Mythological Dictionary
Letter: H


Dictionary of Mythological Definitions and Terms.
Mythological | H

 

Definition


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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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Hector
Hector was the greatest warrior of the Trojans, who was defeated by his counterpart on the Greek side, Achilles. To hector means to bluster and bully. The noun hector denotes a bully. The connection between the noble Hector and this later conception originated in the Middle Ages, when Hector was portrayed as a braggart and bully.
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Heliotrope
Heliotrope or heliotropism, etc.
Helius was god of the sun. The Greek root trop- refers to a turning in a certain direction. Heliotropism is a biological term which refers to the growth or movement of an organism towards or away from sunlight. A heliotrope is a genus of plant that behaves in that manner. Several scientific or technical words derive for the name of the sun-god, for example: a heliostat is an instrument that uses a mirror to reflect sunlight; heliotherapy, treatment by means of the sun's rays; heliotype, a photomechanical process of printing a plate, or the printing plate itself produced in this fashion; heliograph is an instrument used to photograph the sun; and heliocentric refers to anything that has the sun as a center or is relative to the sun.
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Hercules
Hercules or herculean or Hercules' club.
Hercules, in Greek Heracles, was the greatest hero in the ancient world, who wore a lion skin and brandished a club. He achieved countless remarkable exploits, and is most famous for twelve canonical labors. To describe someone as herculean is to liken him to Hercules in strength and stature. Any effort that is herculean requires a tremendous exertion or spirit of heroic endurance. The Hercules is a constellation in the northern hemisphere near Lyra and Corona Borealis. A shrub, indigenous to the Southeastern United States and characterized by prickly leaves and large clusters of white blossoms, is known as Hercules' club.
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Hermetic
Hermetic or hermeneutic or hermeneutics or hermaphrodite.
The god Hermes became associated with the Egyptian god Thoth and received the appellation Trismegistus ("thrice-greatest"). A number of works on occult matters, known as the Hermetic Corpus, were attributed to Hermes Trismegistus; today hermetic refers to occult knowledge, particularly alchemy, astrology, and magic. From this notion of secret or sealed knowledge hermetic comes to mean completely sealed; a hermetic jar is one closed against outside contamination. From Hermes' primary function as a bearer of messages came the Greek hermeneus ("interpreter") and the phrase hermeneutike techne ("the art of interpretation"). Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation and hermeneutic, as adjective or noun, connotes an interpretive or explanatory function. Hermaphroditus, the beautiful son of Hermes and Aphrodite, was bathing in a pool, when the nymph Salmacis caught sight of him and was filled with desire. She plunged into the water and entwined her limbs around him. He fought her efforts to seduce him but her prayer to the gods that they might become united into one being was granted. A hermaphrodite has the genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics of both male and female.
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Hydra
Heracles' second labor was to encounter the Hydra, a nine-headed serpent, which would grow back two heads for every one that was severed. Every time he clubbed off one of the heads he cauterized the stump so that another could not grow. A hydra is a polyp with a cylindrical body and tentacles surrounding an oral cavity and it has the ability to regrow itself from cut off parts. A hydra can also be a destructive force that does not succumb to a single effort. The Hydra is a constellation in the equatorial region of the southern sky near the constellation Cancer.
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Hymen
Hymen or hymenea.
Hymen was the god of marriage and invoked during the wedding ceremony with the chant "O Hymen, Hymenaeus"; thus he was the overseer of hymeneal or marriage rites. Originally the Greek word hymen referred to any membrane, but today the hymen is a membranous fold of tissue which covers the outer orifice of the vagina.
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Hyperborean
The Hyperboreans were a mythical race that inhabited a paradise in the far north, at the edge of the world, "beyond" (hyper) the reach of the north wind (Boreas) and his arctic blasts. In English hyperborean merely means arctic or frigid.
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Hypnosis
Hypnosis or hypnotic, etc.
Hypnos, son of Nyx (Night) and brother of Thanatos (death), was the god of sleep and father of Morpheus, the god of dreams. Hypnosis is a sleep-like condition in which the person becomes susceptible to suggestion. Hypnotic, as an adjective, means to pertain to or induce hypnosis. As a noun it refers to the person hypnotized, something that promotes hypnotism, or means simply a soporific, that which induces sleep. Hypnogogic refers to a drug that produces sleep or describes the state immediately preceding sleep, while hypnopompic refers to the state immediately preceding awakening; both states may be marked by visual or auditory hallucination as well as sleep-induced paralysis. Hypnophobia is a pathological fear of sleep.
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