Sharing the Light of Myths: Beauty and the Beast

In the spirit of the approaching festive season, I asked my colleagues to send me information about discoveries they’ve made this year, while working on the Our Mythical Childhood project.  I’ll be sharing them over the next few weeks–short snippets of scholarship that I think of as Saturnalian Surprises (Saturnalia being the feast of Saturn that ran roughly from 17-24 December).  Our Saturnalian Surprises will appear over the next few weeks. 

Our first snippet comes from Katarzyna Marciniak, of the Faculty of Artes Liberales, University of Warsaw.  Katarzyna is the brains behind the whole Our Mythical Childhood project, so who better to start us off.  She’s created a world of mythical scholarship, finding inspiration in unexpected places, and here, she shines a light on an iconic tv show from the 1980s, the CBS romantic drama, Beauty and the Beast, showing how it draws on myths as old as time…

— Liz Hale


Sharing the Light of Myths


My Favourite Mythical Discovery in 2017 was in fact a re-discovery from my childhood: mainly, the series “Beauty and the Beast” of 1987–1990. While working on my paper for the Our Mythical Hope stage of the ERC project, I came across a remake of the series and the enchanting live-action version of Disney’s famous animation. Both productions brought me back in memory to the tale as old as time, rooted in the ancient myth of Eros and Psyche.


The series of 1987–1990 is truly unique because it contains numerous literary quotes, thus acquainting young people with classical culture – in the broadest me aning of the term – namely, with such authors as Virgil, Ovid, Milton, Shelley, Kipling, Rilke, Tolkien, etc. The richness of this intertextual web of references is not surprising once we note that among the writers for the series was George R.R. Martin, today world-famous for his “Game of Thrones”.

Classical Antiquity manifests itself also through mythological motifs. For example, the Beauty of the series, a lawyer named Catherine Chandler, is brought to the Underworld in New York by a lion-like creature Vincent in the role of Orpheus à rebours, for he saves her life when she falls the chance victim of an assault. There is also an episode entitled explicitly “The Song of Orpheus”. Moreover, the series’ authors seem to be aware of the ancient Orphean relationship between the Word and the Music and they make ample use of masterpieces by such composers as Beethoven, Chopin, Vivaldi, etc., offering us total immersion into the mythical experience of art.

The myth and the fairy tale work together so that we can retell the classical story that is an everlasting source of the rays of hope – exactly as the series’ protagonists repeat at the ceremony called Winterfest: “Even the greatest darkness is nothing, so long as we share the light”.

In one of the episodes Vincent reads from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” about “those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples…” And he assures us: “We must not be frightened”. Indeed, Classical Antiquity will not let us fall. We only need to remember and to share the light of myths.


Vincent reading from Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” on YouTube:

–Katarzyna Marciniak

P.S. If you wish to read more on the series and other Antiquity-inspired works of culture, look for our ERC volume “Our Mythical Hope”, ed. Katarzyna Marciniak, in preparation for publication.


“You needed a goddess?” . . . Mercy, Overwatch, and Classical Reception


You needed a healer?


Erica Wright is an undergraduate student at the University of Newcastle, Australia, majoring in Ancient History and English. She is passionate about studying myth and fairytale, classical reception, and ancient magic.  Here, we’re thrilled to share a classical discovery she has made in the Overwatch videogame. A shorter version of this essay recently appeared in the Our Mythical Childhood blog — Elizabeth Hale

Overwatch is a young adult science fiction multiplayer first person shooter (FPS) videogame developed by the American game developing company Blizzard Entertainment.

Set in a futuristic post-war post-crisis era, on maps based on many global locations such as Australia, China and England, players of Overwatch are formed into two teams of six. Players compete to control an objective, which could mean controlling an area, or escorting a “payload” to the other end of the map. There are currently 25 playable characters, or “heroes”, for players to choose, some of which have basis in myth where others are purely science-fiction based. There are four categories of heroes: offence, defence, tank and support.

Since its release in 2016, Overwatch has grown in popularity all over the world, including Australia. In addition to casual players, there are also competitive players in videogame tournaments (Esports) with professional and sponsored teams.

In 2017 Overwatch embarks on an Antipodean Odyssey with the Overwatch World Cup in Sydney. It’s timely, therefore, to consider the impact of the Classical and mythical references embedded in one of Overwatch’s most popular heroes: Mercy.

Mercy — Winged Healer

Original Mercy
Like all well-dressed heroes, Mercy has many outfits, or ‘skins.’ Here we see her in her original, or ‘default’ skin

Mercy is a hero in the “support” (or “healer”) category. According to her background story, her “real name” is Angela Ziegler, a Swiss field medic/first responder. Her role is to support other players/heroes on her team by healing them after they have taken damage from the enemy team, or by giving them a damage boost while they fight.

Mercy wears a “Valkyrie suit” that allows her to fly to teammates in her line of sight and heal them with her Caduceus Staff. She can also “Resurrect” her teammates every thirty seconds if they die. Her “Ultimate” ability is called “Valkyrie”, which enhances her abilities for a short period of time.

In her physical and characterological elements, Mercy references the angel from the Judeo-Christian tradition and the Valkyrie from Norse mythology. But she also embodies aspects of the Greek god Hermes through her playstyle, “skins” (visual appearances) and “sprays” (small icons players can spray on surfaces).

Mercy as 'Winged Victory'
In the Summer Games of Overwatch, Mercy changes outfits. Here we see her as ‘Winged Victory,’ complete with winged sandals

Mercy’s “Winged Victory” “skin” has been added as part of the “Summer Games” event (the Overwatch version of the Olympic Games). This “skin” shows Mercy wearing ancient Greek garb, a laurel wreath, and a pair of winged sandals. It seems appropriate that Mercy is shown with Hermes’ sandals, considering she is the most mobile hero in the support “class”, and arguably one of the most mobile heroes in the game.

Mercy’s “real name”, ‘Angela’ derives from the Greek word ‘aggelos’ (ἅγγελος), meaning ‘messenger of the gods’, which further connects her to Hermes. She also holds the “Caduceus staff”, which is a direct reference to Hermes’ staff. Outside of Overwatch, the symbol of the Caduceus staff is often confused with the Rod of Asclepius, although the latter is also appropriate here in view of Mercy’s role as medic and healer. These connections to Hermes are fitting considering Hermes’ association with healing in the ancient Greek world.


Classical Reception in Post-Apocalyptic Gaming

Classical Reception in post-apocalyptic gaming contexts demonstrates the longevity of archetypal mythology via the significance of mythological themes in youth culture.

This raises some interesting questions:

  • Do the presence and popularity of such themes provide mythical hope in unstable economic and political environments?
  • Are video games such as Overwatch, which connects youth from different parts of the world, and allows players immersion in myth-infused fantasies, a cultural response to current regional and global challenges?

Perhaps these classical and mythical elements, which are universal, can set a foundation for young people to come together to solve problems, both in game and then into wider society.

— Erica Wright