Truly, there’s nothing quite like Greek Mythology. There is nothing more fascinating, wild, twisted, fun, timeless, and at once both completely false and yet profoundly true. Is there any other genre or collective work with characters so iconic and immediately recognizable, stories so memorable, and plot-lines/family trees more complicated? It beats any book series or TV show by a mile. And the most incredible aspect of all is the fact that these myths have been around for thousands of years, and still they resonate with us as profoundly as they did in Ancient Greece – you find them referenced everywhere, from music, books, films, brand names, logos, idioms, terminology – everywhere.
Some myths and their main characters are more famous than others, however. We all know Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. Zeus is the king of them all on Mount Olympus. Aphrodite is the goddess of beauty. These are myths that have been retold and referenced so often that they have almost ceased to be part of a different, ancient culture and have been absorbed entirely into our own.
But there are other myths, other gods and nymphs and mortals, who have been sadly overlooked. While there are a countless number of retellings of Medusa and her snake-haired countenance who could turn men to stone, there are far less of the characters listed below. Here are 10 Greek myth characters who deserve their own novels or films right away:
- Cassandra of Troy. Unlike her more famous brothers, Paris (who started the whole mess) and Hector (the noble hero ultimately slayed by a vengeful Achilles), Cassandra remains in the shadows. A prophetess who was cursed by her rejected lover, the god Apollo, to never be believed by the ones she prophesied about, she is a tragic figure who pops up a few times in the Iliad to foretell doom. For example, she knows that the Trojan horse is a trap – but no one, not even her cautious father King Priam, believes her. Homer gives her a pitifully small amount of attention – I want to know more! How did she feel about being spurned like a madwoman by everyone on her beloved city? What was her relationship like with her family? And what relationship did she have with the gods? (At the end of the Trojan war, when she is captured by Ajax inside of a temple, her distress awakens the wrath of the goddess Athena, who tries to come to her aid.) Why did she reject Apollo? These are just a few of the important questions surrounding her, and somehow, no one has tried to answer them.
- Psyche’s sisters. The tale of Cupid and Psyche is quite well known, in many ways mirroring the classic “Cinderella/Beauty and the Beast” plot outline of a beautiful princess spurned by her jealous siblings and sent to wed a “monster”, who turns out to be the extremely handsome son of Aphrodite, Cupid – who, when accidentally pricking himself with his famous arrows, falls in love with her. They must overcome some obstacles, breaches of trust, and a surprisingly hard-hearted Aphrodite, ultimately ending up together and having a daughter named Bliss. This story has been retold numerous times, but few of these focus on her sisters. This is a perfect chance to delve into the mind of the “evil stepsister” stock character – why are they evil? Why do they hate her? What are their motivations, and why are their parents on their side? Only one work that I know of attempt to deal with this – C. S. Lewis’s dark and haunting novel, Til We Haves Faces, which is a profoundly philosophical and beautifully written work. I wouldn’t mind reading another book like that at all. The secondary characters in this story have a lot of potential.
- Hermes. While extremely recognizable and well-known (hello, winged sandals!), he seems surprisingly overlooked when it comes to books or films. He seems to always be that one god who gets about five seconds of screen time to support or resist a more important character. This confuses me, because he is surprisingly complex. While it is true he is the god of thieves and tricksters (this alone would make him a very interesting main character, honestly), he is also the protector of travelers, and the guide of souls to the Underworld. Hermes quite literally does it all! He pops up in almost every myth, showing up both in the Iliad and the Odyssey (both times showing sympathy to characters on either side, protecting them and giving them advice – he helps Priam speak peacefully to Achilles, and he gives advice to a travel-weary Odysseus in order to protect him from the witch Circe.) He’s also funny. There are countless legends about the pranks he pulled on the other gods as a child, and throughout adulthood. He comes across as someone who is impish, unpredictable, quick-witted, yet also surprisingly kind and sympathetic (especially in comparison to other gods.) I could definitely see him as the main character of film – why isn’t there one already?
- Atalanta. Atalanta is a ferocious female character who I’m surprised has not attracted more attention than she has. What is interesting about her is that her story has a lot of the cliches that usually strong male figures in Greek mythology tend to have – she was abandoned on a mountaintop and raised by bears and wolves, growing up to become fiercely independent and practically invincible. Swearing allegiance to the moon goddess Artemis, she decided to become a huntress and remain a virgin. This plan was later thwarted, when her response to her insistent suitor Hippomenes was the proposal that, if he were to beat her in a footrace, she would wed him – which he did (by distracting her with golden apples – which can be read as a symbol in many ways, again a reason why she’s a perfect character for a book or film of her own.) Interestingly, she is the only woman aboard the hero Jason’s famed boat Argo – filled with all sorts of heroes such as Hercules in search of the Golden Fleece. She also is known to have defeated Achilles’ father, Peleus, in a wrestling match. And in her younger days, before her marriage, she also took part in a legendary boar hunt in which her skill rivaled that of the men around her. There are few other mortal women in the entire canon of Greek Mythology that can rival her in strength, wit, and sheer force of character.
- Hephaestus. The illegitimate son of Zeus, Hephaestus was wounded by his vengeful stepmother Hera as an infant when she threw him from the top of Mount Olympus. He survived, but grew up deformed (with a bad back and misshapen legs, is usually the description). Nevertheless, he went on to become one of his father’s favorite sons, developing a skill in metalwork that would earn him his place as a god on Olympus. He’s the one who makes Achilles’ famous shield in the Iliad (so extraordinary, Homer devotes an entire chapter to it) – and while doing so, comforts Achilles’ grieving mother, the water nymph Thetis. He comes across as someone who is hard-working, quiet, cheerful, good-hearted, and wise. Never once does he complain about his fate or his ill-treatment, instead pouring his energy into craftsmanship and creating armor that protects both gods and superhuman mortals alike. He is also, interestingly, the husband of the goddess Aphrodite – while in some legends she is disgusted with him and pursues more the handsome residents of Mount Olympus when his back is turned, other stories portray their marriage as unusually happy. That alone is something that merits a closer look through a book or a film.
- Eris. The goddess of discord, she is the main catalyst force behind the Trojan War. Angry at not being invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, she throws a golden apple inscribed “to the fairest” in the midst of the festivities – setting off a huge jealous argument between goddesses that results in the fateful judgment of Paris. Did she know the effect her act would have? Was that her plan all along? Why wasn’t she invited to the wedding? I need to know.
- Charon. The mysterious boatman who ferries souls across the River Styx to the Underworld of Hades, there are almost no myths that deal exclusively with him. He is the son of Erebus, one of the first beings ever to be born out of Chaos, but there’s about all there is to know about him. He appears in a lot of significant myths, interacting with characters such as Psyche, Odysseus, Orpheus, and many others. He doesn’t really seem to have a specific personality (other than “dark and mysterious”, and it’s uncertain as to what age he appears to have – he’s immortal, of course, but most gods seem to at least appear young – does he?) He desperately needs an origin story, a personality, and a motivation.
- Eurydice. I know that the myth of Orpheus has been dealt with a LOT – in books, operas, plays, retellings, you name it. But it’s usually all about Orpheus – Eurydice is just his love interest, a plot point. I think we need a story where she is the main character. Why is she in love with Orpheus? Does she love him as much as he loves her? What is it like in the underworld? What does she feel when he gives in to temptation and looks back at her, dooming her back to an eternity of death? The possibilities are endless and a novel could easily be written about her.
- Chiron. Chiron is known throughout mythology as the trainer of heroes – the wise centaur who is unique in his moral goodness and sense of wisdom amongst mythological characters (whose sense of right and wrong is interesting at best.) Abandoned as a child and raised by Apollo and Artemis, he went on to train/teach heroes such as Achiles, Theseus, Jason, Aeneas, Ajax, and even the famed doctor-god Asclepius. I think a closer look at his life would be fascinating and filled with potential.
- Pandora. The “foolish” woman created by the gods in order to unleash misery on humanity, I wonder if she wasn’t more complex than the myths make her out to be. The original myth is misogynistic in its depiction of her, using her as a symbol for all wives and women as people who cannot control their curiosity and exercise restraint, and who are doomed to always bring hardship to men. I want another retelling of this myth – a kinder one with her as the hero (or at least a flawed tragic hero.) It has become more commonplace to alter myths in order to portray the heroes and villains new lights (for example, a common modern theory about the myth of Medusa is that her horrifying complexion was not a curse from an angry Athena in whose temple she had been raped, but rather a protection from men in the future.) It would be interesting to see how Pandora’s myth could be altered to portray her in a different light. It is important not to forget that, while her fateful opened box contained things such as Misery and Discord, it also contained Hope.
And there are just some of the characters that come to mind from Greek Mythology that deserve a closer look at their stories! Do you have any others you would like to add to the list? Comment below and let me know!