I have a deep, deep love for mythology. It began with the same exposure as most of us get, to the Greek and Roman mythology learned in American English or History classrooms. In college, I developed a more global appreciation for the myths and legends in existence. Origin stories in general are so beautiful, and I love to note the differences and the similarities between them.
All of that said, I decided it might be fun to shake things up a little and make a list of five of my favorite myths and legends. Obviously, this really isn’t a Top Five so much as it is a These Were the Ones I Thought of First List. Without further ado…
Some of Kristy’s Favorite Myths and Legends
1. Narcissus and Echo from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the myth, we meet Echo, a nymph with a tendency to talk a little too much. As in most, she manages to make the goddesses jealous (which isn’t terribly hard) and she is cursed to only be able to repeat the last words spoken to her. She falls in love with a beautiful man named Narcissus. She begs and begs to regain her voice, but her interaction with Narcissus leads ultimately to his haughty refusal of her. She’s heartbroken, and Aphrodite makes her disappear, leaving only her voice behind. Thus, we have echoes! Narcissus, meanwhile, falls in love with his own reflection in water and wastes away looking at it. After his body has dissolved into the earth, a narcissus flower takes its place.
2. Izanagi in the Underworld, Japanese myth of the creation of Death. I love this one because it has such interesting ties to Hades and Persephone in some ways, as well as Cupid and Psyche. Izanagi is devastated over the loss of his wife and journeys to the underworld to find her. When he does, she is hidden by shadows and can’t be seen, but he begs her to return only to be told that she cannot because she’s eaten the food of the underworld. He refuses to accept this answer, so she finally relents, but requests time to rest beforehand. She tells him not to look at her while he sleeps, a promise that he is unable to keep. He finds that her body has rotted with death and decay, and he is horrified. He runs, is pursued by evil creatures on behalf of his angry wife, and she finally catches him. She tells him that if he leaves her, she’ll kill 1000 people every day. He responds that he’d give life to 1500. Thus, death is created.
3. Orpheus and Eurydice, Greek. An acclaimed musician marries a beautiful woman who is killed during her wedding. Distraught, Orpheus makes great strides to travel into the Underworld, using his music to soften the hearts of Hades and Persephone. They allow him to take his wife back to the living world so long as he walks in front of her and doesn’t look back until they’d both escaped the Underworld. He gets impatient once he steps onto the upper soil and looks back, but she hadn’t arrived just yet. She disappears forever.
4. The Origin of Fire, Apache. Fox, the cleverest of the animals, has great aspirations for himself and for the world. First, he wants to learn the cry of the Geese. They promise to teach him as long as he flies with them, but he cannot open his eyes while flying. If he does, he’ll fall. They build wings for him and he finally takes flight. One night, a flickering of light against his eyelids makes him forget his promise and he opens his eyes, only to immediately fall into the firefly village. They promise to help him get over the wall and out of the village and show him a cedar tree that can be used to catapult him over. However, he notices that they have fire, which he longs to bring to the rest of the world. He devises a plan to steal it. That night, he suggests that they have a festival. While they dance to the drum he’s created, he moves closer and closer to the fire until he finally grabs a stick of it and runs to the tree to escape over the wall. He escapes, giving the fire to the Hawk who carried it to the Crane and so on, spreading fire across the Earth. When he was caught, however, he was forbidden to use fire for himself.
5. Anansi, West Africa. There are a handful of Anansi myths, but my favorite is the one about the trickster-god stealing all of the world’s wisdom and hoarding it into a pot. As he climbs to the top of a great tree to keep it away from others, he finds that it keeps slipping and nearly falling and that progress is slow. When he’s nearly to the top, his son asks why he did not just put it on his back so that the climb would be easier. As he realizes the wisdom behind the suggestion, the pot falls and breaks into the river which spreads its contents into the ocean and provides the world with a little bit of knowledge.