A depiction of Narcissus from artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Narcissism (ˈnärsəˌsizəm)
  • excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance
    • Psychology extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type
    • Psychoanalysis self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder
Derivative: narcissist (noun)

Explanation: The origin of the word concerns the mythological character Narcissus. He was a hunter renowned for exceptional beauty that treated all who would love him with contempt; his appearance was used against him when Nemesis lured him to a pool of water. Narcissus saw and subsequently fell in love with his own reflection, and – depending upon myth version – either withered into nothingness because he couldn't bear to leave that spot; became a flower; or upon realizing that the object of his affection was a mirror image of himself and thus unobtainable, committed suicide.

cover art for the Mer de Noms album

Gotta cut away, clear away
Slip away and sever this
Umbilical residue
Keeping me from killing you

Explanation: The fifth track on A Perfect Circle's 2000 album, Mer de Noms, is named after Greek mythological character Orestes. Without getting too carried away with song interpretation, on the surface the lyrics appear to describe a personal dilemma over whether or not one should allow their mother to die (exemplified most by the chorus above). The subject of several ancient dramas and myths, there's a fair share of incongruity when it comes to the finer details of what happened to Orestes, but the basic premise remains the same. He is pressured (by sister Electra, or god Apollo) to avenge his father's death by slaying his mother, Clytemnestra, and is haunted by the Erinyes/Furies until Athena intervenes.


Explanation: The musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, later adapted into a film in 2001, plays loosely with the absurd speech of Aristophanes from Plato's Symposium in the lyrics to "The Origin of Love". In his speech, Aristophanes explains why it is commonly stated that one feels "whole" after having found a partner, with more primal humans being spherical in shape with doubled heads and limbs facing away from each other. There were three sexes based upon body pairings: the all-male, all-female, and the androgyne; these primal humans were very powerful and Zeus wanted to destroy them but realized there would be none to worship him if he did, so he chose to diminish their strength by chopping them in half, separating the two bodies. Apollo stitched the humans up and formed their navel which did not heal so that they would always be reminded of the event, and now people say they are searching for their "other half" in order to return to a more primal nature. The speech is ended with a note that mankind should fear the gods and never neglect to pay tribute, otherwise they will be cut down again.

"The Origin of Love", most probably for comedic effect, fudges the details a bit and has Thor of Norse mythology as well as what appears to be a depiction of an Egyptian god, mingling with Zeus. It is also written in the song that "some Indian god" gave humans the navel, instead of Apollo... and Shiva is doing crude cartwheels in the sky for some reason. I could have just used the references in Aristophanes's speech for this entry and left it at that, but I felt that a clip from a transvestite rock opera would be more fun.

An artist's depiction of Eve; source unknown
An artist's depiction of Eve; source unknown

Explanation: Despite the way that those who have more contemporary religious belief may look back on the ancient Greeks and Romans as being "silly" for believing in their mythology, there are a lot of parallels between the two. One example is that evil was introduced to the world by women. In Christianity, Eve condemns mankind by eating the "forbidden fruit" in the garden of Eden. Pandora (with some encouragement from Epimetheus) let her curiosity get the best of her and opened a jar/box that unleashed all manner of pestilence and suffering, being shut and locked once more with hope left inside. It is also heavily suggested that both stories contain sexual symbolism, but we won't get into that.

10/26/2011 #2

Explanation: Minimalist though they may be, the lyrics to Team Sleep's "Ataraxia" could be related to Sirens. Sirens were bird women that sang so beautifully sailors would either jump overboard and drown or wreck ships along the rocky shore of an island, in an effort to be near them. The physical appearance of Sirens have been pretty inconsistent, with earlier versions being birds with large heads resembling those of a human woman's, birds with the faces of women, mostly normal human women with bird legs and wings, women that from the breast up resembled sparrows, etc. These early, and less attractive appearances were supposed to emphasize the power of the Sirens' song; it's so beautiful that Sirens can seduce you by appealing to the soul instead of just the flesh. Later versions would turn the Sirens into beautiful maidens with large wings, or even (incorrectly) mermaids. The term "ataraxia" refers to a sort of serenity and numbing of the mind; the lyrics despite acknowledging that the speaker is drowning, seem to express a comfort derived from both a romantic reverie and the song that someone else is singing.

Froze asleep
Coma deep
I dream I'm out with you
Alone at sea

And you watched the waves
And you sang to me
As we sink
I dream I'm out with you

Dropping deep
Below the sea
This dream I had with you
Alone at sea

And we watch the waves
You sing to me
As we sink
This dream I had with you
Alone at sea...

10/26/2011 #3
Vulcan, God of Fire; Andrea Mantegna
Vulcan, God of Fire; Andrea Mantegna

Vulcanize (ˈvʌlkənʌɪz)
transitive verb -ized, -iz·ing
  • 1.)harden rubber or rubber-like material by treating it with sulphur at a high temperature
  • 2.)to subject a substance other than rubber to some analogous process, as to harden it
    • (as adjective vulcanized)
      • the development of a method for fixing vulcanized rubber firmly on to mild steel
Derivatives: vulcanizable (adjective), vulcanization (noun), vulcanizer (noun)

Explanation: In the nineteenth century, the accepted meaning of vulcanize was "to put into flames", and the root of the word is taken from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire who is identified with the Greek god of fire and smithing, Hephaestus.


Explanation: The commonly used phrase "rise from the ashes" comes from the mythic Phoenix that every 1,000 years dies through self-immolation and is reborn from its own ashes. The act of "rising from the ashes" usually refers to major changes in one's life or finding one's way from less-pleasurable circumstances to something more gratifying.

10/27/2011 #2

Explanation: Issue number seventeen (collected in the Dream Country trade paperback, and Absolute Sandman Volume 1) of Neil Gaiman's comic book series The Sandman tells a story featuring and named after the Greek muse of epic poetry, Calliope. Author Richard Murdoc's first book is released to critical acclaim, and feeling the pressure of having to pen a sequel, he finds himself burdened with severe writer's block. Through a deal he made with Erasmus Fry, Murdoc found himself in possession of Calliope whom (just as Fry did) he imprisoned and regularly raped, her presence providing him with inspiration. When Dream of the Endless/Morpheus discovers this, having once been romantically involved with Calliope, he rescues her and punishes Richard Murdoc by giving him so many ideas that he is driven insane. At the time, the concept of this Calliope story wasn't viewed as one of banality, but since then the idea of an artist of some kind meeting and holding a muse captive to stimulate their creativity has become cliché.

10/27/2011 #3

Explanation: Oedipus was a mythological Greek king of Thebes who fulfilled a prophecy that stated he would slay his father and marry his mother. In Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory, as part of the phallic stage of his psychosexual development, the Oedipus Complex refers to a boy's unconscious sexual attraction to his mother and desire to compete with or kill his father (whom he also fears will emasculate him via castration). In theory, a child's identification with the same-sex parent with whom they are competing for the opposite-sex parent's affection, is a successful resolution of the Oedipus Complex and contributes to the development of their sexual role and identity. Failure to resolve this conflict is theorized to result in neurosis, pedophilia or homosexuality.

[for the hell of it, here begins the second set of notebook entries, all done in one night during which I couldn't think of anything better to do]


Explanation: In Valve Software's Portal 2 (2011), shortly after Chell detaches GLaDOS from the mainframe and replaces her with dimwitted Wheatley, GLaDOS is humiliated further by being attached to a potato battery capable only of powering her consciousness and most basic functions. Potato GLaDOS is carried off by a bird and when next Chell sees her, she's being picked apart by birds in a nest. What could be an allusion to the punishment of Prometheus who was bound to a rock in the Caucasus where every day his liver was eaten by a great eagle, is given more credence by the malfunctioning Oracle Turret that has a few cryptic lines hinting to things in the past and future, including,"Prometheus was punished by the gods for giving the gift of knowledge to man. He was cast into the bowels of the Earth and pecked by birds."

1/11/2012 #2

Explanation: In 2k Boston/Irrational Games' Bioshock (2007), several locations within the underwater city of Rapture are named after elements of Greek and Roman mythology. Examples: Neptune's Bounty, the fishing district and port in Rapture; the geothermal power generation facility and HQ of Ryan Industries, Hephaestus; Olypmus Heights, where the upper-class of Rapture had their apartments and workplaces; Point Prometheus, the laboratories and genetic library where the "Big Daddy" enemy variants were created.

1/11/2012 #3
Orpheus concept art

Explanation: The Persona series of video games, themselves a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei are filled with allusions and references to the major arcana of tarot, C.G. Jung's archetypes and individuation process, and Greek and Roman mythology. In Persona 3, (2007) the protagonist's initial persona ("a second soul that dwells deep within a person's heart... an entirely different personality that emerges when a person is confronted with something from outside his world") is named Orpheus. The Orpheus persona has an organic head atop a mechanical body and a large lyre on his back; he cannot speak through his mouth, instead using a stomach-embedded speaker. The lyre is central to Orpheus' myth, and the persona's head being the only organic part is likely in reference to when mythological Orpheus was torn apart by a group of Maenads in their temporary Bacchic ecstasy and madness, leaving only his head and lyre which floated together down the Hebrus. The in-game compendium acknowledges the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

1/11/2012 #4
[I thought it would be fun to see if I could do this second half entirely with video game references, but at the moment I'm drawing a blank]
Ellen Page as Ariadne in Inception (2010)

Explanation: In Greek mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete. She is most commonly associated with mazes and labyrinths, due to her role in helping Theseus of Athens kill the Minotaur and find his way out of Minos' labyrinth, saving the would-be sacrifices. Ellen Page's character in the 2010 film, Inception, is a graduate student of architecture whose name alludes to the Cretan Princess because of her recruitment to construct construct dreamscapes, which are described as mazes.

1/11/2012 #5

Explanation: At least the chorus of The Mountain Goats' "Up the Wolves" is loosely in reference to a Roman foundation myth that I'm not all that familiar with, in which twin brothers Romulus and Remus - suckled by a she-wolf and fostered by a shepherd and his wife - are credited for founding Rome as a new city for themselves after killing Amulius and restoring their grandfather Numitor to the throne of Alba Longa.

Our mother has been absent
Ever since we founded Rome
But there's gonna be a party
When the wolf comes home

1/11/2012 #6

Explanation: Well, I'm grasping at straws a bit here in an effort to return to the video game theme from earlier. It isn't really a mythological allusion, but religion is just contemporary mythology anyway... and if this isn't being graded then I suppose can play loose with the directions. Square Software's (now Square Enix) Final Fantasy VII (1997) draws quite a bit from Lurian Kabalā. The name of Jenova (pictured above) has Hebrew and Latin components, with the ineffable Hebrew name of God, יהוה (romanized Yahweh or Jehovah), and nova (new).

[meh, three short... I'll stop there]