Greek Mythology Meets American History - pams

The Original Myth: Greek
Mythology Meets American History
A Creative Writing Assignment Incorporating US History
Mythology is alive in Virginia Beach, VA.
Perhaps you are the student who
would ask your teacher, “Why do
we have to study mythology?
What possible relevance could this
have on my life? It is literally
thousands of years since anyone
actually believed in these fantastic
beings, and we are nowhere near
the Mediterranean Sea, Greece, or
I present to you the most
prominent symbol of Virginia
Beach, VA, which the over two
million visitors to our Oceanfront’s
boardwalk gaze upon, admire, and
photograph each day – a bronze
statue of King Neptune on 31st &
Atlantic Ave… There you go!
The Value of Mythology
If the only thing you gained from your studies of Greek
Mythology was the entertainment value of the stories – that
would be enough.
In addition, however, you gain insights into literary allusions
and metaphors which will benefit your understanding of
contemporary literature more than any singular topic – with
the exception of The Holy Bible. (As a source of literary
allusions, the Bible is sort of the standard setter in Western
Moreover, mythology is fertile ground for making
comparisons to current events, historical events, and the
important figures who have influenced – and continue to
influence – history.
How can mythology
influence United States
Mythology can definitely help us to
interpret history! I wouldn’t recommend
making comparisons between historical
personalities and mythological figures as a
full time profession. However, our
understanding of mythology can help us to
understand historical figures. Consider
this political cartoon, featuring President
Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was well
known for his opposition to “trusts” - the
“monsters” of their day? Trusts were illegal
business combinations which decreased
competition and hurt American consumers.
Here, he is shown strangling two wellknown business owners (er… serpents?) –
John D. Rockefeller (right) and James
Pierpont Morgan (left). Teddy Roosevelt
was considered a hero for breaking up the
Standard Oil Trust. Which character was
he compared to in this political cartoon?
Who is Roosevelt
compared to in this
political cartoon?
To which mythological story does this
political cartoon make an allusion?
Theodore Roosevelt is facing off against
a many headed monster in this editorial
from the 1900s. Its tail reads “US
Senate” and each of the faces is that of
an elected Senator in the United States
Congress who opposed Roosevelt’s antitrust legislation. Roosevelt is being
compared to Hercules, of course. How
did many Americans view TR ? How
must they have felt about his anti-trust
legislation if he was portrayed as a
Herculean character in political
cartoons like the one to the right? Does
anyone think Americans actually
believed Theodore Roosevelt was the son
of a god? Not likely, right? But he was
admired, and we can appreciate the
allusion – even over 100 years later.
The Suspension of Disbelief
One of the keys to writing fiction – and part of the
enjoyment of reading good fiction – is the suspension of
disbelief. We all know that what we are reading (or
writing) cannot really happen. We are “suspending
disbelief” when we go along with a fantastic storyline.
For example, we all know that Percy Jackson is not really
the half-blooded son of a Greek god. We know that
Camp Half-Blood cannot really exist. But we are willing
to go along with this pretense – because we want to enjoy
the story! And we can learn something from the story –
not history, mind you – but something!
Suspension of Disbelief and the Value of
Historical Fiction
To write an excellent original myth which incorporates American History, you
have to be creative, suspend disbelief, and make connections between
characters (some historical and some mythical) which obviously could never
really take place. Many of the themes present in Greek Mythology – hubris,
metamorphosis and change over time, and the explication of natural
phenomena – are pertinent to American History as well!
And even stories which do not have any relationship to Greek mythology at all
are often tied into historical eras in a way that influences the narrative.
Historical fiction – a fictional story that pays homage to a particular portion of
history by making historically accurate references and defining its characters’
traits accordingly – is a great way to increase your understanding of history
and empathize with historical figures. ( As long as it is well written…
Unfortunately, not all of it is – see “The Patriot”.)
The novels which follow are all considered such fine examples of historical
fiction, that they are required reading for scholars of history.
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
Upton Sinclair’s most famous novel, The
Jungle, is about a family of Lithuanian
immigrants who came to the United States
during the 1880s and settled in the
Packingtown region of Chicago. The novel
describes the difficult living conditions in the
city, the difficulties and dangers of working
in the meatpacking industry – a filthy
business then – and the toll of alcoholism on
families. Although none of the characters in
the novel are real, Sinclair’s work accurately
portrayed the difficulties of immigration and
the horrors of the meatpacking industry. In
fact, two laws – the Pure Food and Drug Act
and the Meat Inspection Act – were passed
by Congress after President Roosevelt read
the book and was horrified by Sinclair’s
description of the meatpacking plants in
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great
Gatsby is considered by many literary
critics to be the greatest novel ever
written by an American author.
(Your Social Studies teacher does not
concur.) The story of the emptiness
in the lives of the very wealthy and
the lack of purpose or meaning in
American society during the wild
years of the 1920s, however,
resonated with the men and women
who lived through the age, and
accurately portrays that segment of
American society – at that moment in
The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The
Grapes of Wrath, chronicles a family
of emigrants – the Joads - as they
escaped the Dust Bowl during the
Great Depression. While the story is
entirely fictional, it was representative
of the lives of tens of thousands of so
called “Okies” who escaped the
environmental catastrophe on the
Southern Plains during the 1930s.
Many, like the Joads, moved west
along Route 66 to California.
Steinbeck’s novel accurately portrays
the struggles these families endured.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway’s novel For
Whom the Bell Tolls is set
during the Spanish Civil War
of the 1930s. While the events
in Spain leading up to
Generalissimo Francisco
Franco’s takeover of that nation
are not expressly related in the
book, the turmoil of the period
serves as a background for the
narrative. Hemingway’s
knowledge of the period
provides an informed view of
the historical epoch in Spain.
The Crucible , by Arthur Miller
The Crucible is historical fiction at its very
finest – and an allegory, to boot. Master
playwright Arthur Miller’s 1952 play, which
is ostensibly an account of the Salem Witch
Trials of the 1690s, was used as a forum to
criticize the contemporary “witch hunts”
Americans experienced at the height of the
Red Scare. In that time period, men like
Senator Joseph McCarthy, a pathetic
drunkard who made reckless and slanderous
charges of “communist sympathies” against
Americans in every field (including the
military!) – were damaging reputations and
ruining lives. In this sense, he was a much
less lethal version of the children who
doomed men and women to die (one person
was pressed to death with heavy stones,
eighteen others were hanged) with their
accusations of witchcraft during the 1690s.
Number the Stars
The novel Number the Stars is a fictional account of
a family’s experiences in Nazi-controlled Denmark
during World War II. By addressing a very
difficult topic of the Holocaust in a novel targeting
teenage readers, the author conveys a strong
message – and provides historically accurate
information to her readers – about the genocide
carried out against Jewish people and other groups
during World War II. Other novels, including The
Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, The Boy in the
Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, or the more literary
Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, all speak to the
tragedy of the Holocaust through fictional novels.
African-American Authors
Historical novels are also a forum for people
to express their own unique views – their
interpretation of history. African-American
authors like Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes
Were Watching God) – a Harlem
Renaissance novelist – Richard Wright
(Native Son), Ralph Waldo Ellison (Invisible
Man), James Baldwin (The Fire Next Time,
Go Tell it on the Mountain) and Toni
Morrison (Song of Solomon, A Mercy) have
written historical fiction which stays true to
the chronology and experiences of a
particular period in history, while
expressing their own personal perspectives
on both history and the nature of the human
An Original Myth with Figures from
American History?
This may seem like an odd assignment at first. And let’s be fair,
there are a lot of ways this could go wrong… But the thoughtful
and creative student will be able to make connections between
characters which serve to demonstrate his or her knowledge of
both mythology and American history.
Consider all of the possibilities which our brainstorming sessions
produce, and try to force connections when necessary in order to
produce a quality myth. The fact is that there are many figures in
American History who we can draw parallels to in mythology.
And, there are just as many who might have been singled out for
punishment – vengeful punishment! – had there been a Greek god
or goddess bandying about during the course of their lifetimes! Be
creative in your stories, and remember that characters can relate
to one another in a variety of different ways – cooperation and
conflict being the two ends of the spectrum.
Mythology Meets American History
Obviously, comparing actual historical figures with
mythological gods, goddesses, and immortal beings is
not an exact science. But if you apply your knowledge
of mythology and your knowledge of history to this
project in a creative way, you should be able to
demonstrate what you have learned about both fields as
you compose your original myths!
What follows in this presentation are some possible
courses for you to consider. While not every
mythological figure in Greek mythology corresponds to
a person or event in United States history, a great many
do. Be creative and open to possibilities.
Zeus – The Supreme Ruler
Presidents, especially powerful ones like
Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow
Wilson, or Franklin Roosevelt might compare
to Zeus. Anytime political leaders use their
power arbitrarily, they are Zeus-like!
When powerful weather events influence
history – particularly if related to rain, floods,
or lightening bolts, Zeus may enter the story.
Remember that Zeus can at times be fooled by
others – he’s very powerful, but not all
knowing. And also recall that the Fates have
powers over him - even as the Supreme Ruler
of the world. Accepting fate is critical in
Many stories would lend themselves to the
influence of Zeus, who was known for his
arbitrary rulings and his scandalous behavior
at times!
Hera – Goddess of Marriage
Hera is the jealous and sometimes irrational
wife of Zeus. She is especially meanspirited to those who have been unfaithful!
Should your story require an female spirit
to henpeck and torment an unfaithful soul,
she’s your Goddess!
Several women have stormy relations with
their husbands which might merit her
entrance into a story – Abraham and Mary
Todd Lincoln and Eleanor and Franklin
Roosevelt come immediately to mind.
You might also consider prohibitionist
Carry Nation as a protector of marriage.
She sought to outlaw alcohol to protect the
family – and prevent alcoholic husbands
from being abusive to their loved ones. (She
also shares the somewhat irrational streak!)
Poseidon – Ruler of the Sea
Anything even vaguely tied to the sea is
the stuff of Poseidon: the SpanishAmerican War is fertile ground, as is the
convoy system and naval battles of World
War I and World War II. (D-Day, for
Poseidon can carry a grudge for a long,
long time – see Odysseus – and is
He is also associated with horses – he was
carried along the sea by a chariot of
horses in mythology. So, he can be linked
to any of the famed cavalry units of the
West or to famous travelers, mail
carriers, messengers, or wagon trains.
Percy Jackson fans will assuredly relate.
Hades – Ruler of the Underworld
Hades was the God of the
Underworld, but also the God of
Wealth – his kingdom included
the underground minerals – gold,
silver, copper, and iron.
Obviously, any character or
characters from American
History who suffered untimely
deaths could be brought into a
myth involving Hades. But don’t
neglect his role as the God of
Wealth – the mining communities
of the West – Sutter’s Mill
(Placerville), the Comstock Lode
(Virginia City, NV), or any
number of others.
Athena – Goddess of Wisdom
Athena is the Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Civilization.
In our studies of American History to date, “The Frontier”
has played a prominent role. Americans, of course,
believed that they brought “civilization” to the West as the
frontier advanced. They believed that by forcing Native
Americans to end their nomadic lifestyles and settle on
reservations, they were advancing civilization.
Any war – the Spanish-American, World War I, World
War II, the Cold War, Korea, or Vietnam – might involve
Athena in her role as a warrior goddess. Consider Rosie
“the Riveter.” This fictional character was a symbol of the
American working woman – the backbone of the United
States war production effort!
And finally, any scientist – Jonas Salk, inventor of the
polio vaccine, or Charles Drew, who perfected the
techniques used in blood transfusions. Anyone who cures
a disease or saves humanity from harm would be right up
Athena’s alley!
Apollo – God of Light, Truth
There are endless examples of
progressive Americans who believed
that their role was to improve the
nation by exposing its shortcomings
and correcting them. Muckraking
journalists like Jacob Riis, Ida
Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Nellie Bly, or
Ida B. Wells-Barnett each had their
own particular crusades in this
And of course, US History has had its
share of liars, as well – those who
might draw the wrath of a god like
Apollo! Consider the Reconstructed
South, on the issue of suffrage. Or,
like about other notable historical
liars: Hitler, Stalin, (and not nearly as
sinister, Richard Nixon.)
Artemis – God of the Hunt
Hunting, of course, has played an
important part in United States
history. Settlers relied upon hunting
to supplement their diets. Think of
all the possibilities:
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of
Settlers moving to the West.
The Slaughter of the Buffalo on the
Great Plains – which might have
offended the gods.
Native American tribes who
ventured off the reservation – Sitting
Bull; Chief Joseph; or the Prophet
Wovoka might all have sought out a
god like Artemis to forge an alliance.
Aphrodite – Goddess of Love and Beauty
Not all of the most important women in history
have been known for their breathtaking
appearance. But don’t think for a moment that
love and beauty influenced the world any less
historically than they do right now, as your little
heart goes pitter pat over some 12-year old
sweetheart in our midst. The Flappers of the
1920s – who challenged gender roles and
celebrated their beauty immodestly – changed
the role of women in society. Image then, how
introducing Aphrodite – the goddess of love and
beauty – to a situation might have changed
everything! What if Custer had fallen in love
with Sitting Bull’s niece before the Battle of Little
Bighorn! What if Andrew Carnegie had fallen in
love with the beautiful daughter of one of his
striking employees at the Homestead Plant?
There are examples of women who attempted to
use their melodic voices and good looks to inspire
men to good and evil! Consider Tokyo Rose
(evil?!) or the women of the USO (good!).
Hermes – Messenger God
The number of times that history has
turned on the delivery of a message is
frightening indeed. Consider the War of
1812 – which was over long before
Andrew Jackson and his men got the
message at the Battle of New Orleans. Or,
consider the messages which have been
intercepted and read by eyes they weren’t
meant for – the battle plans for Antietam
from Robert E. Lee, the Zimmermann
Telegram, or the broken Enigma Code just
to name a few. Consider the inventors of
the telephone (Bell), telegraph (Morse), or
the founders of the first mass media
newspapers (Pulitzer, Hearst.) Could a
thieving cattle rustler call upon Hermes for
aid? Or Jesse James, the robber of trains
and railroads? Hermes might easily be
introduced into any of these scenarios!
Remember, he is a bit of a thief, an imp,
and for the musicians in the group, the
inventor of the lyre.
Ares – God of War
United States history is often portrayed as
an all inclusive catalog of wars, so bringing
Ares into an original myth with a character
from US History offers a wealth of
possibilities: William Tecumseh Sherman
during the Civil War; General George
Armstrong Custer or Nelson Miles during
the Indian Wars; Roosevelt and the
Roughriders during the Spanish American
War; African-American soldiers in the
Plains Wars or World War I; US soldiers,
generals, or politicians during World War I,
World War II, the Korean War, or Vietnam
– the list goes on and on.
Hephaestus – God of Fire
As the forger, and as the only handicapped god of
Mt. Olympus, Hephaestus offers a variety of
possibilities for our consideration. First of all
consider the importance of steel to our nation’s
industrialization – mining, the “Bessemer Process,”
Andrew Carnegies US Steel Corporation, the
grown of the railways, the building of skyscrapers,
the Brooklyn Bridge, and even an ironclad navy.
You could also make some careful comparisons
between Hephaestus – a powerful handicapped
God – and some of the most powerful handicapped
leaders in US History – consider FDR, President
Woodrow Wilson after his crippling stroke in
1919, Helen Keller, or the famed “yellow
journalist” Joseph Pulitzer just to name a few.
Hestia – Goddess of the Hearth
The goddess of the hearth, of course plays a
special role in domestic affairs – the heating
and cooking which takes place in the home.
How might she have reacted to the sod houses
of the Great Plains, fueled by buffalo chips?
Consider how Hestia might have related to
women who challenged traditional roles
during the 1920s – “flappers.” How might she
have viewed the electrification of America.
How might she relate to some of the women
who devoted themselves to the providing for
others – like a Jane Addams, Clara Barton, or
even Carrie Nation? How might she have
reacted to the owners or corporations who
paid their employees to little to keep the fire
burning in their homes?
Achilles – Greek hero of the Trojan War
The great and almost invulnerable hero
of the Trojan War, who died as a result of
a small wound upon his heel – the only
portion of his body which was
susceptible. Perceptions of invincibility
have haunted many historical figures,
both animate and inanimate. Consider
the Standard Oil Trust, or the Titanic.
Tragedy befalling those who perceived
themselves as invincible took place in the
American West – Custer’s Last Stand. Or,
in a more global sense, the invincible
armies of the Nazi Wehrmacht – which
was crushed by the Soviet winter; the
overwhelming force of the United States
military – which met its match in
Vietnam; or the brute military strength of
the Soviet Union, whose sputtering and
failed economy was it downfall.
Arachne – Weaver extraordinaire
The story of Arachne is one of pride and
tragedy. But the loss of life due to
devotion to weaving is not unparalleled in
United States History. Consider the textile
industry of New England, starting with
Lowell Mills in Massachusetts during the
1820s. Women of the garment industry
organized under Mother Jones to protest
their treatment at the hands of powerful
Indeed, some women died weaving - the
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 was a
particularly horrifying incident which
martyred hundreds of women – and
resulted in changes to the law – allowing
the spirits of these women to live on in
some way?
Atalanta – Hunter
Atalanta was an orphaned child, raised by bears,
and a goddess of the hunt.
One might be able to relate her to any of the
stories which involve American settlers surviving
off of the land (the Corps of Discovery, the
Oregon Trail, or the Mormon expedition), or to
the Buffalo Slaughter which took place in the late
1800s as Americans sought to put Native
Americans onto reservations.
As an orphaned child herself, we might presume
that she would have a unique relationship with
orphaned children – like those in How the Other
Half Lives, by Jacob Riis.
Comparisons might also be made with any of the
independent women of the late 1800s and early
1900s who believed that women could and
perhaps should live independent of men – Susan
B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Eleanor
Roosevelt, just to start a long list!
Holding up the weight of the world –
metaphorically! How many US president have
felt like they had the weight of the world on
their shoulders? George Washington, Lincoln,
Wilson, FDR, Lyndon Johnson…. The list goes on
and on. Atlas is a bit of a one trick pony, yet,
symbolically, there are a variety of ways to
consider his story. Think about the individuals
and groups of people who are absolutely
essential to the preservation of life as we know
it. Soldiers, the labor force, and farmers, for
example, who we don’t think about on a daily
basis, but who we rely upon constantly.
Consider the role of technology in our lives.
Without these people and structures, we simply
could not lead the happy lives we do. Think of a
storyline where a person or a group of people
might be destined to serve mankind, but never
be truly appreciated.
Love, of course, but love can be fleeting! How might
history have changed if an interloper like Cupid had
been introduced to the narrative? Imaging the
consequences if General Nelson Miles of the US
Army had fallen in love with Chief Joseph’s
daughter? What if George Pullman had fallen in
love with one of the women living in his “company
town” during the Pullman Strike of 1894? Or if
Leland Stanford’s daughter, partial owner of the
Central Pacific Railroad, had fallen in love with one
of the Chinese laborers who worked for her father?
What mischief might Cupid make! Could a love
affair between an American soldier and a citizen of
the Philippines have prevented the conquest of those
islands after the Spanish-American War? Could
Cupid’s arrows have started a war in US History, as
Helen of Troy was blamed for starting the Trojan
Or, consider writing about the history of St.
Valentine’s Day! The story isn’t all that American,
really, until the Hallmark Company adopted it and
flower salesmen saw the potential for windfall
One eyed monstrosities, the Cyclops were.
Could they be compared to corporations?
Single purposed – to make money – and
highly capable of accomplishing certain
missions. But at the same time, capable of
doing enormous harm. Consider
monopolies like the Standard Oil Trust, the
US Steel Corporation, Armour Meats, or
the various railroads which dictated terms
to farmers and businessmen. Might these
companies, like Polyphemus, be defeated.
Who would play the role of Odysseus in
such a story?
Demeter – Goddess of the Harvest
Given the extremely important role of farmers to the
success of the United States of America over the years, it
doesn’t seem to much to bring Demeter into a myth. Of
course, the Great Plains have been a source of prosperity
for farmers over the years, but there have been years
when crops failed? Could we explain this through an
original myth? Might Demeter find an enemy in the
railroad company, or care to weigh in on the
longstanding dispute between farmers and railroads?
How about the dispute between farmers and ranchers?
What might Demeter think of the migrant workers, or
“Okies,” forced to endure substandard conditions to
harvest crops during the Depression, or the conditions
Mexican-Americans were forced to put up with as
Caesar Chavez organized the American Farm Workers
Union during the 1960s? Would she have sympathized
with the “Exodusters” who migrated to the Great Plains
during the Reconstruction years? The characters may
not all be famous, but through research, you may find
some representative figures to introduce to your myths.
Dionysus – God of Wine and the Vine
Americans relationship with alcohol is a
long and complicated one indeed. And
Dionysus, as the god of wine, was a fickle
and temperamental character. Crusaders
like Carry Nation or members of the
Women’s Christian Temperance Movement
or Anti-Saloon League would most likely
not have gotten along with Dionysus.
Prohibitionist and reformers who supported
the 18th Amendment would likely have
found him objectionable, too, even drawn
his wrath. But what about bootleggers,
rumrunners, moonshiners, and gangsters
like Al Capone. Politicians who supported
Prohibition, or “Drys” and those who
opposed it, “Wets?” There are many
directions to go with this topic as well.
Punished by Hera for her cheerful chattiness,
Echo was doomed to repeat the words of
others by the vengeful and arbitrary Hera.
This made it impossible for her to express
her love for Narcissus. Stories of unrequited
love would fit her well. How could Echo use
men and women’s words to change history?
Could the words of Abraham Lincoln,
repeated to the right person at the right time,
change the course of history? Or, think
about the famous battle cries in American
History, like “Remember the Maine!” or the
World War I motto, “Freedom of the Seas.”
Could Echo find a useful role as the
articulator of a battle cry? Or help to create
a policy? “Speak softly, and carry a big
stick!,” for example, the catch line for he
Roosevelt Corollary?
The Furies
The Furies are the cruel
deliverers of fate – and remind
us that we are not always in
control over our destinies.
Consider any of the
assassinated presidents as a
potential character – Lincoln,
Garfield, McKinley, come to
mine. Or even FDR – who was
stricken by polio and died in
office of a stroke. Wilson,
although he did not die in
office, was similarly stricken.
Hecate – Goddess of the Night
The goddess of the Night might have found
Thomas Alva Edison objectionable! The
electrification of the United States was a
continuing theme throughout US History from
the 1870s until the Great Depression when
groups like the Rural Electrification
Administration pushed to link every dwelling in
the nation to a source of energy. There have also
been some unique instances in history when
Hecate might have been called upon – blackouts
of the coastline during the Great Wars of the
20th Century, for example. We can easily
expand this dreaded goddess’ role by
interpreting her role as goddess “when the world
is wrapped in darkness” more symbolically as
when evil or death stalks the Earth – times of
pestilence, disease, or warfare. This would open
up dozens of potential narratives.
Hector is one of the many warrior
heroes chronicled in Greek
Mythology. He was killed by
Achilles, though, and mistreated by
Achilles in death. Figures from
American History who might be
introduced into a story with Hector
might include war heroes like John
Pershing, Eisenhower, MacArthur, or
any of the Civil War heroes you
covered in the sixth grade – Grant or
Sherman for example. A glorious
but conquered hero, like Thomas
“Stonewall” Jackson or Robert E. Lee
might work just as well. A more
difficult topic might be Chiang KaiShek or William Westmoreland –
who fought honorable, but not
Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy is what all the fighting was about! So consider the
causes of the wars we study. In the Spanish American War, Cuba
is often represented as a mistreated woman in political cartoons!
During the annexation of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani was
“kidnapped” by a group of American planters. The Great War, or
World War I, began after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand
and his beautiful wife, Sophie.
Men fought for Helen during the Trojan War. Were American
soldiers or our enemies fighting for women in these 19th Century
Who were the women men fought for during the Great Wars of
the 20th Century? Propaganda posters often showed “the Hun”
violating or brutalizing women during World War I. In World
War II, similar posters were printed about the Nazis. The USO
sent beautiful women to entertain and inspire the troops during
World War II. How might these women benefit from Helen’s
advice if they truly sought to inspire men to fight?
What sort of advice do you think Helen might give to the political
and military leaders who led the United States into war? Could
she have inspired the creators of propaganda posters during these
wars? What advice might she give these men and women?
Helios is the “Sun God” and has a
special association with horses –
which dragged the sun across the
arc of the sky. Any groups on
horseback – buffalo soldiers, the
7th Cavalry, or the Roughriders
might qualify. His association
with light and the sun might
inspire a story about Edison and
the light bulb – or, alternately, a
story about how the sun failed to
shine or a prolonged period – as
during the Dust Bowl.
The strong, action-seeking hero Hercules
draws obvious comparisons to the American
military heroes of our national heritage –
Grant, Pershing, Eisenhower, or MacArthur.
But he is also a “dragon slayer” sort of a
character – something akin to St. George or
David defeating Goliath. So comparisons to
brave individuals taking on powerful evil
forces are also appropriate. We have
already considered TR and his antitrust
legislation. Muckrakers who took on major
social problems in the United States could
also use Hercules influence. Perhaps there
are characters who have been too passive in
history, and would benefit from Hercules
advice, too! A little encouragement to enter
into the fray! Woodrow Wilson and FDR
come to mind – and the American people,
Jason and the Quest of the Golden Fleece
Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, of
course, is an epic tale of heroism –
although Jason himself commits a handful
of treacherous acts along the way. The
types of American heroes who might be
compared to Jason are limitless – what
have men done in pursuit of gold? Just
from a literal standpoint, all of the gold
seekers, miners, and prospectors might be
considered. Throw in a few shipwreck
survivors – say the USS Maine? The
Titanic? The Lusitania? Hmmm. There are
possibilities allies and friends to Jason in
some of the great sea-going American
heroes: Douglas MacArthur, Commodore
George Dewey, or perhaps as an advisor to
the more studious Alfred Thayer Mahan.
The Medusa
Medusa was one of the three Gorgons – the only one
who was mortal, and the one which Perseus slayed. She
could turn a man to stone with her gaze. In terms of her
role in mythology, she is simply a monster – a deadly,
hateful monster, and a deserving victim of Perseus
(although she hadn’t really sought him out, or done
anything to him in particular!)
Medusa might be compared to a deadly weapon – one
you might regret having used if you were the one who
summoned her – like poison gas in World War I or the
atomic bomb in the World War II. (Both weapons which
soon endangered their inventors!) Be careful what you
wish for! You may get it!
Since she really is little more than an evil and deadly
monster, we might also choose to compare her to
assassins in American history. Consider some of the
more hideous murders our nation has ever known: John
Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, or
Charles Guiteau.
The Midas touch as its drawbacks – the king
was given a gift which allowed him to make
enormous profits, but he could no longer
touch the people that he loved. Consider a
story which might parallel Midas’ – that of
a hard working businessmen like Andrew
Carnegie who acquired so much wealth that
he found it difficult to sympathize with the
common man. Indeed, he had a hard time
even finding a wife – and didn’t marry until
his overbearing mother passed away! You
might also consider any of the other robber
baron who earned great wealth, but lost
touch with the common men – Jay Gould,
James Hill, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, or J.P.
Morgan might also qualify!
The Muses
As the inspiration for the arts and
music, the Muses might interact with
any of the great musicians, artists, or
writers we study – including George
Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Duke
Ellington or Louis Armstrong.
Members of important literary
movements like the Harlem
Renaissance (Langston Hughes, Zora
Neale Hurston, or Paul Robeson) or
the Lost Generation (John Dos
Passos, Fitzgerald, Ernest
Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis) might
also have been touched by these gods
– even the muckrakers may have
found inspiration (Jacob Riis or
Upton Sinclair in particular!)
Famous for his clever Trojan Horse heist and as the hero
of the Odysseus which chronicles his dramatic ten year
return home from war, Odysseus might draw
comparisons – or have advice for – the American
soldier. He is suited for a storyline involving long and
dangerous conflict – the Indian Wars, the US
occupation of the Philippine Islands, World War II, or
Korea. He would also be a great naval leader’s ally –
commanding Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet perhaps in
it’s circumnavigation of the world? Since his principle
goal after the Trojan War was to return home to his
wife Penelope and his son Telemachus, he seems to have
much in common with American soldiers – yet, he
tempts fate! See the story of the Sirens as an example.
There are so many periods in history he might intervene
during, listing historical figures could go on for a while
– Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery; Chief
Joseph of the Nez Perce or Sitting Bull of the Lakota
Sioux; Custer or Nelson Miles; Governor of the
Philippines William Taft; Eisenhower or MacArthur;
any of the Presidents in the aforementioned conflicts.
The god of wild places – part man and part billygoat – Pan was both a musician and a merrymaker. So many Americans ventured into the
“wild” during the 19th Century, that Pan could
easily play a role in an myth on the Western
Frontier. Consider the buffalo soldiers, Native
American tribes, or the railroads, progressing
steadily into the unsettled west. He could certainly
be associated with cattle drives, and the
boomtowns at the end of the trail, where music
and merrymaking went hand in hand. Pan is also
associated with “panic” – a condition which his
fearful antics might provoke. Could we relate Pan
to the various economic “panics” in US History –
the Wall Street Crash of 1929, perhaps?
Pandora is blamed for unleashing all of the evil of the
universe – largely due to her curiosity and desire to gain
knowledge. She and Eve, the first woman in The Holy Bible
might have a good conversation over a cup of tea. I wonder
what she would have to say for herself? Would the
independent minded women of the 19th and 20th Century
United States sympathize with her situation or would they
rush to judge her for the error of her ways? In another
context, have there been times in American History when
curiosity really did kill the cat, so to speak? The rush to
invest money in the Stock Market during the 1920s, perhaps,
or the hasty invasion of the Philippines during the early
1900s? Was Woodrow Wilson’s quest to establish peace on
Earth with the Treaty of Versailles similar to the story of
Pandora’s box, too, in some ways?
Think also about the Oklahoma land rush of 1889?
Americans had been very anxious to take over the land in the
“Indian Territory.” How was opening the Territory to
settlement similar to opening “Pandora’s Box?” Were evils
unleashed in the process?
Persephone is the daughter of Demeter and, - after she was
kidnapped by Hades – the Queen of the Underworld. (Like a
gangster’s girl – sort of an innocent accomplice?) Any myth
involving her as a character would likely also involve her mother
and Hades. Persephone’s release from the underworld each year
signifies the start of spring, and her life parallels the life cycle of the
crops on the Great Plains – wheat in particular. She might also be
helpful in bringing characters “back from the dead.” Here position
as the Queen of the Underworld might give her unique bargaining
power over Hades. How could this change the course of history?
Persephone was also a kidnapping victim – a role in American
History which has occasionally reared it ugly head. Incidents
spawned by the Fugitive Slave Act were considered kidnapping on
more than one occasion. Americans held Queen Liliuokalani as a
captive during the late 1890s. Later in history, American soldiers
were held as hostages in the Second World War at Bataan and in
many other places.. The Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 and 1980 may
be worthy of consideration – even the tragic story of the Lindbergh
boy’s kidnapping and murder might offer a narrative related to the
kidnapped Queen of the Underworld, Persephone.
He was the slayer of Medusa, and as such an heroic
conqueror, but he had powerful allies on the
mission in the gods Hermes and Athena. Perseus
would be an interesting character for any of the
great heroes of American history to carry on a
conversation with. What advice might Perseus have
for someone like Custer, at Little Bighorn? Consider
the amazing story of Alvin York during World War
I, or the equally heroic exploits of Audie Murphy
during World War II. The African-American
soldiers who fought under French command during
World War I or the Tuskegee Airmen of World War
II might have conversed with Perseus!
Could Perseus offer any political advice for
American leaders? Might he have consulted with
Woodrow Wilson as US involvement in World War
I became more manifest? Roosevelt in World War
II? Truman as the Cold War emerged? How might
Perseus have responded to the many threats
Americans have dealt with over the years? Might
he have had advice for the heroes of 9/11?
The story of Phaethon is often
used to explain the genesis of
deserts. How might a character
like Phaeton help to explain
some of the more difficult times
for American agriculture – for
example the Dust Bowl, or
periods of drought. Could he
also be a character who
encourages people not to seek
out powers that they are not
prepared to use effectively?
What historical figures might
need this advice?
It is sometimes related, that no good deed goes unpunished.
Indeed, attempting to help people in need or provide
knowledge and resources to the masses can win a person
some very powerful enemies. Zeus, in his case! And what
a punishment is was!
Think about the role of union soldiers, Radical Republicans,
or the much vilified “carpetbaggers” who came South to
assist newly freed African Americans.
Consider some of the great labor union leaders in this
regard, too: Eugene V. Debs, Samuel Gompers, or Terence V.
Powderly. Debs ended up in jail on more than one occasion.
Were these brave men rewarded for their good faith?
In another sense, consider the gift of flight – which the
Wright Brothers gave and Charles Lindbergh may have
perfected… Was the gift of flight used properly by
mankind – or was it too quickly turned into a weapon?
You may even consider the circumstances of Robert
Oppenheimer – the man who led the Manhattan Project –
resulting in the creation of the nuclear bomb. He thought
the bomb would bring world peace…
Martin Luther King gave mankind hope for equality. How
does his tragic assassination parallel the story of
What Theseus needs is a good enemy – something
worthy of the minotaur as a symbol. What advice
would he have for American leaders who have
confronted enormous and dangerous challenges –
symbolically, of course. Could he have given
Abraham Lincoln advice on how to slay slavery?
What about advice to Herbert Hoover or Franklin
Roosevelt (or both) about how to end the Great
Depression? Could he have intervened during the
worst part of the Red Scare – the terror of Joseph
McCarthy in the US Senate – to defend the Bill of
Rights? Might he have had advice for Native
American warriors attempting to defend their liberty
– like Chief Joseph or Sitting Bull? Or would he
have joined the US Army in fighting against the
Native American tribes? What characters could he
provide advice or guidance for?

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