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Greek Mythology in Harry Potter

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Kate Claunch

on 12 May 2014

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Transcript of Greek Mythology in Harry Potter

Greek Mythology in
Harry Potter
By: Kate Claunch

Introduction
For centuries, literature, music, and recently, television and film, have been heavily influenced by one common source: greek mythology.
Although it may easily go unnoticed, greek mythology hides in nearly every crack and corner of modern entertainment. Many books have mythological references braided into their stories, and one of the most apparent examples of this is the Harry Potter series. Graduating from the University of Exeter after majoring in Classics, J.K. Rowling, the author of the seven novels, refers to mythology through characters, settings, and themes. When looking deeply into the fictional work, one can find hundreds of underlying connotations.
Cassandra and Sybill Trelawney
In the novels, Sybill Trelawney is the divination teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Her great-great-grandmother was the celebrated seer and witch, Cassandra Trelawney. Although none of Cassandra's prophecies were ever told in the novels, because Dumbledore once kept the divination "program" for the mere fact of the Trelawney name, one can assume they were legendary. Dumbledore once noted that Sybill's skills were far less apparent than those of her great-great-grandmother, but nevertheless, Sybill did have one great prophecy that served accurate:

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies ..."
The Sphinx
Sent by Hera to plague the city of Thebes, the Sphinx is one of the great creatures of the Theban saga. It is said that the Sphinx was a curious looking creature with the head of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird. According to the Theban saga, the sphinx would ask the people of Thebes a riddle:

What is it that has one name that is four-footed, two-footed, and three-footed?


Those who could not answer would be eaten by the monster.

Harry stumbles upon a sphinx during the fourth novel while trying to navigate his way to the center of a maze. He was asked the following riddle:
First think of a person who lives in disguise,
Who deals in secrets and tells not but lies.
Next, tell me what’s always the last thing to mend
The middle of middle and the end of end?
And finally give me the sound often heard
During the search of a hard to find word.
Now string them all together, and answer me this,
Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?


Conclusion
From the very first chapter of the famous series, it is evident that the work holds strong mythological backgrounds. For anyone who has ever read, seen, or heard the Harry Potter books or movies, classical connections can be made quite easily. Rowling was able to use greek mythology as a way to attract all types of people and age groups. These seven books prove mythology still lives and influences modern culture even after thousands of years. So whether it be by page or by screen, Harry Potter will always be there to welcome you into the fascinating world of greek mythology through a modern lens.
Professor McGonagall resembles the greek goddess, Athena, in a number of different ways. To begin, McGonagall's first name, Minerva, is the Roman name for the goddess.

Through Greek myths, Athena is portrayed as one who is fast to help others with reason, fierce in battle, and strict.

Throughout the novels, the reader witnesses Professor McGonagall portray all of these traits.
Example from the Text
Firenze vs. Chiron
The superlative centaur among his brethren, Chiron is known to be one of the only wise centaurs of Greek Mythology. The centaurs were known to be wild drunkards, but Chiron was an exception to this stereotype. He possessed a number of skills such as archery, hunting and prophecy and was also said to be the great teacher of hero’s such as Peleus, Achilles, and Jason
Video Example
skip to 1:50
McGonagall vs. Athena
Professor McGonagall moved faster than Harry could have believed: Her wand slashed through the air and for a split second Harry thought that Snape must crumple, unconscious, but the swiftness of his Shield Charm was such that McGonagall was thrown off balance. She brandished her wand at a torch on the wall and it flew out of it’s bracket, which became a ring of fire that filled the corridor and flew like a lasso at Snape-
Then it was no longer fire, but a great black serpent that McGonagall blasted to smoke, which re-formed and solidified in seconds to become a swarm of pursuing daggers: Snape avoided them only by forcing the suit of armor in front of him, and with echoing clangs the daggers sank, one after another, into its breast-
Professor McGonagall moved faster than Harry could have believed: Her wand slashed through the air and for a split second Harry thought that Snape must crumple, unconscious, but the swiftness of his Shield Charm was such that McGonagall was thrown off balance. She brandished her wand at a torch on the wall and it flew out of it’s bracket, which became a ring of fire that filled the corridor and flew like a lasso at Snape-

Then it was no longer fire, but a great black serpent that McGonagall blasted to smoke, which re-formed and solidified in seconds to become a swarm of pursuing daggers: Snape avoided them only by forcing the suit of armor in front of him, and with echoing clangs the daggers sank, one after another, into its breast-

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The Sacking of Severus Snape
Video Examples
McGonagall shows her battle skills during her duel with Professor Snape
Although there were, "many things she would like to say", McGonagall handled the situation in a calm fashion, attempting to be the mediator.
Greek Mythology
According to myth, Apollo, the god of music, fell in love with the Trojan princess Cassandra, her beauty causing him to grant her the gift of prophecy. When she did not return his love, Apollo became angered and instead of taking the gift back, cursed her so that no one would ever believe her or her descendants predictions

This could be one reason why many believed Sybill to be a fraud.
The Sibyls
Sibyl is another ancient woman who is said to have possessed prophetic powers in ancient Greece. Originally there was only one Sibyl, but over the course of time that number increased to a total of ten. The ten Sibyls are now categorized as seers, people who have special knowledge of the divine or supernatural. The first known Greek writer to ever mention a sibyl was Heraclitus, who wrote,
“The Sibyl, with frenzied mouth uttering things not to be laughed at, unadorned and unperfumed, yet reaches to a thousand years with her voice by aid of the god.”
It is no coincidence that J.K. Rowling's character shares a name with these ancient women.
During the fifth Harry Potter novel, Firenze, a centaur from the colony in the Forbidden Forest takes the spot of the divination professor at Hogwarts. Firenze was not like the rest of the Centaurs, and was very concerned with teaching and divination. Because of this and his acceptance of Dumbledore's teaching offer, he was ostracized by his "herd"
The two centaurs resemble each other through their skills in divination and teaching.
Example from the text
I know that you have learned the names of the planets and their moons in Astronomy, and that you have mapped the stars’ progress through the heavens. Centaurs have unraveled the mysteries of these movements over centuries, our findings teach us that the future may be glimpsed in the sky above us. In the past decade, the indications have been that Wizard-kind is living through nothing more than a brief calm between two wars. Mars, bringer of battle, shines brightly above us, suggesting that the fight must break out again soon.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Full transcript