CLOSE

4 Medical & Emotional Conditions Named for Mythological Characters

The English language is rich with words and phrases derived from other languages, such as Anglo-Saxon and Latin.  Many terms also come from Greek and Roman mythology. Here are a handful of words that describe physical and emotional states we're all familiar with, and the mythological figures who inspired them.

1. Priapism

Few had ever heard of this condition before reading the small print in the Cialis commercial, but priapism is an extremely long-lasting (over four hours), and sometimes very painful erection.  The condition is named after the Greek god, Priapus.  His mother was Aphrodite (the goddess of love and beauty), but the identity of his father was a bit sketchy.  Different versions of the myth claimed different fathers, but he was probably one of the more influential deities "“ Hermes (god of commerce, boundaries and athletics), Dionysus (god of wine and ecstatic celebration) or Zeus (ruler of the gods and god of thunder). 

Despite this godly pedigree, Priapus' ugliness relegated him to the more marginal parts of the Olympian world.  Even his own mother was appalled by his repulsive appearance when he was born, and abandoned him in the mountains.  In art, he was depicted as a lusty fiend with a small, misshapen body, and an enormous, protruding phallus.  One tradition explained that Priapus' ugliness was the result of a jealous Hera (Zeus' wife) touching Aphrodite's pregnant belly and causing the child to be deformed in utero. 

Although he was cast off as an infant, Priapus did not perish.  Shepherds found and took pity on him and raised him.  When he grew up, Priapus became a member of Dionysus' entourage and his huge phallus earned him the status of a fertility god.  

One of Priapus' claims to mythological fame was that he upset the nymph, Lotis, so much with his molestations that the gods took pity on her and turned her into a lotus.  According to the story, Priapus crept up on a sleeping Lotis, intent on having his way with her.  Priapus was unsuccessful, however, because a donkey brayed and woke up the nymph.  The frightened Lotis fled from Priapus, but didn't have to run too far as she was mercifully turned into a lotus tree before he could catch up with her.
 
It is not surprising that donkeys often featured in the artistic renderings of Priapus.  With his plan to ravish Lotis foiled, Priapus came to despise the animal, and encouraged people to sacrifice donkeys in his honor.  Another version, however, recounted Priapus' hatred of the beast stemming from a heated debate he had with one particular donkey (to whom Dionysius had given the power of speech) about the comparative size of his manhood with his rival's donkeyhood.  When a comparison was made, the donkey won.  Angered at being second best, Priapus beat the animal to death (with his phallus, according to some versions). 

Both Greeks and Romans put statues of Priapus around their homes and gardens.  The Greeks often placed him before doorways as a good luck charm, but also as a guardian against thieves.  In these instances, Hermes and Priapus became almost interchangeable, as Hermes was the god of boundaries and as such could often be found placed in front of people's homes with his phallus exposed.  The Romans placed statues of Priapus in their vineyards where he served double duty as both fertility charm and scarecrow. 

2. Hermaphrodite

According to the Intersex Society of North America, true hermaphrodites are nonexistent because it is impossible for any human being to be completely male and female.  Therefore, the word "hermaphrodite," which traditionally referred to people who have both male and female physical characteristics, is a misnomer, and the word "intersex" is the preferred term for many who have this condition.

hermaphrodite.jpg

The word "hermaphrodite" comes from a Greek mythological figure, Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite.  He was raised by the nymphs of Mount Ida, and not surprisingly given his parentage, was very good looking.  When Hermaphroditus was a teenager, he came upon a lake in Caria, located in modern southwestern Turkey.  The guardian of the lake, a water nymph named Salmacis, took a liking to him instantly.  She tried to seduce him, but Hermaphroditus wasn't interested.  Instead, the cool, clear water of the lake attracted him, and he jumped in for a swim. 

Once in the water, however, Hermaphroditus was on the nymph's turf, and Salmacis grabbed him and held him as tightly as she could.  She then begged the gods that she and Hermaphroditus might stay together forever, and so their bodies were fused.  Hermaphroditus thus became both man and woman.  In art he was portrayed as having female breasts and male genitals.  The only consolation for Hermaphroditus was that any man who also bathed in this lake would suffer the same fate. 
  

3. Fury

furies.jpgThe word that describes that uncontrollable anger we all sometimes feel comes from three female creatures "“ the Furies, or furiae as they were called by the Romans.  The Greeks knew them as Erinyes or "the angry ones" and sometimes as Eumenidies or "kindly ones" "“ in the hopes that flattery might keep them away. 

As they were the personification of rage, it's not surprising that their origins were violent "“ when the Titan, Cronus, had castrated his father Uranus, the Furies were born out of his blood.  Other versions of the myth explained the origins of the Furies as the daughters of Nyx (night) or the daughters of Hades. 
 
The Furies were frightful in appearance.  They were winged, had snakes in their hair, carried torches and whips, and had blood pouring from their eyes.  Originally their number was uncertain, but over time a consensus emerged that there was a total of three "“ Alecto meaning "endless," Megaera meaning "grudging" and Tisiphone meaning "avenging murder."
 
Their domain was Hades, but they would often make appearances in the world of the living in order to pursue transgressors.  They punished those who broke the taboo of killing one's parent or other family member, and their chosen form of retribution involved driving the guilty party insane.  The most famous episode illustrating the role of the Furies comes from the Greek playwright Aeschylus and his play Oresteia.  The Furies pursued Orestes to the ends of the earth because he had killed his mother Clytemnestra in vengeance for her killing his father, Agamemnon.  (The Furies finally left Orestes in peace when an Athenian court acquitted him of the charges).
 

4. Narcissist

narcissus.jpg

Everyone knows at least one.  They're arrogant, selfish, and usually utter bores.  Sigmund Freud identified narcissism as an actual personality trait.  Narcissus was the son of the nymph Liriope and the river god Cephissus.  When Narcissus was a child, the soothsayer, Tiresias, forewarned his parents that their son would live a long life only if he didn't see his own image.  Narcissus was very good-looking and it seems that everyone desired him, both human and supernatural.

In the best known version of the Narsissus myth, Ovid's Metamorphoses, the nymph Echo fell madly in love with Narcissus.  She followed him around everywhere trying to get his attention, but Narcissus simply found her irritating.  Part of Echo's problem was that she could only repeat the last word that anyone said.  Echo had been a chatterbox in the past, but had got on Hera's bad side by distracting her with gossip while Zeus was out playing the field with nymphs.  Having discovered this treachery, Hera altered Echo's speech so that the formerly garrulous Echo could only repeat helplessly.

narcissus-flower.jpgNarcissus finally told Echo to go away.  She was devastated, and spent the rest of her life wandering around lonely in the woods and caves until she faded away and only her voice remained, repeating the words of the occasional passerby.  Seeing that Narcissus had hurt Echo as well as others, the goddess Nemesis cast a spell on Narcissus to avenge those whose hearts had been broken.  One day Narcissus came across a pool and as he started to drink from it, he fell in love with his own image. At first, he didn't realize he was seeing his reflection.  Each time he reached to hold his beloved, the image disappeared.  After a while, Narcissus became aware that he had fallen in love with his own reflection and died of despair.  In his place, a flower grew—the narcissus.  Narcissus did not find peace even in his death.  Once in Hades, Narcissus continued to be taunted by his image in the River Styx.

In another rendering of the story, Narcissus came from the city of Thespiae.  Again, Narcissus was a handsome man with many admirers he ignored.  However, the youth Ameinias  became very distraught at being rejected. After Narcissus sent him a sword as a gift, Ameinias used it to commit suicide in front of Narcissus' house.  Just as in Ovid's version, Narcissus came upon a pool of water, saw his reflection in it, and fell in love.  In this rendering, however, Narcissus killed himself out of frustration when he learned he was in love with an image. (In yet another variation, Narcissus drowned after trying to kiss his image in the water).  Just as in Ovid's version, in the place of Narcissus' demise grew a narcissus flower. 

(An alternative theory claims, however, that the name of the flower has nothing to do with the god, but actually comes from the Greek work narko meaning numbness, which is what happens if one ingests the flower).

In a later version recounted by the Greek geographer Pausanias, who was writing in the second century CE, Narcissus had a twin sister who died.  Heartbroken, Narcissus took comfort gazing at his own reflection in the water, thinking that he was looking at his beloved sister. 

Martha A. Brożyna earned her Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern California where she specialized in the very popular and cutting edge field of medieval Polish history. She has published two books: Gender and Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Contrarian Ripple Trading: A Low-Risk Strategy to Profiting from Short-Term Trades, which she co-authored with her husband. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two children.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Mad Magazine
arrow
Lists
12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledging publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: the envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.  

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.  

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, Mad finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’ other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by Mad’s New York offices and submitted his work: his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with Mad almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.  

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: a 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; Mad parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, Mad also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.  

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
iStock
iStock

GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios