Mythology has the power to influence ideas and the words that are used to describe them. Below we look at some of our favorite Greek gods and the words they have inspired.
God of love and physical desire (aka Cupid)
Son of Aphrodite and Ares
Armed with a bow and arrow, Eros could make any human fall in love with the first person they saw. The catch was that he often didn’t bother to aim his arrows, preferring random targets. With the invention of Internet dating and Tinder, he now spends most of his time relaxing at the local archery club.
Modern Words: Erogenous and erotic.
Protector of livestock, fruit plants, fertility, and male genitalia
Son of Aphrodite and Dionysus
While still in Aphrodite’s womb, Priapus was cursed with ugliness and impotence by Hera, queen of the Gods, as punishment for his mother’s beauty and promiscuity. Thrown from Mount Olympus down to Earth and raised by shepherds, he wandered the Earth with a permanent HUGE erection but was cursed with the inability to use it.
Modern Words: Priapism, the medical term for when an erect penis doesn’t return to its flaccid state.
Hunter from Thespiae
Son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope
On a sexy scale of one to ten, Narcissus was a 15, and he well and truly knew it. He was so obsessed with his own beauty that, upon seeing his own reflection in the river water, he fell madly in love. Not realizing he was staring at himself and unable to grasp the object of his desire, he stared at his reflection until he died. The flower that bloomed where he died is still called narcissus today.
Modern Word: Narcissism, the excessive obsession about your own appearance.
Spirit of forgetfulness or oblivion
Daughter of Eris, the goddess of discord
The mere murmuring of the river Lethe, one of five rivers that flowed through the underworld, was enough to cause drowsiness. Lethe, the spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion, shared her name with the river. Those who dared drink from the river would have their memories erased, and the dead of the underworld would drink the water to forget their lives.
Modern Words: Lethargy/lethargic.
Goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation
Daughter of Asclepius, the god of medicine
Tall, slender, and gentle, Hygieia represented the prevention of sickness and disease through cleanliness. After the first appearance of the plague in Ancient Greece in 430 BCE (in which 25% of the population died), the cult of Hygieia rapidly spread. Worshipped along with her father Asclepius, the god of medicine, she was commonly shown holding a serpent in her arms.
Modern Word: Hygiene.
God of dreams
Son of Hypnos (god of sleep) and Pasithea (goddess of relaxation)
One of four winged brothers collectively called Oneiroi (dreams), Morpheus could intrude into the dreams of mortals. He was the ultimate master of disguise, morphing into human form at will and perfectly matching not only a person’s body, but also their voice and mannerisms. He had no need to rely on glasses and a fake moustache. Through dreams, he could communicate messages from the gods and reveal people’s futures.
Modern Words: The drug morphine, one of several opiates found in opium poppies, was named after Morpheus.
God of sleep
Son of Nyx, goddess of night, and Erebus, the personification of darkness
Hypnos was quite a lazy god, preferring to spend most of his time snoozing in his cave in the underworld. The entrance to his cave was lined with poppies and other hypnotic plants, and the river Lethe (river of forgetfulness) flowed through it. When not sleeping himself, Hypnos was busy putting Zeus to sleep at the request of his wife Hera—a habit Zeus was not very pleased with.
Modern Words: Hypnosis, hypnagogia.
Goddess of the soul
Born a mortal girl (but an incredibly stunning one), Psyche got the attention of many men but was interested in none. Frustrated by this, Aphrodite sent her son Eros (Cupid) to make Psyche fall in love with the first man she saw, but Eros accidently scratched himself with his arrow and fell in love with her himself. To hide the mistake from his mother, Eros kept his identity a secret, but Psyche found out and Eros fled. After turning to Aphrodite for help and completing a series of difficult tasks, Psyche was reunited with Eros. The two lovers wed, and Psyche became immortal.
Modern Words: Psychiatry and psychology.
A mountain nymph
Echo was a very pretty young mountain nymph who just loved to talk. After helping out Zeus by distracting his wife Hera with never-ending chatter, Hera took revenge by taking away Echo’s ability to speak. She could only ever repeat the last words said to her. After falling in love with Narcissus but being unable to tell him, she wallowed in sorrow until only her voice was left.
Modern Words: Echo, echolalia (disorder involving automatic repetition of another’s words).
A mortal weaver
Arachne was a mortal girl gifted in the art of weaving. She was so confident in her craft that she challenged Athena, the goddess of wisdom, arts, and crafts, to a weaving contest. When she inevitably lost, Athena turned her into the world’s first spider. Finally Arachne could weave her webs forever.
Modern Words: Arachnids (spiders) and arachnodactyly (long, spider-like fingers/toes—a heritable disorder).