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Mythology | Study Guide

Edith Hamilton

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Mythology | Quotes


They were a beautiful, radiant company ... but when they were not positively harmful, they were capricious and undependable.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 2

When introducing the Greek gods, Edith Hamilton provides a concise assessment of the relationship between gods and mortals. The gods are entertaining and interesting, but their behavior is inconsistent and unpredictable. They do not provide service to humans so much as to themselves, and they cause more trouble than good.


All things in heaven and earth were mysteriously linked with the divine powers, but beautiful things most of all.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 4

When Hades kidnaps Persephone, he uses a bright red flower to lure her. This beautiful flower, therefore, links Persephone between the land of the living and the land of the dead. It becomes a symbol of the connection between all living things, but it also reflects the high value Greek culture places on beauty. However, a flower quickly fades, suggesting the brief span of mortal life, especially one that is beautiful. Also, red flowers in particular refer to the bleeding wounds of the dying in Homer's epics.


Do what you will ... but you are seeking your own destruction.

Eros/Cupid, Part 2, Chapter 1

Cupid tells Psyche this when she wants to visit her sisters because he suspects the sisters are up to no good. However, his words could apply to the actions of all mortals who fail to obey the warnings of the gods; they have free will to do as they wish, but they are likely to meet with disaster.


Never ... will I forget you. If you will come to Greece, you shall be worshiped.

Jason, Part 2, Chapter 3

Jason swears to Medea that he will never leave her, and she will be revered for her service to his heroic quest if she comes with him to Greece. None of this happens. Jason abandons Medea for a Corinthian princess, which shows that he is not a man of his word. Furthermore, Medea's revenge upon Jason gives cause for the Greeks to revile her as a woman skilled in sorcery and as a foreigner. Media shares a similarity of fate with Dido in Virgil's Aeneid.


Escape may be checked by water and land, but the air and the sky are free.

Daedalus, Part 2, Chapter 4

Daedalus tells his son Icarus the sky will be their means of escape when King Minos traps them in the Labyrinth. His solution and poetic expression demonstrate the human desire for freedom and the dream of finding that freedom in flight.


There ought to be a true yardstick to measure affection by ... some means to know who is to be trusted and who is not.

Theseus, Part 3, Chapter 2

Theseus says these words to Hippolytus when he believes his son is responsible for Phaedra's suicide. However, Theseus believes Hippolytus is the one who cannot be trusted, even though Phaedra is the one who lies in her suicide note. Theseus's blaming the wrong party in this situation proves his statement true, even though his logic is backward.


Evil I share with you is not evil to me ... Men of great soul can bear the blows of heaven.

Theseus, Part 3, Chapter 3

Theseus offers Hercules absolution for the murder of his family, telling Hercules his "evil" is not his fault and showing his own merciful nature. He encourages Hercules to persevere because he is strong enough to bear the misfortune that has been visited upon him.


That which is fated must come to pass, but against my fate no man can kill me.

Hector, Part 4, Chapter 1

Hector tells his wife he will not die until his fate allows it as an explanation for his decision to return to the Trojan War. He speaks to the classical belief in fate, and indicates he will die when fate mandates, whether he is home in Troy or on the battlefield. So, death comes for every person when it is time.


What sorrow is there that is not mine?/Country lost and husband and children./Glory of all my house brought low.

Hecuba, Part 4, Chapter 2

Hecuba's words express the grief of all the Trojan women taken captive after the Greeks sack their city. Their grief and loss are overwhelming. These words also indicate the relative powerlessness of women in classical society.


I have no strength to move. If this is in truth Odysseus, then we two have ways of knowing each other.

Penelope, Part 4, Chapter 3

Penelope's greeting to Odysseus when he returns to her shows her characteristic modesty and reserve. She will require more proof of his identity before she accepts him. She also indicates that their bond is so strong and they know one another so well that it will be easy for them to reconnect after his long absence.


The future Romans, the masters of the world ... Anchises ... told of the deeds they would do.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 4

Anchises tells Aeneas about the souls that will populate the city Aeneas is destined to establish. He also expounds on the glory and greatness of the Roman empire to come. Virgil wrote Aeneas's story at the peak of the Roman Empire, and his words remain true, as the Roman Empire remains a model of civilization to this day.


I, not Apollo, was guilty of my mother's murder ... but I have been cleansed of my guilt.

Orestes, Part 5, Chapter 1

When Orestes speaks these words to Athena, it represents a confession of his actions. He will not allow anyone else, not even the god who pressed him to avenge Agamemnon, to accept responsibility for what he has done. By making this confession, Orestes's soul is cleansed and the curse is lifted from his family.


The unwritten laws of heaven are not of today nor yesterday, but from all time.

Antigone, Part 5, Chapter 2

Antigone is defiant when she faces Creon, who means to put her to death for giving her brother burial rites against Creon's orders. Her response applies to her specific circumstances, but she also demonstrates that there are principles of good and right that transcend all human laws.


The power of good is shown not by triumphantly conquering evil, but by continuing to resist evil.

Narrator, Part 7, Introduction to Norse Mythology

In the classical myths, heroes usually become heroes through triumph over adversity and vanquishing evil. In Norse culture, the triumph lies in the battle itself, not in the outcome.


The mind knows only/What lies near the heart.

Narrator, Part 7, Chapter 2

Hamilton designates this proverb the wisest of the Norse wisdom. The proverb indicates mind and heart always work in tandem; the idea of separating thought and emotion is an illusion because the two are forever linked.

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