique because she is beloved by a god without her life ending in either tragedy or glory. Beauty and skill in art is often tied to a close connection with the natural world, as with Orpheus or Arion.
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Merope is a woman whose son helps her kill her second husband. The Myrmidons are a race of fierce warriors that Zeus creates from ants after Hera kills the people of the island of Aegina. Nisus is a king who has a magical purple lock of hair that protects his throne. His daughter Scylla falls in love with the invading King Minos, so she cuts off her father’s lock to win Minos’s love. Minos rejects her, and later both she and her father are turned into birds.
The Myrmidons were Achilles’ men in the Trojan War, and now Hamilton explains their strange origin. Scylla becomes another princess to betray her father out of love for a stranger, and like most of the other women she is then rejected by the man she gave up everything for.
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Orion is a famous hunter who is blinded, recovers his sight, and then becomes Artemis’s huntsman. Artemis later kills him for unknown reasons, but he then becomes a constellation. The Pleiades are seven daughters of Atlas. Orion pursued them but could never catch them, and Zeus turns them into stars. One of them is the mother of Hermes, and another the mother of the first Trojan. Rhoecus is a man who saves a dryad and then ignores her grateful love, so she blinds him.
Orion is one of the most familiar names from these stories because of his constellation, and the same is true of the Pleiades. Rhoecus becomes yet another mortal punished for both rejecting love and wounding the pride of a god.
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Salmoneus is a mortal who pretends he is Zeus, until the real Zeus kills him with a thunderbolt. Sisyphus is the king of Corinth. When Zeus (in the form of an eagle) carries off a maiden, Sisyphus sees and tells the girl’s father. This enrages Zeus, and he punishes Sisyphus in Hades by making him eternally try to roll a rock uphill. Tyro is Salmoneus’s daughter, and she bears two sons to Poseidon. Later they avenge her when she is treated cruelly.
Sisyphus is most famous for his horrible punishment, which the existentialist philosopher Sartre later used to illustrate his concept of the absurd. Salmoneus is possibly the most obvious example of hubris and its immediate punishment. Tyro’s story is yet another tale of sons avenging their mother.
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