How Did Greek Myths Influence Later Language & Art?

The Greek myth of the Medusa has found its way into paintings, art and literature.
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Although they originated thousands of years ago, Greek myths gained broad acceptance in the years since their creation. In modern times, people witness the remnants of the Greek culture through language and art. When someone utters the words, "That's my Achilles heel," they witness this phenomenon first-hand. Certain examples of Greek myths pop up more often than most.

1 Pandora's Box

Pandora's box counts as one of the most-often used figures of speech. The myth represents the unleashing of evil into the world. In Greek myth, this happened when Pandora opened the box that Zeus had given to her, although the Greek god had told her not to open the box. While she swore that she wouldn't, eventually her curiosity got the best of her. She opened the box and with it came all the evils in the world. To say "to open Pandora's box" means that a person has a problem, that if delved into too deeply, will unleash a slew of woes into the situation. Like Pandora's box, these troubles once unleashed cannot be placed back into the box.

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2 Helen of Troy

The myth of Helen of Troy has inspired countless stories and films and has introduced some of the most well-known sayings into the English language. One of the most famous references to this ancient war came from 16th-century English poet and playwright, Christopher Marlowe. He drew upon the myth when he wrote in his play Doctor Faustus that Helen of Troy's visage was the "face that launched a thousand ships." This reference gave a nod to the start of the war between Troy and Greece when Paris, prince of Troy, abducted Helen, bringing her to Troy and thus beginning the famous conflict.

3 Disney's Hercules

Film counts as a new art medium in the modern age, and although it's new, that hasn't stopped filmmakers from looking at ancient stories for inspiration. The Disney company retold the story of Hercules, son of Zeus, in its 1997 animated classic film. But the movie offers just one more version of the story. According to Tufts University there exist as many versions of the story of this Greek hero as there are storytellers, and the mythic hero has more stories told about him than any other mythic character from that era. Aside from inspiring Disney, this mythic hero even gave humanity the saying, "Herculean task," referring to the 12 labors Hercules had to perform as penance for killing his wife and children.

4 The Pre-Raphaelites

During the middle of the 19th century, a band of painters and poets began making works of art, which found inspiration in part in Greek myths. The goal of the artists associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood -- Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones among them -- wished to return to art's purer aesthetic and thematic roots. The Pre-Raphaelite visual artists painted about some of the most important Greek myths, including Persephone, Pegasus, Pygmalion and Medusa.

Buffy Naillon has worked in the media industry since 1999, contributing to Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine and various websites. She received a bachelor's degree in German from Boise State University. Naillon also attended New York University and participated in the foreign exchange program at Germany's Saarland University. She is completing her master's degree in educational technology at Boise State.