Mythological Dictionary


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

 

Definition


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Nectar
Nectar is the special drink of the gods, usually paired with their food, ambrosia. Nectar has come to mean any refreshing drink, the pure juice of a fruit, or the liquid gathered by bees from the blossoms of flowers, used in making honey.
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Nemesis
Nemesis is the goddess of vengeance who brings retribution on those who have sinned, especially through hubris ("over-weaning pride"). A nemesis denotes the following: the abstract idea of retributive vengeance; the agent of retribution; an invincible rival in a contest or battle; or a necessary or inevitable consequence.
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Nestor
Nestor, the oldest and wisest of the Greek kings at Troy, lived to see three generations of heroes. A brave and strong warrior when young, in old age he was prized for his good counsel and his oratory. Homer tells us that his speech flowed more sweetly than honey. When a politician or statesman today is called a nestor, it is these qualities of wisdom, good counsel, and oratory that are emphasized.
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Nymph
Nymph or nymphomania or nympholepsy.
Nymphs are beautiful, idyllic goddesses of wood and stream and nature, often the objects of love and desire. A nymph today may simply mean a remarkably attractive young woman, but if she were to suffer from nymphomania ("nymph-madness"), she would be suffering from sexual promiscuousness. Nympholepsy (from lepsis, "a seizing"), on the other hand, refers to the madness which assails one who has glimpsed a nymph. It can also denote a strong desire for what is unattainable.
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Ocean
In mythology the world is a disc circled by a stream of water, the god Oceanus, who is the father of the Oceanids, i.e. all the lesser rivers, streams, brooks, and rills that flow over the earth. Today ocean can refer to the entire body of salt water or any of its major divisions covering the globe.
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Odyssey
Homer's Odyssey recounts the return of Odysseus to Ithaca, his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus. After ten years of war at Troy, Odysseus found the day of his return postponed for another ten years by the god Poseidon. On his extended travels he overcame many challenges before winnning his homecoming. An odyssey has come to mean a long, tortuous period of wandering, travel, and adventure, often in search of a quest, both literally and spiritually.
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Oedipus
Oedipus or oedipal complex.
King Laius of Thebes was given a prophecy that his wife, Jocasta, would bear a son who would kill his father and marry his mother. They did have a son whose name was Oedipus and when he grew up he killed his father and married his mother, despite all that was done to avert the prophecy and destiny. Sophocles' masterpiece, Oedipus the King, inspired Sigmund Freud to crystallize one of his major, defining ideas on the nature of the human psyche (q.v.) and infantile sexual development; the Oedipus Complex is the term he used to describe the natural progression of psycho-sexual development in which the child has libidinal feelings for a parent of the opposite sex and hostility for the parent of the same sex. The term oedipus complex refers to the male child. See Electra complex.
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Olympic Games
Olympic Games or olympian.
The Greek gods had their homes on the heights of Mt. Olympus in northern Greece, and so were called the Olympians. The term olympian carries with it notions of the new order ushered in by Zeus and his family and also distinguishes these gods in their sunlit heights from the chthonic ("of the earth") deities, who have associations with the gloom of the underworld. Therefore olympian means towering, awesome, and majestic, akin to the gods of Olympus. The adjective can also refer to one who competes in or has won a contest in the Olympic Games, but this designation is derived from the ancient Olympic games, celebrated at Olympia, which was a major sanctuary of Zeus in the Peloponnese.
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Paean
Paean was an epithet of the god Apollo, invoked in a cry for victory in battle or for deliverance from sickness. A paean thus became a song of thanksgiving. Today it refers to a song of joy or praise, whether to a god or a human being.
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Palladium
As a child Athena had a special girl friend named Pallas, with whom she used to play at war. During one of their skirmishes Athena inadvertently killed Pallas and to her memory she built a wooden statue of the girl. This statue was thrown down to earth by Zeus, where it became known as the Palladium, and became for the Trojans a talisman for their city; so long as they had possession of it, the city would stand. Thus the English palladium means a protection from harm for a people or state, a lucky charm.
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Pandora s box
Pandora was the first woman, given to men as punishment for Prometheus' theft of fire. Sent with her was a jar, which, when opened, released all the ills that now plague human beings. Later this jar became a box and now pandora's box refers to something that should be left unexamined, lest it breed disaster.
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Panic
Panic describes a state of great fear and anxiety with an attendent desire for flight, which was considered inspired by the god Pan. See Echo.
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Pha?»ton
Helius, the sun-god, assured Phaethon that he was truly his father and swore an oath that his son could have anthing he desired. Phaethon asked that he be allowed to drive his father's chariot across the sky. Helius could not dissuade the boy, and Phaethon could not control the horses and drove to his death. A phaeton has come into English as a four-wheeled chariot drawn by two horses or an earlier type of convertible automobile.
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Priapism
Priapism or priapic.
Priapus was the ithyphallic son of Aphrodite. He is most often depicted with an enormous and fully erect penis. Priapic is an adjective referring to priapian characteristics. Priapism is a pathological condition in which the penis is persistently erect.
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Procrustean
Procrustean or procrustean bed.
Procrustes (the "one who stretches") was encountered by Theseus. He would make unwitting travelers lie down on a bed. If they did not fit it exactly, he would either cut them down or stretch them out to size. The adjective procrustean refers to someone or something that aims at conformity through extreme methods. A procrustean bed decribes a terrible, arbitrary standard against which things are measured.
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Prometheus
Prometheus or promethean.
The god Prometheus ("forethought"), son of the titan Iapetus, was the creator of humanity and its benefactor. He bestowed upon mortals many gifts that lifted them from savagery to civilization. One of his most potent benefactions was fire, which he stole from heaven in a fennel stalk to give to mankind a boon expressly forbidden by Zeus. As a punishment for his championship of human beings in opposition to Zeus, Prometheus was bound to a rocky crag and a vulture ate at his liver, which would grow back again for each day's repast. Thus the name Prometheus becomes synonymous for the archetypal champion, with fire his symbol of defiance and progress. The adjective Promethean means courageous, creative, original, and life-sustaining. Beethoven's music may be called Promethean and Mary Shelley subtitled her gothic horror novel Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus.
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Protean
Proteus was a sea god who could change shape and who possessed knowledge of the future. To obtain information, one had to grapple with him until his metamorphoses ceased. Protean means of changeable or variable form, or having the ability to change form.
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Psyche
Psyche or psychology, etc.
The Greek word for the soul was psyche. The myth of Cupid and Psyche can be interpreted as the soul's longing for an eventual reunification with the divine through love. For Freud psyche means mind and psychic refers to mental activity; many English derivatives describe the study of the mind and the healing of its disorders: psychology, psychiatry, etc. In psychoanalytic terms, the soul is the mind, the seat of thoughts and feelings, our true self, which seeks to orient our lives to our surroundings.
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Python
Apollo established the major sanctuary for his worship and his oracle at Delphi, but to do so he had to kill the serpent which guarded the site. He named his new sanctuary Pytho, from the rotting of the serpent after it had been killed (the Greek verb pythein means to rot); or the serpent's name was Python. A python today belongs to a particular family of non-venomous old world snakes.
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Rhadamanthus
Rhadamanthus or Rhadamanthine or Rhadamantine.
Rhadmanthus, along with Minos and Aeacus, is one of the judges in the Underworld. Rhadamanthus and Rhadamanthine describe anyone who is rigidly just and strict.
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Rich as Croesus
Croesus was the king of Lydia who possessed great wealth that became legendary. Thus to emphasize their possession of extreme riches we describe a person as "rich as Croesus."
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Saturnalia
Saturnalia or saturnian or saturnine or saturnism.
The titan Saturn (equated with the Greek Cronus) castrated his father, hated his children, devoured them, and was castrated and overthrown by his son Zeus. After his defeat, Saturn ruled over the Golden Age of the world; according to Roman mythology, he fled to the west and brought a new golden time to Italy. Originally Saturn was an old Italic diety of the harvest; the Roman's built a temple to Saturn on the Capitoline hill and each December celebrated the winter planting with the Saturnalia, a time of revelry and the giving of presents. Saturnalia today denotes a period of unrestrained or orgiastic revelry. Saturn gives his name to the sixth planet from the sun, the second largest planet in the solar system after Jupiter. Anyone born under the influence of Saturn may have a saturnine temperament, which is to say gloomy or melancholy, characteristics of the god who castrated his father and was overthrown. Saturnian simply means pertaining to the god or the planet Saturn. The planet Saturn was also associated with the element lead, and so the term for lead poisoning is saturnism.
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Satyr
Satyr or satyriasis.
Satyrs were male woodland deities with the ears and legs of a goat, who worshipped Dionysus (Bacchus) god of wine, often in a state of sexual excitement. A satyr today is nothing more than a lecher. A man who has an excessive and uncontrollable sexual drive suffers from satyriasis.. See nymph/nymphomania/nympholepsy.
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Scylla and Charybdis
Scylla was once a beautiful maiden, who was transformed into a hideous creature, with the heads of yapping dogs protruding from her midriff. Charybdis was a terrible whirlpool. Both these dangers were said to lurk in the Strait of Messina between Southern Italy and Sicily, a terror to sailors who endeavored to navigate these waters. The phrase between Scylla and Charybdis is much like the English between a rock and a hard place; it denotes a precarious position between two equally destructive dangers.
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Siren
Siren or siren song.
The Sirens were nymphs (encountered by Odysseus) often depicted with bird-like bodies, who sang such enticing songs that seafarers were lured to their death. A siren has come to mean a seductive woman. It can also denote a device which uses compressed steam or air to produce a high, piercing sound as a warning. A siren song refers to something bewitching or alluring that also may be treacherous.
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Mythological [1] [2] [3] [4]

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