Editorial | Greek Mythology in Popular Culture

Several months ago, I wrote a blog post discussing the ubiquitous references to Norse mythology in modern day pop culture, but Scandinavian folklore certainly does not have the market cornered. The wise King Solomon once said, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and it certainly seems that way sometimes in media and entertainment. Tired rom-com plot lines are trotted out every year—sometimes with the same dialogue—and Adam Sandler doesn’t seem to be able to create an original story to save his life. However, Greek myths have a life all their own, and when incorporated correctly, they appeal to an ancient tradition that really enhances the story.

In comics, as with most entertainment, there are two ways to incorporate myths: either the artist can harken directly back to Greek stories by incorporating members of the pantheon directly into the cast of characters. Examples of this are Hades from the Lady Pendragon comics, various appearances of Artemis and Aphrodite in all manner of comics, or even Hercules as a member of the Marvel Avengers team. Alternatively, comic creators can sneakily refer to Greek myths or just steal inspiration without giving direct credit. A good example is in Aquaman, the not-quite-Poseidon character about whom Marvel is in the process of creating a movie.


Jason Momoa as Aquaman in the upcoming film.


Comics are, of course, not the only areas where Greek mythology pervades entertainment. There’s an element of folklore in nearly every supernatural type of show (including Supernatural) that is on television. Especially obvious was the show Xena: Warrior Princess, which used lots of elements from Greek culture, but especially its superstition. Ares, the god of war, makes several appearances to lure Xena back to a life of spreading chaos. The TV show Grimm, a crime drama/law enforcement procedural show with supernatural elements draws on the ideas of fauns, satyrs, and other mythological beings attempting to get away with crime because no one believes that they are real. Prometheus and Zeus make special guest appearances on the show Supernatural, and in the second season of True Blood, an ancient maenad named Maryann whips the town of Bon Temps, LA into a furious orgy to make way for her lover, Bacchus in the form of a white bull.

Ares and Xena

Ares and Xena

Movies are especially rife with references to Greek mythos—both overt and subtle. The famous Jason and the Argonauts (1963) was a masterpiece in its time (the fight between the skeletons and four live actors took nearly four months to complete!).  Of course, there are other obvious references in Hollywood, such as the fairly successful Wrath of the Titans (2012), and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians movies, based on a young adult series of books, or the major action film Troy (2004), which was based entirely on Homer’s Iliad. Interestingly, however, other movies merely draw their inspiration from Greek stories, such as My Fair Lady (1964), the lovely musical staring Audrey Hepburn, which takes major elements from the story of Pygmalion, or Mighty Aphrodite (1995), in which the story of the goddess of love is completely re-imagined as that of a modern day prostitute.

There are plenty of references to Greek folklore, mythology, and literature in everyday media, entertainment, and the culture at large—it even permeates fashion. Seeing elements the story of Cupid and Psyche in romantic movies and books (most notably C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces), or some other reference to myths that are still fresh nearly three thousand years later is a lot of fun.

Got additional Greek references in pop culture that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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Filed under Comics, Editorial, Geek Life, Movies, Television, Tracy Gronewold

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