Mythological Dictionary
Letter: S


Dictionary of Mythological Definitions and Terms.
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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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Sisyphean
Sisyphus was a famous resident of Hades who was condemned to roll an enormous rock up a hill only to have it fall back down, a punishment for revealing the secret of one of Zeus' love affairs. A sisyphean task has become a term for work that is difficult, laborious, almost impossible of completion. See tartarean and tantalize..
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Sphinx
The sphinx terrorized Thebes before the arrival of Oedipus (see Oedipal Complex). She was a hybrid creature with the head of a woman, body of a lion, wings of an eagle, and the tail of a serpent. She punished those who failed to answer her riddle with strangulation (the Greek verb sphingein means to strangle). At some point the Greek sphinx became associated with Egyptian iconography, in which the sphinx had a lion's body and a hawk's or man's head. When we liken someone to a sphinx, we have in mind the great riddler of the Greeks and not the Egyptian conception. A sphinx is an inscrutable person, given to enigmatic utterances (the Greek word ainigma means a riddle).
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Stentorian
Stentor was the herald of the Greek army at Troy, who could speak with the power of fifty men. Today we may liken a powerful orator to Stentor and designate the effect of his voice as stentorian.
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Stygian
Across the river Styx, the "hateful" river that circles the realm of the underworld, the ferryman Charon transports human souls to Hades. The gods swear their most dread and unbreakable oaths by invoking the name of the river Styx. Stygian describes something to be linked with the infernal regions of hell, something gloomy, or inviolable.
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Syringe
Syrinx ("pan-pipes") rejected the god Pan and was turned into a bed of reeds from which he fashioned his pan-pipes. A syringe is a device made up of a pipe or tube, used for injecting and ejecting liquids. Syringa is a genus of plants used for making pipes or pipestems.
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