Pests in Folklore and Mythology: The Ancient Greeks

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Mythology, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “a collection of myths, especially one belonging to a particular religious or cultural tradition”. Out of all of the ancient cultures with a mythology that has maintained some level of popularity in the modern era, the tales of the Ancient Greeks are right up there with the Ancient Romans and Ancient Egyptians, at least in the United States.

Different cultures mythologies are often interpreted as a reflection of their culture, which explains why many of the characters in these stories- though exaggerated and often outlandish- share at least some qualities of people and creatures that actually exist in the real world. For our purposes, we’ll be focusing on pests in Ancient Greek mythology--and there are plenty to choose from. After all, if mythology is ultimately a reflection of a culture, there’s naturally going to be all sorts of insects and critters that make appearances in some way, shape or form. With that said, let’s look at some of the pests that make appearances in Ancient Greek mythology.

Snakes 

A coiled snake ready to pounce

Snakes appear repeatedly in Greek mythology, though they are often referred to as serpents (which are basically just really big snakes. There’s the famous ouroboros, the famous ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail; this image is supposed to be symbolic of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. 

Then there’s amphisbaena, a desert-dwelling two-headed snake that ate ants, which earned her the moniker “The Mother of Ants”. As the story goes, this creature was born from a droplet of blood from Medusa’s head as Perseus flew over the desert. Speaking of Medusa...Medusa! While not a snake herself, Medusa is a well-known figure from Greek mythology who had a head full of venomous snakes in place of regular old hair. She could also famously turn people with just a glance. 

Spiders 

An orb weaver spider in its web

Spiders have one prominent inclusion in the pantheon of great Greek mythology: the story of Arachne (incidentally the name “Arachne” is where English got the word “arachnid” from). You probably know the story, but in short, Arachne was a weaver who was very good at her job, particularly when it came to tapestry weaving. She was so good that her work even outshined that of Athena, goddess of war, which Athena did not take kindly to. Things get pretty dark at this point, but long story short is Athena rips up Arachne’s most prized tapestry and ultimately ends up turning her into a spider so that she can weave her tapestry forever. That’s basically the Greek origin story for where spiders came from. Pretty cool, and pretty bizarre. 

Birds

Flying seagull

Birds, or at least bird-like creatures, appear in Greek mythology over and over again. There are the famous Sirens, dangerous creatures who would lure wayward sailors away from their destinations with their beautiful singing--right into a rocky coast, wrecking their ships and spelling their doom. Then there were harpies, half-human, half-bird creatures who were meant to be a representation of stormy winds in Homer’s works. There’s the phoenix, a bird that would die and be reborn in its own ashes, a representation of renewal as well as a symbolic gesture to the nature of our sun: disappearing each night only to return every morning. Birds act as aids to gods and guards of tombs in Greek mythology and seem to consistently have an especially important role to play in these old tales. 

So there you have it: a brief overview of some of the pests that appear in Greek mythology. It’s clear that even in ancient times, pests were often on the minds of people, even though the context was quite a bit different from how most of us probably view these insects and critters nowadays.

In fact, while the Greeks might have had a lot of use for these pests in their stories, that doesn’t mean they wanted them crawling (or slithering) around their homes--and neither do you! That’s why Thomas Pest Services offers wildlife removal and a residential pest control package to get rid of problem pests. You can write a story about any insect or animal that you like; that doesn’t mean you have to live with them!


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