Monsters in Greek and Roman Mythology

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy

Table of Contents

First Draft , Sept. 22nd 2009
Working Bibliography , March 7th 2009
Working Bibliography , Feb. 20th 2009
Working Table of Contents , Feb. 20th 2009

First Draft (as of September 22nd 2009) . . . go to Teacher's comment

1. Introduction
         This paper mainly deals with mythical creatures of Greek and Roman mythology and the methods of how they were derived and emerged into society and lives of ancient Greek and Roman. It also focuses with how the social acceptance of these mythical creatures dwindled from mythical level to a part of ancient Greek and Roman history.

2. General outline of mythical creatures of Greek and Roman mythology
         Of the vast world of ancient Greek and Rome, their myth was regarded as one of the most crucial factors that affected their world. In their myth, mythical creatures were regarded as crucial factors; without them Greek and roman mythology as we know it today would not exist, as most of their myths contain various kinds of mythical creatures, notably The Iliad, The Odyssey, Argonautics, and the Quest of Hercules, along with other mythical stories.
         Besides Olympic gods and goddesses, mythical creatures of Greek and Roman mythology vary from kind to kind, with almost all of their origins different, from being born by Gods or unexplainable phenomena of nature to being the offspring of older mythical creatures. Greek mythical creatures positively affected the ancient Greek myths by embellishing them; without their striking power, which were equally able to compete with Greek Gods, the Greek myth would not have been attracting, and thus might have lost the ancient Greeks¡¯ interest and, eventually, faith towards the Greek gods and heroes.

2.1) From Iilad and the Odyssey
         Iilad by Homer mainly recounts significant events that occurred during the final year of Trojan War. Unless regarding Olympian gods and goddesses as another type of mythical creatures, Iilad itself doesn¡¯t directly account much about mythical creatures of Greek mythology. However, it is clear that many kinds of mythical creatures are described by the conversations of heroes in Iilad. The few directly mentioned ones include two unnamed mythical creatures that emerged after the events that are illustrated in Iliad; two giant serpents sent by Poseidon which killed Laocoon and his two sons.
         The Odyssey, in contrast with Iilad, directly introduces many kinds of mythical creatures, including Laestrygonians (cannibalistic giants), Circe, Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, cattle of Helios, and Calypso. The Odyssey portrays a wide range of different kinds of mythical creatures in which Odysseus confronts on his journey to home; although the sequence of him confronting the mythical creatures it is quite similar to the Quest of Heracles, one significant difference is that Odysseus didn¡¯t intend to confront most of them - most of the confrontations were accidental, not designated by gods.

2.2) From the Quest of Heracles
         The Quest of Heracles is perhaps the one which introduces the most kinds of mythical creatures in Greek and Roman mythology. The Quest of Heracles, including his twelve Labors, features a wide range of mythical creatures; it includes the creatures that opposed Heracles in his twelve Labors, such as Lernaean Hydra, Cerynitian Hind, Erymanthian Boar, Cerberus, and other mythical creatures which faced Heracles when he was not in his labors, such as Gigas. All of these creatures are also widely known today as important symbols in culture and media.
         The creatures that appear in the quest of Heracles eventually dedicate Heracles as perhaps the greatest hero both in the Greek myth itself and in the society of ancient Greeks in that the fact that those powerful creatures were slain by Heracles proves his overwhelming power and fame that followed him.

2.3) From Argonautica
         Argonautica, the myth regarding the voyage of Jason and his fellow Argonauts (all except Heracles, who voluntarily quitted in the middle) in search of the Golden Fleece, is also widely known for featuring a variety of mythical creatures including centaurs, dragon, a group of water nymphs, Harpies, Circe and Talos. Most of the mythical creatures introduced in Argonautica are crucial in forming, or embellishing, the quest of Jason as the creatures were defeated or slain by Jason and his Argonauts, thereby positively affecting their heroism in Argonautica.
         One different point about Argonautica, whe compared with The Quest of Heracles, is that Jason and the Argonauts had to involuntarily face their opposing mythical creatures, whereas Heracles had to fight each of numerous mythical creatures, mostly by Greek Gods¡¯ will.

2.4) From other sources
         Since mythical creatures were prominent factors of Greek and Roman mythology, they also show up in various kinds of other myths of Greek and Roman. Prominent mythical creatures which were shown from other short myths of gods and heroes include Sphinx in the tale of Oedipus, Medusa and the Gorgons in the tale of Perseus, Minotaur in the tale of Theseus, and Pegasus in the tales of Perseus and Bellerophon.

3. Deepened analysis of notable Greek mythical creatures
         Of all the mythical creatures, I have selected 10 of them for deepened analysis which correlates with each of their origin, what they actually represent towards the ancient Greeks and how their concepts deviated from time to time.

3.1) Centaur
         Centaurs are mythical creatures of which their bodies are half-human and half-horse. They were believed to have been born between Ixion and Nephele, Hera in a cloud form manipulated by Zeus to trick Ixion. Centaurs were considered to be robust in figure and brutal. Their brutal actions in Greek and Roman Mythology are indeed notable in their fight with the Lapithae, in which Centaurs tried to kidnap Hippodamia, the wife of Pirithous, and in the myth of Heracles, in which Nessus, the Centaur, dies after attempting to kidnap Deianeira, the wife of Heracles.
         How the mythical creature which has the body of half-human and half-horse is not fully certain, but theories regarding the origin of the concept of Centaurs claim that it came from those who were non-riders and have first seen horse riders, or nomads, in the Minoan Aegean world. The non-riders¡¯ reaction may have created the concept of fusion of man and horse, hence the creation of Centaur.

3.2) Cerberus
         Cerberus is a three-headed hound with a tail of a snake that guards the gates of Hades to prevent spirits from crossing the river Styx. It is perhaps widely known due to its feature in Aeneid by Virgil as " ... Grim Cerberus, who soon began to rear / His crested snakes, and arm'd his bristling hair ...", in the myth of Orpheus and in the myth of Heracles, in which Cerberus was the last of Heracles¡¯ labors.
         Due to its obligation to guard the underworld, Cerberus is perhaps represented as a partial symbol of ancient Greeks¡¯ fear of afterlife.

3.3) Chimera
         Chimera is a female mythical creature of which its body is composed of a lion¡¯s head which breathed fire, a goat¡¯s body and a snake tail. Many kinds of Greek classics contain the story of Chimera, including Homer¡¯s Iilad, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and pseudo-Apollodorus' Bibliotheca. Among these, notable work is Iilad, in which Homer recounts about Chimera as the following: "... the Chimaera, who was not a human being, but a goddess, for she had the head of a lion and the tail of a serpent, while her body was that of a goat, and she breathed forth flames of fire ..." Chimera is slain by Bellerophon who was commanded by the king of Lycia; ultimately, Chimera made Bellerophon a hero.
         Chimera is perhaps the representative figure among all Greek mythical creatures in which their bodies are composed of more than one animal; in Greek mythology, it also served as a symbol of an omen of bad phenomena, such as storms, shipwrecks and other kinds of natural disasters, especially volcano.
         It is interesting to find out that Chimera was somehow regarded as a symbol of an active volcano. Mount chimaera in Lycia, which was notable for its volcanic activities, could be related with the mythical creature Chimera, due to the similarity of their names and their activities of fuming fire.
         Chimera is now used as a term in many fields of science as a fusion of more than two distinct species of organisms.

3.4) Circe
         Circe was a powerful witch which lived on the island of Aeaea. She was also considered as a minor goddess, as her father was Helios, the god of sun, and her mother was Perse, an Oceanid. Circe transformed victims into animals via her magic and magical potions. She is perhaps famous by being recounted in Homer¡¯s Odyssey, in which Odysseus confronts Circe and lives in her island for a year.

3.5) Dragons
         Perhaps dragons are the most popular mythical creatures in many kinds of ancient myths, and Greek mythology was not an exception. There are numerous kinds of dragons in Greek and Roman mythology. There
Ladon, Hydra, Cadmus¡¯ family, Python

3.6) Medusa
         Medusa was the youngest of Gorgon sisters who had the power to turn people who looked at her into stone. She was beheaded by Perseus.

3.7) Minotaur
         Minotaur was a mythical creature in Creta; it had a giant body of a human and a head of an ox.

3.8) Pan
         Pan was considered as the companion of the nymphs, usually in a form of a body of an old man with legs and horns of a goat. He is usually regarded as the god of shepherds, mountain wilds, fields and groves. He is famous for his pan flute made out of hollow reed; Greek myth claim that his pan flute was made out of a transformed nymph whom he loved.
         Pan¡¯s name originates from the Greek word paein, which means ¡®to pasture¡¯, a meaning which explains what he was symbolized and worshiped of. Still, Pan was quite idiosyncratic in that, according to Greek myths, he evoked fear from people by making eerie shrieks; the word ¡®panic¡¯ is considered to be derived from his name. In addition, Pan was famous for his sexual powers and rustic music.
         Pan, after Greek era, was considered to have greatly influenced on the imagery of Satan; it is said that Pan¡¯s demonic looks transcended into creating the image of Satan.

3.9) Sirens
         Sirens were known as three dangerous birds with the head of beautiful women, though it is sometimes depicted in art that there were more than three of them, sometimes even five. They were considered as seductresses who lured sailors with songs to death.
         Sirens are depicted in few classic Greek works, the primary one being Odyssey by Homer; in it, Odysseus dares to listen to their song by strapping himself to a boat while making other sailors to clog their ears with wax. Also, in the work Argonautica, Jason and the Argonauts confront Sirens on their way back home; Sirens, however, once again failed to lure them as Orpheus beat their song by his lyre. Ovid also mentions Sirens in his work Metamorphoses by mentioning them as "... The Daughters of Achelous transform'd to Sirens ..."
         Today, Sirens are widely known in the term ¡®siren¡¯, which typically means a long set of alarm.

3.10) Sphinx
         The origin of Sphinx was not from Greek mythology; instead it was originated in Egypt as a lion with a man¡¯s head. However, when the Greeks made a set of cultural contacts with Egyptians, Greeks (actually Hellenes) adopted Sphinx as a female character. Sphinx, according to Hesiod, was considered to be the daughter of Echidna and Python.
         Sphinx was famous for her riddle she cast when she blocked the entrance of Thebes. She committed suicide after being defeated by Oedipus who answered Sphinx¡¯s riddle.

Working Bibliography (as of March 7th 2009) . . . go to Teacher's comment

Primary Sources
by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, N.Y. : Anchor Books 1974
by Homer, translated by T.E.Lawrence, GRW Publishing 1989
by Pseudo-Apollodorus, translated by James George Frazer, Cambridge MA : Harvard UP 1921,,,,
by Apollonius Rhodius, translated by R.C. Seaton, Cambridge MA 1912, revised text 2002,
by Herodotus, translated by George Rawlinson,
by Hesiod, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White,
by Ovid, translated by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al., posted by The Internet Classics Archive,
by Ovid, translated by Grant Showerman, Cambridge MA : Harvard UP 1931,
by Ovid, translated by James George Frazer, Cambridge MA : Harvard UP 1931,
by Virgil, translated by John Dryden, posted by The Internet Classics Archive,

Secondary Sources
by Robert Graves, 2 volumes, London : Penguins 1960,
by David Bellingham, Chartwell 1989
by Gustav Schwab, Pantheon 1974
by Edith Hamilton, Back Bay 1998

Perseus Digital Library,
Theoi Greek Mythology - Bestiary,
The Internet Classics Archive,

Working Bibliography (as of February 20th 2009) . . . go to Teacher's comment

Primary Sources
by Homer
by Pseudo-Apollodorus
by Ovid
by Ovid
by Ovid
by Apollonius Rhodius
by Virgil
by Herodotus
by Hesiod

Secondary Sources
by Robert Graves
by David Bellingham
by Gustav Schwab
by Edith Hamilton

Perseus Digital Library -

Working Table of Contents (as of February 20th 2009) . . . go to Teacher's comment

I. abstract
II. general outline of Greek mythical creatures
III. detailed description of Greek mythical creatures
     III.1 from The Odyssey
     III.2 from The quest of Hercules
     III.3 from Argonautics
     III.4 from others
IV. deepened analysis of Greek mythical creatures
     IV.1 how ancient Greeks regarded them
     IV.2 how ancient non-Greeks regarded them
     IV.3 how modern people regard them
V. comparison of concepts of Greek mythical creatures

     V.1 via literal concepts
     V.2 via figurative concepts
VI. Conclusion