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M entries
Marathon. Plain north of Athens, site of a famous Greek victory over the Persians, news of which was announced to the Athenians by a man who ran all the way (hence the name of the modern footrace). In myth, it was on the plain of Marathon that Theseus caught the Lapith Peirithous trying to steal his cattle. The two became lifelong friends on that occasion.
Mars (MARZ). Roman name of Ares (AIR-eez), the god of war. Though an immortal deity, Ares was bested by Heracles in battle and was almost killed when stuffed into a jar by two giants. When another hero wounded him during the Trojan War, he received scant sympathy from his father Zeus. The throne of Ares on Mount Olympus was covered in human skin..
Medea (meh-DEE-uh or mee-DEE-uh). Medea, daughter of King Aeetes, was a famous sorceress. It was Medea who enabled Jason and the Argonauts to claim the Golden Fleece from the sacred grove in which it hung. She had already helped Jason survive various perilous tasks set him by her father, and now she enchanted the dragon which guarded the Fleece so that Jason could make off with it. Later she married King Aegeus of Athens and tried to poison his son Theseus.
Medusa (meh-DOO-suh). The sole mortal of the monstrous Gorgons, slain by Perseus. The fact that the hero used a reflective shield given him by Athena to avoid looking directly at Medusa suggests that the Gorgon had the power of turning to stone whoever looked upon her. But most versions of the myth put it that she turned to stone whoever she looked upon. This was not an issue for Perseus, since Medusa was asleep when he chopped off her head.
Melampus (meh-LAM-pus). Seer who cared for snakes whose mother had died. Melampus awoke to find them licking his ears and thereby gained the ability to understand the language of animals and insects. It was Melampus who cured the daughters of King Proetus of Tiryns when Hera caused them to roam the countryside in a frenzy thinking they were cows.
Meltemi (mel-TEM-ee). The steady northerly wind of high summer in Greece and the Aegean Sea. The sailing season during the Heroic Age was limited to some fifty days after the end of summer. During summer itself the Aegean bakes under the sun and any slight imbalance in barometric pressure causes the hot air to rise up suddenly, sucking down cold from the North. Suddenly out of a cloudless sky the north wind rages down with almost hurricane force. And even in the absence of these dreadful gales, the Meltemi can be relied upon to kick up a choppy and violent sea.
Menelaus (meh-neh-LAY-us). King of Sparta. One of the Greeks who besieged Troy to retrieve his wife Helen from the Trojan Paris. Helen had been bewitched by the Goddess of Love into eloping with Paris, and in the phrase of the poet Marlowe her face launched a thousand ships. These bore the Greek allies of Menelaus to the siege and ultimate downfall of Troy.
Mercury (MUR-cyoor-ree). Roman name of Hermes. A prankster and inventive genius from birth, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and guide of dead souls to the Underworld. He aided the heroes Odysseus and Perseus in their quests.
Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. As a newborn he was remarkably precocious. On his very first day of life, he found the empty shell of a tortoise and perceived its utility as a sounding chamber. Stringing sinews across it, he created the first lyre.
Hermes was known for his helpfulness to mankind, both in his capacity as immortal herald and on his own initiative. When Perseus set out to face the Gorgon Medusa, Hermes aided him in the quest. According to one version of the myth, he loaned the hero his own magic sandals, which conferred upon the wearer the ability to fly. Some say that Hermes loaned Perseus a helmet of invisibility as well. Also known as the helmet of darkness, this was the same headgear that Hermes himself had worn when he vanquished the giant Hippolytus. This was on the occasion when the gargantuan sons of Earth rose up in revolt against the gods of Olympus.
Hermes' symbol of office as divine messenger was his staff, or caduceus. This was originally a willow wand with entwined ribbons, traditional badge of the herald. But the ribbons were eventually depicted as snakes. To support this mythologically, a story evolved that Hermes used the caduceus to separate two fighting snakes which forthwith twined themselves together in peace.
It was Hermes' job to convey dead souls to the Underworld. And as patron of travelers, he was often shown in a wide-brimmed sun hat of straw. Hermes was known to the Romans as Mercury. His most famous depiction, a statue by Bellini, shows him alight on one foot, wings at his heels, the snaky caduceus in hand and, on his head, a rather stylized combination helmet-of-darkness and sun hat.
Midas (MYE-das). Mythological possessor of the "Midas touch", the power to transmute whatever he touched into gold. Midas was a king of Phrygia, a region nowadays part of Turkey. One day some of his farmhands brought him a satyr they had caught napping in the vineyard. This creature, part man, part goat, still groggy and much the worse for wear, had been thoroughly trussed up to keep him from escaping. Midas immediately recognized Silenus, right-hand satyr to the god Dionysus, and ordered him set free.
Silenus explained that he and his master had just returned from the East where they had been engaged in spreading the cultivation of the grape. Dionysus had brought back a tiger or two, an ever-expanding flock of followers and one very drunken satyr. Silenus had conked out in Midas's vineyard to sleep it off. Now he was grateful to the king for treating him with dignity, and so was Dionysus. The god was so pleased, in fact, that he offered to grant whatever Midas should wish for.
Now, you didn't get to rule a kingdom in those days without a pretty active grasp of what makes for a successful economy. Midas didn't have to think twice. As the simplest plan for the constant replenishment of the royal treasury, he asked that everything he touch be turned to gold.
Arching a godly eyebrow, Dionysus went so far as to ask if Midas were sure. To which the king instantly replied, "Sure I'm sure." So Dionysus waved his pinebranch sceptre and conferred the boon.
And Midas rushed back home to try it out. Tentatively at first, he laid a trembling fingertip upon a bowl of fruit and then a stool and then a wooly lambkin. And when each of these had been transmuted in a trice into purest gold, the king began to caper about like the lambkin before its transformation.
"Just look at this!" he crowed, turning his chariot into a glittering mass of priceless-though-worthless transportation. "Look what daddy can do!" he cried, taking his young daughter by the hand to lead her into the garden for a lesson in making dewy nature gleam with a monotonous but more valuable sheen.
Encountering unexpected resistance, he swung about to see why his daughter was being such a slug. Whereupon his eyes encountered, where late his child had been, a life-size golden statue that might have been entitled "Innocence Surprised".
"Uh oh," said Midas, and from that point on the uh-oh's multiplied. He couldn't touch any useful object without it losing in utility what it gained in monetary value, nor any food without it shedding all nutritional potency on its leaden way down his gullet.
In short, Midas came to understand why Dionysus had looked askance when asked to grant the favor. Fortunately, the god was a good sport about it. He allowed Midas to wash away his magic touch in the river Pactolus, which ever after enjoyed renown for its shimmering deposits of gold.
Minerva (mih-NER-vuh). Roman name of Athena, the Olympian goddess of crafts and the domestic arts and also those of war; patron goddess of Athens. Athena was born from Zeus's head and was originally the Great Goddess in the form of a bird. She aided the heroes Perseus, Jason, Cadmus and Heracles in their quests..
Minoan (mi-NOH-an). Of or pertaining to the Bronze Age culture of Crete as exemplified by archaeological discoveries at Knossos. It was named for King Minos, somewhat misleadingly since the "Minoans" of Knossos worshipped a female goddess and may well have looked for their leadership to priestesses rather than male kings or priests.
Minos (MYE-nos). King of Crete whose insult to the gods eventuated in the birth of the Minotaur. The Greek gods (or the ancients who made up myths about them) sometimes showed a strange sense of justice. King Minos did a number of things which - one would have thought - disqualified him for a distinguished career in the afterlife. When challenged to prove his right to the Cretan throne, Minos asked the gods to send him a sign. The deities instantly obliged, causing a beautiful white bull to emerge from the sea. Minos was so delighted that he decided not to offer the bull for sacrifice as was expected. Instead he substituted another bull from his herd. This displeased the sea god Poseidon so much that he made Minos' wife fall in love with the bull from the sea. The Minotaur was born as a result.
When Minos besieged Megara, its princess fell in love with him. Learning that the town's safety depended on an immortal lock of hair which grew from the head of her father the king, she was driven to treachery by her passion for Minos. She cut the hair and Megara fell. It may well be that Minos encouraged the princess in this act. In any case, he was so ungrateful that he spurned her love and allowed her to drown - or he drowned her himself.
According to the Athenians, Minos was a supremely wicked king. But others considered him wise and just. It is certain that the gods rewarded him in the afterlife, making him one of three great judges of the dead.
Minos figures significantly in the myth of Theseus. In one incident, he challenges the hero to retrieve a ring thrown into the sea. Later, he throws Theseus to the Minotaur.
Minotaur (MIN-uh-tawr). A monster, half-man, half-bull, that devoured sacrificial victims thrown into the Labyrinth. Born of Queen Pasiphae's god-inflicted infatuation with a bull, the Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus. The monster is generally depicted as having the head of a bull and the body of a man. But in the Middle Ages, artists portrayed a man's head and torso on a bull's body.
Mycenae (mye-SEE-nee). Actual city of the Heroic Age, of great wealth as revealed by archaeology. In myth, Mycenae was said to have been founded by Perseus and later ruled by Heracles' cousin Eurystheus. Heracles himself would have been king of Mycenae and neighboring Tiryns as well, but Hera arranged it that Eurystheus ruled in his stead.
Mycenaean Age (mye-seh-NEE-an). Period of high cultural achievement, forming the backdrop and basis for subsequent myths of the heroes. It was named for the kingdom of Mycenae and the archaeological site where fabulous works in gold were unearthed. The Mycenaean Age was cut short by widespread destruction ushering in the Greek Dark Age.
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M entries
Marathon. Plain north of Athens, site of a famous Greek victory over the Persians, news of which was announced to the Athenians by a man who ran all the way (hence the name of the modern footrace). In myth, it was on the plain of Marathon that Theseus caught the Lapith Peirithous trying to steal his cattle. The two became lifelong friends on that occasion.
Mars (MARZ). Roman name of Ares (AIR-eez), the god of war. Though an immortal deity, Ares was bested by Heracles in battle and was almost killed when stuffed into a jar by two giants. When another hero wounded him during the Trojan War, he received scant sympathy from his father Zeus. The throne of Ares on Mount Olympus was covered in human skin..
Medea (meh-DEE-uh or mee-DEE-uh). Medea, daughter of King Aeetes, was a famous sorceress. It was Medea who enabled Jason and the Argonauts to claim the Golden Fleece from the sacred grove in which it hung. She had already helped Jason survive various perilous tasks set him by her father, and now she enchanted the dragon which guarded the Fleece so that Jason could make off with it. Later she married King Aegeus of Athens and tried to poison his son Theseus.
Medusa (meh-DOO-suh). The sole mortal of the monstrous Gorgons, slain by Perseus. The fact that the hero used a reflective shield given him by Athena to avoid looking directly at Medusa suggests that the Gorgon had the power of turning to stone whoever looked upon her. But most versions of the myth put it that she turned to stone whoever she looked upon. This was not an issue for Perseus, since Medusa was asleep when he chopped off her head.
Melampus (meh-LAM-pus). Seer who cared for snakes whose mother had died. Melampus awoke to find them licking his ears and thereby gained the ability to understand the language of animals and insects. It was Melampus who cured the daughters of King Proetus of Tiryns when Hera caused them to roam the countryside in a frenzy thinking they were cows.
Meltemi (mel-TEM-ee). The steady northerly wind of high summer in Greece and the Aegean Sea. The sailing season during the Heroic Age was limited to some fifty days after the end of summer. During summer itself the Aegean bakes under the sun and any slight imbalance in barometric pressure causes the hot air to rise up suddenly, sucking down cold from the North. Suddenly out of a cloudless sky the north wind rages down with almost hurricane force. And even in the absence of these dreadful gales, the Meltemi can be relied upon to kick up a choppy and violent sea.
Menelaus (meh-neh-LAY-us). King of Sparta. One of the Greeks who besieged Troy to retrieve his wife Helen from the Trojan Paris. Helen had been bewitched by the Goddess of Love into eloping with Paris, and in the phrase of the poet Marlowe her face launched a thousand ships. These bore the Greek allies of Menelaus to the siege and ultimate downfall of Troy.
Mercury (MUR-cyoor-ree). Roman name of Hermes. A prankster and inventive genius from birth, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and guide of dead souls to the Underworld. He aided the heroes Odysseus and Perseus in their quests.
Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. As a newborn he was remarkably precocious. On his very first day of life, he found the empty shell of a tortoise and perceived its utility as a sounding chamber. Stringing sinews across it, he created the first lyre.
Hermes was known for his helpfulness to mankind, both in his capacity as immortal herald and on his own initiative. When Perseus set out to face the Gorgon Medusa, Hermes aided him in the quest. According to one version of the myth, he loaned the hero his own magic sandals, which conferred upon the wearer the ability to fly. Some say that Hermes loaned Perseus a helmet of invisibility as well. Also known as the helmet of darkness, this was the same headgear that Hermes himself had worn when he vanquished the giant Hippolytus. This was on the occasion when the gargantuan sons of Earth rose up in revolt against the gods of Olympus.
Hermes' symbol of office as divine messenger was his staff, or caduceus. This was originally a willow wand with entwined ribbons, traditional badge of the herald. But the ribbons were eventually depicted as snakes. To support this mythologically, a story evolved that Hermes used the caduceus to separate two fighting snakes which forthwith twined themselves together in peace.
It was Hermes' job to convey dead souls to the Underworld. And as patron of travelers, he was often shown in a wide-brimmed sun hat of straw. Hermes was known to the Romans as Mercury. His most famous depiction, a statue by Bellini, shows him alight on one foot, wings at his heels, the snaky caduceus in hand and, on his head, a rather stylized combination helmet-of-darkness and sun hat.
Midas (MYE-das). Mythological possessor of the "Midas touch", the power to transmute whatever he touched into gold. Midas was a king of Phrygia, a region nowadays part of Turkey. One day some of his farmhands brought him a satyr they had caught napping in the vineyard. This creature, part man, part goat, still groggy and much the worse for wear, had been thoroughly trussed up to keep him from escaping. Midas immediately recognized Silenus, right-hand satyr to the god Dionysus, and ordered him set free.
Silenus explained that he and his master had just returned from the East where they had been engaged in spreading the cultivation of the grape. Dionysus had brought back a tiger or two, an ever-expanding flock of followers and one very drunken satyr. Silenus had conked out in Midas's vineyard to sleep it off. Now he was grateful to the king for treating him with dignity, and so was Dionysus. The god was so pleased, in fact, that he offered to grant whatever Midas should wish for.
Now, you didn't get to rule a kingdom in those days without a pretty active grasp of what makes for a successful economy. Midas didn't have to think twice. As the simplest plan for the constant replenishment of the royal treasury, he asked that everything he touch be turned to gold.
Arching a godly eyebrow, Dionysus went so far as to ask if Midas were sure. To which the king instantly replied, "Sure I'm sure." So Dionysus waved his pinebranch sceptre and conferred the boon.
And Midas rushed back home to try it out. Tentatively at first, he laid a trembling fingertip upon a bowl of fruit and then a stool and then a wooly lambkin. And when each of these had been transmuted in a trice into purest gold, the king began to caper about like the lambkin before its transformation.
"Just look at this!" he crowed, turning his chariot into a glittering mass of priceless-though-worthless transportation. "Look what daddy can do!" he cried, taking his young daughter by the hand to lead her into the garden for a lesson in making dewy nature gleam with a monotonous but more valuable sheen.
Encountering unexpected resistance, he swung about to see why his daughter was being such a slug. Whereupon his eyes encountered, where late his child had been, a life-size golden statue that might have been entitled "Innocence Surprised".
"Uh oh," said Midas, and from that point on the uh-oh's multiplied. He couldn't touch any useful object without it losing in utility what it gained in monetary value, nor any food without it shedding all nutritional potency on its leaden way down his gullet.
In short, Midas came to understand why Dionysus had looked askance when asked to grant the favor. Fortunately, the god was a good sport about it. He allowed Midas to wash away his magic touch in the river Pactolus, which ever after enjoyed renown for its shimmering deposits of gold.
Minerva (mih-NER-vuh). Roman name of Athena, the Olympian goddess of crafts and the domestic arts and also those of war; patron goddess of Athens. Athena was born from Zeus's head and was originally the Great Goddess in the form of a bird. She aided the heroes Perseus, Jason, Cadmus and Heracles in their quests..
Minoan (mi-NOH-an). Of or pertaining to the Bronze Age culture of Crete as exemplified by archaeological discoveries at Knossos. It was named for King Minos, somewhat misleadingly since the "Minoans" of Knossos worshipped a female goddess and may well have looked for their leadership to priestesses rather than male kings or priests.
Minos (MYE-nos). King of Crete whose insult to the gods eventuated in the birth of the Minotaur. The Greek gods (or the ancients who made up myths about them) sometimes showed a strange sense of justice. King Minos did a number of things which - one would have thought - disqualified him for a distinguished career in the afterlife. When challenged to prove his right to the Cretan throne, Minos asked the gods to send him a sign. The deities instantly obliged, causing a beautiful white bull to emerge from the sea. Minos was so delighted that he decided not to offer the bull for sacrifice as was expected. Instead he substituted another bull from his herd. This displeased the sea god Poseidon so much that he made Minos' wife fall in love with the bull from the sea. The Minotaur was born as a result.
When Minos besieged Megara, its princess fell in love with him. Learning that the town's safety depended on an immortal lock of hair which grew from the head of her father the king, she was driven to treachery by her passion for Minos. She cut the hair and Megara fell. It may well be that Minos encouraged the princess in this act. In any case, he was so ungrateful that he spurned her love and allowed her to drown - or he drowned her himself.
According to the Athenians, Minos was a supremely wicked king. But others considered him wise and just. It is certain that the gods rewarded him in the afterlife, making him one of three great judges of the dead.
Minos figures significantly in the myth of Theseus. In one incident, he challenges the hero to retrieve a ring thrown into the sea. Later, he throws Theseus to the Minotaur.
Minotaur (MIN-uh-tawr). A monster, half-man, half-bull, that devoured sacrificial victims thrown into the Labyrinth. Born of Queen Pasiphae's god-inflicted infatuation with a bull, the Minotaur was eventually killed by Theseus. The monster is generally depicted as having the head of a bull and the body of a man. But in the Middle Ages, artists portrayed a man's head and torso on a bull's body.
Mycenae (mye-SEE-nee). Actual city of the Heroic Age, of great wealth as revealed by archaeology. In myth, Mycenae was said to have been founded by Perseus and later ruled by Heracles' cousin Eurystheus. Heracles himself would have been king of Mycenae and neighboring Tiryns as well, but Hera arranged it that Eurystheus ruled in his stead.
Mycenaean Age (mye-seh-NEE-an). Period of high cultural achievement, forming the backdrop and basis for subsequent myths of the heroes. It was named for the kingdom of Mycenae and the archaeological site where fabulous works in gold were unearthed. The Mycenaean Age was cut short by widespread destruction ushering in the Greek Dark Age.
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