Mythological Dictionary


Dictionary of Mythological Definitions and Terms.
Mythological [1] [2] [3] [4]

 

Definition


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Cerberus
Cerberus, the hound of the underworld, stood guard at the gates of Hades and prevented those not permitted from entering. He is usually described as a beast with three heads and the tail of a dragon. When Aeneas journied to the lower regions under the guidance of the Sibyl, he brought along a medicated cake to drug the animal and insure their safe passage. To throw a sop to Cerberus means to give a bribe and thereby ward off an unpleasant situation.
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Cereal
Ceres (the Roman counterpart of Demeter) was goddess of grain and the fertility of the earth. From her name is derived the Latin adjective Cerealis (having to do with Ceres and the grain), from which comes our English word, cereal.
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Chaos or chaotic
Whether Chaos is to be understood as a void or a primordial, formless, undifferentiated, and seething mass out of which the order of the universe is created, it is the starting point of creation. This unformed beginning is contrasted with later creation, a universe called the cosmos, a desgination meaning, literally, harmony or order. The sky and the stars, the earth and its creatures, and the laws and cycles which direct and control creation seem to exhibit the balance, order, and reason which the mind discerns in the natural world. For us chaos, together with its adjective chaotic, simply means a state of confusion. See cosmos.
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Chimera or chimerical or chimeric
A wild, hybrid creature, the Chimera had the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent and it breathed fire. It was killed by the Corinthian hero Bellerophon on one of his journeys. Today a chimera is a fantastic delusion, an illusory creation of the mind. It can also refer to a hybrid organism, usually a plant. Chimerical and Chimeric refer to something as unreal, imaginary, or fantastic. These adjectives can also signify that one is given to fantasy.
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Cornucopia
The Latin cornucopia means "horn of plenty." There are two stories about this horn, which bestows upon the owner an endless bounty. Zeus, in his secluded infancy on Crete, was nursed by a goat named Amalthea, which was also the name of the goddess of plenty. One of the horns of this goat was broken off and became the first cornucopia. The horn of plenty is also associated with Hercules. In order to win Deianira as his bride, he had to defeat the horned river-god Achelous. In the struggle, Hercules broke off one of the horns of the river-god but after his victory returned the horn and received as recompense the horn of Amalthea. Ovid, however, relates that the horn of Achelous became a second horn of plenty. Today the cornucopia is a sign of nature's abundance, and the word comes to mean a plenteous bounty.
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Cosmos
Cosmos or cosmic or cosmology or cosmetic or cosmetician.
Cosmos refers to the universe, and all that is ordered and harmonious. The study of cosmology deals with the origin and structure of the universe. The adjective, cosmic, may designate the universe beyond and apart from the earth itself, or it may in a generalized sense describe something of vast significance or implication. Akin to the word cosmos are various English words derived from the Greek adjective cosmeticos. Cosmos not only means order and harmony, but also arrangement and decoration; thus cosmetic is a substance which adorns or decorates the body, and cosmetician, the person involved with cosmetics. See chaos.
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Cupidity
The Latin word cupidus (desirous or greedy) gave rise to Cupido, Cupid, the Roman equivalent of the Greek god of love, Eros. In early representations he is a handsome youth, but becomes increasingly younger and develops his familiar attributes of bow and arrow (with which he rouses passion both in gods and mortals) and wings, until he finally evolves into the Italian putti or decorative cherubs frequently seen in Renaissance art. From the same root is derived cupiditas to denote any intense passion or desire, from which we derive cupidity (avarice or greed). See erotic.
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Cyclopean
Here were two distinct groups of giants called the Cyclopes, whose name means circle-eyed and indicates their principle distinguishing feature, one round eye in the center of their forehead. The first, offspring of Uranus and Ge, were the smiths who labored with Hephaestus at his forge to create the thunderbolt for Zeus, among other masterpieces. The second group of Cyclopes were a tribe of giants, the most important of whom is Polyphemus, a son of Poseidon, encountered by Odysseus. The word cyclopean refers to anything that pertains to the Cyclopes or partakes of their gigantic and powerful nature. Thus the Cyclopes were said to be responsible for the massive stone walls which surround the palace-fortresses of the Mycenaean period. And so cyclopean is used generally to describe a primitive building style, which uses immense, irregular, stone blocks, held together by their sheer weight without mortar.
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Cynosure
The constellation Ursa Minor ("little bear") was called Kunosoura ("the dog's tail") by the astronomer Aratus, who saw in it one of the nymphs who raised the infant Zeus. Long a guiding star for seafarers, it has given us the word cynosure which can describe anything that serves to focus attention or give guidance.
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Demon
Demon or demoniac or demonic or demonology.
In Greek daimon was a word of rather fluid definition. In Homer the Olympians are referred to as either gods (theoi) or daimones ("divine powers"). In later literature the daimones became intermediate beings between gods and men or often the spirits of the dead came to be called daimones, especially among the Romans. Daimon could also denote that particular spirit granted to each mortal at his birth to watch over its charge. This corresponds to the Roman Genius, a vital force behind each individual, originally associated with male fertility and particularly with the male head of a household. Later it became a tutelary spirit assigned to guide and shape each person's life. With the triumph of Christianity, all pagan deities were suspect, and daimon, viewed solely as a power sprung from the devil, became our demon (any evil or satanic spirit). As an adjective demoniac or demonic suggests possession by an evil spirit and can mean simply fiendish. As a noun demoniac refers to one who is or seems possessed by a demon. Demonology is the study of evil spirits. As for genius, it has come to denote a remarkable, innate, intellectual or creative ability, or a person possessed of such ability. Through French we have the word genie, which had served as a translation of Jinni, spirits (as in the Arabian Nights) which have the power to assume human or animal form and supernaturally influence human life.
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Dionysian
The dionysiac or dionysian experience is the antithesis of the apollonian, characterized by moderation, symmetry, and reason. See apollonian and bacchanal.
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Echo
There are two major myths which tell how the acoustic phenomenon of the echo arose. According to one, Echo was originally a nymph who rejected the lusty advances of the god Pan. In her flight she was torn apart by shepherds, who have been driven into a panic by the spurned god, Pan. The second version involves the mortal Narcissus. Echo had been condemned by Hera to repeat the last utterance she heard and no more. It was in this state that Echo caught sight of the handsome Narcissus. Narcissus, a youth cold to all love, rejected the amorous advances of Echo, who could now only mimic Narcissus' words. Stung deeply by this rebuff, she hid herself in woods and caves and pined for her love, until all that remained of the nymph was her voice. As for Narcissus, too proud in his beauty, he inevitably called down upon himself the curse of a spurned lover. Narcissus was doomed to be so captivated by his own reflection in a pool that he could not turn away his gaze, even to take food and drink. He wasted away and died. From the spot where he died sprang the narcissus flower. Narcissism has come to mean an obsessive love of oneself. As used in psychoanalysis it is an arrested development at an infantile stage characterized by erotic attachment to oneself. One so afflicted with such narcissistic characteristics is a narcissist. See panic and narcissism.
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Electra complex
Comparable in the development of the female is the electra complex, a psychotic attachment to the father and hostility toward the mother, a designation also drawn from myth. Electra was the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, a young woman obsessed by her grief over the murder of her beloved father and tormented by unrelenting hatred for her mother who killed him. See oedipus.
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Elysian Fields
Elysian Fields or Elysian or Elysium.
In Vergil's conception of the Underworld there is a place in the realm of Hades reserved for mortals who, through their surpassing deeds and virtuous life, have won a blessed afterlife. It is named the Elysian Fields or Elysium, and the the souls who inhabit this paradise live a purer, more carefree and pleasant existence. The adjective Elysian has come to mean blissful.
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Enthusiasm
In cultic ritual, particularly Dionysiac, the initiate was often thought to become possessed by the god and transported to a state of ecstatic union with the divine. The Greeks decribed a person so exalted as being entheos, "filled with the god," which gave rise to the verb enthousiazein. Thus the English word enthusiasm, meaning an excited interest, passion, or zeal. See Bacchanal.
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Eristic
Eris was the goddess of "strife" or "discord," responsible for all the dissension arising from the Apple of Discord, which she threw among the guests at the wedding banquet of Peleus and Thetis. Thus is derived the term eristic, which as an adjective means pertaining to argument or dispute, as a noun it refers to rhetoric or the art of debate. See Apple of Discord.
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Erotic
Erotic or erotica or eratomania.
To the Greeks Eros was one of the first generation of divinities born from Chaos; he was also said to be the son of Aphrodite and Ares. From the Greek adjective eroticos, we derive erotic, which describes anyone or anything characterized by the amatory or sexual passions. Erotica is a branch of literature or art whose main function is the arousal of sexual desire. Erotomania is an obsessive desire for sex. See cupidity.
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Europe
Europa was the daughter of Agenor, king of Tyre in Phoenicia. Zeus, disguised as a white bull, enticed the girl to sit on his back and then rushed into the sea and made his way toward Greece. When they reached Crete, Zeus seduced Europa, who bore a son named Minos and gave her name to a foreign continent. The word Europe itself may be of semitic origin, meaning the land of the setting sun.
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Faunus
Faunus or faun or fauna or flora.
Faunus, whose name means one who shows favor, was a Roman woodland deity. He was thought to bring prosperity to farmers and shepherds and was often depicted with horns, ears, tail, and sometimes legs of goat; therefore he was associated with the Greek god Pan and also Dionysiac satyrs. A faun comes to be another name for a satyr. Faunus' consort was Fauna, a female deity like hiim in nature. Flora was another, though minor, agricultural deity, a goddess of flowers, grain, and the grape vine. When we talk of flora and fauna, we refer respectively to flowers and animals collectively.
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Furies
Furies or furious or furioso.
The Erinyes (Furies) were avenging spirits. They sprang from the severed genitals of Uranus, when drops of his blood fell to the earth. They pursued those who had unlawfully shed blood, particularly within a family. They were said to rise up to avenge the blood of the slain and pursue the murderer, driving the guilty to madness. As chthonic deities they are associated with the underworld and are charged with punishing sinners; they are usually depicted as winged goddesses with snaky locks. In English fury can refer to a fit of violent rage or a person in the grip of such a passion, especially a woman. The Latin adjective furiosus has given us our adjective furious as well as the musical term furioso, which is a direction to play a piece in a turbulent, rushing manner.
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Gaia Hypothesis
Gaia (or Ge), sprung from Chaos, is the personification of the earth. Her name has been employed in a recent coinage called the Gaia Hypothesis, a theory that views the earth as a complete living organism, all of its parts working in concert for its own continued existence.
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Genius
The Latin word Genius designated the creative power of an individual which was worshipped as a mythological and religious concept. See demon.
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Gorgon
Gorgon or gorgoneion or gorgonian or gorgonize.
The Gorgons were three sisters who had snakes for hair and a gaze so terrifying that a mortal who looked into their eyes was turned to stone. Medusa, the most famous of the three, was beheaded by Perseus, aided by Athena and Hermes. Perseus gave the head to Athena, who affixed it to her shield (see aegis). The head of the gorgon was often depicted in Greek art in a highly stylized manner; this formalized depiction is called a gorgoneion. Today a gorgon can mean a terrifying or ugly woman. There is also a species of coral known as gorgonian with an intricate network of branching parts. The verb to gorgonize means to paralyze by fear.
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Halcyon
Halcyon or halcyon days.
The mythical bird, the halcyon, is identified with the kingfisher. Ceyx and Alcyone were lovers. Ceyx, the king of Trachis, was drowned at sea. Hera sent word to Alcyone in her sleep through Morpheus, the god of dreams, that her husband was dead. Alcyone in her grief was transformed into the kingfisher; as she tried to drag the lifeless body of Ceyx to shore, he too was changed into a bird. The lovers still traverse the waves, and in winter she broods her young in a nest which floats upon the surface of the water. During this time, Alcyone's father, Aeolus, king of the winds, keeps them from disturbing the serene and tranquil sea. Today, the halcyon days are a period of calm weather during the winter solstice, especially the seven days preceding and following it. Halcyon days can also describe any time of tranquillity.
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Harpy
The Harpies ("snatchers"), daughters of Thaumas and Electra, were originally conceived of as winds, but eventually came to be depicted as bird-like women who tormented mortals. The Argonauts rescued Phineus, the blind king and prophet of Salmydessus, whose food was "snatched" away by these ravenous monsters. Today when we call someone a harpy we evoke images of these vile, foul-smelling, predatory creatures; or harpy simply means a shrew.
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Mythological [1] [2] [3] [4]

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