One of these days I will continue my blog series on Dionysus (Bacchus), god of wine, madness, and many other fun things. For now, here’s a poem on the guy that I read this last week by the Roman poet Horace. Follow the links for some background info.
Bacchus I saw in mountain glades
Retired (believe it, after years!)
Teaching his strains to Dryad maids,
While goat-hoof’d satyrs prick’d their ears.
Evoe! my eyes with terror glare;
My heart is revelling with the god;
‘Tis madness! Evoe! spare, O spare,
Dread wielder of the ivied rod!
Yes, I may sing the Thyiad crew,
The stream of wine, the sparkling rills
That run with milk, and honey-dew
That from the hollow trunk distils;
And I may sing thy consort’s crown,
New set in heaven, and Pentheus’ hall
With ruthless ruin thundering down,
And proud Lycurgus’ funeral.
Thou turn’st the rivers, thou the sea;
Thou, on far summits, moist with wine,
Thy Bacchants’ tresses harmlessly
Dost knot with living serpent-twine.
Thou, when the giants, threatening wrack,
Were clambering up Jove’s citadel,
Didst hurl o’erweening Rhoetus back,
In tooth and claw a lion fell.
Who knew thy feats in dance and play
Deem’d thee belike for war’s rough game
Unmeet: but peace and battle-fray
Found thee, their centre, still the same.
Grim Cerberus wagg’d his tail to see
Thy golden horn, nor dreamd of wrong.
But gently fawning, follow’d thee,
And lick’d thy feet with triple tongue.
-Ode II.19 by Horace
You can read my other posts on Dionysus here, here, and here.
Eidolons: In Greek mythology, eidolons are spirits of the dead that possess people. From the stories told about them, it seems like they can be a specific dead person with a life history possessing a living person, OR it come across as a more generic possession (such as Christian stories of demons possessing people). In either case, the person being possessed isn’t aware of their situation. Fun. Sidebar: Walt Whitman wrote a poem. In The Mark of Athena, there seem to be three specific eidolons tasked by Gaea to ruin our heroes’ lives. They possess various characters and eventually resort to possessing movable objects. Fun. 5/5 Monstrous Rating for being terrifying and really hard to defend against!
Phorcys and Keto: What I love about these two is that they’re not just any old god and goddess of the sea (there are a lot of sea-deities and nymphs! SO MANY), but specifically represent the dangers of the sea and the monsters inside it. In The Mark of Athena, they’re more like caretakers or circus masters, having a vast collection of monsters that they can send after their enemies at will. In themselves, they aren’t very scary or smart. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for not taking full advantage of these cool deities.
Icthyocentaurs: Specifically named Bythos and Aphros, these are essentially fish-centaurs: kinda like mermaids but with more horsey features. They’re related to Chiron, most famousest of centaurses. I had never heard of them before and I demand more icthycentaur-centered stories! Bythos and Aphros live in colony of mer-people in The Mark of Athena, and rescue some of our heroes when they almost get eaten by a seamonster (see below). They claim to be trainers of champions, just like Chiron, only we haven’t heard of them because they’re ocean heroes. I love that Aphros doesn’t train martial arts of any kind, mostly just home ec. What a hero. 4/5 Monstrous Rating even though they’re more like precious sea creatures.
Skolopendra:This is a very large sea monster that may or may not resemble a giant crayfish. Or a giant millipede. It’s gonna be a no from me. The demigods in The Mark of Athena have to fight one and resort to blowing it up with Greek fire. Typical. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.
Achelous: Achelous was a river-god who fought Hercules for the right to marry a beautiful maiden named Deianeira – so, yes, pretty typical myth story, especially when Hercules is involved. Achelous typically took the form of a snake or a bull but Hercules wrestles the bull-form and defeats Achelous, tearing off one of his horns in the process. This horn is turned into the Cornucopia, horn of plenty, by the river-nymphs (keep that in mind next time you watch The Hunger Games). Achelous holds a grudge, as you can imagine, and tells the whole story to Theseus later. My question is, what happened to Deianeira (answer: nothing good). In The Mark of Athena, Jason and Piper are sent on a quest by Hercules to get Achelous’ other horn because Hercules is a resentful dirt sack. In this story, Achelous is a bull with a man’s face. And yes, they get the horn. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.
Ephialtes & Otis: These two giants are the kind of rabble-rousing teenagers that you just have to shake your head at. They did stupid things like trapping Ares (the god of WAR, okay!) in a jar, and threatening to make a pile that would make it to heaven, and then they decided to kidnap Hera and Artemis to be their wives. Artemis ran from them in a form of a deer and tricked them into spearing each other. Because that’s what happens when you try to kidnap the maiden goddess of the hunt. I like them even less in The Mark of Athena, where they mostly fight with each other and try to one-up each other and/or their nemesis Dionysus. Being giants, however, they’re very difficult to defeat by mere demigods. Giants, man. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for the tutu.
Chrysaor: This guy has one hell of an origin. So Medusa and Poseidon hooked up that one time, right, and Athena was mad because it was in her temple, so Medusa became the Gorgon with snake-hair. When Perseus chops off Medusa’s head, two kids spring out of her head from the hook-up with Poseidon: Pegasus (yes, that Pegasus) and Chrysaor. Everyone has heard of Pegasus, almost no one has heard of Chrysaor. None of my sources can even agree on who this guy is! He might be a giant, OR he might be a winged boar. In The Mark of Athena, he is a guy with a golden mask who has turned into a pirate because he has nothing better to do and no one has heard of him. He’s REALLY good at swordplay and defeats Percy. His pirate-crew is made up of the sailors that Dionysus turned into dolphins that one time. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being really obscure and tying in some Dionysus fun-times.
Arachne: Her backstory is well-told in The Mark of Athena, but in summary: Arachne was a beautiful young woman who was extremely skilled in weaving and had a great deal of hubris (FATAL FLAW). She claims to be as good as Athena (or Minerva). Athena goes to her and warns her not to be over-confident, but instead Arachne challenges her to a contest. They both make amazing tapestries; Athena weaves images of her rivalry with Poseidon (Neptune), whereas Arachne chooses images of embarrassing moments or failures of the gods. Athena is pissed off and turns Arachne into a spider; no one is surprised. In The Mark of Athena, Arachne is a giant monster-spider, and she has been taking out her revenge on Athena’s half-mortal children for centuries. Rude. But she makes a great Big Bad. 5/5 Monstrous Rating.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New American Library, 1969. Print.
Riordan, Rick. The Mark of Athena. Disney Hyperion, 2012. Print.
Oh no you think this post is about Star Wars, don’t you? It’s not*. It’s about mythology. And poetry. And how some things depend greatly on our point of view.
I’ve been reading Anne Sexton’s collected poems (like you do) and wow she is a complicated person. One of her collections, Transformations, looks at old fairy tales from different angles than we’re used to (if you like the Brothers Grimm, I recommend it, it’s really interesting) and some of her other poems are myth-related or responses to myths. I want to take a look at a couple of the latter and how they make us look at some standard Greek myths in a different way.
*seriously it’s not about Star Wars at all, everyone has already written about Star Wars and mythology, I can’t do it, I won’t do it, looooooooove Bahnree.
“Where I Live In This Honorable House Of The Laurel Tree”
I live in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.
to wish I had not run from you, Apollo,
blood moves still in my bark bound veins.
I, who ran nymph foot to foot in flight,
have only this late desire to arm the trees
I lie within. The measure that I have lost
silks my pulse. Each century the trickeries
of need pain me everywhere.
Frost taps my skin and I stay glossed
in honor for you are gone in time. The air
rings for you, for that astonishing rite
of my breathing tent undone within your light.
I only know how untimely lust has tossed
flesh at the wind forever and moved my fears
toward the intimate Rome of myth we crossed.
I am a fist of my unease
as I spill toward the stars in the empty years.
I build the air with the crown of honor; it keys
my out of time and luckless appetite.
You gave me honor too soon, Apollo.
There is no one left who understands
how I wait
here in my wooden legs and O
my green green hands.
Apollo, the god of healing, prophecy, and the sun, once fell in love with a nymph named Daphne, the daughter of a river-god. Daphne was a huge fan of Diana (or Artemis) , the maiden goddess of the hunt. Daphne wasn’t interested in marriage, and rejected all suitors, but of course one day Apollo spotted her hunting in the woods and fell madly in love with her. Daphne tries to escape him, but he chases after her, and at last she begs her father for help, and he turns her into a laurel tree. Daphne would rather be a tree forever than give in to Apollo, and when the story is retold it’s always about her unwillingness and his obsessiveness.
However, in this poem Daphne seems to regret her escape and now views it as a prison. She’s upset about her “wooden legs” and “green hands” because they’re not made of flesh, they’re trapping her blood inside. Everything about her is frozen: “Frost taps my skin” and her real body is “glossed” over. The poem implies that given the choice again, Daphne would totally bang Apollo, as she’s spent much of her time obsessing over him and her previous choice. Now she has a “late desire” and “luckless appetite” that she can’t act on even if she wanted to; it’s ironic because Apollo took her agency first by trying to force himself on her, but now she seems to be accusing herself of taking her agency by locking herself in a tree. Now she has honor but nothing else, and “the crown of honor,” i.e. the laurel crown that is given to champions (a tradition started by Apollo because he loves laurel trees).
This poem is tricky because it doesn’t seem to judge Apollo (it SHOULD judge Apollo, he needs to learn some hard facts about consent), but it also empowers Daphne by showing her as a person who made her own choices (even if she comes to regret them).
“To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph”
Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on,
testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade,
and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn
of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made!
There below are the trees, as awkward as camels;
and here are the shocked starlings pumping past
and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well.
Larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast
of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings!
Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually
he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling
into that hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea?
See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down
while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.
Icarus and his father the inventor Daedalus were imprisoned by King Minos of Crete, because Minos was convinced that Daedalus had allowed his Athenian prisoners to escape. Daedalus crafted wings for himself and his son so that they could fly out of their prison, the Labyrinth (which Daedalus had also invented) and get away from Crete. Everything went fine until they were in the air, and Icarus decided to fly to the sun. The sun burned up his wings and left him to plunge to his death in the ocean. We judge him for his hubris and warn others against similar acts. The myth of Icarus is generally held up as a warning against arrogance, recklessness, and/or attempting to do or get something that is out of your reach.
This poem, however, applauds Icarus, and I dig it. Whereas “his sensible daddy” Daedalus keeps his focus on escaping from Crete and “goes straight to town,” Icarus forms a higher goal, one that isn’t for his own personal safety but for something bigger than that. This poem admires the risk Icarus took, admires his daring in “acclaiming the sun.” Everything else besides Icarus that is mentioned in the poem is “awkward,” “shocked,” and” sensible.” Icarus is the one who seizes his own agency and uses it; he glances up, not down or forward or back, and dies from “wondrously tunneling” toward his goal.
I don’t know the context for the friend that Sexton seems to be directing this poem to, but she (or at least the poem’s narrator) is valuing and praising Icarus’ choices rather than warning against them. There are worse things than dying in a blaze of glory, after all.
If Lin Manuel Miranda, Rick Riordan, and Ernest Cline had a baby together it would be Bull by David Elliott (and that combination is still not as weird as the Minotaur’s actual parentage. So.).
The original myth that includes the Minotaur is focused on Theseus, the hero from Athens and Ariadne, the princess of Crete, who falls in love with him. Theseus goes to Crete because he is determined to kill the monster of the labyrinth, the Minotaur that kills 14 Athenians every 7 years (or every year depending on the version). I discussed the Minotaur in one of the Percy Jackson monster recap posts.
I love mythological retellings, and I’ve read a lot of them, but Bull was a wild, imaginative, and very weird ride, even by my standards. It retold a very old story, but delivered a fresh tale via some really great twists.
First of all, it retells the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur from the perspective of the half-man, half-bull monster – named Asterion, “Ruler of the Stars,” by his mother, and called the Minotaur by his stepfather, who is revolted by the way Asterion was conceived. It was an excellent choice to explore this character in an empathetic way, turning him into a tragic character that loved and could love others. Through Asterion’s story, the book highlights how humans can be monsters and how monsters can be human.
Other characters get their speaking moments as well: King Minos and his daughter Ariadne, supporting characters from the myth, are here; there are point-of-view sections from Minos’ wife Pasiphae (the Minotaur’s mom), and god of the sea Poseidon. All of the characters take their turns narrating the story, but only Poseidon gets to see everything at once, and perhaps influence events as he sees fit.
Am I right or am I right?
That bum Minos deserved what he got.
I mean, I may be a god, but I’m not
Unreasonable, and when I am, so
-Poseidon’s opening lines in Bull
Second, it uses a variety of poetical styles to capture each of the characters. There’s a nice afterword where the author talks in detail about each poetical mode he chose for each character and why, but they also tend to use different language. Poseidon generally uses more slang and profanity, for example. Other characters sound more formal or more childlike. Pasiphae, the queen, who gets knocked up by the bull, has some really beautiful sections early on, but as the story goes on her lines show how the entire situation is affecting her mind.
I know what I
know I know what
I see none of you
is that different
-Pasiphae, in response to her critics
Pasiphae’s daughter, Ariadne, also gets some great sections in this book. Ariadne is one of my all-time favorite mythological characters, and she gets a good gig in Bull, although not a lot of closure (SEQUEL, DAVID ELLIOTT??? SEQUEL???).
Until then, I’ll be demure.
Charming! Sweeter than sugar!
The perfect little princess!
No more and no fucking less.
-Ariadne, discussing her plans for freedom for herself and her half-brother
I love her.
Thirdly, Bull includes more than just the basic Theseus-and-Minotaur story. Besides going into the reasons for why Poseidon takes a disliking to Minos and Pasiphae, and giving some insights into the Minotaur’s sad childhood, it also combines elements of Daedalus and Icarus into the story. Daedalus is a genius inventor in Greek myth, and is most famous for his labyrinth (created to hold the Minotaur) and his wings (made in order to help Daedalus and his son escape from King Minos, who is keeping them prisoner as his pet inventors). I really liked how Bull interwove a lot of Daedalus’ story with Asterion’s. It also looked at Theseus from a different angle, and personally I found it refreshing to have Theseus relegated to a second-tier status, existing only as a deluded bully and villain. I have never been a huge fan of Theseus, can you tell?
I do have some criticisms. The ending is very abrupt and doesn’t have much closure for pretty much anyone except Asterion. The female characters have an especially rough time: Pasiphae and Ariadne start out as really excellent characters, but the story can only end in tragedy if their agency is completely destroyed, and once it is, their personal tragedies fade into the background of the primary tragedy of Asterion. I mean, I understand, because the book is named after the Minotaur and it’s about him, but it left the book weaker and less-fleshed out than it could have been.
On the whole, Bull was entertaining and thoughtful. Even more important, Bull made a fantastic character out of one of the oldest villains. Asterion was likable, but flawed, and doomed.
Today we’re hitting up one of my favorites, The Battle of the Labyrinth. I have a thing for Labyrinths. And Ariadne. And such.
Empousa: These terrifying lady-vampires are either the servants or daughters of Hecate, depending on the story. Basically they seduce dudes and then drink all their blood. They are called “one-footed,” which led to them having one leg (that of a donkey) and one prosthetic leg made of brass. In The Battle of the Labyrinth, they serve the Big Bad and sometimes take the form of cheerleaders to lure Percy into a false sense of security (or something). Sadly we don’t see them drink blood, probably because this series is Middle Grade. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.
Hellhounds: Hellhounds are, if you can believe it, really scary dogs from the underworld…Cerberus is the most famous one. Mrs. O’Leary is a lesser-known hellhound, but she shows up The Battle of the Labyrinth and subsequent Percy Jackson books. She attaches herself to Percy and is brave and drooly and adorable. 5/5 Monster Rating!
The Minotaur: The Minotaur is only mentioned in this book, but Percy&Co. are exploring the labyrinth which was originally designed to keep the monster half-bull half-man securee. See The Lightning Thief post for more on him.
Kampe: Kampe. How do I describe Kampe? She’s basically a big combination of monsters and animals – like a dragon lady with a body made out of beast heads and legs made out of vipers. In The Battle of the Labyrinth, she is working for Kronos and keeping her own little prison in the labyrinth. I wouldn’t want to face her in a fight. 5/5 Monstrous Rating.
Briares: Briares is one of the Hundred-Handed Ones, giants from very early on in Greek mythology; they fight with Zeus and the gods against the Titans in the big War of the Titans. In The Battle of the Labyrinth, he’s being kept prisoner by Kampe. I really love the sub-plot with him and Tyson in this book – Tyson has always considered the Hundred-Handed Ones his heroes, but the reality is disappointing at first because Briares has been terrified into submission by Kampe (who is, admittedly, mind-meltingly scary). 3/5 Monstrous Rating because he’s secretly a Nice Guy.
Geryon: Geryon is the monstrous rancher that dreams are made of. Wait what. He has multiple heads and multiple bodies and really sounds goopy. He has a bunch of sacred red cattle that Hercules has to retrieve for his Tenth Labor. In TBoftL, Geryon also has flesh-eating horses (see below) and tells Percy he will have to clean out the stables in order to get any help from him. However, Percy winds up having to kill him anyway because Geryon is a terrible back-stabbing person. The trouble is, Percy has to kill all of his bodies at once to do so. Gross. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.
Eurytion: There’s a centaur in Greek mythology by this name, too, but the one in TBotL is a herdsman of Geryon. I really like that Eurytion, a sort of monstrous cowboy, is given his own hopes and dreams in the book, and is happy to help Percy once it looks like Percy might win. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.
Flesh-eating horses: In Greek mythology, Diomedes (one of the heroes of the Iliad) has a bunch of flesh-eating horses that he’s very proud of. Diomedes is very strong but sort of a terrible guy. Terrible guys are very common in Greek mythology. Anyway, Percy manages to befriend these horses to a point once he cleans their stable and drenches them all with water. He should have kept one as a steed, probably. 2/5 Monstrous Rating because I didn’t see them eat any flesh.
The Sphinx: Everyone knows the Sphinx, right? In mythology, the Sphinx posed a riddle to travelers and when they couldn’t answer it, murdered them. A very fun-loving guy. In TBotL, the Sphinx is guarding part of the Labyrinth, but instead of riddles it is giving travelers multiple-choice questions. I LOVE the implication that no one is being taught to think critically anymore and so the Sphinx doesn’t even bother with riddles. Annabeth, Percy’s smart friend, is very understandably upset by this change. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.
Telekhines/Telchines: I’m unclear on what these are, exactly, but they’re some sort of seacreature/dog/demon hybrid. They eventually piss off the gods so much that they all get murdered (possibly for practicing black magic). In TBotL, Percy comes across them a couple of times, as they’ve been recruited by Kronos. One of the most disturbing bits of this series is when Percy attacks a bunch of baby-Telekhines while they’re at school. Like…slow your monster-murdering roll, boy. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being so persistent.
Antaeus: This guy is a giant wrestler, and a son of Gaea, the Earth goddess. He’s sort of the worst. He can’t be defeated as long as he’s touching the earth, so Hercules has to lift him up into the air in order to kill him. Percy employs a similar technique when he has to fight him in a cage-match in TBotL. 2/5 Monstrous Rating for the giant Greek diaper.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New American Library, 1969. Print.
Riordan, Rick. The Battle of the Labyrinth. Disney Hyperion, 2008. Print.
We will finish up the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series next month with the final book, The Last Olympian!
This is the first of a few posts I will be doing on Dionysus, Greek god of the vine&wine, fertility, madness, and other similarly fun things. Why did I pick this guy to focus on?
A. He’s a personal fave
B. I’m reading this incredibly wild book called Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto and I wanted to talk about it
C. He’s the patron of theater kids everywhere!
D. All of the above
Spoilers: the answer is D. Which stands for Dionysus. Obviously.
For this post, I’m going to talk a little about my sources, introduce you to Dionysus’ family, and go over his early life – both as a character in old stories and as a Greek cult.
Dionysus (or Bacchus) has been around for a bit – just how long is a matter of conjecture. He isn’t mentioned by name in Homer’s mainstream poems, although elements of his myths are (like the Maenads, his crazy band of girlfriends). He is also mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony, a real old Greek poem and a sort of Who’s Who of Greek gods and such. Dionysus pops up now and again in the Homeric Hymns as well, which are ALSO real old Greek poems that are dedicated to this that and the other Greek god. Dionysus has a big role in at least one play by Euripides. I’ll talk more about Euripides and Greek drama a bit later.
The books I’m drawing on from these posts are more of compendiums of all the old myths and songs and poems and plays. Primarily, they are:
Mythologyby Edith Hamilton: This is my favorite mythology retelling collection so far. Hamilton does a good job of condensing everything but still telling a good story and telling it well, so that it’s entertaining and terrifying, but still getting across all of these random details and encompassing all of the many characters in Greek mythology.
The Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch: This does the same job as Edith Hamilton’s book, but his writing style isn’t as poetic or engaging. He includes details and stories that Hamilton doesn’t, though, and he tries to be as comprehensive (I was tempted to say “unbiased,” but no one ever manages that) as possible.
Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto: Otto likes Dionysus. A lot. So much. It’s a little terrifying. Anyway, this book delves into the cult that worshiped Dionysus, the different rites and versions of Dionysus’ story, and the cultural and religious impact of the Greek god.
The Fam, The Birth, The Legacy
Dionysus is one of the twelve Olympians, the most powerful and important of the Greek gods. He’s the son of Zeus, king of the gods, god of thunder and, I don’t know, adultery probably. One of Zeus’ many girlfriends is Semele, a princess of Thebes. Hera, Zeus’ wife (and goddess of marriage, because the Greeks are just really ornery), finds out about Semele, because Hera always finds out about all of the girlfriends. Hera disguises herself and convinces Semele that her boyfriend isn’t really Zeus, king of the gods – Semele will have to prove it somehow. Semele, in a sort of Samson-and-Delilah adventure, persuades Zeus that if he really truly loves her, he’ll give her whatever she wants. He makes an unbreakable vow to do so, and Semele asks him to reveal himself in his true form. Zeus is like, “um, honey, but-” “YOU PROMISED.” Zeus reveals himself, and Semele is so lit she catches fire and burns to death because mere mortals can’t look at gods.
So that’s a fun story.
The part where it gets really weird is that Semele is pregnant, and to save their kid, Zeus pulls the baby out of Semele’s womb and puts him in his side. Then, a few months later, Dionysus is born! Because a dude’s side is exactly like a womb! I don’t know, maybe Zeus magically spawns a temporary womb for a while. Supposedly, since Dionysus spends some time in his human parent AND in his godly parent, that makes him more special than your average demigod (half-god, half-human) kid.
In any case, Zeus isn’t sure he wants to bring this kid home – Hera might set him on fire, after all. So Dionysus is raised by the rain-nymphs of Nysa, otherwise known as the Hyades. Dionysus grows up in the wild, which might be important later.
However, Hera isn’t ready to let this go just yet. Hera finds him and curses Dionysus with madness, so he leaves Nysa and travels the earth as a lunatic. He is eventually found by Rhea, a Titan and queen of the earth, and also Zeus’ mom. So Dionysus’ grandma takes him in, cures his madness, and teaches him many helpful things about the earth and how to grow plants in it, including the grapevine. She may or may not throw in some helpful hints about fermentation.
Today I’ll be talking about The Sea of Monsters, (referred to as SOM after this), the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (spoiler warning!). If you like mythology and haven’t tried out this series, you should. If you don’t care about mythology but you like salty narrators and lots of action, you should.
As is tradition, Rick Riordan smashes several packs-worth of characters, monsters, and name-drops into a single book. I’m going to focus on the monsters and creatures. For each one, I’ll talk about the “real life” mythological creature, the way Riordan reimagines it, and give it a 1-5 Monstrous Rating for how well Riordan brought it back.
Laestrygonians: You can experience these guys in all their violent glory in The Odyssey. Odysseus’ crew reaches a very promising-looking island, until they’re chased off by giants who throw rocks at them. In SOM, Percy and his prep school classmates have to survive being locked in a gym with Laestrygonians while they play dodgeball with fiery rocks. The Riordan scene is terrifying, and honestly a little too close to real-life school horrors for my taste, but we don’t see the Laestrygonians again – they’re just an opening-scene threat. 3/5 Monstrous Rating.
Cyclopes/Polyphemus: Cyclopes are another race featured in The Odyssey: Odysseus and Co. have to escape from one in particular, Polyphemus, when they stop at his island, and Aeneas and his crew also stop by in The Aeneid. Cyclopes are one-eyed giants, and while they seem to be herdsmen when in their own country, Zeus and Hephaestus use them as workmen at their forges. They supposedly forged Zeus’ famous thunderbolts. They seem to enjoy eating humans when the opportunity arises. One of the most endearing characters in Percy Jackson and The Olympians is Tyson, a Cyclops and Percy’s half-brother. Tyson is really good at building and fixing excellent magical items. Percy and Co. ALSO stop by Polyphemus’ island, because apparently it’s on the Hero Checklist for Important Stops. I like how Riordan gives us the good and bad extremes of Cyclopes, since the myths seem undecided on them. 4/5 Monstrous Rating.
Stymphalian birds: One of Hercules’ twelve impossible labors was to drive the Stymphalian birds away from the country they’re infesting. In SOM, they swarm and attack the chariot race at Camp Halfblood, for reasons that are unclear but make the race much more exciting. I’m not even really sure what they look like but I’m guessing something like giant piranha birds. 2/5 Monstrous Rating.
Hippocampus: Not the part of the brain, but a half horse, half fish creature.I can’t find a myth that these animals are actually in, but they’re awesome. They’re typically associated with Poseidon in Greek mythology, as he’s the god of sea and horses. In SOM, Percy is able to communicate with horses, and thus, hippocampi. They take Percy and his friends on a couple of sea-journeys. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for being adorable.
Oreius and Agrius: There was a lady named Polyphonte who joined the Hunters of Artemis, a group of maidens who swore to stay maidens forever so that they could serve Artemis. For some reason Aphrodite, goddess of love, took issue with Polyphonte’s choice and cursed her to fall in love with a bear. Gross. Bear. Polyphonte then gave birth to two half-bear, half-human sons: Oreius and Agrius. I mean, that’s not their fault. But then they became terrible and also cannibals. In SOM, one of the villains, Luke (a son of Hermes) recruits them, probably by promising they can eat lots of tasty demigods. Oreius and Agrius are the typical big dumb henchmen in this story. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for being kind of obscure and relating to bears.
Pegasus: Pegasus is confusing to me because most of the time you hear about a pegasus as a winged horse species. However, Pegasus in Greek mythology was a SINGLE winged horse, spawned from Medusa’s blood mixing with earth (just go with it). This winged horse was named Pegasus, adopted by the muses, and helped several heroes (including the original Perseus, who slew Medusa in the first place). In SOM, pegasi are a species of winged horse. Percy helps one escape from Luke and his bearish thugs – this pegasus individual turns up in later books and is super wonderful and great. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being kind of inaccurate but producing one of the best non-human characters in the series.
Hydra: The Hydra is another monster that started out as a single unique entity but is now known as a species (or a super-secret super-villain organization). Hercules had to destroy the Hydra as one of his twelve labors. You wanna go for a heart-shot, not a head-shot, in this case, as each time a head is killed or chopped off, two more replace it. Gross. In SOM, Hydras are monsters synonymous with ubiquitous chains, eg Starbucks, or Monster Donut in the series. Percy chops off a head and not only is that head quickly replaced, he spawns a Monster Donut chain store elsewhere in the world. So next time you see five Starbucks in a single-block radius, blame impetuous heroes. 5/5 Monstrous Rating for pure hilarity.
Scylla: Scylla was a water-nymph, and her story is a very typical one. Glaucus, an ocean god, fell in love with her, and since he couldn’t accept a “no” he went to the witch Circe for help. Circe quickly fell in love with Glaucus, and instead of helping him win Scylla over, she poisoned her. Scylla became a horrible monster with lots of heads and tentacles and things, and wound up living in a sea-cave and eating any sailors who passed by. In SOM, Percy meets both Scylla and Circe, although at different points. Scylla eats some of the zombie soldiers crewing the Civil War ironhide Percy and his friends are using to cross the Sea of Monsters. 2/5 Monstrous Rating for being relegated to a convenient plot device.
Charybdis: Charybdis is either a whirlpool, or a monster inside of a whirlpool. It’s sort of unclear. In any case, famous heroes like Odysseus and Aeneas had to get past her/it, and she/it took up the same strait of water that Scylla lived in. As you might imagine, it was always a fun time visiting that watery neighborhood. In SOM, Percy and his friends almost get sucked up by Charybdis, but escape when Percy uses his bottled wind to shoot them away from it. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for being scary but also very momentary.
Sirens: These are sea monsters. We presume they are ladies, but honestly I couldn’t find any explicit reference to their gender. In any case, they sing to sailors, enchant them, and lure them to their deaths, either by drowning or dashing them on rocks. The mermaid comparison is easy. Odysseus wanted to hear the Sirens’ song, so his men tied him to the mast. He said it sounded like they would give him all the wisdom a man could ever need. Orpheus, a famous musician, saved Jason and his Argonauts from the Sirens by playing music the entire time they sailed past. Percy stopped up his ears with wax (like Odysseus’ men) but Annabeth wants to hear the Sirens’ famed wisdom, so she also ties herself to the mast. She sees a vision of everything she ever wanted, if only she could get to it. 4/5 Monstrous Rating for being more clear about why the Sirens are so hard to resist, and just as much so to women.
Centaurs: We talked about Chiron last month, but most centaurs are not like Chiron. They’re described as more beast than man, and usually drink a lot, misbehave, and carry off women. In SOM, Chiron’s centaur relatives are portrayed more as drunken frat-boy partiers, but they at least rescue Percy and his friends when the occasion calls for it. 3/5 Monstrous Rating for not being very scary or very helpful.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Greek and Roman Mythology: The Age of Fable. Dover Thrift, 2000. Print.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New American Library, 1969. Print.
Riordan, Rick. The Sea of Monsters. Disney Hyperion, 2006. Print.