Opening ‘Pandora’s Box’ – How Mythical References Pervade Our Language

Pandora's Box
Pandora’s curiosity getting the best of her

Cultural & Linguistic Afterlife of Greek Myths

Classical mythology has had an extraordinary linguistic afterlife, giving it an unshakable presence in our common culture. In large part, this is because classical mythology proceeds from concrete stories rather than, as with philosophy, from abstract concepts. This is also why mythology can, even today, address everybody: inspiring children with as much fervor as adults, crossing not only social class and age but also traversing the generations – as it has done virtually without interruption for nearly three millennia.

Many everyday images, figures of speech, and expressions are directly borrowed from Greek mythology without our knowing their meaning or origin. These expressions often bear the memory trace of a mythical or fabulous episode, usually the crisis point in the adventures of a god or hero.

Some of the Many Common Phrases Based on Greek Mythology 

  • to go off in search of the “Golden Fleece”
  • to “take the bull by the horns”
  • to “fall between Scylla and Charybdis”
  • to introduce a “Trojan horse” to our enemies
  • to have an “Achilles’ heel”
  • to feel nostalgia for a “golden age”
  • to look up at the “Milky Way”
  • to take part in the “Olympic” Games
  • to play a “Cassandra”
  • to sink into the “arms of Morpheus”
  • to be blessed – or cursed – with a “Midas touch”
  • to be endowed with “titanic” or “Herculean” strength
  • to stretch on a “Procrustean bed”
  • to embark on a “Promethean” undertaking
  • to open unwittingly a “Pandora’s box”
  • to have a “Oedipus complex”
  • to be a “narcissist”

The Wisdom of the Myths: How Greek Mythology Can Change Your Life
The Wisdom of the Myths: How Greek Mythology Can Change Your Life

Luc Ferry

Background on Luc Ferry


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