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Mythical Language and Idiom: Crash Course World Mythology #41


Hey there, I’m Mike Rugnetta, this is Crash
Course Mythology and today … we behold our own apocalypse. Yes, it’s the end of our time together,
on this here earthly plane. Our journey together has surely been epic. And we could go on for months with more exciting
and uncomfortable stories of floods and incest, but alas – Thoth and I must retire to the
spiritual realm atop Mount Crashcourse. Throughout this series, we’ve examined myths
from around the world and across the centuries. We’ve met vomiting gods and responding dragons. We met Loki, who was the worst, and Freya! Who in my mind, is the best. Cat chariot! Battle swine! What a lady… Anyway… what ties all the stories we discussed
together is that they’re powerful. They’re meaningful enough to be preserved
and passed down through generations. And so, they can help us understand the world. They provide insight into how previous civilizations
made sense of their circumstances. Myths can hint at some of the deep structures
of our collective psyches and can even offer a glimpse into our own minds. And they’re the best place to go for good
reliable information about unicorns. ELEPHANTS FEET! I still can’t get over it. INTRO
Today, in our final episode, we examine another legacy of the most impactful myths: the way
they’ve seeped into the very language I’m speaking. We’re going to focus on Greek myths, because
those have had a profound effect on the English language. Though it is true we got a lot of good words
from Egyptian– behemoth, chemistry, PHARMACY! [[[Thoth acknowledges.]]] You’re welcome – credit where credits due. I mean, you did INVENT WRITING. Anyway – Listing every example of mythical
influence on English would be a … Herculean task … a phrase we know from our episode
on Herakles, which implies great difficulty and a requirement of great strength. And remember, Herakles took nine years to
complete his labors, so a Herculean task can also be one that requires incredible patience,
dedication, and effort. Speaking of tasks, maybe you’ve heard of
a Sisyphean one? This one’s named after Sisyphus, who we’ve
never discussed. So this is a perfect Thoughtbubble opportunity. Sisyphus is king of Ephyra, and he’s known
as the craftiest of all men. Crafty as in sneaky, though, not like… scrapbooking. And Sisyphus isn’t just crafty, he’s also
ruthless. He invites visitors to his kingdom and then
murders them. He even plans to kill his own brother, Salmoneus,
by marrying Salmoneus’s daughter Tyro and making her bear a son who will kill his grandad. Talk about a long con! Jeez. So – in some versions of Sisyphus’ story,
he angers Zeus by claiming to be craftier than the Father of Gods himself. In another version, Sisyphus tells the river
Asopus that Zeus is having an affair with his daughter, the nymph Aegina[a]. Every version of Sisyphus’ story has the
doomed king angering one god or another. In some stories he chains up Thanatos, the
god of death, so that no one can die. In other stories he tricks Persephone into
letting him escape the underworld by convincing her that he wasn’t buried properly. This guy does not know when to quit. Once he’s finally in Hades for keepsies,
Sisyphus’ punishment is that he’s forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill in the underworld. Just as he’s about to get it to the top
of the hill, it rolls back down and he has to start all over again. Up the hill. Down the hill. Forever. And that’s why today we use the term “Sisyphean
task” to mean anything both pointless AND endless. Thanks Thoughtbubble. We can also find a whole trove of linguistic
references by turning to the Iliad and the Odyssey, two of Greek mythology’s all-time
greats. In fact, the word “odyssey” is one itself! You might know that AN odyssey can mean any
long, meandering journey. You have the protagonist of THE Odyssey – Odysseus
– to thank for that particular turn of phrase, although in Greek his name means trouble,
not travel. Though, given how often my flights are delayed:
I BUY IT. Because Odysseus’ Odyssey is such a difficult
journey with so many elements, it gives us a bunch of great ways to describe overcoming
obstacles. Something’s siren song, for instance, describes
its hard-to-resist temptation — the siren song of that fifth brownie with lunch. But in the Odyssey this comes from Sirens,
beautiful women who are actually scary half-bird monsters. Living out at sea, the Sirens have an irresistible
song that lures sailors to their death. Odysseus is warned about this whole situation
by the beautiful witch Circe. But he decides he just has to hear this song. I get it – no one wants to be out of the loop
on the hot summer jam. So while his men plug up their ears with wax
and steer the ship, he gets tied to the mast. They sail past the Sirens, and Odysseus can’t
do anything but struggle in vain as his head is filled with the magical song. And so today, if you tell someone you’re
tying yourself to the mast – it means you see trouble on the horizon, and you’re taking
steps to protect yourself from doing something you’re gonna regret. Like having a sixth brownie for lunch. There’s one more phrase from the Odyssey
that’s worth mentioning, and that’s being caught between Scylla[b] and Charybdis[c],
which is, I promise, a thing that people say. It’s a much less common version of saying
you’re stuck, “between a rock and a hard place,” except in this situation, it’s
a weird octopus thing and a whirlpool. This is another close shave for Odysseus – because
his route goes directly between these two beasties. Scylla is a sea monster that began her life
as a beautiful girl, but was transformed into a hideous monster with six heads on long necks,
lots of tentacles, and a waist ringed with dog’s heads. And just across the narrow strait, less than
an arrow’s shot away? Is Charybdis. Charybdis, didn’t start life out as a young
girl. Charybdis is pretty much just a giant whirlpool-mouth-monster
thing. And all Charybdis does is deliver entire ships
to their doom. So Odysseus gets the heads up from Circe,
who says just sail closer to Scylla. NO BIG DEAL. She’s gonna lean over and she’s gonna
gobble up six of your men — one for each head — but c’mon isn’t that better than
losing the whole ship? Odysseus follows her advice, loses six men,
but lives to finish his journey. And so a Scylla and Charybdis isn’t just
about having to make a tough decision — it’s knowing that one decision might be right,
even if it costs ya. The Iliad, which is primarily the story of
The Trojan War, also gives us a few turns of phrase. At the very start of the Iliad, Paris, the
younger son of Trojan king Priam[d], is asked to choose which goddess is the most beautiful:
Athena, Hera, or Aphrodite. He chooses Aphrodite because she promises
him the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen of Troy. But Helen is already married to the Greek
king Menelaus[e]. Epicly long story short: Paris steals Helen,
or Helen runs away with Paris (depending on your version). To get Helen back, the Greeks launch some
ships–a thousand, let say–and invade Troy. Boom: Trojan war. Helen becomes a symbol for unsurpassed beauty
– a face that launched a thousand ships – the type that makes men stupid, although
I suppose it’s possible Paris wasn’t so bright from the get-go. The Trojan War to get Helen back goes on for
ten years, nine of which are pretty boring but eventually we get to The Trojan Horse. For years the Greeks have been unable to break
the walls of Troy, so one day they roll a huge wooden horse up to the gates, and leave
it as a “gift”. Eventually, the Trojans wheel the big horse
inside. When night falls the super secret hidden Greek
soldiers INSIDE the horse burst out, do some stabbing and open the gates. A Trojan horse is now shorthand for a backstab
in the form of a gift. Fun fact: As of recently it was proposed the
Trojan Horse may have been… REAL! Except it was a SHIP, left in front of A SEA
GATE! And speaking of great downfalls! We also get a phrase from Achilles – one
of the great heroes of the Trojan war. When he was a baby, his mother, Thetis[f],
took him to the river Styx, held him by the heel, and dipped him in the magical waters. The contact with the Styx water made Achilles
practically invincible. No one could hurt him in combat. That is, except for the one place on his heel,
where his mother held him. It’s precisely this weak point that Paris
takes advantage of, with a single shot of an arrow at Achilles’ heel, killing the
stalwart Greek hero. This is why “Achilles heel” can refer
to anyone’s area of vulnerability, often one that’s SECRET, despite their seeming
resilience. Let’s be honest though, you’re more likely
to reference the timeless myth of Kal-el, and call this your Kryptonite. When you start looking, there’re almost
too many myth-inspired phrases to mention. Take “the Midas touch.” This, of course is from the tale of king Midas,
who wishes for everything he touches to turn to gold. He gets his wish only to to discover that
gold food isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And this is kind of ironic, because we tend
to use the phrase “the Midas touch” to refer to people who have success in every
endeavor. Apparently most people only remember the first
part of the story and forget the part about accidentally turning your daughter into precious
metal and then almost starving to death. An even more common term is narcissism. This comes from the story of Narcissus, who
was so beautiful that he fell in love with his own reflection in the water and drowned. Now, we use narcissism to mean pathological
self-involvement. Oh, also! Before he drowns, he’s so busy loving himself
that he spurns the affection of the nymph … Echo, who is cursed by Juno to speak only
by repeating the words of others. We could go for days with mythological metaphor,
idiom and turns of phrase that’ve found their way into English! Adonises, gordian knots, leaving no stone
unturned, being MERCURIAL, having a NEMESIS, or even… a phobia… and tons more. These stories have impacted the very language
we use, and the ways we understand each other, and much of our culture. At the beginning of the series we established
a definition of myths, saying that they’re meaningful stories with staying power, stories
told for generations. Explaining the mythological origins of common
words and phrases shines a light on how deeply ingrained they’ve become in our culture. They’re a reminder of how myths, even ones
from millennia ago, remain with us. You, me, Thoth, we’ve been through a lot
together. We’ve watched sky dad and earth mom fight,
we’ve seen worlds begin and end, we’ve seen Loki be the worst, and witnessed just…
an UNBELIEVABLE amount of weeding. Tigers were ridden, gorgons were defeated,
coyote had some diarrhea. Hey, it happens. We hope you had a good time, learned a thing
or two–about how and why we tell stories, where we find meaning in the world, and why
we seek to create it. Thoth and I are more than proud to have be
your guides on such an awesome journey – Now, before we make our way to that bit of
the Elysian Fields reserved for Crash Course hosts, we want to leave you with a question. What stories of today will become myths tomorrow? We often think of myths as ancient, but … a
story told over a dozen generations… has to start somewhere. In a hundred or a thousand years some tales
we’re telling right now may provide our descendents with heroes, tricksters, maybe
even a few monsters. Let’s just hope whatever they are – they
inspire more beauty than battle, more camaraderie than conflict. From me, Thoth and the rest of the Crash Course
Myth team: See you soon. So long, and thanks for all the myths. Crash Course Mythology is filmed in the Chad
and Stacey Emigholz studio in Indianapolis, IN, and is produced with the help of all these
nice people. Our animation team is Thought Café. Crash Course exists thanks to the generous
support of our patrons at Patreon. Patreon is a voluntary subscription service
where you can support the content you love through a monthly donation, and help keep
Crash Course free, for everyone, forever. Thanks for watching, and now that shows over,
time to throw a bacchanal! Abrosia for all! Except ambrosia is tater tot pizza. || JUST KIDDING I’M NOT SPENDING ETERITY
IN THE ELYSIAN FIELDS – I’m returning soon in Crash Course Theatre and Dramaturgy! [a]aye-JIE-nuh https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twFoMOyb8NI
[b]sillah [c]kar-IHB-deece https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmedfkhs2ms
[d]PRY-em https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Priam
[e]https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Menelaus [f]THEH-tiss https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thetis

42 Replies to “Mythical Language and Idiom: Crash Course World Mythology #41”

  • As a response to Mike's question, "Earthling Cinema" seems like a good look as to what future races will assume to be our legends.

  • Thank you so much! My favourite crash course ever! You are excellent at telling myths and in such a clear way! I learnt A LOT! Aaa pls give us a part 2! im gonna miss this course so much xoxo!

  • Americans are really good at turning their own history into myth. Washington crossing the Delaware and chopping down a cherry tree. One if by land two if by sea. "Honest Abe" the list goes on and on. Just like the Romans, we really love a good foundation myth.

  • What about Judeo-Christian idioms such as:
    The Ten Commandments
    Bearing your cross
    The Forbidden Fruit
    Separating sheep from goats
    Thirty Pieces of Silver
    A David and Goliath situation
    Jesus Christ!

  • Future Characters for myths:
    Indiana Jones
    Luke Skywalker
    Ellen Ripley
    Charles Foster Lane
    Frodo
    Spock
    Sherlock Holmes
    Doctor Who
    Aslan
    The Terminator

  • I have enjoyed watching these videos with all the energy and enthusiasm Mike had. Dude thanks for making this =)

  • Also we named a part of the body after Achillies its the tendon in that area, among the most vunreable in the body

  • I have learned Gilgamesh is Nimrod the first world leader at the tower of Babel, Now the Book of Revelation says the first anticrist – Nimrod – will be the last antichrist – George H W Bush invaded Iraq when they found Nimrods body preserved in gold solution, they cut off his head and is now owned by the Vatican . Cern has his digital DNA and they will clone Niimrod , his consciousness is held in the black stone in Mecca . it will be recalled and joined with his cloned body

  • The only person who I think will become a myth in a 1000 years time is Hitler. A man who symbolises pure evil by wanting to kill people for the way they look. A king so horrible to his own people that foreigners come from all walks of life to defeat him. I can see Hitler becoming a myth.

    The only story I think that will become a myth in a 1000 year story is Lord of the Rings. The story of a small creature so utterly mundane as to be the only one who can save the world.

  • thanks for this! i've more or less binge-watched these. would've loved soooo much much but THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! be well. tjh

  • Sisyphus: Long-term scheming, cons everyone, clever, pisses off the Gods, cages Death itself. I think this guy might be my hero.

  • If I had to suffer forever and was allowed to choose between the labor of Sisyphus and The torment of Tantalus…I'd take the giant rock.

  • Mr. Burns; A Post-Electric Play is a really unique take on your final question. Essentially, all the power goes out and a group of people gather around and try to recount the Cape Feare episode of the Simpsons. Years go by, and troupes of performers are in a trade war to recount all these lost episodes of various television shows. Even more years go by, and this Cape Feare has essentially become Greek Theater, with singing, masks, and finally – a person on a bike generating the electricity for the show.

  • In 2018, I graduated with my degree in finance at the top 3% of my class with a 3.96 GPA and 5 honors societies. I've been unemployed ever since (1 yr, 3 mo at current count), and gotten rejected everywhere from Wawa (a local convenience store) to Wall Street.

    I kept explaining to job placement agencies how hopeless and endless unemployment feels, since having a job is binary (you either have one or you don't). I will now refer to it as a Sisyphean Task instead.

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