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Literature and history are filled with myths, and stories about the origins and adventures of the gods, goddesses, and other mythological beings. Some of them are completely fiction, while others are based on facts. All of them can be fascinating to learn and read about.
What’s more interesting is the fact that we can analyze all these stories from different points of view. Most people fail to notice that each one of these stories has a lesson we can all learn from.
These lessons go from simple to rather complex, depending on what type of story you’re reading or listening to. However, most have a general lesson that everyone can understand. They usually have to do with feelings, behaviors, or situations that are common in life.
Let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing mythological tales and the lessons they hold.
- Society tends to punish the victim
- Injustice exists in life
- The gods are capricious and fickle, just like humans
Medusa was a monster who had snakes for hair. The famous myth says that those who looked directly into her eyes turned into stone. However, before she was cursed and became a monster, she was a virgin priestess to Athena.
One day, Poseidon decided he wanted Medusa and sexually assaulted her in Athena’s temple. Athena punished Medusa by turning her into a monster, with the objective of preventing another man from looking at her ever again.
Perseus was eventually able to decapitate Medusa. After achieving this feat, he used her head against his opponents. Even though the head had been severed from the body, it still had the power to turn people and other creatures into stone.
This myth teaches us that injustice is prevalent in society. Athena decided to punish Medusa and made her suffer even more, rather than going against Poseidon, who was to blame for what he did.
- Vanity and self-adoration are traps that can destroy you
- Be kind and compassionate to others or you can cause their destruction
Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the fountain nymph Liriope. He was so handsome that people celebrated him for his beauty. A young hunter, Narcissus believed himself so beautiful that he rejected everybody who fell in love with him. Narcissus broke the hearts of a myriad of maidens and even a few men.
Echo, a young nymph, was cursed by Hera to repeat whatever she heard because Echo had tried to distract and hide Zeus’ affairs with other nymphs from Hera. After being cursed, Echo wandered the woods simply repeating whatever she heard and was no longer able to express herself. When she saw Narcissus, she fell in love with him, followed him around, and kept repeating his words.
But Narcissus told her to go away, and so she did. Echo faded away until the only thing left of her was her voice. After Echo disappeared, Narcissus became obsessed with his reflection. He saw himself in a pond and decided to stay next to it until the stunningly beautiful reflection loved him back. Narcissus died waiting and became the flower that today carries his name.
This myth teaches us not to be self-absorbed. Narcissus was so into himself that it eventually led to his death. His mistreatment of Echo caused her to disappear and resulted in his own end.
Gordias and the Gordian Knot
- Trust your instincts
- Life doesn’t always pan out the way you plan
Gordias was a peasant who became king in a very strange way. One day, he received a message from Zeus telling him to go to town on his oxcart. With nothing to lose, he decided to follow the instructions of the god of thunder.
When he arrived, he discovered that the king had died and that the kingdom’s oracle had said that the new king would arrive soon via oxcart. Gordias fulfilled the prophecy and thus became the new king.
After his coronation, King Gordias decided to tie his oxcart in the town square to honor Zeus. The knot he used, though, became part of a legend that stated that whoever was able to untie the knot would become the ruler of all of Asia. This became known as the Gordian knot and was finally cut by Alexander the Great, who would go on to become the ruler of much of Asia.
The hidden lesson behind this myth is the fact that you should always trust your gut instinct. Take those opportunities, no matter how random they might seem. You’ll be surprised where they could end up leading you.
Demeter, Persephone, and Hades
- Hard times and good times are both ephemeral
Persephone was the goddess of spring and the daughter of the goddess of earth, Demeter. Hades, the god of the underworld, fell head over heels for Persephone and kidnapped her, launching Demeter into an earth-wide search for her beloved daughter.
Once she found out her daughter was in the Underworld and that Hades would not return her, Demeter became depressed. The goddess’ depression meant a halt in the fertility of the land, causing famine for humans.
Zeus decided to intervene and struck a deal with Hades. Persephone could visit her mother four months a year. So, whenever Persephone walked on earth, spring would occur, and people could harvest once again.
What we can learn from this myth is that hard times come and go. They aren’t meant to stay forever. Therefore, we should have patience when we face the difficulties life may bring upon us.
- Avoid hubris
- Maintain balance in everything – neither too high nor too low
- There are limits and infinite growth isn’t always possible
Icarus lived with his father, Daedalus, in Crete. They were prisoners of Minos. In order to escape, Daedalus created wings that were put together with wax for him and his son.
Once they were ready, both Icarus and his father put on their wings and flew away toward the sea. Daedalus had warned his son not to fly either too high or too low. Flying too high would cause the wax to melt, and too low would cause the wings to be dampened.
Icarus, however, ignores his father’s advice once he took flight. The prospect of reaching the clouds became so enticing that the boy couldn’t control himself. The higher he went, the hotter it was, until the wax gave in.
Icarus fell to his death, drowning in the sea. There was nothing Daedalus could do for him.
This myth teaches us to avoid hubris. Sometimes we act with pride, without stopping to think what the consequences of that could be. This can lead to our downfall. The myth also teaches us that there are limits, and sometimes, infinite expansion and growth aren’t possible. We need to take our time and grow.
And finally, it’s important to maintain balance in all things. Moderation is the path to follow and this will ensure that you’re successful.
- Carry out your destiny with determination and perseverance
- Life can be meaningless, but we need to keep going without giving up
- Your actions will catch up with you
Sisyphus was a prince that outsmarted Hades, the king of the Underworld, twice. He cheated death and had the opportunity to live until he died of old age. However, once he arrived at the Underworld, Hades was waiting for him.
Hades condemned him to the darkest realm of his kingdom, cursing him to forever pushing a large boulder up a hill. Each time he was about to reach the top, the rock would tumble down and Sisyphus would have to start over.
This myth teaches the fact that even if you’re able to avoid the consequences in certain instances, you’ll eventually have to face the music. Believe it or not, the more you avoid something, the worse it’ll become.
It can also teach us about the tasks that we burden ourselves with throughout life – meaningless and absurd, we spend our time on things that don’t matter. At the end of our lives, we may have nothing to show for it.
But there’s also the lesson of perseverance and endurance. Even if life is absurd (i.e., meaningless) and the tasks we have to do serve no purpose, we have to keep going.
- Greed can cause your downfall
- The best things in life are priceless
Midas was the only son of King Gordias. At one point, when he was already king, he met Dionysus. The god of wine ended up liking Midas enough to grant him one wish. Midas, of course, took the opportunity and wished that everything he touched turned into solid gold.
After Dionysus granted his wish, Midas started turning most of his palace into gold. Sadly, he went as far as turning his own daughter into gold. This event made him realize that this supposed gift was actually a curse.
The end of this myth varies in its retelling. There are some versions where Midas dies of starvation, and there are others that say that Dionysus felt pity for Midas and eventually lifted the curse.
What we can learn from this myth is the fact that greed can be one’s doom. Material things aren’t as important as you may think. What really matters is that you find yourself surrounded by happiness, love, and good people.
- Hope is a valuable thing and is always there
- Some things are best left unexplored
Because humankind had used Prometheus’ fire, Zeus wanted to punish them by creating the first woman. He made Pandora especially attractive and gave her a box filled with everything that could make people suffer.
Zeus then gave her the box with instructions to never open it no matter what the situation could be and sent her directly to earth. Pandora didn’t listen to Zeus, and once she arrived on earth, she opened the box, releasing death, suffering, and destruction.
Realizing what she had done, Pandora closed the box as fast as she could. Luckily, she was able to keep in Hope, which remained. This is important because Zeus’ desire was not only for humans to suffer but also for them to have hope in their prayers and worship so that maybe one day the gods would help.
This myth teaches us that sometimes it’s better to be obedient. Curiosity killed the cat, and in this case, it made the earth a place filled with darkness. Your actions could have catastrophic consequences if you’re not careful.
- Avoid boasting arrogance when it comes to your skills and talents
- It’s never good to outshine the master
Arachne was an excellent weaver who was aware of her talent. However, this talent was a gift from Athena, and Arachne didn’t want to thank her for it. As a consequence, Athena decided to challenge Arachne to a contest, and she agreed.
After the weaving contest, Arachne showed that she was indeed the best weaver the world had seen. In a fit of rage, because she had lost, Athena turned Arachne into a spider. This cursed her and all her descendants to weave for eternity.
The lesson behind this myth is that while it’s perfectly fine to be aware of your abilities, it’s never positive to be arrogant and disrespectful. More often than not, this behavior will have consequences.
Pyramus and Thisbe
- Don’t jump to conclusions
Pyramus and Thisbe were two teenagers who were in love with each other. However, their parents were enemies. In spite of this, both Pyramus and Thisbe decided to secretly meet up at a specific tree at night.
Once the time arrived, Thisbe was able to get to the spot but had to leave because she saw a lioness who had just killed to eat laying under the tree. When Pyramus arrived, later on, he saw the same lioness Thisbe had seen, with blood on its jaw, and thought the worst.
In a reckless train of thought, he took his dagger and stabbed himself right in the heart, dying instantly. A while after that, Thisbe went back to the spot and saw Pyramus lying dead. She then decided to kill herself with the same dagger Pyramus did.
This myth, which is very similar to the story of Romeo and Juliet, teaches us that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. In this case, Pyramus’ rashness cost him both his and Thibes’ lives. In your case, it probably wouldn’t be as catastrophic, but it could still have consequences.
Myths are interesting stories you can read to entertain yourself. As you have seen in this article, all of them have a life lesson or a piece of advice hidden away between the lines.