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The Foreign Minotaur

The Minotaur is a double-stranger. Born of a god-sent lust by Pasiphae for Minos’ prized bull, the Minotaur became a stranger in his own land. He was locked into the Labyrinth to hide him from the public and to hide the shame of king Minos. The half-man, half-bull would never see the light of day. However, it is not only within his home land that he is a stranger. He, and all of Crete, are strangers to the Athenians. When Minos’ son, Androgeos, won all competitions at the Panathenaic games, he was killed by jealous Athenians thinking that an Athenian should win. This jealous death led to Athenian subjugation by the Cretans who controlled the sea. As punishment, they were to give seven young men and seven virgins to Minos every nine years to be fed to the Minotaur. A stranger in a strange land, and a beast begot by a god’s revenge, the Minotaur then represents the very worst of foreign barbarism, from an Athenian perspective at least.

Greek depiction of the Minotaur.

Greek depiction of the Minotaur.

When Theseus finally slay the Minotaur in the third cycle of Athenian restitution to Minos, he was killing a foreigner and outcast. Even king Minos, learning of Theseus’ desire to kill the Minotaur, was not upset at the possibility of his step-son’s death. With the help of Ariadne, daughter of Minos, Theseus successfully navigated the labyrinth and more importantly successfully lefts it along with the sacrificed Athenians. He brought Ariadne as far a Naxos before leaving her alone on the island, thus leaving behind the last vestige of foreignness from his trip. As punishment for this act, Theseus inadvertently causes the suicide of his father, but still ultimately releases Athens from the shackles of a foreign Crete. It is a story worthy of Athenian praise.

But what about the Minotaur? What does he feel about the whole episode? The myths never give the half-man, half-beast a voice. In fact, a creature that is so popularly understood of for its power and ferocity takes on a completely passive role in the myth. Beginning with his placement in the labyrinth and ending with his death, the Minotaur has no say in its own life. Even his death is sometimes described of as passively; in one version Thesius says, “Would you believe it, Ariadne, the Minotaur scarcely defended himself.” The Minotaur in these myths then is little more than a symbol representing the barbarian, in the Greek context of the word, meaning someone whose language and culture were foreign.

Depiction of Thesius defeating the Minotaur.

Depiction of Theseus defeating the Minotaur.

The Spanish author Jorge Luis Borges, with his short story, The House of Asteron finally provides some much needed agency to the Minotaur in his own myth. Written in the first person perspective of the Minotaur, Borges plays with the imagery of the labyrinth, the Minotaur’s own sense of self, and ideas of foreignness. In this way, Borges makes the double-stranger into the familiar and the rest of the world into foreigners. The switch is rather remarkable and quite amazing to read.

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

The Minotaur retains many of his barbarous traits, even as he is the principal character of the short story. For one, “I have never retained the difference between one letter and another. A certain generous impatience has not permitted that I learn to read.” Not understanding the written word, not grasping completely the language, was a sign of barbarism and further cements the foreignness that separates the House of Asteron and the rest of the Greek world. Beyond this, even his actions within his own house, the Labyrinth, bring a sense of barbarity to the character. In one game he plays, “There are roofs from which I let myself fall until I am bloody,” and in another “Like the ram about to charge, I run through the stone galleries until I fall dizzy to the floor.” These are not the games of civility, but within his own life and house, they are as natural to him, as any silly game from our own culture is to us.

Another way which Borges toys with the ideas of foreignness is within the separation between royalty and base commoners. Class politics has long been described of in terms of barbarism, with the aristocracy fulfilling the role of cultured elite and the commoners fulfilling the role of dumb barbarian worker. The Greek myth regarding Theseus and the Bull is not concerned at all with the common folk, and that in itself is rather telling. In Homer’s Iliad, the common Greek warriors are little more than cannon fodder to the Trojan Heroes and vice versa. Within The House of Asteron, this distinction is also clear. On one occasion, when the Minotaur left his Labyrinth, the common people around him either hide or lift up stones to throw at him. These actions do not bother him because “Not for nothing was my mother a queen; I cannot be confused with the populace, though my modesty might so desire.” For him, the amazement of the common people had as much to do with his own beastly appearance as it did with his royal heritage.

Sculpture depicting the Minotaur.

Sculpture depicting the Minotaur.

Of course, even Borges cannot escape the reality of the myth. In the end, Theseus murders the Minotaur and says the same line. But this time, a reason for the Minotaur’s passivity in the conflict is given. He accepts his mythic fate because he believes Theseus to be his “redeemer.” Theseus is a redeemer because he allows the Minotaur to leave his life of solitude, his life without a mate. Theseus is also a redeemer because the Minotaur hopes that his death will bring him to a “place with fewer galleries fewer doors.” This short story by Borges is a unique twist on the classic Theseus myth by placing the Minotaur into a place of agency. However, even as the Minotaur is raised up, Borges still keeps with him a sense of foreignness. Even in his own story, he is a stranger to himself and the world. He is both beast and royal. Borges then illuminates many of the same themes which are present in this Thesius myth, and in much of Greek myth in general.

Related Posts:
The Minotaur, Immortals, and the myth of Theseus
Jason and the Argonauts. And Talos.

Icarus Today: A Modern Adaptation

icarus_fallIn my AP Literature class in high school, we examined various adaptations of Greek myths throughout time, up to the 21st century. More specifically, we mainly examined literary and artistic adaptations of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus. Although this myth is a relatively short one, I was surprised by the sheer quantity of interpretations and adaptations over the years, from paintings to poems. More surprisingly, each one expanded upon a different minute detail of the original myth, turning it into a completely new and unique work of art. The adaptation I found, and still find, most striking is Edward Field’s adaptation of the myth in his poem Icarus, which describes Icarus’s life if he had survived his fall and come ashore in 20th century society (the poem can be read here).


Edward Field

At first, I found this concept very odd. Of course Icarus did not survive the fall, and even if he had, why would he have ended up in modern times? How is the classical period of the ancient Greeks even somewhat compatible with present day? However, as I thought more about it, I began to realize that many of the motifs expressed in the original myth continued to be expressed in Field’s adaptation, yet with a twist that fits the character of the modern age. More specifically, the character of Icarus and the symbolism of his fall is inherently tied with human nature. It was not so strange, then, that Field had succeeded in adapting the myth of Icarus to fit present day society.


The defining moment in both the original myth of Icarus and in Field’s adaptation is Icarus’s fall. Traditionally, Icarus and Daedalus escape from prison using artificial wings made from wax and feathers. Daedalus warns his son not to fly too close to the sun, or else the wax will melt. Icarus, however, is so overcome with the feeling of flight that he ignores his father and flies high into the air, where the wax melts and he plummets into the sea. His fall is a direct result of his recklessness and his youthful overestimation of his abilities, as he attempts to become a great hero by flying higher than anybody before him (Graf). Field uses this fall as a turning point in the story. In his adaptation, the archetypal Icarus—the exuberant and daring youth known so well—is replaced with a morose, defeated, and reserved adult after his fall. Icarus is a symbol of youthful rebellion; what, then, is he doing living a monotonous, mundane adult life under the pseudonym of “Mr. Hicks?” (10).


In the traditional myth, his fall is a bittersweet one. It is bitter in that he lets his ambitions get the better of him, yet it is also sweet in that he becomes the hero he was striving to be, if only temporarily. However, he never expects to survive his fall. After the fall, Icarus begins to question whether he really is the hero. How is living a normal life, in which no one knows who you are, heroic? The very concept of the hero is an archaic one—it belongs completely in the legends and mythologies of the past rather than in the news and histories of the present. In a society where the individual is more concerned with maintaining the status quo, such as tending to their “neat front yards” (17), the concept of the hero would seem completely foreign and un-relatable. Thus, Icarus is unable to reveal his true identity. He is doomed to be a hero within the body of an ordinary man, trapped within a society which no longer recognizes him, and—even worse—no longer cares who he is or what he has achieved.

This contrast between the vibrant, lively, and sometimes dangerous life of the past with the uncaring, unexciting, and predictable life of the present is central to Field’s adaptation. It molds Icarus’s character; he asks himself, “What was he doing aging in the suburb?/ Can the genius of the hero fall/ To the middling stature of the merely talented?” (19-21). To Icarus, his life after the fall is completely incompatible with his life before it. He searches for an answer in his books, yet they all claim that “this was a horrible mistake” (18). Icarus, indeed, is a mistake—not only did he critically err in ignoring his father’s advice, but his very presence is a mistake; he is a product of a past time, one that is out of date and out of sync with the present.

In this way, Icarus must feel ostracized, even scorned, by society. Instead of seeking help, he spends his days “in his workshop, curtains carefully drawn,” trying to build a new set of wings so that he can fly again (23). This is reminiscent of his father, Daedalus, a stoic and careful inventor who never finds his place in society; he would be employed by one king, tinkering and making new inventions, then be exiled and work for another, while never truly belonging anywhere (Hyginus). Just like his father, Icarus is exiled to the workshop, trying to invent a way out of his predicament. Here, the roles of father and son are reversed. Icarus shows he has gained the maturity and craftiness of his father, while Daedalus is never mentioned, almost as though he has died in his son’s place.

In the original myth, it is clear how much Daedalus cares for Icarus—he warns his son about the dangers of flying and, when he falls, names the sea below the Icarian Sea after him (Hyginus). Icarus, although seemingly unappreciative of that affection at the time, is completely uncared for and unnoticed after his fall. The society in which he lives is totally unsympathetic—even the police cannot be bothered to investigate the mystery of his death, as they simply “ignore/ The confusing aspects of the case,/…So the report filed and forgotten in the archive read simply,/ ‘Drowned’” (3-7). In this society, no one would even remotely think of normal Mr. Hicks as a hero, and so no one will remember him when he dies.


This is where Field’s poem connects with the heart of the myth. The myth is so enticing because it speaks to the human experience. Everyone, at some point in their lifetime, questions if and how they will be remembered. This question is central to Icarus’s identity. By flying higher than anyone has before, Icarus becomes the hero he has been striving to be, who will be remembered for all time due to his accomplishments. His death only serves to heighten this fame. However, his survival takes away this glory by thrusting him back into a world where no one knows who he is. Through this twist, Field poses this integral question: is it better for Icarus to have failed and be remembered or to survive and be forgotten—another unimportant byproduct of a modern society? And who do we, the readers, want to be—Icarus, who dared to be extraordinary and failed, or his neighbors, who are blissfully ignorant and content with being ordinary in their myopic world? It is easy, even convenient, to brush aside Icarus as just another rebellious child, yet in the end he speaks to something buried deep inside each of us.


Works Cited

Field, Edward. “Edward Field: Icarus.” Cultural Weekly. 17 July 2013. Web. 2 May 2015. <>.

Graf, Fritz (Columbus, OH); Kalcyk, Hansjörg (Petershausen). “Icarus.” Brill’s New Pauly. Antiquity volumes edited by: Hubert Cancik and , Helmuth Schneider. Brill Online, 2015. Reference. 02 May 2015 <>.

Hyginus. “Pasiphae.” Anthology of Classical Myth. Ed. Stephen M. Trzaskoma, R. Scott Smith, and Stephen Brunet. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2004. 229. Print.

Heracles and Disney’s “Hercules”

disney_hercules_pic33 Well, Disney got one thing right: they made “Herc” one massive dude. Heracles (his Greek name) was said to have “surpassed everyone in size and strength” and “it was obvious from his appearance that he was the son on Zeus [hence the cleft chin; nice touch right?]” (Tzarkoma, Smith, Palaima, and Brunet, 32).

While Disney’s “Hercules” may be a little more than a little inaccurate in a few areas (say, the name of the film, perhaps?), I guess it is necessary to cut them some slack–after all, it is a movie for children. For example, take Megara’s character.Hercules-and-Meg-disney-couples-6008947-592-385

Or, Meg, as she is called in the film. While I could comment on how her body is grossly un-proportioned, I will refrain myself and will not (oops). In the original story, Megara is in fact Heracles’ wife, but things don’t turn out so well for her; in a fit of rage–inflicted by Hera–Heracles killed their two sons and eventually gave Megara to Iolaos so that he could marry Diandria instead (in a later version, he also killed Megara alongside their children) (41, 227). But, believe it or not, Disney subtly comments on this: in their version, Meg is a slave to Hades because she gave up her freedom in order to save her lover; but when she did this and went to the underworld, her lover apparently ran off with some other girl. While it’s not exact, Disney almost winks at the educated viewer: in reality, that old lover was in fact Heracles, and she got to Hades in a slightly different way–but no six-year-old needs to know that.

Now, it’s almost impossible to talk about the big H without mentioning (at least some of) his labors. For the most part, Disney swept over them as they were not the focus of the film (the focus of the film is about Hercules becoming immortal, the only way he can do that is by becoming a “true hero.” But we will talk more about that later!), but Disney does depict one of his labors fairly well (I know!). The epic battle can be seen below:

While this “heroic” fight did not take place in a quasi-arena in front of a crowd of people (it actually took place in a swap), nor was it commissioned by Hades, it is not entirely inaccurate (but it is still very inaccurate). In the original myth, the Hydra had “nine heads, eight of them mortal, and the one in the middle immortal,” and two shiny new ones grew back when a mortal head was severed, or “smashed” because Heracles actually fought this beast with a club, not a sword. During their fight, an “enormous crab” came to help the Hydra, and pinched Heracles’ foot, which led him to call Iolaos (yes, that is the person he gave his wife Megara to! They must have been pretty good pals, huh?). Iolaos set fire to a “nearby forrest” so that Heracles could prevent more heads from growing back by scorching the stumps with a burning piece of wood. Finally, Heracles cut off the immortal head and buried it and “placed a heavy rock over it” (35). Obviously, Disney did not stay completely true to this version of the story, but Hercules did receive some coaching (similar to the assistance he received from Iolaos) from his trainer Phil (Eurytheus), and he did end up burying the hydra in rocks. It had to be done in a public place so that people would recognize his strength and know that he was capable of becoming a “true hero.”

So, why does Disney’s Hercules want to become a “true hero” so bad? With questions like these, I find it best to begin at the beginning. In Disney’s version of the myth, Hercules was born a god, the son of Zeus and Hera (ironically Hera loves her son very much), but was poisoned by Hades as a baby and turned into a mortal (he didn’t drink every drop of the poison, however, so he retained his super-human strength). His whole life was spent feeling like he was meant for something more, trapped in a human body. Eventually, Zeus informs Hercules that he is his father, and tells him that he can become a god once more if he becomes a “true hero. ” Zeus tells him to find Phil, the hero trainer, in order to become a “true hero,” but leaves the exact path ambiguous.

As it turns out, the only way to become a “true hero” is by performing an act of selflessness, or in Herc’s case, and act of true love. 



His love interest, Meg, dies when she saves Hercules (he made a deal with Hades that he would give up his powers for one day if, and only if, Meg didn’t get hurt) from being crushed by a falling pillar during his fight with a giant sent by Hades. Hercules then goes to the underworld to get Meg’s soul back and cuts a deal with Hades to trade his life for hers. Hades accepts and Hercules decends into the pool of souls that is toxic to all life, 

to retrieve Meg’s soul (Hades accepts this deal because he knows that Hercules will die before he reaches Meg). As it turns out, this was an act of pure selflessness (and true love) and Hercules becomes immortal en rout to Meg’s soul, so he gets to keep his life as well.

Because he is immortal   (and therefore a god) he is offered a place on Mt. Olympus to live but he declines so he can live on earth with Meg. This is how the movie ends. Again, Disney attempts to stay somewhat true to the original story, but modifies it to a “G-rating.” In the original myth, Heracles is burned to death by a tunic accidentally laced with poison from his wife (when crossing the Euenos river, Heracles put his then wife, Diandria, on a ferry with Nessos the centaur to help her across. On the way over Nessos raped Diandria and Heracles rescued her and killed Nessos, but just before he died Nessos gave Diandria a love potion comprised of “his seed” and “his blood.” Later, on a conquest of Trachis, Heracles killed Eurytos and his sons and took Iole, his daughter and intended to sacrifice her. Diandria became afraid that Heracles would fall in love with Iole and laced his tunic with the apparent love potion from Nessos. When Heracles put on his tunic to make the sacrifice,  “the hydra’s poison ate away at his flesh.” He struggled for his life: “he tried to tear off the tunic, but his flesh was torn off with it.” When Diandria learned what happened she hanged herself. Heracles then ordered his oldest son by Diandria to build a pyre for his death. There he died and became immortal.) (45).

It is quite obvious why this was not included in Disney’s version. But Disney’s rendition retains a few of the original elements: Hercules did technically have to die before he achieved immortality, and Hercules’ self-sacrifice can be compared to the original Heracles killing Nessos (both took place on a river, and they can both be considered–to an extent–acts of love). But love is a controversial topic. Until recently, love didn’t actually exist. So it is a little disturbing that Disney (like they always do) centered their entire remake of Heracles around love (something he clearly didn’t feel too strongly about, seeing as he did practically give away–or kill–his first wife, Megara, who’s character is portrayed by Meg in Disney’s version). But, I guess it makes the whole premise a little happier.

So really, Disney was set up for failure from the beginning because of their target audience, so it is hard to really blame them for screwing up the story so badly. But then again, that whole name thing was pretty bad… 

Works Cited: 

                        Trzaskoma, Stephen, R. Scott Smith, Stephen Brunet, and Thomas G. Palaima. Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary Sources in Translation. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2004. Print. This source is credible because it is comprised of “primary texts in translation.” It is relevant to research about Heracles because it contains original myths from Apollodorus, Hyginus, and Xenophon about Heracles.

                       Hercules. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Walt Disney Pictures, 1997. DVD. This film is relevant to my research because it is the film to which I compared the original myth(s) of Heracles.

For further information, see this article here and/or this one here !

LOST and Pandora’s Box

lost-header      PANDORA_2732043b

In today’s popular culture, movies, TV shows, and books have become an interesting way to allude to classic myths that have traveled down through generation after generation. It is always exciting to hear a reference to your favorite story you’re your parents told you when you were a child while you are in the movie theater seeing the latest film. It is these types of connections that allow stories to transcend time and cultural boundaries and create these seemingly everlasting ideas.

One interesting adaptation of Greek mythology in today’s popular culture is seen in the TV show Lost. Lost tells the story of a plane crash on a deserted island somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean. The show accounts the tale of the survivors of the plane crash as they try to keep themselves alive on the island until help arrives. As the show unfolds, the viewers (and characters) soon realize that help may be farther away than they originally thought and that they may not be alone on the island. The story develops and takes a darker turn when it seems the survivors may have actually been “brought” to the island, instead of accidentally crashing on it.

Although this show is no longer running on television, it was an immensely popular show during its time and its reruns are still enjoyed today. Lost has also become more popular because of all the deeper meanings that have been slowly uncovered by its viewers. For example, Lost presents the ideas and viewpoints associated with many religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as multiple references to Greek mythology (“The Hatch”). One of the most fascinating ideas of the show is the juxtaposition of good vs. evil. One theory that seeks to explain the overall theme of the show suggests that the survivors all actually died in the plane crash and the island serves as a “purgatory” for those passengers that have unresolved fates.


One interesting reference to Greek mythology in Lost is the hatch. The hatch is a door found in the middle of the island that leads to the unknown. This hatch may serve as a representation of the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box. The idea of Pandora’s Box appears several times throughout Greek mythology. One particular instance is in “Why Life is Hard,” in Hesiod’s myth The Works and Days. “Why Life is Hard” seeks to explain why human’s lives are so difficult compared to the God’s lives. The story begins by recounting how Prometheus stole the fire from the God’s by tricking Zeus. Prometheus was going to help the human’s struggle by giving the fire, and the means to become a stronger race and potentially compete with the Gods. However Zeus found out about Prometheus’s deception and proclaimed: “I’m going to give them Evil in exchange for fire” (Hesiod 163). Zeus and the other God’s assembled this evil in box by “knead[ing] some earth and water…giv[ing] her a bitch mind and a cheating heart…[and] put in her breast lies and wheedling words” (Hesiod 163). Once Zeus was finished he “put a voice in her, and he named that woman Pandora” (Hesiod 164).

pandora's boxThis jar is delivered to Prometeus’s brother Epimetheus and is then opened by Pandora. The opening of the jar “scattered all the miseries that spell sorrow for men. Only Hope was left there in the unbreakable container” (Hesiod 164). Therefore the opening of this box unleashes all of the pain and hurt in the world on mankind in the form of a woman. This myth also demonizes the women who walk the earth as a plague upon the men, although this patriarchal interpretation is not seen in the Lost adaptation. However the idea that Hope is something that is unattainable in the “unbreakable container” (Hesiod 164), is an important idea in Lost as well.


In Lost the hatch is discovered one night by the characters John Locke and Boone Carlyle. The hatch is the first sign that the survivors may not be the only ones on the island. John Locke is determined to open the hatch door and see what lies within. With several other survivors, he digs up the entire hatch and its surrounds, exposing a tunnel to the inside of the island.


However the hatch door is not easily opened. Locke believes it is his destiny to open the hatch. But his attempts all fail and he ends up alone and banging on the hatch door yelling “I’ve done everything you wanted me to do, so why did you do this to me?!” (“Deux Ex Machina”) In this moment the hatch door lights up, a sign from within. Locke’s faith is restored and he goes to the Jack Shephard, the unelected leader of the survivors to convince him that they need to open the hatch. The following dialogue takes place between the characters:


Jack Shephard: Brought here? And who brought us here, John?

John Locke: The island. The island brought us here. This is no ordinary place, you’ve seen that, I know you have. But the island chose you, too, Jack. It’s destiny.

Jack Shephard: Did you talk with Boone about destiny, John?

John Locke: Boone was a sacrifice that the island demanded. What happened to him at that plane was a part of a chain of events that led us here — that led us down a path — that led you and me to this day, to right now.

Jack Shephard: And where does that path end, John?

John Locke: The path ends at the hatch. The hatch, Jack — all of it — all of it happened so that we could open the hatch.

Jack Shephard: No, no, we’re opening the hatch so that we can survive.

John Locke: Survival is all relative, Jack.

Jack Shephard: I don’t believe in destiny.

John Locke: Yes, you do. You just don’t know it yet. (“Exodus, Part Three”)


Locke believes it is his destiny to open the hatch. The hatch represents the unknown secrets of the island. It symbolizes hope for the survivors that there may be a way off the island, but it also symbolizes the dangers that could emerge in opened. Like Pandora’s Box, the hatch is ultimately opened out of human’s greed and curiously. Human’s are never satisfied with what they have, but rather are always seeking more power or information.   When the hatch is opened, the survivors must face the darker secrets of the island and fight for their survival against the “Others.” Like Pandora’s Box, the hope that they naively tried to obtain escapes again. Hope remains unattainable and mankind is further corrupted.


“Deux Ex Machina.” Lost: Season 1. Writers J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, and Damon Lindelof. ABC Studios, 2004.

“Exodus, Part Three.” Lost: Season 1. Writers J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber, and Damon Lindelof. ABC Studios, 2004.

Hesiod. “Works and Days.” In Anthology of Classical Myth. Ed. S.M. Trzaskoma, R.S. Smith, and S. Brunet. Hackett Publishing Company Inc., Indianapolis: 2004.

“The Hatch.” Lostpedia. Wikia, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2015


Jason and the Argonauts. And Talos.


It shouldn’t take much brain power to reason why Columbia Pictures produced Jason and the Argonauts as a fantasy epic in the early 1960s. As one of the oldest known hero tales, Jason’s quest is chock full of what we would nowadays consider archetypal elements of the genre: the stoic protagonist, the repulsive villain, a dangerous romance, a clearly defined objective, impossible odds, and of course, a series of treacherous obstacles that provide the spectacle. In short, it’s an easy sell. As you can see, the theatrical trailer does a swell job of consolidating these appealing features into a vibrant, exhilarating package:

As is the case with any cinematic adaptation of an ancient story, the filmmakers were tasked with consolidating numerous variations of the Jason legends into a single narrative. Likely originating in Thessaly, these myths began as oral traditions either in or before the time of Homer, as indicated by a passing reference to the hero in The Odyssey (1). Only in the 3rd century BCE did the poet Apollonius compile the legends into a physical text, the Argonautica, and later they were retold as part of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in first-century Rome (2). Across all versions, however, the basic plot remains consistent. In order to reclaim sovereignty of Iolchus from the grasp of his murderous uncle, Pelias, Jason must embark on a globe-trotting quest to retrieve the legendary Golden Fleece of Colchis. Commissioning the construction of the vessel Argo and assembling fifty men of divine descent (including Heracles), Jason sets sail on the voyage which will test the limits of his capabilities. His challenges are great, but thankfully his allegiances mount along with the peril. He receives limited aid from a goddess (sometimes Athena, sometimes Hera, sometimes Aphrodite), befriends the blind prophet Phineas, and, upon reaching Colchis, allies himself with the sorceress Medea, the daughter of King Aeetes. After a series of bouts with the hostile king, Jason finally claims the fleece and returns home to rule Iolchus, but not after suffering a great deal of loss and hardship along the way.

The 1963 film retains all of these essential plot beats, and while some major liberties are taken, it generally adheres to the popular versions of the legend. A great deal could be written about the numerous choices made in reconstructing the story for a modern moviegoing audience, but for our purposes, we are going to zero in on one of the film’s most memorable components. No, not Jason. Not Argonauts, either. I’m talking, of course, about the mountainous man of bronze, Talos.


There’s a wealth of reasons why Jason and the Argonauts continues to entertain over half a century later, and Talos is most certainly one of the biggest. Literally. Brought to life through the inimitable stop motion effects of the late, great Ray Harryhausen, the towering Talos appears early in the film to give the Argonauts a considerable thrashing after Heracles unwittingly disturbs his slumber. It’s generally unwise to steal broach pins from the gods for use as a javelin, but Heracles evidently didn’t get that particular memo:

Talos, of course, has a history deeply rooted in classical Greek myth. Often considered the earliest conceptualization of a robot, Talos is usually found associated with the gods Hephaestus and Zeus. Sometimes he’s a leftover of the Zeus-created bronze generation, other times he’s the offspring or father of Hephaestus, sometimes he’s a gift from Zeus to King Minos, other times a gift from Hephaestus to Zeus – the permutations are endless (3). Regardless of the myth, however, one connection remains consistent: the Cretan word from which Talos derives his name – talios, meaning “sun” – was frequently used by those islanders as a name for the king of the gods himself (4). Not only does this shared use of the term allude to the giant’s immense power, but it also hints at his role as a somewhat paternal figure. Indeed, Talos was known as the tireless guardian of Crete, a sentinel who would circumambulate the island three times daily to moderate the behavior and livelihood of its citizens (5). Moreover, he would vigorously defend his land from any intruders, and in keeping with his solar-derived name, his preferred method of executing perceived threats was, by all accounts, incineration. Depending on who you ask, the giant would either snatch up poor souls and leap with them into a flaming vat, or he would heat up his own metallic body to incredible degrees and scorch his opponents through mere physical interaction (6). His love of turning folks to ash was unfortunately excised from his on-screen debut, but that does not make his appearance in the film any less memorable.

Though traditionally depicted as Crete’s conservator, Jason and the Argonauts finds Talos holding watch over the aptly named (and movie-created) “Isle of Bronze,” placed there by Hephaestus to guard Zeus’s armory. Ironically, despite his role here as the Argonauts’ inaugural challenge, Talos almost always appears much later in the story as a part of the return voyage (7). However, seeing as how the film only tackles the trip to Colchis (perhaps musings of a sequel prompted the studio to hold off on the return journey), his placement at the front feels appropriate. After all, Talos provides a rather fitting transition into the more fantastical side of this mysterious world. Sure, by this point we’ve been introduced to the pantheon, but thus far nothing about the Earthly realm appears too far removed from our own reality – that is, until the deceptively inanimate statue pivots its enormous head. It’s a genuinely chilling moment; you can watch above how this gradual, creaky awakening shatters both the heroes’ and our sense of (relative) normalcy to eerie effect.

The scene really does live or die by the physical depiction of Talos, and with regards to visual reference the filmmakers were extremely limited. Interestingly, while Talos is very often described throughout mythology as a humanoid giant, the few remaining images we have depict a figure of somewhat different form. Remember when I mentioned how every day Talos would circle the island three times? Well apparently having him be enormous still didn’t make that feat likely in some peoples’ eyes. As such, we have a few surviving coins featuring images of a Talos with billowing, eagle-like wings.


We also have this vase from around the 4th century BCE, which depicts Talos’ death (more on that in a minute). We see here, while he might be a tall fellow, he isn’t the colossus we usually have in mind when we think of Talos. He definitely isn’t big enough to lift the Argo with a single hand, as he does here!


Obviously these artifacts are invaluable from a historical standpoint, but Harryhausen made the right choice going down the lumbering giant route. For one, the film already has both winged and human-esque antagonists (the harpies and a skeleton army, respectively). Talos in this form is simply unlike anything else in the movie, and furthermore unlike anything from the entire Harryhausen monster catalogue. But, more importantly, this was a prime opportunity to demonstrate a complex level of stop motion animation that both enhanced the cinematic elements of the story and recalled the nature of the character from the ancient myths. It is a presentation that not only boasts impressive scale, but also one that emphasizes Talos’s placement between the living and the mechanized. His stiff, ungainly movements become a much more noticeable part of his character when magnified to this degree, which is entirely apt considering that the ambiguity of his not-quite-human, not-quite-mechanical existence plays a large part in his ultimate downfall – just like in the myths.

You see, Talos might be made of bronze, but he draws his life force from a single vein flowing down his back to his heel, where it is stopped by some sort of large plug. Whether described as a nail or a pin, that plug naturally gets pulled at some point by one of the heroes, thus draining Talos of life. In many cases that hero is Medea, who uses trickery to deceive the living statue, while in others it is the Argonaut Poeas who knocks out the stopper with his trusty bow and arrow (7). Seeing as how the adventurers have yet to encounter Medea at this point in the film and that Poeas is absent entirely, the eponymous hero himself takes up the deed, acting under the guidance of Hera. Even disregarding the aforementioned characters’ absences, it makes sense to thrust this duty upon Jason in this context. As his first act of true heroism, the defeat of the Talos establishes Jason as a courageous leader and a man fit for this epic quest – someone capable of navigating the many challenges that lie ahead. 

The Argonauts proceed to encounter a series of equally magnificent beasties, but unfortunately I am unable to cover them here due to my rapidly increasing word count. While the battle against the skeleton army is my pick for the film’s absolute crown jewel of visual wizardry, the Talos encounter is an undoubtably impressive display, and one with great reverence for the myths that inspired it.



1. Argonautica and Odyssey

2. Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece 

3. The Origin of Talos

4. Encyclopedia Mythica

5. The Origin of Talos 

6-7. Talos 

Asclepios and Hermes: Presenting Two Sides of Healthcare

Commercial healthcare providers really have it made. They know how to squeeze the most money out of people while still coming off as the good guys, or at least not completely evil. Companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield depict themselves as holy providers of wisdom and life saving services, while using the rod of Asclepios as a symbol of their dedication to health. Sometimes, commercial healthcare providers choose to use the Caduceus, a symbol of Hermes just because it happens to look nicer to whoever is making the sign. Professional healthcare providers also use both the rod of Asclepios and the Caduceus almost interchangeably for many of the same reasons. While the symbols themselves do not seem that different from one another, the figures associated with these symbols and what they symbols represent are in fact quite different.


Asclepios (the rod) and Hermes (the Caduceus). Asclepios, and by extension the rod of Asclepios, are seen as providing healthcare and medicine, while Hermes and the Caduceus are seen as symbols of trade, trickery, and negotiation in addition to their modern medical connotation. Asclepios is noted as being the son of Apollo, who in turn is the half-brother of Hermes, hence, the connection between Asclepios and Hermes. Asclepios, as a young boy, is said to have shown some kindness to a snake that in turn taught him secret knowledge of healing and resurrection by cleaning out his ears. Asclepios became so skilled at medicine and healing that he was able to resurrect Hippolytus from the dead, as well as being able to evade death himself. This angered Hades and Zeus as Asclepios was throwing off the natural order of life and death. Sadly, a lightning bolt from Zeus killed Asclepios. With his death, humanity lost the secret to potential immortality.


(The rod of Asclepois is pictured above and the Caduceus is pictured below.  The rod depicts a snake entwined with a staff, while the Caduceus depicts two snakes entwined with a staff with a pair of wings attached.)


The meaning of staff and the snake that make up the rod of Asclepois are both extremely ambiguous. While snakes can be thought of as possessing the secret to rejuvenation, aka shedding their skin, they can also possess incredibly deadly poison. The staff has been interpreted by Cornutus to be a support to prevent us from falling even further into illness, but also as a sign of old age. By combining the snake and the staff into the rod, the rod itself can be taken to be a warning against medicine and the practices of doctors but also as a symbol of life being extended through medicine. While medicine and doctors may help extend ones life and improve the general quality of life, the exact opposite can also be true. This reality of trading comfort and peace of mind for a potential cure is evident in chemotherapy. While chemotherapy can cure an individual of cancer, it also inflicts a great deal of pain and discomfort in the process. Unfortunately, it does not always work. This ambiguity of whether or not medicine is a positive or negative actor is completely negated when a healthcare provider chooses to use the Caduceus instead of the rod of Asclepios.

In reality, the Caduceus is not an ambiguous symbol. It is a genuine symbol of Hermes, the god of commerce, negotiation, and occupations, but also the protector of merchants, gamblers, liars, and thieves. And yet somehow, it has been interpreted in different ways to be a symbol of medicine. Funny enough, the Caduceus was actually a gift from Apollo to Hermes as a gesture of friendship and good spirits. Because the snake was later associated with Asclepios, people associated the snake as a tie between Apollo and Hermes. From there, the association with the Caduceus and medicine is a bit clearer.

The decision of a healthcare provider to choose either the rod of Asclepios or the Caduceus, speaks volumes about the provider and what they are attempting to accomplish. A study done by Walter J. Friedlander in 1992 found that 62% of professional healthcare organizations used the rod of Asclepois, while 76% of commercial healthcare organizations used the Caduceus as their symbol. The healthcare providers in the world inherently choose the proper symbol for their company depending on what values of Apollo or Hermes they embrace. Friedlander suggests that professional providers are more likely to have an understanding of what both symbols signify, while commercial healthcare providers are more likely to just be concerned with the recognition factor that a symbol will have for their company. While these companies are not explicitly choosing Asclepios over Hermes or vice versa, the amount of research and thought they put in to deciding their symbol, combined with their respective ultimate goals, does align healthcare providers with either Asclepois or with Hermes.

From its association with Asclepois and his rod, professional healthcare companies can be argued to focusing on extending the human life, reaching closer and closer to the ultimate goal of immortality. Since Asclepois can be regarded as the greatest medical practitioner to ever live, any person or company working under his symbol is trying to reach the same level of knowledge that he possessed about health and medicine. The fact that professional healthcare providers more often choose the rod of Asclepois over the Caduceus implies that they in turn are choosing the well being of people over profit. Commercial healthcare can be said to be only interested in making a profit and whether or not that involves extending a patient’s life or not is rather irrelevant, provided that the money is in order. This choice of money over people, the Caduceus over the rod of Asclepois, is best exemplified by large pharmaceutical corporations that choose money over people, or the Caduceus over the rod of Asclepois, when they choose to manufacture drugs that only temporarily cure a patient’s symptoms (see Claritin, or expensive HIV treatment medication) in order to maximize profit. By creating treatments that are reactive and work to maintain a patient at their current state, instead of treatments that are proactive and actively working to make a patient better, private providers are choosing the wealth and thievery that is associated with the Caduceus.

prescription drugs in the US

The true meanings of the Caduceus and the rod of Asclepois have lasted centuries and are still applicable to the corporations and people that use them today. Despite some blurring of the meaning, and some misunderstanding as to how the Caduceus is related to medicine, the companies focused on helping humanity live longer, better lives through medicine still generally identify with Asclepois and the companies that want to make money regardless of the effect that might have on others still identify with Hermes.


Works Cited

Christopher Logue’s Patrocleia

Fighting over the body of Patroclus

Christopher Logue’s Patrocleia is a creative translation of Book 16 of Homer’s Iliad. It is part of his larger work War Music, in which Logue translates Books 1-4 and 16-19 of the Iliad. This was a continuing project of Logue’s, of which Patrocleia was the first portion. Logue later published two more portions of his adaptation of the Iliad, consisting of All Day Permanent Red and Cold Calls.

Patrocleia is best described as an adaptation or creative translation because, while it is clearly the story of Patroclus fighting and dying, it is only loosely based on the original Greek epic. In fact, Logue did not know Greek – his interpretation is based off of “vicarious proximity to the Greek texts through line-for-line transliterations of the Greek text produced by the classicist Donald Carne-Ross, as well as through listening to classicists vocalize Homer’s Greek text for him so that he could hear the sound patterns of the Homeric hexameter” (Greenwood 505). However, while it isn’t line for line, Logue manages to preserve much of the emotional weight of the Iliad. Compare, for example, the following similes, the first from Richmond Lattimore’s translation of the Iliad, which is in many ways faithful to the Greek, the second from Logue:

…And they, as wolves

who tear flesh raw, in whose hearts the battle fury is tireless,

who have brought down a great horned stag in the mountains, and then feed

on him, till the jowls of every wolf run blood, and then go

all in a pack to drink from a spring of dark-running water,

lapping with their lean tongues along the black edge of the surface

and belching up clotted blood; in the heart of each one

is a spirit untremulous, but their bellies are full and groaning (Lattimore, XVI.156-163)


Imagine wolves: an hour ago the pack

Smelt out a stag and tore it into shreds.

Now they have snuffled through its corpse

They want a drink to wash the curry down; so,

They sniff out a pool and loll their long

Thin, sharp-pointed tongues in it; and as they lap

Little crimson billows drift off their chops,

Spreading through the water like red smoke. (Logue, 9)

The general gist of each is the same, and despite the differences Logue still manages to evoke a sense of ominous violence. However, the simile is not a strict translation. It’s not just that the Patrocleia isn’t a word for word translation. Logue distinguishes it further by adding in anachronisms, modernizing elements of the narrative. For instance:

            You know from books and talking pictures,

            How people without firearms set about

            Killing a tiger that has grown too old

            To prey on antelope or zebra and

            Must confine its diet to slower

            Animals like man. Following its spoor,

            They rig a long funnel of netting up

            On spikes (like pointed clothes-props) and the lean

            Striped beast is driven down its throat by gongs.

            The net is shut. And when the beast is tired out

            The humans kill it in their own good time.

            But if the net breaks many humans die. (31)

Obviously, there was no such thing as television or firearms in Homer’s myth. By adding these elements, Logue departs from the source material. However, in doing so he modernizes the myth and makes it more accessible to a contemporary audience. In this way, Patrocleia isn’t so much a translation or adaptation as a continuation of the epic tradition. After all, the idea of an original is a relatively modern one. Homer did not create the myths within the Iliad or Odyssey – given that they evolved from an oral tradition, they would have changed each time they were told. Thus, Homer’s creativity came not from what the story was, but from how he delivered it. So, rather than being unfaithful to the source material, Logue honors the tradition it came from by updating elements to appeal to a modern audience.

Given this, it is unsurprising that Logue originally intended his poem to be performed, not read. Listening to the work adds an entire layer to it. It gives the work a type of life that it doesn’t have on the page. The performer can interact with and alter the text to suit each performance. Further, the language takes on a type of music – not just Logue’s poem, but the original Greek (as can be heard by listening to Stanley Lombardo read).

Logue attempts to put aspects of performance and fluidity in his poem, not just when it is performed, but also on the page. The text changes size – when Apollo interacts with Patroclus, text relating to him is larger than the surrounding, and when listing those Patroclus kills the font shrinks. Thus, Logue attempts to bring the creativity of performance to the fixed form of text.

Hector killing Patroclus

While many elements of the Patrocleia then seem, despite surface differences, to be similar to Homer’s version of the Iliad, Logue makes two very significant alterations – the depiction of war and the concepts of the gods. War in the Iliad is characterized glorious and heroic, an integral aspect of culture and identity. In the Patrocleia, Logue depicts war as meaningless and wasteful, likening the Trojans heading to battle to dying lemmings:

            You will have heard about the restless mice

            Called lemmings. How, at no set time, and why,

            No one is sure, after years of living

            As patiently as any other mouse,

            They join in one long column and they march

            (Sleeping all day and moving all night long)

            Out of the mountains, down, across the land,

            Straight as a die until they reach the sea

            Walk into it and drown. And yet

            However many die before they meet the sea

            Those yellow vermin are so prodigal

            They multiply, and more of them exist to drown

            Than started off.

            Likewise the Trojans when they crossed the ditch. (16)

Logue portrays the senseless waste of war, showing none of the glory inherent in the Greek conception of battle. Additionally, Logue translates a scene in which Achilles prays to Zeus into a scene where he begins the Lord’s prayer, thus Christianizing the scene. These notable departures do serve to modernize the myth for a contemporary audience, as the anachronisms do. However, the degree of difference which these alterations introduce alter aspects of the meaning and effect of the myth. They go beyond updating the myth, and turn it from a translation to more of an adaptation.

Christopher Logue’s Patrocleia is not quite a translation, not quite an adaptation. Instead it is an amalgamation of the two, creating a myth that is recognizably continues the tradition it comes from, but innovates and becomes new.

Works Cited

Greenwood, Emily. “Sounding Out Homer: Christopher Logue’s Acoustic Homer.” Oral Tradition 24.2 (2009): n. pag. Freely Accessible Arts & Humanities Journals. Web. <>.

Homer. “Book Sixteen.” The Iliad. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1951. 330-53. Print.

Logue, Christopher, and Homer. Patrocleia. London: Scorpion, 1962. Print.

Serpents and Staves

medical_logos_01 One of the most popular symbols for medicine today is a snake entwined around a staff. For most of us this image is associated with the medical profession, clinics, and hospitals. Yet while we often consider all of these symbols to be essentially the same, there are actually two critically different symbols from which each of these progress. Visually both involve serpents wound about staves, but one features only a single snake, while the other features not only a second snake, but also a set of wings. Beyond their appearance, the mythic origin of each symbol is very different, although both stem from Greek mythology. We see the first in the logos and symbols of many medical organizations including, the American Medical Association, BlueCross BlueShield association, the British Medical Association, the Brisith Royal Army Medical Corps, the United States Navy and Air Forced Medical Corps. The snakes and wings symbol we see paired with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, at some points in history the AMA, and frequently in the logos of various commercially focused medical organizations.

251px-Rod_of_Asclepius2.svg             Caduceus.svg

Of these two symbols, the first is called the rod of Asclepius, sometimes the asklepian, and is the staff wielded by the Greek god Asclepius. The second is called the caduceus, and belonged famously to the god Hermes, but was more generally borne by the messengers of the gods.

So what is the connection of these two symbols to medicine and its practitioners? Well for the the rod of Asclepius the connection is mostly obvious. Hesiod’s writings establish Asclepius as the son of Apollo and a mortal woman, and in the Iliad he is established as a noble physician. In myth Asclepius was raised by the centaur Chiron and taught medicine by him after Apollo killed his mother for cheating on him. Later in his life he uses his powers to raise the dead, and is punished by Zeus for infringing on the immortality of the gods. Due in part to the efforts of Apollo, Zeus eventually raises Asclepius from Hades to the ranks of the immortals as the most widely recognized god of healing in the Greek world. As a god of healing it makes sense that one of his symbols might be the symbol of medical organizations. In fact the cult of Asclepius established temples where people came for healing, and the priests of Asclepius were often physicians themselves. The famous Hippocratic oath, historically taken by physicians, originally swore by the names of Apollo, Asclepius, and the children of Asclepius, Hygeia and Panacea. The staff of Asclepius is not as well defined a symbol as the god himself. Both snakes and staves were traditional symbols of medicine in Greek culture, but the exact reason for this is not completely clear. Theories suggest that the snake represented rejuvenation and renewal with the shedding of skin, or that it was the medicinal properties of snakes themselves that made them a medical symbol. Similarly it was though that the staff might be the symbol of the wandering physicians who might carry them, or perhaps as a symbol of support in general. Another more modern theory relates the symbol to a traditional treatment of a Dracunculiasis, or the Guinea worm disease. This was a disease treated by wrapping the parasitic worms about sticks and slowly pulling the worm from the host while winding it about the stick so as to fully remove it. The modern treatment is similar to this ancient one, and so this represents a potential interpretation of the symbol. This interpretation partially ignores the presence of snakes as symbols of healing, and their use in healing temples in Greek society in favor of a more literal interpretation.

So with Asclepius and his staff being obvious symbols of medicine, how do Hermes and the Caduceus stack up as competitors for the modern medical logo? At first glance, they certainly don’t compare very favorably. Hermes was a god frequently thought of in myth as the messenger and herald of Zeus. He is depicted as a trickster, and at various times a god of travel and transitions, the conductor of souls to the afterlife, a patron of mysteries, and also a patron deity of commerce. The caduceus which is prominently recognized as his symbol is also the staff borne by other heralds, such as Hera’s messenger Iris. While the caduceus is sometimes used in medicine, it is also a common symbol of commerce, connecting with Hermes roles as the patron of commerce. In reality this seems to have little to do with medicine at all. The closest connection to Hermes, his symbols, and medicine, would have to be Hermes connection to mysteries, and eventually the tangential connection of both Hermes and the caduceus to the pseudo-mystical scientific practices sometimes referred to as the “Hermetic Arts”. Despite this the caduceus seems to have no historical or mythological connection to medicine, and so it seems strange that this symbol was adopted for use as a representation of medicine alongside the asklepian.

American_Medical_Association_(logo)                       192px-Star_of_life2.svg

In some ways this confusion is probably caused by an often defended misunderstanding based on printer’s marks. The caduceus has been used at various times as a printer’s mark for its role in commerce, not medicine, and in some cases this has involved print on medical texts exported around the world. This coupled with the Army Medical association adopting the symbol in 1902 based on the lobbing of Capt. Frederick Reynolds. It’s entirely possible that this confusion has lead to the use of the symbol by the less informed, especially in the United States. Even with the branches of the U.S. Military and their respective medical organizations there is conflict, with the Army continuing to use the caduceus, and both the Navy and Air Force using the more traditional asklepian. Beyond simple confusions there are other theories about the reason for the use of the caduceus. One survey found that about 62% of professional organizations relating to medicine used the symbol of Asclepius, while about 76% of commercial organizations used the caduceus. One potential reason for this is that professional organizations are more informed than commercial organizations, but even the American Medical Association used the caduceus at various points in time. Preference might be given to the caduceus, especially in financially motivated scenarios because the more symmetric symbol is potentially more attractive as a logo with which to draw customers, or just more attractive to owners of companies in general.

logo-aga-e1371834497134                              US_Army_Medical_Corps_Branch_Plaque

Whatever reason for the preference towards the caduceus in commercial medical symbols it’s very interesting to see more profit oriented medical associations using a symbol commonly associated with commerce. Either by accident or intentional monetization of the symbol this line between use of the caduceus and the asklepian is a very poetic one. On one side is the professional physician, represented by a god of medicine, and the other, the commercial health care organization, represented by a god of commerce.


  • Friedlander, Walter J. The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine.” New York, Greenwood, 1992
  • The symbol of modern medicine: why one snake is more than two.
    Robert A. Wilcox, Emma M. Whitham
    Ann Intern Med. 2003 April 15; 138(8): 673–677.