LLR Books

Speaking Volumes: Finding mythology every day

Special to the Herald

You may vaguely remember mythology from the study of ancient empires in grade school, but what you may not realize is how common the concepts, words and phrases we use in our day-to-day life come from these dramatic legends.
As we approach the New Year, it's only fitting to begin with the origin of the word "January." The month is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions. Interestingly, this god is depicted with two faces, one that looks to the past and one that looks to the future, something we can all relate to as we reflect upon the departing year and look forward to the new one. Other months are named after the gods as well: March is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. April is an abbreviation of sorts for Aphrodite, the beguiling Greek goddess of love and beauty. June is named after the Roman's Juno, the stately goddess of and protector of women.
Additionally, many of the names of the days of the week are also attributed to the gods of the ancients. Two gods of the English/Germanic people give us Tuesday (Tiu, the god of war and sky) and Wednesday (Woden, the chief god of the people). Thursday is Thor's, the Norse god of Thunder.
Mythology has also made its way into the business world. Your sneakers may be named after the winged Greek goddess of victory, Nike. The camera company, Olympus, is named after the highest mountain in Greece -- home of the gods. The name of the online bookstore Amazon refers to the Amazons, a mythical race of women warriors trained in combat and archery.
Mythological words and phrases pepper our conversation: "chronological" and "chronic" come from Chronos, the god of time. "Hypnosis" comes from Hypnos, the god of sleep; "Morphine" from Morpheus, the god of dreams. Typhon, "typhoon's" namesake, was a violent, half-donkey, half-serpent monster that flew through the air on thick wings, shrieking and spitting flames. Beautiful Narcissus who could love no one but himself starved to death pining over his own reflection, hence the term "narcissist."
If you find the subject of mythology interesting, the library is chock full of books on the topic. For Greek and Roman mythology, check out Edith Hamilton's classic "Mythology," or Thomas Bulfinch's "Bulfinch's Mythology."
"Mythologies of the World" includes myths from China, India, Africa, Ancient Egypt, Central and Eastern Europe, and North and South America.
Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Access the at www.mymanatee.org/library.

Jyna Scheeren is a reference librarian and Program Coordinator in the Manatee County Public Library System.