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  • Title: Myths in Shakespeare
  • Author: David Bevington

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-proift purposes; for all other uses contact the Coordinating Editor.
    Author: David Bevington
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    Myths in Shakespeare

    Myths in As You Like It

    Both Shakespeare, in As You Like It and elsewhere, and Thomas Lodge in his Rosalind, Shakespeare's chief source for his play, make extensive use of classical mythology and other classical references. Here, briefly, are the stories most commonly referred to. This account will mainly use the Roman names of the gods rather (with Greek names in parentheses) since Shakespeare and Lodge, like many Elizabethans, prefer the Roman.

    Greek hero in the Trojan War, Achilles was, as an infant, plunged by his mother Thetis into the River Styx, rendering him invulnerable except for the heel by which she held him. Eventually he was shot in the heel (by Paris or Apollo) and killed.
    Son of Myrrha, Adonis was a beautiful youth with whom Venus (Aphrodite) fell in love; he resisted her advances, and was subsequently killed in a boar hunt. Adonis was transformed into the flower anemone.
    See Dido and Aeneas.
    Compiler of animal fables, 6th century BC.
    See Hercules.
    Apollo or Phoebus Apollo (Helios)
    God of the sun and of music etc. For his various amours, see Aurora, Clytia, and Daphne; see also Midas.
    The hundred-eyed herdsman whom Juno (Hera) set to watch over Io, one of Jupiter's many lovers. See Mercury.
    See Theseus.
    A proud maiden who refused to marry any any man who could not defeat her in a foot race. She lost to Hippomenes, because he dropped in her way, during the race, three golden apples of the Hesperides that she could not resist. Another Atalanta helped Meleager kill the Calydonian boar; see Meleager.
    10Athene or Athena
    See Minerva.
    Aurora (Eos)
    Goddess of the dawn. By Tithonus she was the mother of Memnon. The sun-god Apollo regularly bids her a loving farewell as the sun-god's chariot rises at dawn.
    Baucis and Philemon
    An old couple in a humble thatched cottage who offered hospitality to Jupiter (Zeus) and Mercury (Hermes) in disguise as traveling peasants. From Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 8.
    A nymph in the train of Daphne (Artemis), was beloved by Jupiter (Zeus) and became the mother of Arcas.
    Circe or Circes
    An enchantress on the island of Aeaea who turned Ulysses' (Odysseus') companions into swine, as told in Homer's Odyssey, Book 10).
    An ocean nymph in love with Phoebus Apollo. When Apollo fell in love with Leucothoe, the jealous Clytia betrayed her to her father, and, in anger, buried Leucothoe alive. When the Apollo turned sadly away from Clytia, she languished and eventually died, whereupon she was transformed into the heliotrope or sunflower that turns ceaselessly toward the sun in its daily course.
    See Troilus.
    One of the Titans, who rose against and castrated Uranus. See Golden Age.
    Cupid (Eros)
    The boy-god of love, son of Venus, shooter of arrows causing those being hit to fall in love. Usually portrayed as winged and blind.
    Invented the labyrinth for King Minos of Crete and was confined to it lest he escape. He fashioned wings of wax and feathers so that he and his son Icarus could fly away. Icarus flew too near the sun, fell into the sea, and was drowned. A common image of reckless aspiration.
    A king's daughter, Danae was confined by her father to a brazen tower lest she kill him as foretold in prophecy. She was visited by Jupiter (Zeus) in a shower of gold, and gave birth to Perseus.
    A nymph and daughter of a river god, beloved and pursued by Phoebus Apollo. At her own entreaty she was changed into a bay-tree, which became sacred to Apollo.
    See Hercules.
    The son of Theseus and Phaedra, with whom Phyllis, Queen of Thrace, fell in love, and was deserted by him. She was transformed into an almond tree. The story is told in Ovid's Heroides.
    See Fates.
    25Diana (Artemis)
    Goddess of the hunt and of chastity; associated with the moon.
    Dido and Aeneas
    Dido, Queen of Carthage, fell in love with her Trojan visitor Aeneas, as told in Virgil's Aeneid, Book 4, and was then deserted by him in order that Aeneas, at the gods' behest, might pursue his destiny as founder of Rome.
    A nymph who fled from Pan and was punished by being turned into a voice that can only repeat the last words spoken to her. See also Narcissus.
    Endymion and Phoebe
    The moon-goddess Phoebe (Selene, Luna), fell in love with Endymion, a beautiful shepherd on Mt. Latmos in Caria, and put him into a perpetual sleep.
    Fates, or Destinies (Parcae)
    The three goddesses, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, that were thought to spin, draw off, and cut the threads of life.
    Goddesses of flowers.
    Gaia or Ge
    Personification of the earth. See Hercules.
    One of the Nereids or sea-nymphs, was beloved of the Cyclops Polyphemus.
    A beautiful youth who was carried by the eagle of Jupiter (Zeus) to be the king of the gods' cupbearer and male favorite.
    Golden Age
    The first of four ags of the world, an age of innocence and abundance, presided over by Cronos or Saturn. As described in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I.
    Eldest son of Priam, King of Troy, and hero of the Trojan War.
    Wife of Menelaus of Sparta, who was taken by Paris to be his consort, thereby precipitating the Trojan War. See Oenone.
    See Apollo.
    Hercules or Heracles
    The most famous of Greek heroes, who, among his other labors and achievements wrestled with the giant Antaeus, lifting him above the earth to defeat him since he was an earth giant, also known as Tellus and Gaia. When Hercules shot the Centaur Nessus for attempting to rape Hercules's wife Deianira, Nessus deceitfully persuaded her to smear some of his poisoned blood on a garment which she then gave to Hercules, causing fearful suffering.
    See Leander.
    See Daedalus.
    See Mercury.
    Goddess of the rainbow.
    Attempted to win the love of Juno (Hera), wife of Jupiter (Zeus), for which the king of the gods punished him by forming a cloud, Nephele, to resemble Juno. By this cloud Ixion fathered the Centaurs. For his crimes he was confined eternally to a wheel in the underworld.
    Juno (Hera)
    Wife and queen of Zeus (Jupiter). For her involvement in Jupiter's various affairs, see Argus, Ixion, and Mercury.
    45Jupiter (Zeus or Jove)
    King of the gods and wielder of the thunderbolt. The oak is his sacred tree. For his various amours, see Callisto, Danae, Ganymede, and Io. See also Phaethon, Pandora, and Baucis and Philemon.
    A youth of Abydos who swam the Hellespont to be with his beloved Hero and was drowned one night.
    The chaste wife of L. Tarquinius Collatinus, was ravished by Sextus Tarquinius and took her own life so that the dishonor of her lost chastity would not blemish her husband's name. The scandal led to the ousting of the Tarquins and the establishing of a republic in early Rome.
    Moon goddess. See Endymion and Phoebe.
    Son of Oeneus and Althaea, was saved from destruction at his birth when Althaea snatched a burning brand from the fire, it having been prophesied that he would live only so long as that brand was not consumed. Later, when he quarreled with his mother's brothers over his having given the boar's head of the hunt to Atalanta, she threw the brand in the fire and he died.
    50Mercury (Hermes)
    Messenger of the gods. When Jupiter (Zeus) fell in love with Io and turned her to a white heifer as a means of concealing the affair, Jupiter's wife Juno (Hera) found out, asked to be given the heifer, and jealously set the hundred-eyed herdsman Argus to keep watch over Io. Jupiter dispatched Mercury to lull Argus to sleep, kill him, and rescue Io. See also Pandora, and Baucis and Philemon.
    King of Phrygia, Midas wished that all that he touched might turn to gold, and was granted his unfortunate wish, so that even his meat turned to gold. On another occasion he unwisely judged a competition between Apollo and Pan in flute-playing, awarding the prize to Pan and being punished by Apollo by sprouting large ass's ears.
    Minerva (Pallas Athene)
    Goddess of wisdom, patron goddess of Athens and associated with the olive tree. See also Oenone for the Judgment of Paris, and Pandora.
    God of censure and mockery.
    The mother of Adonis, as the consequence of Myrrha's love affair with her own father. See Adonis.
    A beautiful youth who repulsed Echo when that nymph fell in love with him. Venus (Aphrodite) punished him by making him fall in love with his own reflection in the stream.
    See Hercules.
    An old and honored Greek general in the Trojan War.
    A nymph of Mount Ida whom Paris deserted when he was offered Helen for giving the prize to Venus (Aphrodite) in the Judgment of Paris among Venus, Juno (Hera), and Minerva (Athene). See Paris.
    Fashioned out of clay by Vulcan (Hephaestus) at the behest of Jupiter (Zeus) and given the breath of life by Minerva (Athene). The other gods added their gifts as well (hence "Pan-dora," all gifts); the gifts of Mercury (Hermes) were flattery and guile.
    See Fates.
    Son of Priam of Troy. When asked to judge the excellence of the three goddesses, Minerva (Athene), Juno (Hera), and Venus (Aphrodite), he awarded the prize to Venus and was given Helen of Sparta as his prize, thereby precipitating the Trojan War. See Oenone.
    Phaethon, or Phaeton
    Son of the sun-god Apollo (or Helios), drove his father's chariot and was unable to manage them, so that the earth was in danger of being burned up. Jupiter (Zeus) intervened and Phaethon fell to earth. Like Icarus, a common image of reckless aspiration.
    Sister of Procne, who was married to King Tereus of Thrace, who became enamored of Philomela, seduced her, and cut out her tongue so that she could not tell who ravished her. By way of revenge, Procne served their son Itys to Tereus in a meal. He was changed by the gods into a hoopoe, Philomela into a nightingale, and Procne into a swallow. Some accounts reverse the transformations of Philomela and Procne, but the Renaissance more generally thought of Philomela as the nightingale.
    See Endymion and Phoebe.
    Legendary bird of Arabia, thought to lived, only one at a time for 500 years, and then to have burned itself to ashes on a funeral pyre fire and then to have been regenerated for another cycle.
    See Demophoon.
    A Cyclops, in love with Galatea; see Galatea. Also a figure encountered by Ulysses (Odysseus) on his travels in the Odyssey, Book 9).
    King of Troy, father of Hector, Paris, and Troilus, among many others.
    See Philomela.
    70Pylades and Orestes
    Devoted friends, as told in Aeschylus's Oresteia.
    Born. c. 580 BC Pythagoras taught the doctrine of the transmigration of souls.
    Saturn (Cronos)
    See Golden Age.
    Fabulous creatures capable of drawing men to their deception by the power of their song, and hence a major temptation to Ulysses (Odysseus) and his men in the Odyssey, Book 12).
    Thought to have sung only once in its lifetime, at the approach of death.
    Divinity of the earth. See Hercules.
    See Philomela.
    Legendary King of Athens. When King Minos's daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus, she gave him a thread enabling him to find his way out of the famous labyrinth of Crete. He sailed away with her, but deserted her on the island of Naxos.
    See Aurora.
    Son of King Priam of Troy and lover of Cressida--an affair ending in inconstancy and separation.
    80Ulysses (Odysseus)
    Hero of Homer's Odyssey. See Circe, Polyphemus, and Sirens.
    Venus (Aphrodite)
    The goddess of love, mother of Love or Cupid, wife of the club-footed smith Vulcan, lover of Mars (Ares). She also fell in love with Adonis. She awarded Helen of Sparta to Paris when he chose her over Minerva (Athene) and Juno (Hera) in the Judgment of Paris. Her chariot was drawn by swans. Also associated with milk-white doves. See Adonis, Cupid, Mars, Oenone, Paris, and Vulcan.
    Vulcan (Hephaestus)
    The club-footed and cuckolded husband of Venus (Aphrodite). See Venus and Pandora.
    Famous painter (5th century BC), whose grapes were reportedly so real that the birds flew down to peck at his canvas. He also undertook, in preparation for a painting to be set up in the temple of Juno Lacinia in the city of the Agrigentines, to see all the maidens of the city naked, so that he could choose from among them the loveliest five to provide him, compositely, an image of incomparable female beauty.