How do the myths of Plutarch's Isis and Osiris, Thor the Thunder God, and the story of Heracles correspond to the contemporary world (specifically, contemporary concerns, needs, fears, desires,...

How do the myths of Plutarch's Isis and Osiris, Thor the Thunder God, and the story of Heracles correspond to the contemporary world (specifically, contemporary concerns, needs, fears, desires, etc.) and what can modern readers of these myths gain from studying these stories?

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My guess is that you have been asked to turn in an essay about this subject and, if so, I would begin with an introduction about how ancient Greek myths can apply to today in regards to human behavior. You may even want to think about modern pantheism and how it applies. For the meat of the essay, however, the myths should be explained and then each (in turn) should be compared to modern day fears or desires or needs. No matter how you structure your introduction, make sure you filter down to your thesis. An example of a good thesis would be as follows: Modern fears and needs and desires can be applied to ancient myths. For example, Osiris can be translated into the modern fear of an early death, Thor can be translated into the modern desire for virility and battle, and Heracles can be translated into the modern need for loyal friendship between members of the same sex.

Your body paragraphs, in my opinion, should alternate between explaining a myth and then showing the modern application. Your first body paragraph, then, should be about Osiris and Isis. This paragraph will be quite extensive. Osiris is happily ruling Egypt with his queen, Isis. It is the murderer named Set who appears on the scene, looking for revenge. In Plutarch’s version, Set tricks Osiris by offering an ornate chest to anyone who fits inside of it. Only Osiris fits. As soon as Osiris gets in the chest, Set seals it and throws it into the Nile. (This differs in other versions of the story.) As it finally floats into the sea near Byblos, a tree grows around the chest. The king there cuts the tree to make a pillar for his palace. Isis removes the chest. In Plutarch’s account, this is when Set steals Osiris’ body (again) and cuts it into many parts and scatters it around Egypt. Isis desperately tries to reunite all the parts of Osiris’ body. The Nile flooding is supposed to be Isis’ tears of mourning for her husband. With the help of goddesses, Isis finds her husband’s body parts. It is Osiris’ penis, according to Plutarch, that was the hardest to find and then reconstruct (in that Isis had to use magic) because it was eaten by fish in the river. This is supposedly why Egyptians weren’t supposed to eat fish. Horus, the child of Osiris and Isis, grows up to avenge his father.

Your next paragraph would be about the modern application: fear of an early death. There is so much that happens to Osiris’ body after he is tricked by Set and killed. Further, his son, Horus, is destined to avenge him. Many young men (and women) in the modern age have many grandiose plans in their lifetime. This myth presents the idea that life can be taken before one has the chance to pursue all of his or her adventures. In this paragraph, you could go further and say that men, specifically, have a big fear of something happening to their penis and, therefore, protect it with great pride. This can be applied to what happens to Osiris’ member.

Your next two body paragraphs should be about Thor. Thor’s story is quite different. Thor, of course, is the thunder god who wields a heavy hammer. His stories are expanded in Norse mythology to include many fierce battles with a serpent and many fights with his foes. Further, in the Roman Era, Thor is often confused with Hercules. (Here we begin to see that Isis and Thor and Heracles are all connected.) Thor is particularly difficult in that most of Thor’s legends stem from Norse mythology instead of Plutarch. Still, Thor’s fierce battles (specifically with the serpent as a representation of evil) and his wielding of a large hammer can translate into modern times. The following paragraph could compare the exploits of Thor with the stereotypical needs of young, modern men to show their prowess in battling (even if it is through video games) and use hefty weapons.

In regards to Heracles, he is the gatekeeper of Olympus and the god of strength, heroes, and sports. In addition to Heracles many female lovers (from which he fathered children), Plutarch specifically mentions Heracles’ many male lovers in Eroticos, such as Iolaus and then Hylas. In both instances, Heracles is a mentor for the young men (in addition to a lover) and vows to find the two a suitable wife. Supposedly, warriors who were male lovers would go to the tomb of Iolaus to swear oaths to each other.

Your last body paragraph should be about a fairly controversial desire of young modern men and how it compares to Heracles: the desire for a young man to have a loyal confidant, more important than any young woman. As examples, you could use the most virile of football players and how they often smack the behind of their favorites on the field in a gesture of loyalty and love. Even though two young men may not be sexually active with each other, they may have strong and loyal feelings. One may mentor another. Further, just like Heracles, one may serve as matchmaker in order to find his “friend” a suitable girlfriend or even a mate.

In conclusion, we should talk about what the end of your essay should entail. You should restate your thesis in the conclusion. For example: Ancient Plutarchan myths can absolutely inspire modern day connections in that reading about Osiris can make readers fear an early death, reading about Thor can make readers long for battle, and reading about Heracles can make readers long for a trusted confidant (who borders on a lover). Next, you should approach a new idea in your conclusion. The suggestion from the topic about what modern readers can gain from simply reading these myths is perfect (and implied by the reworded thesis above). My suggestion is to add the importance of recognizing literary allusions in modern works of literature. An allusion, of course, is an indirect reference to a literary work. Greek myths, in my opinion, are the most common allusions found in literature. Feel free to mention a few allusions to the specific myths above or simply speak about them generally in your conclusion.