Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

 

Of all the literary sources that feed into our English language, mythology is one of the richest. We who are alive today constantly speak and hear and write and read the names of the ancient gods and goddesses and heroes and heroines, even if we don’t always know it.

Echo, for example, is an echo of a story that is more than two millennia old. Echo was a beautiful nymph who once upon a time aided Zeus in a love affair by keeping Hera, his wife, occupied in conversation. As a punishment for such verbal meddling, Hera confiscated Echo’s power to initiate conversation and allowed her to repeat only the last words of anything she heard.

Such was a sorry enough fate, but later Echo fell madly in love with an exceedingly handsome Greek boy, Narcissus, who, because of Echo’s peculiar handicap, would have nothing to do with her. So deeply did the nymph grieve for her unrequited love that she wasted away to nothing until nothing was left but her voice, always repeating the last words she heard.

The fate that befell Narcissus explains why his name has been transformed into words like narcissism and narcissistic, pertaining to extreme self-love. One day Narcissus looked into a still forest lake and beheld his own face in the water, although he did not know it. He at once fell in love with the beautiful image just beneath the surface, and he, like Echo, pined away for a love that could never be consummated.

Using the following descriptions, identify the gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines, and fabulous creatures that inhabit the world of classical mythology and the words that echo them:

  1. One of the vilest of mythology’s villains was a king who served the body of his young son to the gods. They soon discovered the king’s wicked ruse, restored the dead boy to life, and devised a punishment to fit the crime. They banished the king to Hades, where he is condemned to stand in a sparkling pool of water with boughs of luscious fruit overhead. When he stoops to drink, the water drains away through the bottom of the pool, and when he wishes to eat, the branches of fruit sway just out of his grasp. Ever since, when something presents itself temptingly to our view, we invoke this king’s name.
  2. An adjective that means “merry, inspiring mirth” comes from the name the ancient Romans gave to the king of their gods because it was a happy omen to be born under his influence.
  3. The frenetic Greek nature god was said to cause sudden fear by darting out from behind bushes and frightening passers-by. That fear now bears his name.
  4. The goddess of love and beauty bequeaths us many words from both her Greek and Roman names.
  5. A Greek herald in Homer’s Iliad was a human public address system, for his voice could be heard all over camp. Today, the adjective form of his name means “loud-voiced, bellowing.”
  6. The most famous of all of Homer’s creations spent ten years after the fall of Troy wandering through the ancient world encountering sorceresses and cyclopses (with 20/ vision). The wily hero’s name lives on in the word we use to describe a long journey or voyage marked by bizarre turns of events.
  7. The hero Odysseus was tempted by mermaids who perched on rocks in the sea and lured ancient mariners to their deaths. Their piercing call has given us our word for the rising and falling whistle emitted by ambulances, fire engines and police cars.
  8. Another great Greek hero needed all his power to complete twelve exceedingly laborious labors. We use a form of his name to describe a mighty effort or an extraordinarily difficult task.
  9. A tribe of female warriors cut off their right breasts in order to handle their bows more efficiently. The name of their tribe originally meant “breastless.” It now means a powerful woman.
  10. Because of its fluidity and mobility, quicksilver is identified by a more common label that is the Roman name for Hermes, the winged messenger of the gods. That name has also bequeathed us an adjective meaning “swift, eloquent, volatile.”

 

Answers

  1. tantalize-Tantalus 2. jovial-Jove 3. panic-Pan 4. aphrodisiac, hermaphrodite – Aphrodite; venereal, venerate – Venus 5. stentorian-Stentor 6. odyssey-Odysseus 7. siren-the sirens 8. herculean-Hercules 9. amazon-Amazons 10. mercury, mercurial-Mercury