What with The Fault in Our Stars and Romeo and Juliet people might think that the best of tragedy was written fairly recently. However, way back in Ancient Greece, writers knew what it took to write some real tear-jerkers. Eight are listed below.
The tale of Icarus is probably the most famous of all Greek myths that don’t revolve around either a God or a hero. So the story goes, the great architect Daedalus was imprisoned for helping kill the Minotaur. To make things worse, Daedalus’ son Icarus was also locked up with him. While watching the birds outside their window, Daedalus formed a bold plan for escape – he would fashion himself and his son sets of wings using feathers from the birds outside and wax. These were completed, and before they took to the air, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too high, as the heat of the sun would melt the wax and he would fall into the sea.
Icarus, being the impulsive lad he is, ignored his father’s warning, and in his elation at being able to fly, soared higher and higher, until, like Daedalus warned, the wax on the wings melted in the sun and Icarus fell to his death.
2. Orpheus’ wife
In Greek myth, Orpheus is known as a great singer, poet, and prophet. He was so good that he could charm all living things with his music, and also, oddly, stones. However, it all gets sad when it comes to his wife.
Her name was Eurydice, and she and Orpheus loved each other very much. Sadly, one day, while walking through some high grass, a serpent bit her on the ankle, and she died. Her soul descended immediately to the underworld. In his sadness, Orpheus composed such mournful melodies that all the animals and Gods wept. They advised him to descend to Hades to bring his wife back from the dead. He did so – Hades and his wife Persephone were so moved that they agreed to let him return with his wife on one condition – that he turn his back and walk all the way back to the surface without looking at her.
So they set off, and Orpheus didn’t look back a single time. However, his anxiety grew, and as soon as he stepped out onto the surface, he turned to look at his wife. She, however, had not made it onto the surface, and when he looked at her, she vanished, this time permanently.
Image by Foto di Giovanni Dall’Orto
3. Hephaestus’ birth and love life
Hephaestus is proof that the Greeks were not above making fun of the physically handicapped. One day, Hera became angry with Zeus for having so many illegitimate children with other women when he had only had a few with her. In spite, she went off on her own and made her own baby. Sadly, when born, the child was disfigured – he was ugly and his leg was misshapen. Disgusted, Hera threw the child off the side of Mount Olympus.
This is the beginning of the life of Hephaestus, god of the forge. He was raised by nymphs and learned to forge and craft things. But now, he was angry. So, he sent his mother a golden throne with invisible restraints. When she sat down, she was trapped fast, and Hephaestus only agreed to come up and free her when Dionysis came, got him drunk, and convinced him to return. He had terms for Hera’s freedom, however – he wanted a wife.
He wanted Aphrodite.
Trapped, Hera agreed, and Hephaestus and Aphrodite were married.
Aphrodite was not happy about this. She was in love with Ares, god of war, and so she and her godly paramore continued fooling around behind Hephaestus’ back. Hephaestus learned of this, trapped the two at the shameful deed, and then called in all the gods to ridicule them before releasing them and divorcing Aphrodite.
Before Zeus married Hera, he married a Titan named Metis. However, like his father Cronos, he heard a prophecy that any son of Metis would be destined to be greater than his father. So he swallowed the pregnant Metis whole.
Later, Zeus had a terrific headache. In agony, he convinced one of the gods to split his skull open with an axe. From the crack, out sprang Athena, fully clothed in armor. Metis, however, remained in Zeus’ cavernous stomach.
5. Dionysus’ mother
As was his tendency, Zeus had been shacking up with a Greek woman. Her name was Semele. Naturally, Hera found out and just as naturally, she set about doing something nasty about it. She disguised herself as an old woman and befriended the pregnant Semele until a young woman admitted to Hera that her lover was Zeus. Hera planted doubt in Semele’s mind, so when Semele went back to Zeus, she was skeptical. She asked for Zeus to grant her a boon. Eager to please, Zeus agreed and promised on the River Styx to give her whatever she wanted. She demanded that he reveal himself to her in all his godly glory to prove he was Zeus. Zeus begged her to change her mind, but she did not, and he could not go back on his promise.
Mortals cannot look upon Zeus in his full glory and survive. Semele burst into flame and perished. Zeus barely managed to save the fetal Dionysus by sewing the baby onto his own thigh.
During one of Zeus’ many affairs, the nymph named Echo ran a distraction by chattering at Hera until Zeus was finished. When Hera found out the plot, she cursed the nymph to only be able to repeat the last words that had been spoken before.
Unfortunately for Echo, she then fell in love with a youth named Narcissus.
Bad move. Narcissus was ludicrously vain and spurned all romantic advances. One day, a deity named Nemesis attracted Narcissus to a pool of water. Narcissus promptly fell in love with his own reflection, which he did not seem to realize was just an image. He tried to join the image in the pool and drowned. Echo, heartbroken, faded away until she was only a voice, repeating the last word anyone said.
The Greek goddess of the dawn was actually a Titan named Eos, and she was in love with a Greek boy named Tithonus. Since she loved him so much, Eos asked Zeus to make him immortal, which Zeus did. Unfortunately, Eos forgot to ask for one thing for Tithonus: eternal youth.
Slowly, Tithonus withered away, getting older by the day and unable to die until he finally, like Echo, was reduced to only his voice.
8.Hercules’ first family
Being the family of a Greek hero is hazardous business, especially if Hera doesn’t like the hero.
There was no hero Hera hated more than Hercules – bad news for Hercules’ first wife, Megara, with whom Hercules had five children. Hera drove Hercules mad, making him shoot to death his entire family with arrows.