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5 English words and phrases which have origins from Greek Mythology

English is a beautiful language. Much of its beauty can be traced back to Greek and Latin roots. Many words and phrases we use daily have Greek origin. But we don’t always realize that many words and terms come directly from Greek Mythology tales.

There are so many interesting stories behind so many words and phrases. Below are 5 such stories.

1. Echo

Echo was one of the many Nymphs living on Mount Olympus along with other Gods and Goddess. Zeus was the king of the Gods. His wife Hera was the Goddess of marriage but her own marriage was in trouble due to Zeus’s infidelity.

Zeus was known to take many lovers. He did his best to hid his indiscretions from Hera but she was a mighty Goddess too. Not much could escape her.

One time Hera found out that Zeus was courting some Mountain Nymphs. She started from her palace to confront them. Hera could not do any harm to her husband Zeus so she was planning to punish the Nymphs.

All the Nymphs got scared and started to run away. As Hera came closer, Echo went to her and started talking to her. Echo kept telling many silly stories to Hera. Her purpose was to keep Hera occupied long enough for the Mountain Nymphs to escape safely.

When Hera realized how Echo manipulated her, she cursed Echo. Hera cursed Echo to only be able to repeat the last thing others said and not be able to say anything for herself.

Echo’s sin was talking too much and she was punished by taking away her power to speak.

Term Echo is used to describe the reflection of sound from any surface particularly tunnels or mountains. Echos give us the impression like someone is repeating the last words spoken by others.

2. Narcissism

There was once a hunter named Narcissus. He was so good looking that whoever saw him fell in love with him. However, he was not interested in anyone.

According to the stories, the nymph Echo saw him and fell in love with him. As she was cursed she could not go to him and start a normal conversation. Instead, she followed him around. When Narcissus realized that he was being followed, he found Echo.

When he asked her what she wanted, she could only repeat what he was saying. This angered Narcissus and he treated Echo rather harshly.

Hurt by him, Echo left brokenhearted. She continued to mope and in her heartbreak faded from existence. Only her voice remained.

Goddess Nemesis saw this and decided to teach Narcissus a lesson. She lured him to a lake. In the still water of the lake, Narcissus saw his reflection for the first time. Instantly he fell in love with himself without even understanding that the reflection is not another person.

When Narcissus realized that his object of desire was no one but himself, he was heartbroken thinking that his love can never be reciprocated. In his grief, he stopped eating and drinking and essentially starved himself to death.

It is said that when Narcissus died, a beautiful flower sprang from the spot which was later given the name Narcissus.

Term Narcissism is now used to describe someone who is overly obsessed with their appearance or how they are perceived by others. It is certainly not a trait healthy to have.

Source – John William Waterhouse: Echo and Narcissus (Wiki Commons)

3. Nemesis

Nemesis is the goddess of vengeance or divine wrath. It is said that nemesis is the one to uphold justice. For any crime, the punishment comes from her.

As we read earlier in the story of Echo and Narcissus, it was Nemesis who lured Narcissus to his end as a punishment for treating Echo badly.

Now, as per English dictionaries, one of the meanings of the term nemesis is a rival or enemy or opponent.

It makes me wonder if we actually think of vengeance as something to stay away from. The desire for vengeance and revenge has ruined a lot of people. It is natural to think of vengeance as an opponent.

4. Herculean Task

Idiom Herculean Task is used to refer to extremely difficult almost impossible task. So why is Herculean Task used to describe difficult tasks?

Hercules was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman Alcmena. When Hera found out that her husband is having yet another child outside their marriage, she was naturally furious. Like always her anger was directed towards everyone except her husband.

Hera hated Hercules even before he was born. She even sends many monsters and serpents to kill him. But one way or the other Hercules survived.

When Hercules grew up, he married and had three kids of his own. Even after many years, Hera kept trying to harm Hercules. This time she played with his mind and caused him to kill his children and wife in madness.

Hercules was mortified when he came back to his senses and realized what he had done. He went to Apollo to ask him for a way to repent his sins. Apollo knew about the involvement of Hera in Hercules life. Hercules was thus told to perform 12 labours to atone for his sins.

These 12 labours were designed by king Eurystheus. Hera convinced Erastus to design tasks which were not only impossible to complete but also so dangerous that Heracles might finally lose his life.

Unfortunately for Hera, Hercules not only completed all the labours but became too famous by the end of them. His fame outlasted his life.

Even now when we talk about difficult tasks, we describe them as Herculean Tasks. I tend to think that Herculean Tasks not only refer to difficult tasks but also to tasks that may lead to everlasting fame. Something worth doing certainly.

5. Adonis

Adonis is the most handsome man described in Greek Mythology. He was so beautiful that even the Goddess of beauty Aphrodite fell in love with him. They certainly made a beautiful couple.

Unfortunately, Adonis was still a mortal man. He was on a hunt when he was killed by a boar. In despair, Aphrodite appealed to Zeus who in turn granted her wish. Adonis was to live in the underworld for half the year. But for the remaining half of the year, he was free to live with Aphrodite.

This story is also about the mortality of beauty. Adonis was very beautiful but even his beauty could not make him immortal.

The term Adonis is now used to describe good looking men. It is a popular term which reminds us of Aphrodite’s lover.

Titian, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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