The Persistence of Myth

Myths are our earliest experiments with metaphor and language. They are truths nestled within layers of mystery and magic that tell us that we can make it if we try. Myths don’t smother us in platitudes, they openly tell us that bad things are going to happen and evil exists.

The truth of the tale does not always lie in the happy ending, it is in the strength gathered from the journey.

Part of the magic of mythology is that through it, seeds were sown that took permanent root in our English language. Words like chaos, atlas, echo, hypnosis, erotic are but a few examples of the permanent hold mythology has on us.  As I said in Goddess of Soul in Memory, a post about the story of Psyche:

I love how names from ancient mythology still permeate our language. They do not shrivel and fall away. They persist.

Today we use the word psyche to sum up everything that we are. It is our soul, our mind. It is both our conscious and unconscious. Our subconscious fears and troubles lurk in our psyche. We also have great power and potential there, sometimes left uncovered unless we are brave enough to pursue it. Our psyche is literally everything. It is our soul.

'Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden', John William Waterhouse
‘Psyche Entering Cupid’s Garden’, John William Waterhouse

Not only does myth influence our language, it still influences our own creative works. For generations, we have bundled myths into other stories, retelling and recreating them in new ways.  My Fair Lady is based on Pygmalion.  The Matrix is a sea of mythological folk: Persephone is wife of Hades and Morpheus is the god of dreams, for example.  O Brother Where Art Thou is The Odyssey.  The Seven Samurai, later remade as the American movie The Magnificent Seven, is based on Seven against Thebes.  Even Shakespeare reworked Pyramus and Thisbe into Romeo and Juliet.  There may be nothing new under the sun, but we are always giving birth to new voices and new ways to tell the tales.

Mythology is heavily featured on Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian art.  So much that it would be impossible to include all of it in just one blog post. But I would like to share a few of my favorites, several of which I have previously blogged about:

Apollo and Daphne by John William Waterhouse. (previous post: Waterhouse and Transformations)

'Apollo and Daphne', John William Waterhouse
‘Apollo and Daphne’, John William Waterhouse

Clytie by Evelyn De Morgan (See Sorrow and Sunflowers)

'Clytie', Evelyn De Morgan
‘Clytie’, Evelyn De Morgan

Proserpine, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (See Katabasis: Descend into Hell and Forbidden Fruit)

'Proserpine', Dante Gabriel Rossetti
‘Proserpine’, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, John William Waterhouse.

'Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus' (John William Waterhouse)
‘Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus’ (John William Waterhouse)

Flora and the Zephyrs, John William Waterhouse. (See The Winds of Waterhouse)

Flora and the Zephys, Waterhouse
‘Flora and the Zephyrs’, John William Waterhouse

Pandora, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (I stretch my hands and catch at Hope)


Orpheus and Eurydice, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (Don’t Look Back!)


I know that these have all been depictions of Greek myths, but let’s at least give the Norse a nod.  See Valkyries: Beautiful Maidens of Death.

'The Valkyrie's Vigil', Edward Robert Hughes
‘The Valkyrie’s Vigil’, Edward Robert Hughes

Ulysses and the Sirens, John William Waterhouse. ( See The Lure of Water-Women)


“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”–Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

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