Mythological Dictionary
Letter: P


Dictionary of Mythological Definitions and Terms.
Mythological | P

 

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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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