Mythological Allusions

Lekythos of Hermes Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) David Moran
Lekythos of Hermes Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) David Moran

Based on:

“Appreciating Classical Mythology”
Betty Rose Nagle
The Classical Journal
Vol. 79, No. 3 (Feb. – Mar., 1984), pp. 246-250

In this article are several humorous allusions to Classical Mythology which Nagle used for her exams. Some have cultural references from the 80s and may not be entirely comprehensible to someone who didn’t live through the era, even if he or she knows the myth. Here is a sample, selected because I have alluded to these myths recently in this blog and where the 80s cultural allusions make no real difference. Do you know the answers? Feel free to post in the comments.

  1. “Explain the joke in the following cartoon: A physician is examining a patient, who is holding up his foot to show a wing growing from it. The doctor’s diagnosis is ‘mercury poisoning.'”
  2. “In a cartoon, Zeus says to Hera, ‘Not tonight, dear, I have a headache.’ What event from mythology is soon going to take place?”
  3. “The ‘phaethon’ is a tropical bird which catches fish by diving into the sea from heights of fifty feet or more. Explain the appropriateness of the bird’s name by briefly describing the myth to which it alludes.”
  4. “A reviewer of Thomas Sowell’s book Race and Economics said that in the book, Sowell had begun the labor of cleansing a ‘contemporary Augean Stables.’ Summarize the episode in myth to which the reviewer is alluding.”
  5. In the past, the term “argonaut” was applied to a person who participated in the 1849 California Gold Rush. Explain the appropriateness of the allusion.


  1. Ns,
    1. Hermes winged sandals
    2. Birth of Athena
    3. Phaeton tried to drive the solar chariot. Did not work
    4. Heracles had to clean out some massive stables that hadnt been cleans in years. He turned two rivers through the stables to get er done.
    5. Argonauts “rushed” to get the Golden Fleece.

    NS. Your turn; spaceship lands in the city park. Two martians get out and walk over to a swan swimming in the lake. They say, “Take us to your leda’


  2. Zeus impregnated Leda in swan form. Leda gave birth to Helen and Pollux. I suppose Martian ~ martial: Helen launched the warships, while the Dioscuri were war helpers for the Romans at Lake Regillus.


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