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It's the end of the world, everybody. Well, it's the end of our mythology series, anyway. This week, we're talking about how mythological themes have made their way into the English language. We're taking on the Herculean task of tracking down phrases that have made their way into language from mythical stories.
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Hey there, I'm Mike Rugnetta. This is Crash Course Mythology, and today we behold our own apocalypse. Yes, it is the end of our time together on this here earthly plane. Our journey together has surely been epic, and we could go on for months with more exciting and uncomfortable stories of floods and incest, but alas, Thoth and I must retire to the spiritual realm atop Mount Crashcourse.

Throughout this series, we've examined myths from around the world and across the centuries. We've met vomiting gods and responding dragons. We've met Loki, who was the worst, and Freya, who in my mind, is the best. A cat chariot! A battle swine! What a lady!

What ties all these stories we discussed together is that they're powerful. They're meaningful enough to be preserved and passed down through generations. And so they can help us understand the world. They provide insight into how previous civilizations made sense of their circumstances. Myths can hint at some of the deep structures of our collective psyche and even offer a glimpse into our own minds. And they're the best place to go for good, reliable information about unicorns. Elephants' feet! I still can't get over it.

[theme music]

Today, in our final episode, we examine another legacy of the most impactful myths: the way they've seeped into the very language I'm speaking. We're going to focus on Greek because those have had a profound effect on the English language, though it is true that we got a lot of really good words from Egyptian... behemoth, chemistry, pharmacy... Hmm? Oh yeah, you're welcome. Credit where credit is due, I mean, you did invent writing.

Anyway, listing every example of mythical influence on English would be a Herculean task, a phrase we know from our episode on Herakles, which implies great difficulty and a requirement of great strength. And remember, Herakles took nine years to complete his labors, so a Herculean task can also be one that requires incredible patience, dedication, and effort.

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Speaking of tasks, maybe you've heard of a Sisyphean one?

This one's named after Sisyphus, who we've never discussed, so this is a perfect Thought Bubble opportunity.

Sisyphus is king of Ephyra; he is known as the craftiest of all men (crafty as in sneaky, though,
not like scrapbooking). And Sisyphus isn't just crafty, he's also ruthless. He invites visitors to his kingdom, and then murders them!(2:30)

He even plans to kill his own brother, Salmoneus, by marrying his daughter, Tyro, making her bear a son who will kill his grandad. (2:40) Talk about a long con!

In some versions of Sisyphus's story, he angers Zeuz by claiming to be craftier than the Father of the gods himself. In another version, Sisyphus tells the river Asopus that Zeus is having an affair with his daughter, the nymph Aegina. (2:56)

Every version of Sisyphus's story has the doomed king angering one god or another. In some stories, he chains up Thanatos, the god of death, so that no one could die. (3:06) In other stories, he tricks Persephone into letting him escape the underworld by convincing her that he wasn't buried properly.

Once he's finally in Hades for keepsies, Sisyphus's punishment is that he's forced to roll a huge boulder up a hill in the under world. Just as he's about to get it to the top of the hill, it rolls back down and he has to start all over again: up the hill, down the hill, up the hill...forever. (3:38)

And that is why today we use the term Sisyphean task to mean anything both pointless and endless. Thanks Thought Bubble. (3:46)

We can also find a whole treasure-trove of linguistic references by turning to the Iliad and the Odyssey: two of greek mythology's all time greats. In fact, the word Odyssey is one itself. (3:57)

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