I knew I wanted to be a storyteller when I found Greek mythology at a young age. Yes, it may have been in a children’s series, and yes, I may have done it to please my very Greek grandfather, but there was still a richness to the legends beyond the retelling. The explanations of Helios pulling the sun from horizon to horizon, or Athens receiving its name as a patron city to Athena as the goddess of wisdom, all fascinated me then with their magic. It still does today, as I recently have been working with magical realism as a return to my roots.
However, there is more to those legends than nymphs turning into reeds or Kronos eating his children. While myths once explained natural phenomena and gave people deities to worship, they are still strong because of the connections to us. We feel things now when we read and experience legends due to the fact that they still conjure up themes that relate all humans together: jealousy, power, unrequited love, obsession, morals, good against evil. These are all underlying things that give stories the truth of the human experience, even if they are accompanied by fantastical creatures or impossible powers. We write with the intention of eliciting emotion, and folklore accomplishes that when one finds meaning and reflection within it. Think of Icarus flying too close to the sun with the wax wings crafted by his father, Daedelus, which caused him to fall crashing to earth. He was not humbled when he used his father’s masterpiece, and he suffered for it. This story of someone elated by greatness then suffering speaks to people for a reason.
Because of this, mythology as inspiration is wonderful when trying to center ourselves in the literal bare bones of our work. It’s the framework of these stories that pull us in. Most of these myths aren’t told in over-the-top dramatizations with mind-blowing imagery and prose. They’re simply stories, hero’s journeys and fables—folklore. Even beyond folklore, culture. These myths and legends function as portals to other worlds that were once ours, with such strong aesthetic and romanticism that keep me grounded. There were princes and princesses, heroes and goddesses—all with the same weighted emotions rivalling the people of today.
There’s that idea of humanity again. We love characters that contradict themselves and bloom because in the end they’re just like us, wretched and jealous, but still reflections of ourselves. For instance, take Athena. The contest of her beauty against goddesses Hera and Aphrodite that led to the beginning of the Trojan War. Athena is often categorized as being rational and above humanity’s primal vices, and yet she became jealous enough of Aphrodite’s title as the most beautiful to participate in a war that tore apart the ancient world. She’s often credited with giving Odysseus the bright idea to send a horse into the city of Troy out of revenge for Paris’s choice. While being a divine figure, she still exhibited the same kind of petty contradictions humans do, even now. Still, we are intrigued by what we see ourselves in.
Elizabeth Vazquez, Co-Editor-In-Chief of Levitate, is a junior fiction writer at the Chicago High School for the Arts. She loves history, fish tanks, and bubble tea.