Greek and Roman Myth in Harry Potter

All pantheons of ancient mythologies have similar archetypes: There’s Zeus, Odin, or Enlil, the father god. Demeter, Hathor, or Chicomecoatl, goddess of the harvest. The Hogwarts teachers as they sit along their long table reflect these archetypes, from Dumbledore to Professor Sprout. Dolores Umbridge might be Eris, Goddess of Discord. Slughorn is rather a Dionysus figure, obsessed with hedoinism and selfishness. Dour Snape, always excluded, has many correspondences to Hades as he lurks underground. At the same time, Many names and identities come directly from the Greek/Roman tradition: Argus Filch is guardian of the gates at Hogwarts, Minerva is its font of wisdom. Hermes, Percy’s owl, shares roots with Hermione Granger. At the same time, there are many less known gods and goddesses of the classical tradition:

Pomona Sprout is named for the Roman goddess of fruit and agriculture.

Aurora Sinistra (Professor of Astronomy) shares a name with the Roman goddess of the dawn.

Remus Lupin is named for the hero-twin born of a wolf who founded Rome. Remus was sacrificed before his side could win.

Hagrid replaces Silvanus Kettleburn, whose first name is shared with a Roman forest god similar to the Greek Pan.

Helga Hufflepuff, like Vesta, humbly guards the homestead.

Sybill Trewlany is a sibyl, a Greek seeress or prophetess.

Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, Dark Arts professor in book four: Alastor was an epithet, or honorific nickname, of Zeus, which described him as the avenger of familial bloodshed and other deeds against nature. This is the perfect name for an Auror, avenger of the innocents killed by Death Eaters. It was also an epithet of the Erinyes, like a living breathing curse. Alastor, in Christian demonology, had a simialr meaning, as a kind of possessing entity, echoing Moody’s “possession” in book four.

Merope Gaunt, mother of Voldemort, was sister of Phaeton and one of the seven Pleiades, star nymphs in the sky. She married King Sisyphus.  Her name is interpreted to mean “with face turned” from meros ops, referring to the fact that her star faded from the cluster of Pleiades out of shame for her husband’s crimes. Another Merope out of Greek myth includes the daughter of King Cypselus of Arcadia and wife of King Cresphontes. When her husband is murdered, she runs away with her son Aepytus and trains him in vengeance…but nearly slays him by mistake, thinking him the murderer. At last, she succeeds in punishing her enemy.

This name also belonged to the adoptive mother of Oedipus, branding every Merope as an innocent victim but the close family of some very bad men. Sisyphus tried to cheat death and live forever. Oedips defied the gods’ natural laws by killing his father and marrying his mother, and Phaeton nearly destroyed the world when he tried to fly the sun god’s chariot. All three of these men defied the laws of the gods in unholy and unnatural fashion, and all were punished.

Andromeda Tonks and her daughter Nymphadora:  Greek nymphs were beautiful, magical maidens, known for shapeshifting to become part of nature, from tree nymphs to ocean nymphs. They were generally helpers of heroes rather than heroes themselves. Andromeda was   beautiful princess rescued by the hero Perseus, who mostly furthered the hero’s story rather than her own. This suggests that her Muggle husband Ted was a true hero.

Quirinus is an early god of Rome state. In Augustan Rome, Quirinus was also an epithet of Janus, as Janus Quirinus, Janus of the spear (quiris). Janus was the “two faced god,” and Rowling’s character echoes this perfectly, with Voldemort on his back. The tarot symbol or Celtic hallow of the spear echoes the elder wand in the series. Quirinus was originally most likely a Sabine god of war.

Alecto Carrow: Evil professor of Muggle Studies in Deathly Hallows: Alecto “the implacable or unceasing anger” is one of the Erinyes, or Furies, in Greek mythology.

Amycus Carrow: Evil professor of Muggle Studies in Deathly Hallows: Amycus, the son of Poseidon and Melia, was a boxer and King of the Bebryces.  When the Argonauts landed on the coast of his dominions, he challenged the bravest of them to a boxing match. Polydeuces, who accepted the challenge, killed him. Likewise, Amycus Carrow challenges the brave Gryffindors to fights all the time.  Upon the tomb of Amycus there grew a laurel, would make people fight when they encountered it. Thus he’s like a male Eris or Fury.

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Filed under Harry Potter, mythology, Young Adult Fantasy

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