Mythology Mondays: A Feminist Reading of Greek Mythology

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first two books, Lightning in the Dark and Storm in the Mountains are out now.

Since I started writing about my harpies, I have been doing a lot of mythology research. Before starting the Turning Creek series, my mythology knowledge was about what any good English major picks up over years of reading, a decent bit but not encyclopedic. After over a year of reading and writing about Greek mythology, I have come to a conclusion I should have seen coming.

The gender roles in the ancient world were supported by the rigid and degrading roles women were given in the myths told and retold as religion. In modern times, we read them as classic literature.

"Votes For Women" by Hilda Dallas - Private Collection. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia -
“Votes For Women” by Hilda Dallas – Private Collection

In Greek mythology, women were allowed to be virgins, whores, or something monstrous. They were never allowed to be beautiful and I would argue that any woman who was not a virgin was made a monster because they believed them to be monstrous.

In this discussion there is always one exception: the goddesses. The goddesses of Greece and Rome were allowed to be virgins, sexual beings, beautiful, ugly, or anything in between. The female gods were allowed to do almost anything without punishment, but if a mortal woman was anything but an ugly virgin, she was punished, and punished harshly.

A woman could not possess beauty or skill. – Beauty was prized by the ancients, but it was reserved for those of royal blood or those who were children of the gods. Likewise, a mortal woman could also never excel at anything if they outshone the the gods. Arachne, who had the misfortune of being a very good weaver, was challenged by Minerva, weaver of the gods. When Arachne was found to be equal in skill to Minerva, the goddess beat her until, shamed, the woman hung herself. Minerva felt remorse over her action and changed the woman into a spider.

Scylla was a beautiful woman seduced* by Poseidon. She was turned into a hideous beast both for being beautiful and for being seduced. Medea was a beautiful witch that Jason of the Argonauts seduced, married, then abandoned. Medusa was a beautiful mortal who had the misfortune of being seduced by Poseidon in Athena’s temple.

A woman was allowed to be a virgin, at least until one of the philandering gods noticed you and then they seduced you, making you a whore. In a culture where your ability to bear children was the sum of your value, your maidenhead was your ticket to a better life. Unfortunately, this was a ticket easily ripped apart (pun intended), by any man or god who happened to stroll along. Losing your virginity meant you lost your value in society, but if you lost your virtue to the wrong man or god, you were punished. Scylla and Medusa, from the examples above, were turned into hideous creatures by the goddesses who felt betrayed by the rape of the mortal women. The women were punished for the gods’ infidelity.

A woman was allowed to be a whore or a monster. There are many female monsters in Greek mythology, though monsters are not exclusively female. Feminine monsters, of various origins, included Medusa and Scylla (which I have already mentioned), the Sphinx, the Harpies, the Amazons (women who dared to have power and skill, thus they were monsters), the maenads, the Gorgons, and the list goes on and on.

It makes sense that the stories which people told to explain the world were influenced by and supported the beliefs of that culture. Women were not valued. Women, beyond their ability to bear children, had no value and no place in society. There are always exceptions, but I am speaking about the generally accepted views not the exceptions.

Greek Mythology, and other mythology from the ancient world, reflected the idea that women were virgins until they were desired by a man and then they were taken. After they had been used, they were no longer of value, they were monstrous, both physically and spiritually.

This has implications for us today as we consider how the ancients myths have woven their way into the vernacular of our modern culture. Using an example above, we remember Medea as a witch who killed her children and Jason as a virtuous hero. We do not remember this couple as they were in the myths: Medea as a desperate and abandoned woman and Jason as a narcissistic adulterer.

As I learn more about ancient myths, I have been reminded to look at the stories critically with a modern lens that is sensitive to the culture which created them. They are stories of greed, betrayal, jealousy, desire, love, anguish, and life. We are all capable of any or all of these emotions. Perhaps the thing we should learn most from the ancient myths is temperance.

*Seduced in the ancient writings is a gentle way of saying the god didn’t take no for an answer and raped her.

Mythology Mondays: Scylla

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first two books, Lightning in the Dark and Storm in the Mountains are out now.

Today, we are going to talk about Scylla, a ferocious sea monster, who along with her sister, Charybdis, swallowed sailors and whole ships with abandon.

scylla rock

This story starts ordinarily enough, with a beautiful maiden and a god who could not keep his hands or, ahem, other things to himself. Well, maybe it starts earlier with dubious parentage.

The story of Scylla’s parentage is varied. Her parents could have been a god-shark, a river, Echidna and Typhon, or Phorcys and Hekate. In some versions, Scylla is born a monster, in others she is made one.

Scylla was a beautiful maiden and she caught the eye of the marine god Glaucus or maybe it was Poseidon. Both fell instantly in lust with the damsel in question. Neither was fortunate enough to have her return their affections and both were annoyed at having their attentions rebuffed. I mean, who would not want to have a romp with a god? It always turned out so well for the woman once a god turned her way.

In the version with Glaucus as the hero, he applied to Circe, a witch renowned for her knowledge of herbs, to help make Scylla fall in love with him. Once, Circe saw the lovely Scylla, she was so overcome with jealousy she put herbs in Scylla’s bath causing her to turn into a horrible monster.

In the version with Poseidon, his wife, Amphitrite, was displeased at her husband’s wayward attentions and turned the maiden Scylla into a monster.

Regardless of the cause, Scylla became a ferocious sea creature sporting six heads which had mouths with three rows of jagged teeth. In some versions, she retained her human form from the torso up and had three dog heads sprouting from her belly. The Greeks were fond of putting random animals heads in places where they did not belong. Scylla barked like a dog and lay in wait for sailors to pass through the straight she guarded with Charybdis.

scylla vase

The Straight of Messina is a particularly dangerous place for ships between Sicily and Italy. In the straight were two rocks, one haunted by each monster, Scylla and Charybdis. Ships that failed to navigate the rough seas around the rocks and their monsters, were swallowed and lost to an icy death.

In Turning Creek, Katherine Johnson, the first woman to go missing in Storm in the Mountains is a Remnant of Scylla.

Mythology Mondays: Medea

Let us all pause and jump for joy as we relish this beautiful, glorious day. That’s right, my friends. School is back in session and all is right with the world again.

Please enjoy your regularly scheduled mythology post now.

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first two books, Lightning in the Dark and Storm in the Mountains are out now.

Poor Medea. Like most Greek myths, her story does not end well.

Medea mixes a poison to save her love, Jason. Painting by John William Waterhouse.
Medea mixes a poison to save her love, Jason, who turns out to be a jerk. Painting by John William Waterhouse.

Medea’s story starts with the tale of not one but two young boys who were denied their rightful thrones and sent into exile. One boy’s story, Phrixus, yields the golden fleece. The other boy, Jason, comes out of exile to claim his throne. Pelias, who held Jason’s throne, says he will give up the throne he usurped if Jason brings him the Golden Fleece.

Jason is so excited about the idea of an adventure, he gets many young men of Greece to follow him in this dangerous pursuit. Thus begins the story of Jason and the Argonauts. They run into quite a bit of trouble. Harpies. Amazons. One gets the feeling that Greeks found all forms of women frightening.

Eventually, the adventurers find themselves on the borders of Colchis where the Golden Fleece was held by the King. This king has, of course, a daughter, named Medea, who was said to be a skillful witch.

The gods had watched Jason’s journey up to this point and, now that he was on the cusp of the real trial, Hera becomes worried for him. Hera goes to Aphrodite, who could best be described as a frenemy, and begs for help. She agrees to help. Aphrodite pays Cupid a shiny ball of gold to make Medea fall hopelessly in love with Jason.

Jason appears before the King of Colchis and, after a night of feasting, asks the king for the Golden Fleece. The king is incensed and agrees to give the Fleece up if Jason yokes two bulls who breathe fire, plow a field with them, plant dragon teeth in the furrows, and then kill the warriors who spring from the seeds.

Sounds easy.

Medea sees Jason at the feast and falls utterly in love. Knowing her father has condemned Jason to certain death, she meets him the night before his trial and gives him a special poison for his weapons. She weeps and admits her love for him and asks him to remember her fondly.

Jason defeats the dragon-teeth men, but the king plans to kill him anyway. Medea again goes to Jason in the middle of the night to warn him. She promises to guide them to the Fleece and bespell the serpent that guards the treasure, if Jason will but take her away to Greece. Jason agrees and says if she does this thing, he will take her back to Greece as his wife.

Medea puts the serpent to sleep and Jason gets the Fleece.

Medea’s brother, under the king’s orders, follows Jason and Medea to retrieve the Fleece for his father. Medea, once again, saves Jason’s quest. She kills her brother and his army scatters. She also rescues the Argonauts from the bronze men of Crete by calling upon the hounds of Hades before they finally reach Greece.

Sadly, Greece will be Medea’s undoing. Jason uses Medea’s power to murder the uncle who had taken his throne. One has to wonder why he went to get the Fleece in the first place when a little avunculicide would do.

Medea and Jason have two sons and all was well, for a time.

Jason was an ambitious and selfish man. To further his quest for power, he agrees to marry the daughter of Corinth, though he already has a wife. The King of Corinth threatens to have Medea removed from the country if she does not allow the wedding.

Medea is desperate. She threatens Jason’s new bride which earns her a stern talking to from her husband, who tells her she is unbalanced and he never loved her. Medea remembers all the betrayals she committed for this man who now wants to put her aside and she burns in anger.

But on me hath fallen this unforeseen disaster, and sapped my life; ruined I am, and long to resign the boon of existence, kind friends, and die. For he who was all the world to me, as well thou knowest, hath turned out the worst of men, my own husband. Of all things that have life and sense we women are the most hapless creatures; first must we buy a husband at a great price, and o’er ourselves a tyrant set which is an evil worse than the first; and herein lies the most important issue, whether our choice be good or bad. For divorce is not honourable to women, nor can we disown our lords. -from Medea By Euripides

Medea kills Jason’s intended bride with a poisoned robe. She knows that she and her sons will be exiled with no home, family, or man to guard them. They might as well be dead, she thinks. She kills her two sons and escapes in a chariot pulled by dragons.

If she could escape in a chariot, why not her sons? And if she could command dragons, could the woman not find a loaf of bread for them to eat?

Just pointing out the obvious.

The point is we mostly still remember Jason as a hero and Medea as a crazy witch. The more Greek mythology I read, the more I remember misogyny is as old as time.

In Turning Creek, Medea shows up eventually in Storm in the Mountains. Don’t worry. She does not kill anyone or send them poisoned robes.

Mythology Mondays: Hades

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first two books, Lightning in the Dark and Storm in the Mountains are out now.

When people refer to Hades, they often, mistakenly, refer to a place (“It’s hot as Hades in here.”) instead of the character, Hades, ruler of the Underworld and the giver of wealth from the earth. This is common because first century Jews and early Christians, translating Hebrew into Greek, translated the word “Sheol” into “Hades.”

If you are in my generation, you might think of this version of Hades:

"Note to me: Maim you after my meeting."
“Note to me: Maim you after my meeting.”

Most Greek, and later Roman, depictions of Hades showed him as a serious, dark-bearded man, seated on a throne and bearing a scepter topped by a bird. To the Romans, he was Pluto. In both cultures, he was the ruler and advocate of the dead and the giver of riches from the earth. In some art, he was depicted with an overflowing cornucopia.

Hades, on left, shown with his wife, Persephone, on the right.
Hades, on left, shown with his wife, Persephone, on the right.

Hades was one of the six children of Kronos and Rhea. Kronos, fearing the prophecy which stated that one of his offspring would defeat him and usurp his power did the only logical thing. He ate his children as soon as they were born. Rhea contrived to save Zeus from her husband (one has to wonder why, after he ate the first kid, she continued to bear him five more). Zeus later defeated Kronos and cut open his father to set his siblings free. The children of Kronos and Rhea included: three daughters – Hestia, Demeter, and Hera (who would later become Zeus’ wife) and three sons – Hades, Zeus, and Poseidon.

The three brothers drew lots to divide the earth. Zeus received the land, Poseidon the waters, and Hades the darkness or shades of the earth. He was sometimes referred to as the King of Shades or the infernal Zeus. Hades set up shop in the underworld and guarded the gates to his kingdom with ferocity. He was cursed by mortal men who would slap the ground and curse his name for his power over death. When men offered sacrifices to Hades, they slaughtered black sheep and turned their faces away from the offering.

After spending some time alone in the dreariness of his domain, Hades decided he needed some companionship of the feminine variety. He asked his brother, Zeus, for one of his daughters and Zeus offered Persephone, daughter of Demeter. In case you have not been following: Persephone was Hades’ niece begot through a liaison between his two siblings. Zeus, knowing Demeter would never approve of the match, gave Hades the right to kidnap Persephone and take her forcibly as his wife.

Hades stole Persephone as she innocently played in a field of flowers and took her down into the Underworld in a chariot pulled by black, immortal horses. Demeter, distraught, brought an endless winter to the earth as she searched and mourned for her daughter. Eventually, Hades allows Persephone to leave and visit her mother, but tricks her into eating a pomegranate seed first which compelled her to return to him after a set time had passed. Thus, the Greeks thought the winter was brought by Demeter while her daughter was away and the spring came each season when Persephone was allowed to come to the surface and visit her mother.

Hades, the God of the Dead, was unable to bear children himself. His wife, bore two children fathered by Zeus (her father, uncle, brother-in-law).

In Turning Creek, there is no Hades character. There are, as far as we know as this point, no Remnants of the original six gods and goddesses. Hades is occasionally referred to in conversations between the Remnants of Turning Creek.

Mythology Mondays: Medusa

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first two books, Lightning in the Dark and Storm in the Mountains are out now.

Like the Sphinx from last week, most people have heard of Medusa even if they do not know her full story. Her snake hair and creepiness have woven their way into our cultural memory. The beautiful woman with serpents for hair that can turn a man to stone is the popular version of this myth. There are even books and cartoons for kids with Medusa as a character who is not at all scary.

There is a whole goddess series of books for girls and Medusa is featured in one.
There is a whole goddess series of books for girls and Medusa is featured in one.

In some of the first Medusa myths, Medusa was part of a triad of female monsters called the Gorgons. The Gorgons were sisters with scales for skin, hair for snakes, and small wings sprouting from their temples. The three sisters, Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale, lived near the ocean in some stories and in others they guarded the door to the Underworld. Medusa was the only one of the three that was mortal.

In the most popular stories, Medusa was once a beautiful human woman who made the unfortunate decision to submit to Poseidon in a temple of Athena. This is always a Bad Life Choice as Athena was famously jealous of anyone getting horizontal in her temple without her express permission. To punish Medusa, Athena turned her into a hideous Gorgon. From this union with Poseidon, came Pegasus, the winged horse, and Chrysaor, a giant or a winged boar or a giant winged boar.

In an effort to free his mother, Perseus goes on a quest in which he kills a bunch of things with the help of the gods. One of the monsters he kills is Medusa. With a reflective shield from Athena, a bag of holding* from Hesperides, winged shoes from Hermes, an adamantine sword from Zeus, and a helm of darkness from Hades, Perseus sets off. He sneaks up on the sleeping Medusa and lops off her head. He stuffs it in the bag of holding and, using the helm of darkness, runs like the wind, with the winged shoes, and escapes the other two Gorgon who are infuriated over the death of their sister.

By Ad Meskens; sculpture Antonio Canova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Perseus holding the head of Medusa.Photo by Ad Meskens; sculpture Antonio Canova
In some versions, Pegasus and Chrysaor spring from Medusa’s severed neck because the Greek’s loved stories of children springing from random body parts. Athena ended up with the severed head (I bet that looked awesome on the mantel) and she once gave a lock of the serpent hair to Hercules. The hair, even though the bearer was dead, retained the ability to turn men to stone. For some time, Athena affixed the head to her shield whenever she went into battle. Legend has it that the head was buried under a mound in Agora.

*Technically, it was a special monster head holding bag.

In Turning Creek, Lily Hughes, the wife of the tailor, is the Remnant of Medusa. She has the ability to mesmerize people, not turn them to stone, and her hair is a perfectly normal shade of brown. She is a very proper lady, unlike our harpies, and almost never uses her ability.

Mythology Mondays: Sphinx

Mythology Mondays: Achilles

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first two books, Lightning in the Dark and Storm in the Mountains are out now.

Achilles is one of those Greek heroes that everyone knows something about because his name is used in conjunction with a cultural phrase, “to be an Achilles’ heel,” which means you are the weak link.

"Achilles in Corfu" by Dr.K. - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Achilles in Corfu” by Dr.K.

Achilles was the son of Peleus and Thetis, a sea nymph. When Menelaus rallied Greece to help him recover Helen from Paris (the man not the city), Achilles was kept from the draft by his mother who disguised him as a girl and hid him in the court of Lycomedes. Odysseus, who also joined the war under duress, was sent to fetch the boy. Odysseus disguised himself as a peddler and took shiny trinkets for the ladies and an array of weapons. The ladies of the court flocked to the shiny things, as women do, and the boy Achilles fingered the weapons thus revealing his true gender.

You read that right. This plot was furthered by sexism: men can not keep from fondling their weapons and women can not resist sparkly things.

Achilles was eager for war, as all young men are, apparently, and went with Odysseus despite his mother’s prophetic predictions of his death.

Very brief is your lot. Would that you could be free now from tears and troubles, for you shall not long endure, my child, short-lived beyond all men and to be pitied. – Thetis to Achilles

The Trojan war waged for years, fueled by deceitful women and vengeful men. Achilles and Agememnon, who fought for the same side, entered into a vicious feud over the fate of two women. Thetis begged Zeus to put an end to the war, which was so fierce that even the gods were at odds with each other.

There are a few different versions of Achilles’ death, but they all have one thing in common. He was shot in his heel by an arrow which killed him while he was in Troy. Achilles was one of the Greek’s most famous and valiant warriors and we was worshiped by heroic cults. He is also revered in Corfu, Greece as the patron of platonic love.

In Turning Creek, Thomas, an orphan taken in by Iris, is the Remnant of Achilles. I took some license with the original Greek myth. In my version, Achilles was blessed with speed and strength. The seat of his power was in his heels and when he was shot by an arrow, he lost his power and was defeated. His Remnants often exhibit enhanced speed or strength.


Mythology Mondays: Chimera

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first book, Lightning in the Dark, is out now. The second book, Storm in the Mountains, will be out July 1st.

I am not sure what is is about Greeks and monsters but rarely were their monsters ever just really big ants or larger than normal, aggressive spiders. All their monsters are one part this, another part this, and why not just throw a goat head on top for kicks, shall we?

The chimera had the body of a lion, the tail of a snake, a set of goat udders, and a goat head projecting up from the middle of its back. Why the udders and random goat head? I think someone had an unhealthy phobia of milking goats but couldn’t convince his friends of the danger, so he mixed the goat with a lion body and snake tail. Instantly scary. Or weird. Maybe both. The important question is, if you could milk a chimera, what kind of cheese would it make?

The Chimera on a red-figure Apulian plate, c. 350–340 BC (Musée du Louvre).
The Chimera on a red-figure Apulian plate, c. 350–340 BC (Musée du Louvre).

Thanks to Buffy, we all know how common barn animals can be frighting. “Except for bunnies.” Thanks, Anya.

The chimera was a female monster in the myths, the daughter of Echidna and Typhon. According to Homer, the chimera had three heads, one lion, one serpent, and one goat to represent the three species which made up the whole. She also had the charming ability to breathe fire.

Bellerophon was sent on a quest to kill the chimera, which he did, riding his trusty steed, Pegasus.

In Turning Creek, the chimera does have the head of a lion and the hind quarters of a snake. I left out the goat bits because I found them a little too odd. The chimera is male, in my tale, and spits fire, though Marina does not give it much of a chance to do so.


Mythology Mondays: Hera

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first book, Lightning in the Dark, is out now. The second book, Storm in the Mountains, will be out in July.

The Barberini Hera statue of Roman origin.
The Barberini Hera statue of Roman origin.

Hera was the queen of the gods of Olympus and wife to Zeus, supreme ruler of the gods. While many of the other gods have roots in different regions, Hera is strictly Greek in origin. She was the goddess of marriage which is amusing because her marriage was fraught with strife. At one time, Hera contemplated putting Zeus in chains and once he suspended her in the clouds by her wrists with anvils on her ankles.

Zeus was as famous for his infidelities as Hera was for her jealous nature and the manner in which she punished the women Zeus seduced. Zeus, on the other hand, almost always got away without a scratch. Figures.

Hera pursued Leto unto the ends of the earth while the woman was in childbirth. Leto, wracked with pain, wandered the earth looking for a safe place to give birth, until Asteria, taking pity on the woman, offered her haven. Io was changed into a cow by Zeus to cover up his transgression and Hera stole the cow Io and treated it mercilessly. Hero turned Callisto into a bear and ordered Artemis to hunt it down like a wild animal. Hera killed Semele with trickery and a lightning bolt.

Hera’s wrath was not limited to the mothers. She often hunted, cursed, or generally made the lives of the numerous offspring of Zeus’ unions miserable.

Hera was also celebrated as the goddess of family. She was such a loving mother she threw one of her sons, Hephaestus, over the cliff after his birth because he was deformed. Hera was a hard lady to please.

Hera herself has not made an appearance in Turning Creek. Most of the gods and goddesses disappeared into history after the Fall of Olympus. The harpies have been known to utter the exclamation, “Oh, for Hera’s sake.”

Mythology Mondays: The River Styx

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first book, Lightning in the Dark, is out now. The second book, Storm in the Mountains, will be out in July.

Who else wants to totally rock this shirt?
Who else wants to totally rock this shirt?

I am not going to talk about Styx, the 1970s band, who are on tour this summer, and whose songs seem to be composed entirely of earworms. “Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with meeeeee.”

I am going to talk about the River Styx, the river you only see in Greek Mythology if you are dead and your loved ones remembered to put a coin in your mouth or on your eyes for the ferryman’s fee.

The river was named after the goddess Styx, who personified hatred and was an ally of Zeus in the Titan wars. Styx had many children who served under Zeus. She lived in a grotto above the river bearing her name in the underworld.

When a god or goddess took an oath, Iris would fly to the underworld and retrieve a cup of water from the river. The vow was made “By the River Styx” as the oath giver poured out the water from the cup. This vow was seen as binding.

The River Styx separated the world of the dead from the world of the living. When a soul made its way down to the river, it was transported into the underworld by Charon, the ferryman.

The Styx was not the only river of the underworld, but it is the most famous. In Dante’s Inferno, it is the river of the fifth circle of hell. This circle was reserved for people guilty of wrath, anger, and sulliness.

See the souls over whom anger prevailed. In the warm bath of the sun they were hateful, down here in the black sludge of the river Styx do they wish they had never been born.” — Dante’s Inferno, by Virgil

In Turning Creek, Petra is fond of the exclamations “Styx and fire.” Both Petra and Marina are known to say “hells” and “Styx.” All of these sayings reflect Virgil’s version of the underworld with its many levels.

The Remnants, like the real Greek myths, make binding vows “By the River Styx” though they do not dump out water from the river when they do so.