Week of September 20, 2020

It’s All Greek to Me, pt. II


Healthy self-esteem is great, but extremely self-absorbed people are often called “narcissistic.” This term comes from the tale of Narcissus, a hunter in Greek mythology who was so attractive that women, men, and nymphs often fell in love with him on sight. Cocky Narcissus remained unmoved by these advances but finally fell madly in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to leave his beautiful image, he died of starvation and thirst (or suicide, in some accounts), leaving only the narcissus flower in his place, which also still bears his name.


Among those who pursued Narcissus was Echo, a comely mountain nymph who had been cursed by Hera to only repeat the last words which were said by another. Needless to say, her conversation with Narcissus did not impress him. Despairing after his rebuff, Echo wastes away until only her voice remained. This is the voice you hear when your voice “echoes.”


By some accounts, it was Nemesis, goddess of divine revenge and retribution, who led haughty Narcissus to that reflecting pond which he could not leave. Nemesis’ specialty was keeping human arrogance in check, and we still invoke her name to describe an arch rival.


A strong person’s weakness is called their “Achilles’ heel” because, according to myth, infant Achilles was held by the heel when his mother dipped him into the River Styx to give him immortality. Thus, his heel stayed dry and was his vulnerable point, and ultimately the site of his mortal wound.


“Epicureans” pursue pleasures of the senses, especially with food and drink, since it was Epicurus’ philosophy which focused on pleasure and tranquility as life’s purpose.


An enormous task might be called “Herculean” because half-human Hercules had to complete twelve superhuman tasks to achieve immortality, often aided by his great strength or helpful gods.


“Pandora’s box” is metaphor for creating or unleashing big problems. According to myth, Pandora was the first mortal woman created by the gods and was given many gifts by them, including a beautiful box (or jar in some versions) containing the world’s yet-unknown miseries and woe. The instructions never to open it were forgotten, and the awful contents flew out.