The Juvenile's Introduction to Greek Mythology

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Amazon Link)


So I could talk about literature with my book buddy, I read Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief. In the phone message he left me, he suggested that I would really like the book, about a pre-teen who finds out he’s a demigod, the son of Poseidon and a mortal woman. I have to agree with him; I did very much enjoy the novel. For juvenile readers, it serves as a good introduction to Greek mythology; many characters that appear also appear in the mythological stories we study in school, all with a modern take. The author has made it plausible for the reader to reasonably suspend disbelief saying that the gods move as Western Civilization moves, then offers evidence in the form of Greek gods moved from Greece to Rome, to Europe, and are now taking up residence in America: Olympus being at the top of the Empire State Building, and Hades being in Los Angeles. Interesting commentary on how the author (and possibly the residents of the nation) view the United States.

One of the interesting things that either Chiron or Grover explains to Percy (short for Perseus who was one of the many mortal sons of Zeus) that the Greeks influenced culture all around the world. I remember studying about Greek architecture in 7th grade, Mrs. Greer’s class. Doric, Ionian and Corinthian columns, specifically. Look around, though. He’s right. Greek influence is everywhere.

The purpose of this post is to outline the juvenile’s introduction to Greek mythology as the title suggests, so I’m going to do just that.

  • Demigod: half god, half mortal. The archetypal hero is a demigod. Hercules is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. Our protagonist, Percy Jackson, is the son of Poseidon (god of the sea) and a mortal woman. One of our protagonist’s friends, Annabeth is the daughter of Athena (goddess of wisdom) and a mortal man. These characters are not immortal, but posses powers that normal mortals do not.
  • The Furies: They are the Roman incarnation of the Greek Erinyes. They are thought to dwell in Tartarus, where they torture the souls there when they’re not making sure the order of things is just in the world. It is thought that the furies were sprang from the blood of Ouranos (the father of Kronos and the Titans).
  • The three old women knitting socks = the Fates. The fates are three women who control the fate, if you will, of all beings. Gods included. The first sister, Clotho, spins the line. The second sister, Lachesis, measures the line with her rod, and the third sister, Atropos, cuts the line. It is the shearing of the line that causes death. Percy sees these women on the side of the road and witness the cutting of someone’s line.
  • Satyr: The satyr has had a few incarnations throughout mythology, but for the purposes of the novel, satyrs are half man, half goat. Traditionally they are followers of Pan (who can be as mischievous as Loki or Kokopelli) and Dionysus (who I’ve always known better as his Roman counterpart, Bacchus). They are lovers: of women, of boys, of music, of outdoors, and, being followers of Dionysus, wine. Percy’s friend Grover is a reed pipe carrying satyr charged with protecting our protagonist from the “Kindly Ones.” (a euphemism for the Furies)
  • The Minotaur: part man, part bull, this mythological character dwelt in a labyrinth that belonged to King Minos (see the resemblance in nomenclature?). The maze was built by Daedalus and Icarus to hold the minotaur. In mythological stories, Theseus killed the minotaur. Interestingly, the Minotaur’s father, the Cretan bull, appeared in one of the 12 labors of Heracles.
  • Chiron: a centaur–half man, half horse. In the mythology, Chiron is the antithesis of a centaur being a “civilized” creature that didn’t indulge in many of the same vices as the satyrs. In The Lightning Thief, Chiron plays his part as the archetypal mentor well. (I’ll address archetype at a later date.)
  • Charon, not to be confused with Chiron. Charon is the ferryman of the dead. When our heroes are in Los Angeles, at DOA (which if you didn’t know is an acronym for Dead on Arrival, clever, no?) he is who they meet at the desk taking money to ferry people across the River Styx. If a soul came to the underworld without money for the ferry, he or she was left on the banks (or our modern waiting room) for 100 years before he or she could cross to the underworld.
  • Chimera is another one of those mixed-breed animals. According to the Iliad, the Chimera had the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the hind end of a snake. In the incarnation in The Lightning Thief this animal can breathe fire, and has poison in its tail. In mythology it is the sibling of Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld, and the Lernaean Hydra (both of whom appear in Heracles’s labors).
  • The Underworld. Also known as Hades. It is split into a number of factions. In the novel, Hades says that he’s had to expand because of the number of souls he’d been getting. Here is a rough map of the places in the Underworld.
  • Medusa was one of the three Gorgons. They had snakes for hair and turned people to stone by looking at them. Medusa was the only one of the three sisters that was once beautiful. She was turned into the ugly Gorgon we know after she desecrated Athena’s temple with Poseidon. In the stories, and in the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, she was beheaded by Percy’s namesake, Perseus.
  • Lotus Casino = the island of the Lotus Eaters, and the casino is rightfully located in Las Vegas. People go and don’t want to leave. Hello, Homer. In the novel, the kids go to the Lotus Casino, get LotusCash and play video games forever.

You will notice that I didn’t discuss any of the gods here. This was done for a couple of reasons. The gods are easy to find information about. I wanted to discuss the modernization of the mythological elements.

Coming soon, analysis of the archetype of the hero journey in The Lightning Thief.

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