The Original Myth: Greek Mythology Meets American History. A Creative Writing Assignment Incorporating US History. Mythology is alive in Virginia Beach, VA.
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The Original Myth: Greek Mythology Meets American History
A Creative Writing Assignment Incorporating US History
Perhaps you are the student who would ask your teacher, “Why do we have to study mythology? What possible relevance could this have on my life? It is literally thousands of years since anyone actually believed in these fantastic beings, and we are nowhere near the Mediterranean Sea, Greece, or Rome!”
I present to you the most prominent symbol of Virginia Beach, VA, which the over two million visitors to our Oceanfront’s boardwalk gaze upon, admire, and photograph each day – a bronze statue of King Neptune on 31st & Atlantic Ave… There you go!
If the only thing you gained from your studies of Greek Mythology was the entertainment value of the stories – that would be enough.
In addition, however, you gain insights into literary allusions and metaphors which will benefit your understanding of contemporary literature more than any singular topic – with the exception of The Holy Bible. (As a source of literary allusions, the Bible is sort of the standard setter in Western Literature!)
Moreover, mythology is fertile ground for making comparisons to current events, historical events, and the important figures who have influenced – and continue to influence – history.
Mythology can definitely help us to interpret history! I wouldn’t recommend making comparisons between historical personalities and mythological figures as a full time profession. However, our understanding of mythology can help us to understand historical figures. Consider this political cartoon, featuring President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was well known for his opposition to “trusts” - the “monsters” of their day? Trusts were illegal business combinations which decreased competition and hurt American consumers. Here, he is shown strangling two well-known business owners (er… serpents?) – John D. Rockefeller (right) and James Pierpont Morgan (left). Teddy Roosevelt was considered a hero for breaking up the Standard Oil Trust. Which character was he compared to in this political cartoon?
To which mythological story does this political cartoon make an allusion? Theodore Roosevelt is facing off against a many headed monster in this editorial from the 1900s. Its tail reads “US Senate” and each of the faces is that of an elected Senator in the United States Congress who opposed Roosevelt’s anti-trust legislation. Roosevelt is being compared to Hercules, of course. How did many Americans view TR ? How must they have felt about his anti-trust legislation if he was portrayed as a Herculean character in political cartoons like the one to the right? Does anyone think Americans actually believed Theodore Roosevelt was the son of a god? Not likely, right? But he was admired, and we can appreciate the allusion – even over 100 years later.
One of the keys to writing fiction – and part of the enjoyment of reading good fiction – is the suspension of disbelief. We all know that what we are reading (or writing) cannot really happen. We are “suspending disbelief” when we go along with a fantastic storyline.
For example, we all know that Percy Jackson is not really the half-blooded son of a Greek god. We know that Camp Half-Blood cannot really exist. But we are willing to go along with this pretense – because we want to enjoy the story! And we can learn something from the story – not history, mind you– but something!
To write an excellent original myth which incorporates American History, you have to be creative, suspend disbelief, and make connections between characters (some historical and some mythical) which obviously could never really take place. Many of the themes present in Greek Mythology – hubris, metamorphosis and change over time, and the explication of natural phenomena – are pertinent to American History as well!
And even stories which do not have any relationship to Greek mythology at all are often tied into historical eras in a way that influences the narrative. Historical fiction – a fictional story that pays homage to a particular portion of history by making historically accurate references and defining its characters’ traits accordingly – is a great way to increase your understanding of history and empathize with historical figures. ( As long as it is well written… Unfortunately, not all of it is – see “The Patriot”.)
The novels which follow are all considered such fine examples of historical fiction, that they are required reading for scholars of history.
Upton Sinclair’s most famous novel, The Jungle, is about a family of Lithuanian immigrants who came to the United States during the 1880s and settled in the Packingtown region of Chicago. The novel describes the difficult living conditions in the city, the difficulties and dangers of working in the meatpacking industry – a filthy business then – and the toll of alcoholism on families. Although none of the characters in the novel are real, Sinclair’s work accurately portrayed the difficulties of immigration and the horrors of the meatpacking industry. In fact, two laws – the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act – were passed by Congress after President Roosevelt read the book and was horrified by Sinclair’s description of the meatpacking plants in Chicago.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby is considered by many literary critics to be the greatest novel ever written by an American author. (Your Social Studies teacher does not concur.) The story of the emptiness in the lives of the very wealthy and the lack of purpose or meaning in American society during the wild years of the 1920s, however, resonated with the men and women who lived through the age, and accurately portrays that segment of American society – at that moment in time.
John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, chronicles a family of emigrants – the Joads - as they escaped the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. While the story is entirely fictional, it was representative of the lives of tens of thousands of so called “Okies” who escaped the environmental catastrophe on the Southern Plains during the 1930s. Many, like the Joads, moved west along Route 66 to California. Steinbeck’s novel accurately portrays the struggles these families endured.
Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. While the events in Spain leading up to Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s takeover of that nation are not expressly related in the book, the turmoil of the period serves as a background for the narrative. Hemingway’s knowledge of the period provides an informed view of the historical epoch in Spain.
The Crucible is historical fiction at its very finest – and an allegory, to boot. Master playwright Arthur Miller’s 1952 play, which is ostensibly an account of the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s, was used as a forum to criticize the contemporary “witch hunts” Americans experienced at the height of the Red Scare. In that time period, men like Senator Joseph McCarthy, a pathetic drunkard who made reckless and slanderous charges of “communist sympathies” against Americans in every field (including the military!) – were damaging reputations and ruining lives. In this sense, he was a much less lethal version of the children who doomed men and women to die (one person was pressed to death with heavy stones, eighteen others were hanged) with their accusations of witchcraft during the 1690s.
The novel Number the Stars is a fictional account of a family’s experiences in Nazi-controlled Denmark during World War II. By addressing a very difficult topic of the Holocaust in a novel targeting teenage readers, the author conveys a strong message – and provides historically accurate information to her readers – about the genocide carried out against Jewish people and other groups during World War II. Other novels, including The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, or the more literary Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, all speak to the tragedy of the Holocaust through fictional novels.
Historical novels are also a forum for people to express their own unique views – their interpretation of history. African-American authors like Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) – a Harlem Renaissance novelist – Richard Wright (Native Son), Ralph Waldo Ellison (Invisible Man), James Baldwin (The Fire Next Time, Go Tell it on the Mountain) and Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon, A Mercy) have written historical fiction which stays true to the chronology and experiences of a particular period in history, while expressing their own personal perspectives on both history and the nature of the human experience.
This may seem like an odd assignment at first. And let’s be fair, there are a lot of ways this could go wrong… But the thoughtful and creative student will be able to make connections between characters which serve to demonstrate his or her knowledge of both mythology and American history.
Consider all of the possibilities which our brainstorming sessions produce, and try to force connections when necessary in order to produce a quality myth. The fact is that there are many figures in American History who we can draw parallels to in mythology. And, there are just as many who might have been singled out for punishment – vengeful punishment! – had there been a Greek god or goddess bandying about during the course of their lifetimes! Be creative in your stories, and remember that characters can relate to one another in a variety of different ways – cooperation and conflict being the two ends of the spectrum.
Obviously, comparing actual historical figures with mythological gods, goddesses, and immortal beings is not an exact science. But if you apply your knowledge of mythology and your knowledge of history to this project in a creative way, you should be able to demonstrate what you have learned about both fields as you compose your original myths!
What follows in this presentation are some possible courses for you to consider. While not every mythological figure in Greek mythology corresponds to a person or event in United States history, a great many do. Be creative and open to possibilities.
Presidents, especially powerful ones like Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, or Franklin Roosevelt might compare to Zeus. Anytime political leaders use their power arbitrarily, they are Zeus-like!
When powerful weather events influence history – particularly if related to rain, floods, or lightening bolts, Zeus may enter the story.
Remember that Zeus can at times be fooled by others – he’s very powerful, but not all knowing. And also recall that the Fates have powers over him - even as the Supreme Ruler of the world. Accepting fate is critical in myths.
Many stories would lend themselves to the influence of Zeus, who was known for his arbitrary rulings and his scandalous behavior at times!
Hera is the jealous and sometimes irrational wife of Zeus. She is especially mean-spirited to those who have been unfaithful!
Should your story require an female spirit to henpeck and torment an unfaithful soul, she’s your Goddess!
Several women have stormy relations with their husbands which might merit her entrance into a story – Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln and Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt come immediately to mind.
You might also consider prohibitionist Carry Nation as a protector of marriage. She sought to outlaw alcohol to protect the family – and prevent alcoholic husbands from being abusive to their loved ones. (She also shares the somewhat irrational streak!)
Anything even vaguely tied to the sea is the stuff of Poseidon: the Spanish-American War is fertile ground, as is the convoy system and naval battles of World War I and World War II. (D-Day, for example.)
Poseidon can carry a grudge for a long, long time – see Odysseus – and is powerful.
He is also associated with horses – he was carried along the sea by a chariot of horses in mythology. So, he can be linked to any of the famed cavalry units of the West or to famous travelers, mail carriers, messengers, or wagon trains.
Percy Jackson fans will assuredly relate.
Hades was the God of the Underworld, but also the God of Wealth – his kingdom included the underground minerals – gold, silver, copper, and iron.
Obviously, any character or characters from American History who suffered untimely deaths could be brought into a myth involving Hades. But don’t neglect his role as the God of Wealth – the mining communities of the West – Sutter’s Mill (Placerville), the Comstock Lode (Virginia City, NV), or any number of others.
Athena is the Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Civilization.
In our studies of American History to date, “The Frontier” has played a prominent role. Americans, of course, believed that they brought “civilization” to the West as the frontier advanced. They believed that by forcing Native Americans to end their nomadic lifestyles and settle on reservations, they were advancing civilization.
Any war – the Spanish-American, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Korea, or Vietnam – might involve Athena in her role as a warrior goddess. Consider Rosie “the Riveter.” This fictional character was a symbol of the American working woman – the backbone of the United States war production effort!
And finally, any scientist – Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, or Charles Drew, who perfected the techniques used in blood transfusions. Anyone who cures a disease or saves humanity from harmwould be right up Athena’s alley!
There are endless examples of progressive Americans who believed that their role was to improve the nation by exposing its shortcomings and correcting them. Muckraking journalists like Jacob Riis, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Nellie Bly, or Ida B. Wells-Barnett each had their own particular crusades in this regard.
And of course, US History has had its share of liars, as well – those who might draw the wrath of a god like Apollo! Consider the Reconstructed South, on the issue of suffrage. Or, like about other notable historical liars: Hitler, Stalin, (and not nearly as sinister, Richard Nixon.)
Hunting, of course, has played an important part in United States history. Settlers relied upon hunting to supplement their diets. Think of all the possibilities:
Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.
Settlers moving to the West.
The Slaughter of the Buffalo on the Great Plains – which might have offended the gods.
Native American tribes who ventured off the reservation – Sitting Bull; Chief Joseph; or the Prophet Wovoka might all have sought out a god like Artemis to forge an alliance.
Not all of the most important women in history have been known for their breathtaking appearance. But don’t think for a moment that love and beauty influenced the world any less historically than they do right now, as your little heart goes pitter pat over some 12-year old sweetheart in our midst. The Flappers of the 1920s – who challenged gender roles and celebrated their beauty immodestly – changed the role of women in society. Image then, how introducing Aphrodite – the goddess of love and beauty – to a situation might have changed everything! What if Custer had fallen in love with Sitting Bull’s niece before the Battle of Little Bighorn! What if Andrew Carnegie had fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of one of his striking employees at the Homestead Plant? There are examples of women who attempted to use their melodic voices and good looks to inspire men to good and evil! Consider Tokyo Rose (evil?!) or the women of the USO (good!).
The number of times that history has turned on the delivery of a message is frightening indeed. Consider the War of 1812 – which was over long before Andrew Jackson and his men got the message at the Battle of New Orleans. Or, consider the messages which have been intercepted and read by eyes they weren’t meant for – the battle plans for Antietam from Robert E. Lee, the Zimmermann Telegram, or the broken Enigma Code just to name a few. Consider the inventors of the telephone (Bell), telegraph (Morse), or the founders of the first mass media newspapers (Pulitzer, Hearst.) Could a thieving cattle rustler call upon Hermes for aid? Or Jesse James, the robber of trains and railroads? Hermes might easily be introduced into any of these scenarios! Remember, he is a bit of a thief, an imp, and for the musicians in the group, the inventor of the lyre.
United States history is often portrayed as an all inclusive catalog of wars, so bringing Ares into an original myth with a character from US History offers a wealth of possibilities: William Tecumseh Sherman during the Civil War; General George Armstrong Custer or Nelson Miles during the Indian Wars; Roosevelt and the Roughriders during the Spanish American War; African-American soldiers in the Plains Wars or World War I; US soldiers, generals, or politicians during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, or Vietnam – the list goes on and on.
As the forger, and as the only handicapped god of Mt. Olympus, Hephaestus offers a variety of possibilities for our consideration. First of all consider the importance of steel to our nation’s industrialization – mining, the “Bessemer Process,” Andrew Carnegies US Steel Corporation, the grown of the railways, the building of skyscrapers, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even an ironclad navy. Wow! You could also make some careful comparisons between Hephaestus – a powerful handicapped God – and some of the most powerful handicapped leaders in US History – consider FDR, President Woodrow Wilson after his crippling stroke in 1919, Helen Keller, or the famed “yellow journalist” Joseph Pulitzer just to name a few.
The goddess of the hearth, of course plays a special role in domestic affairs – the heating and cooking which takes place in the home. How might she have reacted to the sod houses of the Great Plains, fueled by buffalo chips? Yikes!
Consider how Hestia might have related to women who challenged traditional roles during the 1920s – “flappers.” How might she have viewed the electrification of America. How might she relate to some of the women who devoted themselves to the providing for others – like a Jane Addams, Clara Barton, or even Carrie Nation? How might she have reacted to the owners or corporations who paid their employees to little to keep the fire burning in their homes?
The great and almost invulnerable hero of the Trojan War, who died as a result of a small wound upon his heel – the only portion of his body which was susceptible. Perceptions of invincibility have haunted many historical figures, both animate and inanimate. Consider the Standard Oil Trust, or the Titanic. Tragedy befalling those who perceived themselves as invincible took place in the American West – Custer’s Last Stand. Or, in a more global sense, the invincible armies of the Nazi Wehrmacht – which was crushed by the Soviet winter; the overwhelming force of the United States military – which met its match in Vietnam; or the brute military strength of the Soviet Union, whose sputtering and failed economy was it downfall.
The story of Arachne is one of pride and tragedy. But the loss of life due to devotion to weaving is not unparalleled in United States History. Consider the textile industry of New England, starting with Lowell Mills in Massachusetts during the 1820s. Women of the garment industry organized under Mother Jones to protest their treatment at the hands of powerful industrialists.
Indeed, some women died weaving - the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 was a particularly horrifying incident which martyred hundreds of women – and resulted in changes to the law – allowing the spirits of these women to live on in some way?
Atalanta was an orphaned child, raised by bears, and a goddess of the hunt.
One might be able to relate her to any of the stories which involve American settlers surviving off of the land (the Corps of Discovery, the Oregon Trail, or the Mormon expedition), or to the Buffalo Slaughter which took place in the late 1800s as Americans sought to put Native Americans onto reservations.
As an orphaned child herself, we might presume that she would have a unique relationship with orphaned children – like those in How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis.
Comparisons might also be made with any of the independent women of the late 1800s and early 1900s who believed that women could and perhaps should live independent of men – Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Eleanor Roosevelt, just to start a long list!
Holding up the weight of the world – metaphorically! How many US president have felt like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders? George Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Lyndon Johnson…. The list goes on and on. Atlas is a bit of a one trick pony, yet, symbolically, there are a variety of ways to consider his story. Think about the individuals and groups of people who are absolutely essential to the preservation of life as we know it. Soldiers, the labor force, and farmers, for example, who we don’t think about on a daily basis, but who we rely upon constantly. Consider the role of technology in our lives. Without these people and structures, we simply could not lead the happy lives we do. Think of a storyline where a person or a group of people might be destined to serve mankind, but never be truly appreciated.
Love, of course, but love can be fleeting! How might history have changed if an interloper like Cupid had been introduced to the narrative? Imaging the consequences if General Nelson Miles of the US Army had fallen in love with Chief Joseph’s daughter? What if George Pullman had fallen in love with one of the women living in his “company town” during the Pullman Strike of 1894? Or if Leland Stanford’s daughter, partial owner of the Central Pacific Railroad, had fallen in love with one of the Chinese laborers who worked for her father? What mischief might Cupid make! Could a love affair between an American soldier and a citizen of the Philippines have prevented the conquest of those islands after the Spanish-American War? Could Cupid’s arrows have started a war in US History, as Helen of Troy was blamed for starting the Trojan War?
Or, consider writing about the history of St. Valentine’s Day! The story isn’t all that American, really, until the Hallmark Company adopted it and flower salesmen saw the potential for windfall profits!
One eyed monstrosities, the Cyclops were. Could they be compared to corporations? Single purposed – to make money – and highly capable of accomplishing certain missions. But at the same time, capable of doing enormous harm. Consider monopolies like the Standard Oil Trust, the US Steel Corporation, Armour Meats, or the various railroads which dictated terms to farmers and businessmen. Might these companies, like Polyphemus, be defeated. Who would play the role of Odysseus in such a story?
Given the extremely important role of farmers to the success of the United States of America over the years, it doesn’t seem to much to bring Demeter into a myth. Of course, the Great Plains have been a source of prosperity for farmers over the years, but there have been years when crops failed? Could we explain this through an original myth? Might Demeter find an enemy in the railroad company, or care to weigh in on the longstanding dispute between farmers and railroads? How about the dispute between farmers and ranchers? What might Demeter think of the migrant workers, or “Okies,” forced to endure substandard conditions to harvest crops during the Depression, or the conditions Mexican-Americans were forced to put up with as Caesar Chavez organized the American Farm Workers Union during the 1960s? Would she have sympathized with the “Exodusters” who migrated to the Great Plains during the Reconstruction years? The characters may not all be famous, but through research, you may find some representative figures to introduce to your myths.
Americans relationship with alcohol is a long and complicated one indeed. And Dionysus, as the god of wine, was a fickle and temperamental character. Crusaders like Carry Nation or members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement or Anti-Saloon League would most likely not have gotten along with Dionysus. Prohibitionist and reformers who supported the 18th Amendment would likely have found him objectionable, too, even drawn his wrath. But what about bootleggers, rumrunners, moonshiners, and gangsters like Al Capone. Politicians who supported Prohibition, or “Drys” and those who opposed it, “Wets?” There are many directions to go with this topic as well.
Punished by Hera for her cheerful chattiness, Echo was doomed to repeat the words of others by the vengeful and arbitrary Hera. This made it impossible for her to express her love for Narcissus. Stories of unrequited love would fit her well. How could Echo use men and women’s words to change history? Could the words of Abraham Lincoln, repeated to the right person at the right time, change the course of history? Or, think about the famous battle cries in American History, like “Remember the Maine!” or the World War I motto, “Freedom of the Seas.” Could Echo find a useful role as the articulator of a battle cry? Or help to create a policy? “Speak softly, and carry a big stick!,” for example, the catch line for he Roosevelt Corollary?
The Furies are the cruel deliverers of fate – and remind us that we are not always in control over our destinies. Consider any of the assassinated presidents as a potential character – Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, come to mine. Or even FDR – who was stricken by polio and died in office of a stroke. Wilson, although he did not die in office, was similarly stricken.
The goddess of the Night might have found Thomas Alva Edison objectionable! The electrification of the United States was a continuing theme throughout US History from the 1870s until the Great Depression when groups like the Rural Electrification Administration pushed to link every dwelling in the nation to a source of energy. There have also been some unique instances in history when Hecate might have been called upon – blackouts of the coastline during the Great Wars of the 20th Century, for example. We can easily expand this dreaded goddess’ role by interpreting her role as goddess “when the world is wrapped in darkness” more symbolically as when evil or death stalks the Earth – times of pestilence, disease, or warfare. This would open up dozens of potential narratives.
Hector is one of the many warrior heroes chronicled in Greek Mythology. He killed Achilles. Figures from American History who might be introduced into a story with Hector might include war heroes like John Pershing, Eisenhower, MacArthur, or any of the Civil War heroes you covered in the sixth grade – Grant or Sherman for example.
Helen of Troy is what all the fighting was about! So consider the causes of the wars we study. In the Spanish American War, Cuba is often represented as a mistreated woman in political cartoons! During the annexation of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani was “kidnapped” by a group of American planters. The Great War, or World War I, began after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his beautiful wife, Sophie.
Men fought for Helen during the Trojan War. Were American soldiers or our enemies fighting for women in these 19th Century wars?
Who were the women men fought for during the Great Wars of the 20th Century? Propaganda posters often showed “the Hun” violating or brutalizing women during World War I. In World War II, similar posters were printed about the Nazis. The USO sent beautiful women to entertain and inspire the troops during World War II. How might these women benefit from Helen’s advice if they truly sought to inspire men to fight?
What sort of advice do you think Helen might give to the political and military leaders who led the United States into war? Could she have inspired the creators of propaganda posters during these wars? What advice might she give these men and women?
Helios is the “Sun God” and has a special association with horses – which dragged the sun across the arc of the sky. Any groups on horseback – buffalo soldiers, the 7th Cavalry, or the Roughriders might qualify. His association with light and the sun might inspire a story about Edison and the light bulb – or, alternately, a story about how the sun failed to shine or a prolonged period – as during the Dust Bowl.
The strong, action-seeking hero Hercules draws obvious comparisons to the American military heroes of our national heritage – Grant, Pershing, Eisenhower, or MacArthur. But he is also a “dragon slayer” sort of a character – something akin to St. George or David defeating Goliath. So comparisons to brave individuals taking on powerful evil forces are also appropriate. We have already considered TR and his antitrust legislation. Muckrakers who took on major social problems in the United States could also use Hercules influence. Perhaps there are characters who have been too passive in history, and would benefit from Hercules advice, too! A little encouragement to enter into the fray! Woodrow Wilson and FDR come to mind – and the American people, too!
Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, of course, is an epic tale of heroism – although Jason himself commits a handful of treacherous acts along the way. The types of American heroes who might be compared to Jason are limitless – what have men done in pursuit of gold? Just from a literal standpoint, all of the gold seekers, miners, and prospectors might be considered. Throw in a few shipwreck survivors – say the USS Maine? The Titanic? The Lusitania? Hmmm. There are possibilities allies and friends to Jason in some of the great sea-going American heroes: Douglas MacArthur, Commodore George Dewey, or perhaps as an advisor to the more studious Alfred Thayer Mahan.
Medusa was one of the three Gorgons – the only one who was mortal, and the one which Perseus slayed. She could turn a man to stone with her gaze. In terms of her role in mythology, she is simply a monster – a deadly, hateful monster, and a deserving victim of Perseus (although she hadn’t really sought him out, or done anything to him in particular!)
Medusa might be compared to a deadly weapon – one you might regret having used if you were the one who summoned her – like poison gas in World War I or the atomic bomb in the World War II. (Both weapons which soon endangered their inventors!) Be careful what you wish for! You may get it!
Since she really is little more than an evil and deadly monster, we might also choose to compare her to assassins in American history. Consider some of the more hideous murders our nation has ever known: John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, or Charles Guiteau.
The Midas touch as its drawbacks – the king was given a gift which allowed him to make enormous profits, but he could no longer touch the people that he loved. Consider a story which might parallel Midas’ – that of a hard working businessmen like Andrew Carnegie who acquired so much wealth that he found it difficult to sympathize with the common man. Indeed, he had a hard time even finding a wife – and didn’t marry until his overbearing mother passed away! You might also consider any of the other robber baron who earned great wealth, but lost touch with the common men – Jay Gould, James Hill, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, or J.P. Morgan might also qualify!
As the inspiration for the arts and music, the Muses might interact with any of the great musicians, artists, or writers we study – including George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong. Members of important literary movements like the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, or Paul Robeson) or the Lost Generation (John Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis) might also have been touched by these gods – even the muckrakers may have found inspiration (Jacob Riis or Upton Sinclair in particular!)
Famous for his clever Trojan Horse heist and as the hero of the Odysseus which chronicles his dramatic ten year return home from war, Odysseus might draw comparisons – or have advice for – the American soldier. He is suited for a storyline involving long and dangerous conflict – the Indian Wars, the US occupation of the Philippine Islands, World War II, or Korea. He would also be a great naval leader’s ally – commanding Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet perhaps in it’s circumnavigation of the world? Since his principle goal after the Trojan War was to return home to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus, he seems to have much in common with American soldiers – yet, he tempts fate! See the story of the Sirens as an example. There are so many periods in history he might intervene during, listing historical figures could go on for a while – Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery; Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce or Sitting Bull of the Lakota Sioux; Custer or Nelson Miles; Governor of the Philippines William Taft; Eisenhower or MacArthur; any of the Presidents in the aforementioned conflicts.
The god of wild places – part man and part billy-goat – Pan was both a musician and a merry-maker. So many Americans ventured into the “wild” during the 19th Century, that Pan could easily play a role in an myth on the Western Frontier. Consider the buffalo soldiers, Native American tribes, or the railroads, progressing steadily into the unsettled west. He could certainly be associated with cattle drives, and the boomtowns at the end of the trail, where music and merrymaking went hand in hand. Pan is also associated with “panic” – a condition which his fearful antics might provoke. Could we relate Pan to the various economic “panics” in US History – the Wall Street Crash of 1929, perhaps?
Pandora is blamed for unleashing all of the evil of the universe – largely due to her curiosity and desire to gain knowledge. She and Eve, the first woman in The Holy Bible might have a good conversation over a cup of tea. I wonder what she would have to say for herself? Would the independent minded women of the 19th and 20th Century United States sympathize with her situation or would they rush to judge her for the error of her ways? In another context, have there been times in American History when curiosity really did kill the cat, so to speak? The rush to invest money in the Stock Market during the 1920s, perhaps, or the hasty invasion of the Philippines during the early 1900s? Was Woodrow Wilson’s quest to establish peace on Earth with the Treaty of Versailles similar to the story of Pandora’s box, too, in some ways?
Think also about the Oklahoma land rush of 1889? Americans had been very anxious to take over the land in the “Indian Territory.” How was opening the Territory to settlement similar to opening “Pandora’s Box?” Were evils unleashed in the process?
Persephone is the daughter of Demeter and, - after she was kidnapped by Hades – the Queen of the Underworld. (Like a gangster’s girl – sort of an innocent accomplice?) Any myth involving her as a character would likely also involve her mother and Hades. Persephone’s release from the underworld each year signifies the start of spring, and her life parallels the life cycle of the crops on the Great Plains – wheat in particular. She might also be helpful in bringing characters “back from the dead.” Here position as the Queen of the Underworld might give her unique bargaining power over Hades. How could this change the course of history?
Persephone was also a kidnapping victim – a role in American History which has occasionally reared it ugly head. Incidents spawned by the Fugitive Slave Act were considered kidnapping on more than one occasion. Americans held Queen Liliuokalani as a captive during the late 1890s. Later in history, American soldiers were held as hostages in the Second World War at Bataan and in many other places.. The Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 and 1980 may be worthy of consideration – even the tragic story of the Lindbergh boy’s kidnapping and murder might offer a narrative related to the kidnapped Queen of the Underworld, Persephone.
He was the slayer of Medusa, and as such an heroic conqueror, but he had powerful allies on the mission in the gods Hermes and Athena. Perseus would be an interesting character for any of the great heroes of American history to carry on a conversation with. What advice might Perseus have for someone like Custer, at Little Bighorn? Consider the amazing story of Alvin York during World War I, or the equally heroic exploits of Audie Murphy during World War II. The African-American soldiers who fought under French command during World War I or the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II might have conversed with Perseus!
Could Perseus offer any political advice for American leaders? Might he have consulted with Woodrow Wilson as US involvement in World War I became more manifest? Roosevelt in World War II? Truman as the Cold War emerged? How might Perseus have responded to the many threats Americans have dealt with over the years? Might he have had advice for the heroes of 9/11?
The story of Phaethon is often used to explain the genesis of deserts. How might a character like Phaeton help to explain some of the more difficult times for American agriculture – for example the Dust Bowl, or periods of drought. Could he also be a character who encourages people not to seek out powers that they are not prepared to use effectively? What historical figures might need this advice?
It is sometimes related, that no good deed goes unpunished. Indeed, attempting to help people in need or provide knowledge and resources to the masses can win a person some very powerful enemies. Zeus, in his case! And what a punishment is was!
Think about the role of union soldiers, Radical Republicans, or the much vilified “carpetbaggers” who came South to assist newly freed African Americans.
Consider some of the great labor union leaders in this regard, too: Eugene V. Debs, Samuel Gompers, or Terence V. Powderly. Debs ended up in jail on more than one occasion.
Were these brave men rewarded for their good faith?
In another sense, consider the gift of flight – which the Wright Brothers gave and Charles Lindbergh may have perfected… Was the gift of flight used properly by mankind – or was it too quickly turned into a weapon?
You may even consider the circumstances of Robert Oppenheimer – the man who led the Manhattan Project – resulting in the creation of the nuclear bomb. He thought the bomb would bring world peace…
Martin Luther King gave mankind hope for equality. How does his tragic assassination parallel the story of Prometheus?
What Theseus needs is a good enemy – something worthy of the minotaur as a symbol. What advice would he have for American leaders who have confronted enormous and dangerous challenges – symbolically, of course. Could he have given Abraham Lincoln advice on how to slay slavery? What about advice to Herbert Hoover or Franklin Roosevelt (or both) about how to end the Great Depression? Could he have intervened during the worst part of the Red Scare – the terror of Joseph McCarthy in the US Senate – to defend the Bill of Rights? Might he have had advice for Native American warriors attempting to defend their liberty – like Chief Joseph or Sitting Bull? Or would he have joined the US Army in fighting against the Native American tribes? What characters could he provide advice or guidance for?