The Basics

In tribute to Hercules and his Labors, a huge or heroic task is said to Herculean. A Sisyphean one requires continual effort that never quite pays off, after Sisyphus. It's because of a mythological king named Tantalus that to tantalize entails holding something desireable just out of reach. The Midas touch, or the gift of profiting from whatever one undertakes, is named for a legendary king of Phrygia. A book of maps gets its name from Atlas, the Titan who supported the heavens on his shoulders. Something colossal in size or power is said to be titanic, after the Titans. It's a Procrustean effort that forces evidence into a theory when it doesn't fit, just as Procrustes violently adjusted his guests to fit their bed. Stygian can mean infernal, gloomy or characteristic of death, since it comes from the river Styx. Promethean describes a daringly creative or defiantly original act, because of the Titan Prometheus. A point of vulnerability is an Achilles' heel. The word panic comes from the shepherd god Pan.