Mythology: The Oldest Stories

blog picI grew up reading Norse and Greco-Roman myths. My dad bought three oversized illustrated picture books of myths that my brothers and I would pour over for hours. When we ate lunch on the deck behind our house, we dumped the last little bit of juice in our glasses over the rail as a libation to the gods. Yes, we were obsessed.

Originally mythology consisted of religious stories. Nowadays, most people don’t believe in Thor and Zeus. Though I do hear that neo-paganism, which often brings in the worship of these gods, is on the rise. I’m not sure why. If Thor and Zeus couldn’t even keep their following going 2000 years ago when people were a lot more gullible, let alone win enough wars to keep their worshippers from being overrun by foreign empires, I highly doubt they are true gods.

But apart from the religious nature of the stories, mythology tells us about human nature. There are no novels from thousands of years ago. They say the novel as we know the literary genre today only came into existence in the 18th century. So we can’t look back at ancient novels to discover how Greeks and Romans interacted or how Norse men and women fell in love. But in their mythology, we see glimpses of what people from those years valued, fought for, loved, and desired.

Read as a novel, mythology is fascinating because it touches on some of the most basic parts of human existence. Therefore, it makes for great story prompts. In one Greco-roman myth, the three most beautiful goddesses, Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera are fighting about which is the most beautiful. The most beautiful one will be awarded a golden apple. A man, Paris of Troy, is appointed to decide. Rather than leave the contest up to his judgment, the goddesses decide to bribe him. The bribe he takes is the offer of the most lovely woman in the land, Helene of Troy. One slight problem, she’s already married so taking her will start a war. And thus begins the Trojan war memorialized in poem by Homer in his Illiad and Odyssey.

Three beautiful women fighting for pre-eminence, now there’s a story that’s been repeated time and time again. If you’ve ever watched a high school movie with its cliques and beauty queen drama, you’ve seen this theme repeated. The Brothers Grimms’ 19th century version of Snow White uses this same idea of jealousy over beauty. And we’re all familiar with the Disney adaption where the wicked stepmother repeats, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?” Then, of course, she tries to kill Snow White for being fairer than her.

Marvel comics use mythological ideas more explicitly by incorporating Thor and Loki into their comic strips. And these comics are so popular they are coming back as box office hits. So if you’re ever stumped for writing ideas, take a look back at mythology. You just might be inspired.

Writing Prompt: Create a story outline for a modern rewrite of the mythological story of Persephone who is abducted to the underworld by Hades. Post your story idea below.