There are lots of mythical creatures in Greek and Roman mythologies. From various literature preserved up to modern time, it is feasible to encounter different non-human or semi-human deities such as cyclops, sirens, and mermaids. Their functions within myths and stories are multiple: some of these creatures aim to say something, some of them might guide or even kill. It is interesting to look through their characteristics to understand the motives of these creatures, to what consequences their actions can lead, and acknowledge how they can contribute to modern literature and readers.
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In general, myths and legends are an enormous legacy of humanity. Interest in mythology has increased for centuries; many of these mythological stories are being adapted into new stories. Based on many mythical creatures are described in Ancient Greek and Roman works, people create books, movies, and games. The special interest is given to classical sirens and “their water-dwelling mermaid cousins” (Wood 51). Initially, the mythology of these countries is enriched with various myths and ballads about sweet-voiced sirens, which have a guise of semi-human and semi-bird. The article by Wood describes multiple works by ancient authors that depicted sirens as beautiful but evil women who aimed to tempt strangers (Wood 52).
Here it is possible to give an example from the Ancient Greek work, namely The Odyssey by Homer, to look at the dangerousness of these mysterious deities. Sirens appear in the scene when the Homeric hero, Odysseus, swims with his comrades over the place where sirens inhabit. Homer shows sirens in this way: “They seduce all men who come across them” (Homer 235). However, listening to their “clear-toned song” (Homer 236) would result in the listener’s death. That was why the main hero, Odysseus, put wax in his ears and ignored the sirens’ sweet voice to stay alive. Despite the fact sirens are powerful and tempting creatures, they are still women. As it is known from Ancient Greek and Roman history, females were not given equal rights with men, and they were voiceless (Chrystal, para 3). From the ancient context perspective, it is possible to suggest that this ritual of putting wax into men’s ears can be seen as an act of neglecting women’s voices.
Other semi-human creatures are mermaids similar to sirens in their ‘hierarchy’ (Wood 51). Mermaids have a fish-like tail and human top, enabling them to be in the water and on land at the same time. The actions of these supernatural beings depend on their mood mostly; they can help and guide, but they can destroy. Moreover, mermaids are beautiful so that they can draw strangers into the sea. Primarily mermaids are derived from sirens, and it allows them to perceive homogenous character traits. Both sirens and mermaids obtain an amazingly attractive appearance that enables them to capture and murder strangers.
To Greek and Roman mythology, cyclops are human-like creatures, which usually possess a colossal size and one eye. They seem to have a human image, disguised in a great height and enormous physical power. One of the most well-known cyclops is Polyphemus from the abovementioned The Odyssey by Homer. Polyphemus is Poseidon’s son, and he is described as a “lawless monster” (Homer 179). What is more, this deity is a vicious man-eater (Homer 176). The initial myth about Polyphemus and Odysseus was that the Homeric hero and his comrades were captured in Polyphemus’s cave. Odysseus made up a plan that required him and his men to bond themselves to Polyphemus’s sheep bellies. With the help of this invention, Odysseus and the men managed to escape and remain unnoticed by the creature. However, rejoicing his cunning, Odysseus screamed out his name and stuck the stick into Polyphemus’s eye, thereby blinding him. Polyphemus called his father for help, and Poseidon made Odysseus’ way home far more complicated.
The Homeric hero seemed to make a mistake in his life by blinding the creature. It cost Odysseus years to find the way home due to Polyphemus’s revenge (Homer 184). The motivation of Polyphemus and Poseidon was clear, and they wanted to punish strangers. Besides, it one more time proves cruel motifs of supernatural creatures; The Odyssey shows that it is dangerous not only to anger cyclops but also to be caught by their eye. Overall, half-human creatures possess polysemantic features of character. On the one hand, they can look like humans and have an earthborn beauty, like sirens or mermaids. On the other hand, they obtain enormous power and the ability to kill people, like cyclops. What is more interesting, many of these mythical deities are being continued to be explored and analyzed.
In addition, Greek and Roman mythologies influenced other writings and cultural legacy. With the help of preserved works of that period, it is possible to look at ancient people’s lives because the writings primarily reflected the way of life and society’s values (Cui 477). For instance, many literary works were inspired by Greek and Roman myths, including poems of William Shakespeare, John Milton, John Keats, and others. Mythology impacted modernist literature as well; for example, John Updike and T. S. Eliot included mythical characters within their compositions. Modern readers can learn from Greek and Roman mythologies about various legends. Besides, the characters of the ancient stories reverberate features of contemporary society to a great extent.
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Chrystal, Paul. Women in Ancient Greece. Fonthill Media, 2017.
Cui, Xiaoxi. “Analysis of the Influence of Greek Mythology Upon English Culture.” Proceedings of the 2020 2nd International Conference on Economic Management and Cultural Industry (ICEMCl 2020), 2020. Crossref. Web.
Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Ian Johnston, Richer Resources Publications, 2007.
Wood, Juliette. Fantastic Creatures in Mythology and Folklore: From Medieval Times to the Present Day. Illustrated, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.