Ancient People in Modern Sayings
Does anyone else, familiar with certain sayings such as the Midas Touch or a Herculean Effort, find themselves wondering how they originated? Look no
further, I did a little research (thanks Google, Wiki and assorted other sources) and have found some answers:
A victory described as such refers to a victory that cost the victor so dearly that one could wonder if winning was actually worth it.
King Pyrrhus of Epirus has the sad distinction of being the person after whom this sort of victory is named.
His armies defeated the Romans in two battles – one at Heraclea in 280 BC and a second at Asculum in 279BC during the Pyrrhic War.
Although the Roman losses were heavier than those of Pyrrhus they suffered less from their casualties since they had a larger army to start with.
Pyrrhus is quoted as saying, after battle of Asculum “Another such victory and I come back to Epirus alone” or that “If we are victorious in one
more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined”.
A person can be described as having the Midas touch when everything they do is a resounding success. It is said that everything they touch turns to
King Midas of Phrygia found that having the golden touch did him no good at all as even the food he touched turned to gold, following a prayer granted
to him by the god Dionysus.
Dionysus warned him to think carefully about making such a wish but the avaricious Midas insisted that was what he wanted.
Tragically his daughter, too, turned to gold upon receiving his touch causing Midas to appeal to Dionysus to remove the blessing that had now become a
The God instructed Midas to bathe in the River Pactolus, which removed his ability to turn anything into gold, and ancient Greeks were said to find
gold on the river banks after Midas's ablutions there.
Interestingly the River Pactolus ran through Lydia, where we find King Croesus (see below) who was credited with issuing the first gold coins.
As Rich as Croesus
Croesus, King of Lydia from 560 – 547BC was renowned for his great wealth and legend has it that he would invite his guests to take with them as
much gold as they could carry at the end of their visit.
His golden coins, mentioned above, were made of electrum which is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver.
Hercules (or Heracles) is a well known figure from Greek mythology and most people will have heard of his 12 Labours.
Anything described as a Herculean Task will be something that took great effort to achieve. His labours are too many for me to list, so here is a
link to a site giving details of the tasks set for him to help him to atone for killing his wife and children having been driven mad by the Goddess
Something described as Priapic – phallic – is named after Priapus a fertility god from Greek mythology who was the protector of male genitalia
along with other fauna and flora.
There is a medical condition referred to as Priapism which afflicts the sufferer with a permanent, or very long lasting, penile erection. This
alludes to the god always being represented with an erect phallus.
The stout hearted can Google images of Priapus which I have refrained from featuring here due to my lack of a desire to cause our readership the
It is often said that someone has opened a right Pandora's Box when they spill the beans, giving out information that might have been wiser kept
under wraps. Or maybe performed some small action without realising the severe implications it will have.
According to Greek mythology Pandora was the first woman. She was created at the behest of Zeus and given to the God Prometheus's brother,
Epimetheus. The gift was not given in a kindly way as Prometheus had fallen foul of Zeus by creating men and providing them with fire, which he had
stolen from the Gods.
Prometheus warned Epimetheus to beware of the gift but to no avail. Epimetheus fell in love with, and married, Pandora.
As a wedding present Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful box on the condition that she never open it. Pandora agreed, but found curiosity getting the
better of her.
Sadly for humanity, Pandora eventually found the temptation too great to resist and opened the box which, unbeknownst to her, contained all of the
evils of the world.
Out flew all manner of ills including old age, disease, greed, violence, death and war. The only thing left in the box after Pandora had frantically
closed the lid was the Spirit of Hope.
Sometimes a person expressing valid concerns about a particular matter finds themselves to be disbelieved. This circumstance can be referred to as
the Cassandra Syndrome.
The real Cassandra was a princess of Troy, the daughter of Priam and Hecuba who reigned during the Trojan War.
She was also a prophetess who attracted the attentions of the God Apollo. After she spurned his advances he cursed her to never have her prophecies
believed although they would later prove to be true.
Famously, Cassandra warned the Trojans that the Wooden Horse left as a gift by the Greeks after their ten year siege would bring about the downfall of
Troy, but no-one believed her. She was proved to be correct in her assertions after the horse was brought into the city. During the night the Greek
heroes, who had been hiding in the horse, let themselves out and went on to sack the city and kill or capture its citizens.
Sword of Damocles
Occasionally a person will find themselves in a situation where a fearful event of some kind looms on the horizon. They will complain of how this
forthcoming event is 'hanging over them'. Some might say they feel as if it is the Sword of Damocles which is hanging over them.
The original Damocles appears to have been a bit of a sycophant in the court of Dionysus II of Syracuse in the 4th century BC and should be a lesson
to us all to beware when we flatter others.
Damocles observed that Dionysus was fortunate to enjoy such vast wealth and power, obviously failing to grasp that such things can't be enjoyed
without a price.
Dionysus offered to exchange places with Damocles so that he too could have taste of what it was like to live in such luxury.
Damocles eagerly ascended the throne anticipating the pleasure of experiencing the wealth and power he had so admired BUT Dionysus arranged a surprise
Suspended over the throne was a mighty sword, hanging by a horse-hair. Dionysus had demonstrated to Damocles that the lot of a ruler is not an easy
one and that, for all the great benefits, great fear always exists of an impending disaster.