Achilles' heel : a vulnerable point
  [fr. L, fr. Gk Achilleus Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior at Troy, slayer of Hector]

Argus-eyed : vigilantly observant
  [L, fr. Gk Argos, a hundred-eyed monster of Greek mythology]

Augean stable : a condition or place marked by great accumulation of filth or corruption
  [L Augeas, king of Elis, fr. Gk Augeias; fr. the legend that his stable, left neglected for 30 years, was finally cleaned by Hercules]

By Jove! : an interjection often used to express surprise or agreement
  [fr. L Jov-, Juppiter Jupiter, the Roman equivalent to Zeus, ruler of the Olympian gods]

Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis : trapped between two equally unpleasant choices, i.e. caught between a rock and a hard place
  [fr. the names of the monsters Scylla and Charybdis, who were situated in the Strait of Messina to trap sailors between them]

Delphic utterance : a comment or response to a question that is ambiguous and therefore difficult to understand
  [fr. Delphi, the site of the oracle of Apollo]

Herculean effort : an task of great intensity or difficulty
  [fr. Gk Herakles Hercules, a hero renowned for his strength and for performing the 12 tasks set before him by Hera]

Janus-faced : duplicitous, two-faced
  [fr. Janus, Roman god of beginnings who is represented artistically with two opposite faces]

Midas touch : an uncanny ability for making money in every venture
  [L, fr. Gk legend of the Phrygian king Midas who is given the power to turn everything he touched into gold]

Olympian feat : a lofty task, as one befitting the immortals
  [fr. Gk Olympos, the mountain in Greek mythology that is the home of the gods]

Pandora's box : a prolific source of troubles
  [fr. the myth surrounding the box sent by the gods to Pandora]

procrustean bed : a scheme or pattern into which someone or something is arbitrarily forced
  [L, fr. Gk Prokroustes Procrustes, a villainous son of Poseidon in Greek mythology who forces travelers to fit into his bed by stretching their bodies or cutting off their legs]

siren song : an alluring utterance or appeal, especially one that is seductive or deceptive
  [ME sereyn, fr. OF sereine, fr. L Siren, fr. Gk Serein Siren, one of several mythological Greek sea nymphs, part woman and part bird, supposed to lure sailors to their destruction by their seductive singing]

Struck by Cupid's arrow : smitten, in love
  [L Cupido, the Roman god of erotic love]

Thyestean banquet : a dinner at which human flesh is eaten
  [fr. Thyestes Thyestes, who was, in classical mythology, the brother and rival of Atreus; he unknowingly ate the flesh of his own sons which Atreus fed to him as punishment for committing adultery with the wife of Atreus]

To climb Parnassus : to create fine art, especially to compose poetry
  [fr. Gk Parnasos Parnassus, a mountain in Greece sacred to Apollo and the Muses]

Table of Contents

Notes on Textual Abbreviations


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An Etymological Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Elizabeth W. Kraemer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Last updated 1/13/14