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Greek Literature

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         The role and importance of the physically disabled play in Greek Literature are varied. The disability can stem from blindness, to ugliness each having the their own powers as if a compensation for their disability. The first would be the story of Phineus, in Jason and the Argonauts. In this classic story, Phineus is a blind soothsayer, who is tormented by the HARPIES. Whenever a meal was set before him, the harpies would come and carry the food off. The Argonauts delivered him from these pests in return for information respecting the route they were to take in order to obtain the Golden Fleece.

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             The Harpies in the story are evil predaceous birds with women’s faces.  They are Daughters of the titaness ELECTRA and sister of Iris. They combine the primitive concepts of wind spirits and predatory ghosts with actual characteristics of carrion birds.  Another example is of Hephaestus. He is the god of fire and metal- working. He was identified as with the Roman Vulcan.

Hephaestus is either the son of Zeus and Hera or was produced by Hera alone.  Hephaestus is lame and was thrown out of Heaven by Hera because of his deformity. For revenge, Hephaestus wrought a golden throne from which Hera could not use.  In another story, Hephaestus took part of Hera against Zeus, who then threw him from heaven.  He fell for nine days and was finally picked up, lamed for life, on the island of Lemnos. Hephaestus to the unfaithful Aphrodite, he became known as the special patron of CUCKOLDS. Hephaestus delivered ATHENE from the head of Zeus with the stroke of an axe.  Homer also depicts him as the maker of the AEGIS.

Hecate the Greek goddess is believed to be the goddess of witchcraft or evil and is  believed by some to be descended from the Titans.  She is betrayed having three  faces and three heads, which symbolized her powers over her underworld, Earth, air, with one head of a dog, one of a snake and the last of a horse.  She is known as the lady of the underworld, of chthonic rites and of black magic.  Hecate combined fertility with death as a power of Earth, making her a feared and revered figure in Greek mythology.  Her importance and role was to have a benign influence on farming however, during the hours of night and darkness she was involved in witchcraft, ghosts, and tombs.  Betrayed mostly as evil, however she did some very good things in her time.

                 One such deed is when she helped to rescue Persephone (Demeter’s daughter, the queen of the Underworld and the maiden of spring), from the underworld.  She eventually became Persephone attendant in the underworld, once Persephone married Hades.  Hecate is said to haunt a three-way cross-road, each of her heads facing in a certain direction and appears when the ebony moon shines in the sky. Her Hebrew name is Sheol, and the Egyptians know her as Nepthys.  She is the daughter of the Titan Perses and Asteria although sometimes it is said that Zeus fathered her.

                  Hecate’s influence is long lasting, and the medieval witches worshipped the willow tree which is sacred to her.  The same root word, which gave “Willow and Wicker” also gave “Witch and Wicked.”  Thus Hecate becomes key holder of hell and queen of the departed, dispatching phantoms from the underworld.  She leaves Hades at night to roam on Earth  bringing terror to those who here her approach.  Hecate is accompained by the bounds and by the bleak souls of the death.  She also appears as a gigantic woman bearing a sword and torch, her feet and hair bristling with snakes, her  voice is of that of a howling devil dog. To placate her, the people erected statues at crossroads. Under a full moon, feats called “Hecate’s supper’s were served. Dogs, eggs, honey and milk were sacrificed to her name.

                   Hermaphrodite is a plant or animal containing both male and female reproductive organs.  Son of HERMES and APHRODITE, his story is told in Ovid’s METAMORPHOSES. The nymph Salmacis became enamored of him, and prayed she might be so closely untied that “The twain” might meet flesh.  Her prayer was answered, and the nymph and boy become one body.  His purpose was to be a sacrifice for Alcmena who gives birth to Zeus son Hercules.

                  The Gorgons are the monsters of classical myth.  Golden wings and claws of Brass, their hair is a mass of live serpents and their aspect is so terrible that all who looks upon them turns to stone.  There are three gorgons: Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa, who are the daughters of keto and the aged sea-god Phoreys and sisters of the Graeae, who guard them.  Medusa is their chief and the only mortal. She is slain by Perseus when he rescues  Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia from a sea-monster send by Poseidon. The Gorgon’s head is believed to have the power to terrify the enemy.  In Greek mythology it is found carved on shields, armor and city walls.  It is can also be used as an amulet to protect against enchantment.

                  Daphnis is the Sicilian shepherd who invented pastoral poetry.  Daphnis is the son of Hermes and a nymph. He became unfortunate in love, when he was blinded by a nymph for a not very clear reason as punishment. He writes sad however, lovely songs on the subject of how he became blind and was taken up to heaven by a Hermes. In THEOCRITUS, the human inventor of the PASTORAL, claims in his first Idyll that Daphnis died of unrequited love, a punishment from APHRODITE for having refused the love of a woman.

               The Cyclops is any group of giants, offspring of GE and URANUS. HESIOD Listed three Cyclopes, named Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, who forged ZEUS’s Thunderbolts.  Each have only one eye, which was set in the middle of his forehead.  The most famous of the Cyclopes was POLYPHEMUS, whose cannibal welcome to Odysseus and his sailors is related both in the Odyssey.  Odysseus lands in Sicily with His crew during their wanderings described in Homer’s Odyssey comes to Polyphemus’ Cave.  The monster imprisons them by pushing a stone against the entrance and eats six men.  They manage to blind him and escape holding onto the underside of Pholyphemus’ sheep. However, Polyphemus prays to his father, Poseidon, and the god’s enmity is the main cause of Odysseus long wanderings.

                 Another example of a character with physical disability as an important role is in the story of  Thersites. In Homer’s ILIAD, Thersite is a deformed, scurrilous officer in the Greek army at Troy’s siege.  Thersite was always railing at the chiefs; therefore the name is always applied to any dastardly, malevolent, impudent person who is against the powers that be.  ACHILLES hit him with his fist and killed him.

                 However, the characters in Greek mythology do not always have a physical handicap at the beginning of the stories. The physical handicap also has a role in Greek mythology as a punishment either from the Gods or their enemies.  The story of echo is a good example of this. Echo, a nymph becomes merely a disembodied voice after pining away from unrequited love for NARCISSUS and according to another story, as punishment when Hera dooms her an eternity to only echo the voice of others when she annoys Hera while she is trying to spy on Zeus.  Yet, there is a third story, which explains with Pan, furious that she could not love him, maddened some shepherds until they tore her into such tiny pieces that nothing was left but only her voice.

                    Narcissus is another good example of physical deformity as punishment. In Greek Mythology, Narcissus is a beautiful youth. He was beloved by the nymph Echo, who repulsed him, and didn’t want or need the care of women’s love. Echo caused him to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water.  He pined away for the image, and was changed into the flower that bears his name; punishment for being vain.  To this day the psychological term narcissism is described as a neurotic obsession with one’s own being not caring about anything else.

                 In Homer’s ILIAD, the tragic figure of Hebuca, the wife of PRIAM and the mother of Hector  administers punishment to the Thracian king POLYMESTOR, by blinding him and killing his children as punishment and revenge for the murder of her son POLYDORUS. According to the myth she was transformed into a fiery-eyed hellhound by the Gods as a result.

               Many critics, approaching Hecuba as a drama of character, have found many contradictions to the plot of the story which is divided into two parts: The death of Polyxena and the blinding of Polymestor.  Hebuca is a common character in each, with her character changing throughout the play.  However, Euripide’s tragic conception concerns more than Hecuba.  The theme of the play is brutality of suffering. Hecuba is he principal actor, the speech is the prophecy of Polymestor, which puts Polymestor and Hecuba at the same level of a beast.  Euripide’s Purpose is his use of myth; the old tales of Agamemon’s murder and Hecuba’s animal Metamorphosis become the climax to the long series of brutalities in the play.

                 Oedipus in Greek mythology, the son of Laius of the Theban dynasty founded by Cadmus, and of Jocasta. Oedipus is the tragic hero of many stories.  His story is told also in the ILIAD and in the many works dealing with sons. The most familiar version of the myth, Laius having learned from an oracle that he would be killed by his own son, thrust a spike through the infant’s feet and had him exposed on Mt. Cithaeron. When Oedipus grew to manhood, Oedipus was warned by the Delphic oracle that he Would kill his father and marry his mother.  He proceeded to Thebus, which was then being ravaged by the Sphinx. Oedipus answered the Sphinx’s riddle, the Sphinx killed herself, and the regent CREON offered him the throne of Thebes and the hand of Laius’ widow, Jocasta, who was Creon’s sister. Famine struck Thebes, and Delphic oracle advised Creon to cast from the city the slayer of Laius. The seer TIRESIAS and an old shepherd revealed Oedipus’ identity.  Jocasta commits suicide, and Oedipus blinds himself with her brooch.

               The most common of characters with physical disabilities in Greek mythology are the giants.  In Greek mythology, offspring, of GE (earth), impregnated by blood from the castrated URANUS (Sky). They were in most stories of human form, however with serpents tails instead of feet.  The giants warred on the gods, throwing whole trees and giants’ rocks.  They were defeated only with the aid of HERACLES.  These immortals were buried alive under mountains-generally volcanoes.

Reference Site:

     1. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia Fourth Edition Harper Collins, Publishers 1996

     2. Troy Homer’s Iliad Retold by David Boyle and Viv Croot. Barnes & Nobles, Inc 2004.

  3.“Online medieval and classical library, http:// sunsite. Berkely.edu/OMACL/Hesiod/hymns.html

    4. Hecate Homework page. WWW.Greekmyth.com

    5. The Gods of ancient Greece Hesphaistos.  WWW.Greekmyth.com

6.      The Everything Classical Mythology book: Greek and Roman gods, goddess, heroes and monsters for Ares to Zeus. By Lesley Bolton.  Copyright 2002 F+W



Cite this Greek Literature

Greek Literature. (2017, Jan 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/greek-literature/

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