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Does your child know that Nike, the global brand adorned by Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, got its name from a winged goddess of victory? Is she aware the Olympics originated in ancient Greece and were held to honor Zeus, the lightning bolt-bearing god of gods? Or does he know that arachnids received their name from a girl, Arachne, whom Athena – the goddess of wisdom, war, and the arts – transformed into a spider after a weaving contest?
Popular media has, in some form, already introduced your child to the Greek pantheon. Take Hercules, for example, the Disney film about the strongest man who ever lived. (This son of Zeus, however, is the Roman version of the Greek hero Heracles.) Gods and goddesses are resurrected on paper as well, like in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Sarah Deming’s Iris, Messenger.
Mythology also seeps into TV shows and video games. Sawyer, Kate, and others stuck on the purgatorial paradise of Lost are modern versions of tragic heroes on odysseys of redemption or vengeance. A video game like Nintendo’s Kid Icarus alludes to Icarus, the son of Daedalus, who plummeted after his wings of wax melted as he flew near the sun.
References are even found in company names from products – think the household cleaner Ajax – to words of the English language. A “narcissist,” for instance, describes a self-centered person, and students may not know the word derives from Narcissus, a man so spellbound by his own beauty that he withered away while staring at his reflection!
The Greeks revered the Twelve Olympians, who lived on Mount Olympus, but descended to earth in various forms to slay monsters and exert their powers. But they looked and behaved like mortals, committing acts of greed, pride, and wrath. “They were worshipped despite their outrageous behavior, and are now recognized by modern culture as representatives of both the good and bad attributes and experiences that make us human,” says Michele Delattre of the ORIAS program at U.C. Berkeley. Collaborating with English and drama teachers at Pleasanton Middle School and Corte Madera School in the Bay Area, Delattre has written plays mixing mythology, satire, and popular culture, which teach kids this ancient world in a clever and entertaining way.
You, too, can introduce your child to mythology using contemporary media and activities. The illustrated tales in D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Arthur Cotterell’s comprehensive Encyclopedia of Mythology, and the animated Hercules are great places to begin your child’s journey to Olympus.
Here’s a dose of this divine realm, as well as activities to get your kid amped:
Prometheus was the creator of man and the son of a Titan (an elder god who ruled before the Olympians). He defied Zeus by stealing fire and giving warmth and light to humans. Zeus chained him atop the Caucasus Mountains, where an eagle plunged from the sky and ate his liver. It grew back each day, and his punishment repeated.