CLS Final

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Achilles’ Heel

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Origin: Thetis dipped the baby Achilles in the River Styx to make him impervious to injury, but the spot on his heel where she held him was not covered, and therefore susceptible to injury.

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Meaning: the one assailable feature or weakness a person may have

aegis

Origin: the aegis is the shield of Zeus, which thunders when he shakes it. Athena also had a shield/aegis, and hers had Medusa’s head attached on the front. These shields offered divine protection.

 

Meaning: to be under the aegis of something (often an institution or family) is to be under its protection, sponsorship, or patronage

apollonian

Origin: Apollo was the god of rationality, understanding, harmony, and balance (prophecy, the arts, healing)

 

Meaning: partaking of the rational and marked by a sense of order and harmony

ambrosia

Origin: the food the gods ate (separate from mortal foods); also used as perfume or horse fodder

 

Meaning: any gourmet masterpiece, especially whipped cream and fruit of some kind

apple of discord

Origin: the goddess of discord, Eris, was not invited to Thetis and Peleus’ wedding, so she arrived and threw a golden apple into the middle of the crowd of guests, inscribed with the words “for the fairest.” Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite argued over the apple; Zeus refused to choose who got the apple, so he gave the job to Paris, Prince of Troy, who chose Aphrodite b/c she offered Helen to him –> Trojan War

 

Meaning: any action or situation that causes dissension and is more trouble than it is worth

By Jove/jovial

Origin: one of the Roman forms of Zeus’s name is Jove

 

Meaning:

1. Christians/English writers used “By Jove” as an expression of surprise/pleasure to avoid taking their Christian God’s name in vain

2. People born under the influence of Jupiter are supposedly cheerful (jovial)

caduceus

Origin: the herald’s staff was called the caduceus; Hermes, the messenger god, is usually depicted with this type of staff, with snakes twining around it (these may have come from confusion of Hermes’ staff with the staff of the physician, Asclepius, or possibly from his position as a fertility god).

 

Meaning: symbol of medical profession/healing today–appears on medical seals 

Calypso/calypso music

Origin: divine daughter of Thetis and Oceanus, Atlas, or Nereus; detained Odysseus as her lover on her island in Ogygia for 7 yrs with the promise of making him immortal. Zeus had to send Hermes to tell her to let Odysseus recommence his voyage home.

 

Meaning: 1. see above. 

2. music from the West Indies that presents topical or amusing themes

Cassandra

Origin: princess of Troy/daughter of Priam and Hecuba who was pursued by Apollo, who awarded her the gift of prophecy in exchange for her compliance. When she ultimately rejected his advances, he cursed her to be never believed. 

 

Meaning: someone who makes dire predictions, regardless of the fact that people prefer not to believe them/listen to them

Cerberus

Origin: monstrous hound of the Underworld who prevented those not permitted from entering; tricked by Aeneas, who fed him drugged cakes to allow him to enter the Underworld

 

Meaning: to throw a sop to _____ is to bribe someone to avoid an unpleasant situation 

Cyclops/cyclopean

Origin: Two different strains of them (one round eye in middle of forehead): assistants of Hephaestus, born of Uranus and Ge, and one a tribe of giants who are sons of Poseidon (Polyphemus from the Odyssey is one of these). Cyclops are credited with building the massive stone walls surrounding Greek palaces in the Mycenaen period.

 

Meaning: describes anything that pertains to them or partakes of their giant and powerful nature; or describes a primitive building style, one in which massive boulders are held together by their own weight, w/o mortar

Elysium/elysian

Origin: according to Vergil, Elysium/Elysian Fields were a special place in the Underworld reserved for souls whose valor or virtue entitles them to a particularly peaceful, blissful afterlife.

 

Meaning: blissful

I fear Greeks even when they’re bearing gifts

Origin: Greeks finally captured Troy through a ruse: they built the wooden Trojan Horse, in which they hid their best fighters, and then sailed away, leaving the Horse as a “gift.” A Trojan priest of Poseidon warned against taking the Horse into the city with the phrase, but he was attacked by two sea serpents, so the Trojans were convinced to tow the Horse into the city, resulting in their destruction. 

 

Meaning: an expression warning people to watch for hidden motives/agendas and treachery in even the most innocent-looking actions

ichor

Origin: the gods’ version of blood–a clear, rarefied liquid (since blood is mortal, needs a different immortal counterpart)

 

Meaning: in English, any fluid or watery substance, excluding blood, that flows from ulcers or wounds 

Iris/iridescent

Origin: Iris was the goddess of the rainbow. 

 

Meaning: 

1. iridescent – describes anything that gleams with the color of the rainbow

2. iris – colored portion eye that contracts when exposed to light

3. genus of plant with multicolored blossoms and narrow leaves 

junoesque

Origin: Juno was the mighty and majestic queen of the Roman Gods, counterpart to Hera. 

 

Meaning: stately in bearing

Lethe/lethargy

Origin: Lethe was the river of forgetfulness in the Underworld–souls would drink and forget their past experiences. 

 

Meaning: Lethe – state of oblivion/forgetfulness; lethargy – persistent drowsiness, sluggishness

lotus-eater

Origin: In the Odyssey, the Ithacans run into the lotus-eaters, who eat the lotus flower and subsequently live in a state of dreamy forgetfulness and happy indolence

 

Meaning: today, anyone who succumbs to indolent pleasure; drug addict is another parallel

mentor

Origin: to guide Telemakhos in his search for his father, Athena assumes the guise of an old family friend, Mentor. As Mentor, she spurs him to action to leave Ithaca to find out any news of Odysseus’s voyage

 

Meaning: trusted guardian and teacher

mercury/mercurial

Origin: Roman equivalent of Hermes, and similarly fleet of foot. Gave his name to the element mercury, and to the planet Mercury, both of which are fast in some way. 

 

Meaning: mercurial – individually crafty, eloquent, cunning, and swift, just like the god; changeable in temperament (like God, or through influence of planet)

nectar

Origin: special drink of the Gods

 

Meaning: any refreshing drink, especially made with fruit; the substance bees collect to make honey

nestor

Origin: oldest and wisest Greek king at Troy, who lived across three generations. valiant warrior when young, valued for his oratory and counsel when older

 

Meaning: someone wise, with excellent oratory skills and renowned for good counsel; mostly applied to politicians/statesmen 

ocean

Origin: the Greeks believed that the world was a disc surrounded by a stream of water, the god Oceanus; the Oceanids, the lesser streams/rivers of water, are his daughters

 

Meaning: entire body of seawater, or one of the major divisions around the globe

odyssey

Origin: The Odyssey is Homer’s epic poem recounting the adventures of Odysseus on his way home from the Trojan War to his homeland Ithaca and his wife and son

 

Meaning: a long, tortuous period of wandering, travel, and adventure, often on a quest, literally and spiritually, for something.

palladium

Origin: as a child, Athena had a special girlfriend, Pallas.  When Pallas was accidentally killed by Athena when the two were playing war, Athena made a wooden statue of her, which Zeus threw down to earth. There, it became known as the Palladium, a talisman for the city of Troy. 

 

Meaning: a protection from harm for a people or a state; a lucky charm

protean

Origin: Proteus, a sea god who was a shape-shifter, would only yield his knowledge of the future when the seeker had grappled with his metamorphoses until he stopped changing. 

 

Meaning: of changeable or variable form, having the ability to change form

Rhadamanthus/rhadamanthine

Origin: along with Minos and Aeacus, Rhadamanthus was a judge in the Underworld

 

Meaning: describes a rigidly just and strict person

Scylla and Charybdis

Origin: two of the obstacles on Odysseus’s way home through the Strait of Messina, between Italy and Sicily. Scylla was a monster with heads of dogs protruding from her belly, and Charybdis was an extraordinarily powerful whirlpool.

 

Meaning: “between Scylla and Charybdis” indicates a precarious position between two equally destructive dangers 

siren song

Origin: Another obstacle to Odysseus. Sirens were nymphs, often depicted with bird bodies, who lured sailors to their deaths by enchanting singing

 

Meaning: siren – seductive woman; high-pitched alarm device

siren song – bewitching/alluring temptation that may be treacherous/dangerous

sisyphean

Origin: Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a hill only to have it fall back down for eternity as punishment for revealing a secret about one of Zeus’s love affairs

 

Meaning: describes a task that is difficult, laborious, and almost impossible to complete

stentorian

Origin: Stentor, the herald of the Greek host at Troy, could speak with the power of 50 men

 

Meaning: describing an orator, indicates the powerful effect of his/her voice

stygian

Origin: the River Styx is the river that encircles the Underworld, across which souls are ferried by Charon.  Gods swear their most serious oaths by the name of the Styx. 

 

Meaning: describes something gloomy, linked to hell, or inviolable. 

tantalize

Origin: Tantalus was punished for his attempt to feed the gods mortal food and drink by eternal thirst and hunger, while food and drink was always just outside of his reach

 

Meaning: to tease and tempt without satisfaction

tartarean

Origin: Tartarus is the region of Hades for sinners and contains those who have committed the worst crimes and whose punishments are the cruelest.

 

Meaning: tartarean – referring to those infernal regions

Adonis

Origin: myth of Venus and Adonis–Adonis handsome youth loved by Venus, disregarded warnings and killed by boar. Venus makes him anemone flower. 

 

Meaning: handsome dude

Amazons

Origin: warrior race of women from North, depicted as Persian. equals of men in battle; came to be seen as haters of men who killed their sons and raised daughters. 

 

Meaning: vigorous and aggressive woman with enormous physical stature, usually derogatory.

aphrodisiac

Origin: from name of Aphrodite, whose realm is sexual pleasure/love

 

Meaning: anything with the power to excite sexual passions

Arachne/arachnid

Origin: Arachne, girl with incredible skill in weaving; Athena jealous and challenged her to a contest. Athena wove themes of mortals who overstepped their bounds and tried to be gods; Arachne depicted gods’ compromising love affairs. Athena angry, so Arachne killed herself; Athena, in remorse, transformed her into a spider

 

Meaning: spider

Arcadia/arcadian

Origin: central mountainous region of Peloponnese, idyllic, primeval place where people lived in harmony with nature

 

Meaning: any place or time signifying simple, rustic, pastoral place (golden age lost, nostalgia).

Argus

Origin: giant with 100 eyes used by Hera/Juno to guard Io the cow

 

Meaning: one who is ever-vigilant and watchful

Atlas/Atlantic/atlantes

Origin: one of the Titans who opposed Zeus in war with Titans, punished with task of holding up the Earth

 

Meaning: book containing geographic maps; plural of Atlas refers to “atlantes” support columns in the shape of men; because his punishment happened at the western edge of the world (Atlantic ocean, Atlas Mtns, Atlantis)

Augean Stables

Origin: one of Hercules’ labors was to clean out the stables of King Augean in service to King Eurystheus; Hercules diverted 2 rivers for the task

 

Meaning: byword for squalor; extremely filthy or squalid

Calliope

Origin: one of the 9 Muses

 

Meaning: musical instrument

catamite/Catamite/Ganymede

Origin: Trojan youth, Ganymede, was beautiful, so Zeus took form of eagle and brought the boy up to Olympus, where he became cup-bearer of the Gods; story lent authority to pederastic practices

 

Meaning: boy used for pederastic purposes THAT’S GROSS

chaos/chaotic

Origin: Chaos was the primordial seething mass that was the starting point of organized Creation; later replaced by Cosmos (harmony or order)

 

Meaning: a state of confusion

Chimera/chimerical/Chimeric

Origin: wild monster with head of lion, body of goat, and tail of a serpent, and breathed fire. Killed by Corinthian hero, Bellerophon

 

Meaning: fantastic delusion, an illusory creation of the mind, or a hybrid organism, usually a plant; unreal, imaginary, or fantastic

cornucopia

Origin: horn of plenty which bestows endless bounty: 1. infant Zeus nursed by goat Amalthia (also name of goddess of plenty); horn broke off, became horn of plenty. 2. Hercules-to win Deianira as bride, had to defeat horned river god, Achelous, and in process broke off one of the horns; brought back, given horn of Amalthia in exchange, although Ovid says that horn of Achelous was a second horn of plenty

 

Meaning: sign of nature’s abundance, plenteous bounty 

cupidity

Origin: Cupid is Roman Eros, started out as handsome youth who was depicted steadily younger and gained bow, arrow, and wings later; finally evolved into Italian putti/cherubs

 

Meaning: denotes intense passion or desire; cupidity also associated with avarice or greed

Furies/furious

Origin: avenging spirits with wings and snake hair who punish wrongdoers in the Underworld and outside of it; also capable of driving ppl mad

 

Meaning: fit of violent rage, especially a woman; adjective- passionately angry; musical term

gorgon/gorgonian

Origin: three sisters with snakes for hair gazes that turn mortals into stone; Medusa beheaded by Perseus, who gave the head to Athena, who put the head on her aegis/shield

 

Meaning: terrifying or ugly woman

halcyon

Origin: mythical bird (kingfisher); Ceyx and Alcyone were lovers, and Ceyx was a king drowned at sea; Hera told Alcyone while she slept, and then grieving Alcyone was turned into a kingfisher. she tried to drag the body of Ceyx to shore (winds stopped–Aeolus) and he too was transformed into a bird

 

Meaning: halcyon days-period of calm weather during winter solstice or time of tranquility

harpy

Origin: “snatchers” were originally conceived of as winds, but eventually came to be birdlike women who tormented mortals; Argonauts rescued Phineus, a blind king and prophet, whose food was snatched away by harpies

 

Meaning: monstrous, shrewish woman

heliotrope/heliotropism

Origin: from name of Helios the sun god, combined with “trope” which refers to a turning in a certain direction

 

Meaning: biological term for an organism that follows the sun (e.g. sunflower)

Hercules/herculean

Origin: greatest hero in the ancient world; wore lion skin and carried club; achieved countless remarkable exploits, especially 12 labors

 

Meaning: describing someone of great strength and stature; “herculean effort” requires great endurance

hydra

Origin: Hercules’ 2nd labor: nine-headed serpent whose heads grow back when one is severed; defeated by cauterizing stumps of neck so that they couldn’t grow back

 

Meaning: destructive force that does not succumb to a single effort

Hymen

Origin: god of marriage

 

Meaning: membrane that covers outer orifice of the vagina

hyperborean

Origin: mythical race that inhabited a paradise in the far North edge of the world (beyond the north wind) 

 

Meaning: arctic or frigid

hypnosis/hypnotic

Origin: Hypnos = god of sleep, father of Morpheus, god of dreams

 

Meaning: sleep-like condition in which one becomes susceptible to suggestion

Icarian Sea

Origin: Icarus fell from sky and drowned while trying to the escape imprisonment of himself and his father, Daedalus, by Minos of Crete

 

Meaning: sea is the one he fell in; adj – denotes acts that are reckless, impetuous, and fatal

labyrinth/labyrinthine

Origin: in Crete, Minos had Daedalus construct a maze to imprison the Minotaur; Theseus’ great heroic achievement was to kill the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne and her ball of string

 

Meaning: a maze; adj- anything winding/complicated/intricate

maenad

Origin: female worshipper of Dionysus

 

Meaning: NOPE

Midas touch/golden touch

Origin: Apollo and Pan entered into a musical contest, and Apollo won. Midas, king of Phrygia disagreed with the outcome, so Apollo changed his ears into donkey ears to show that he lacked musical taste. OR, Dionysus granted Midas’ wish that whatever he touched would be turned to gold; Dionysus granted relief by telling him to bathe in the River Pactolus, whose bed became golden

 

Meaning: to be successful in any endeavor 

Muses/music/museum

Origin: 9 Muses were daughters of Zeus and Memory; province was inspiration in the arts, especially poetry and music

 

Meaning: derivatives of “Muse” are music/museum 

Narcissus/narcissisum

Origin: Narcissus was a handsome, self-absorbed young man who fell in love with his reflection and wasted away. turned into a flower

 

Meaning: psychological state of a person who has a pathological attachment to himself/herself

nemesis

Origin: goddess of vengeance who punishes sinners, especially those guilty of hubris

 

Meaning: denotes abstract idea of retribution, or an invincible rival, or a necessary or inevitable consequence

nymph/nymphomania

Origin: beautiful goddesses of nature, often objects of love/desire

 

Meaning: remarkably attractive young woman; also associated with the condition of sexual promiscuity

Oedipus complex

Origin: King Laius of Thebes given a prophecy that his wife would bear a son who would kill his father and marry his mother–and that’s what happened, folks, despite the king’s attempts to protect himself.

 

Meaning: inspired Freud’s idea of the nature of the human psyche–Oedipus complex is the term he used to describe the natural progression of psychosocial development in which the child has libidinal feelings for his parents

Pandora’s box

Origin: Pandora was the first woman and was given to men as punishment for Prometheus’ theft of fire from the gods. she was sent with a jar, which contained all the evils of the world.

 

Meaning: refers to something that should be left unexamined, lest it breed disaster 

panic

Origin: Echo, the nymph, denied the advances of Pan, who drove some shepherds crazy and tore her apart 

 

Meaning: great fear or anxiety

Phaeton

Origin: son of Helios. Father swore that his son could have anything he desired, and Phaeton requested to drive the chariot of the sun. drove to his death. 

 

Meaning: four-wheeled chariot drawn by two horses or early automobile

Priapus/priapism

Origin: Priapus was the son of Aphrodite who was constantly aroused

 

Meaning: pathological condition in which the penis is persistently erect; obscene or lewd

procrustean bed

Origin: Procrustes made unwitting travelers lie down on a bed; if they didn’t fit, he’d cut them down or stretch them out

 

Meaning: adj refers to someone or something that aims at conformity through extreme methods; the bed is the terrible arbitrary standard against which things are measured

Prometheus

Origin: god Prometheus (Forethought), son of a Titan, creator of humanity and its benefactor. lifted mortals from savagery to civilization; took fire from heaven and gave it to mankind, and his punishment was to be bound to a rock and a vulture ate out his liver daily 

 

Meaning: archetypal champion, with fire a symbol of defiance and progress

psyche

Origin: Greek word for soul. Cupid and Psyche: soul’s longing for the divine

 

Meaning: Freudian: psyche means “mind”; psychic refers to mental activity; study of mind and healing of its disorders

python

Origin: Apollo established major center/oracle at Delphi, but to do so he had to kill serpent Python that guarded the site. Named new sanctuary Pytho. 

 

Meaning: snake

Saturn/Saturnalia/saturnian/saturnine

Origin: Saturn is Kronos. castrated father Uranus, devoured children, and was castrated by son Zeus. ruled over the Golden Age of the world

 

Meaning: denotes a period of unrestrained orgiastic revelry; planet.

satyr/satyriasis

Origin: male woodland deities with ears and legs of a goat, worshipped Dionysus, represented unrestrained male sexual energy

 

Meaning: a lecher (excessive and uncontrollable sexual drive)

sphinx

Origin: monster with woman’s head, lion’s body, and wings of an eagle, serpent’s tale who terrorized Thebes before the arrival of Oedipus. punished those who failed to answer riddle with strangulation

 

meaning: someone who tells riddles; inscrutable person given to enigmatic utterances

syringe

Origin: Syrinx rejected advances of Pan and was turned into a bed of reeds, from which Pan fashioned his panpipes 

 

Meaning: device made up of a pipe or tube used for injecting/ejecting liquids

Titan/titanic

Origin: 12 Titans, second gen. gods who had gigantic stature and strength; also conceived of as natural forces; defeated, but also virtually invincible

 

Meaning: adj- massive strength

Typhon/Typhoeus

Origin: Zeus’ struggle with dragon Typho was the last serious battle before he came to power; Typho had 100 heads and tongues and eyes that shot fire

 

Meaning: (typhoon) severe tropical hurricane

venereal/venery

Origin: Venus = goddess of love/sex

 

Meaning: venereal denotes STD, while venery means indulgence in sexual license 

volcano

Origin: Roman god Vulcan was the supreme craftsman/smith; forge located under volcano Mt Aetna in Sicily

 

Meaning: volcano mountain with lava and fire and awesomeness

zephyr

Origin: Zephyrus was the West Wind, which signals the return of spring

 

Meaning: pleasant, gentle breeze; also reference to any insignificant/passing thing

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