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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.
The story of a hero with a quest frequently recurs in
mythology. Many of these stories are similar: a hero is born, raised
in poverty by foster parents or a single mother, and at a certain
age ventures forth to reclaim his patrimony. He is charged with
some very difficult task and is offered the hand of a noble woman
in marriage upon his success. By accomplishing these tasks, the
otherwise unknown hero demonstrates his fitness to take on his father’s
throne. This framework is subject to some degree of variation, of
course, but it holds true for many of the hero stories Hamilton
retells in Mythology.
Theseus is the perfect example: though raised far from
Athens, he proves himself—from the moment he departs toward his
father—a decent and upstanding heir by ridding the highway of bandits.
Perseus, Hercules, Achilles, and others offer small variations on
this framework of the hero’s quest. Interestingly, however, Odysseus, whose
name has come to be synonymous with the hero and quest, offers a
notable difference from the archetype. He does not grow up away from
his parents, and he is already married and undergoes an arduous journey on
his return home after battle. This difference, perhaps, explains
why Odysseus strongly resonates as a more modern character relevant
to present times.
Beauty in all its forms figures prominently in Hamilton’s Mythology, particularly
in the Greek myths, which ascribe an immeasurable value to beauty.
Though appreciation of beauty is hardly a surprising find, it may
seem superficial to see aesthetic and artistic beauty given such
a prominent place in myths that also purport to be religious or
Nonetheless, the assertion that beautiful is better pervades
the myths. It is evident in Zeus’s and Apollo’s philandering, Orpheus’s winning
over of Hades with his lovely music, the sparking of the Trojan
War over Helen’s legendary loveliness, and Hera’s and Athena’s bitterness
at Paris’s preference for Aphrodite’s fairness. With these myths
in mind, we see that, in the classical worldview, beauty is not
in the eye of the beholder, but rather a verifiable, objective actuality
about which even the gods must agree.
The seemingly indefinable notion of love is an important
agent in much of Mythology, the source for many
rewards, punishments, motivations, and deceptions. The myths treat
love in a way that is different from most of our modern-day ideas
of love. In creation myths, love is described as a force, and it
is out of love that Earth arises. There are actually very few ordinary
love stories, at least in our traditional sense of the word, with
a man and woman bonding in romance and living happily ever after.
There are, rather, several tragic tales, as those of Pyramus and
Thisbe or Ceyx and Alcyone, as well as many stories of unrequited
love, such as Polyphemus and Galatea or Echo and Narcissus.
Broadening the myth’s exploration of love and lust are
tales of kidnapping and rape, such as Hades and Persephone or Apollo
and Creusa. There are instances in which one party—always the woman—loves
so strongly and under such false premises that it spells disaster
for her. Such are the cases of Medea, Ariadne, and Dido, all of
whom give themselves over to love, heart and soul—betraying their
own families—only to have the men whom they love heartlessly move
on after the women’s usefulness is expended. These tales perhaps
imply a cautionary warning that blood is thicker than water and
that a bride’s family by marriage is never as trustworthy as her
birth family, to whom she truly owes allegiance.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Mythology!