I just watched the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans. It was an unpleasant experience on several levels.
First of all, it’s just not a very good movie. Some of the effects are cool, but mostly it’s kind of boring. The filmmakers seem to think that fast and furious violence will make up for the lack of a plot, and that thoughtless dialogue can be rescued by the stentorious delivery of expensive actors.
Second, the gods of classical mythology are all pricks. The movie begins with Hades killing Perseus’s innocent adoptive parents, and along the way we find out that Zeus and Poseidon are both rapists. In classic blame-the-victim fashion, Zeus’s victim is killed by her husband, but her son Perseus survives. Meanwhile, Athena has turned Poseidon’s victim, Medusa, into a murderous bitch who works out her anger by killing lots of men. All in all, the gods are a bunch of narcisistic thugs — the Sopranos with superpowers.
The humans in this story aren’t much better. In addition to Acrisius killing his wife for having been raped by Zeus, there’s also Queen Cassiopeia of Argos, who boasts that her daughter Andromeda is more beautiful than the gods, never stopping to think that this might just piss them off, leading to the deaths of hundreds at the hands of Hades. Even Perseus is an idiot. He wanders away from the band of warriors who are escorting him, and when they go looking for him, they get ambushed and killed. Then some helpful god gives him a magic sword, but he hates the gods so much that he refuses to use it, and even more of his traveling companions pay with their lives.
People familiar with Greek mythology may object that the story I outlined above is just the movie’s bastardization of the real stories. These people are wrong, and the reason they’re wrong brings me to my third point: There are no real stories. Classical mythology is not history. It’s not even religion, since nobody believes in the ancient Greek and Roman gods any more. Classical mythology is bullshit.
I remember back in high school when my freshman English teacher made us all study mythology. In answer to the question of why we should spend time studying ancient bullshit (not quite how we put it), she explained that the stories and ideas of classical mythology have been with us throughout the ages and had influenced our culture. To understand mythology is to understand our culture better. At the time, I was willing to believe her.
Several years later, I remember reading about the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga class missile cruiser, which had a potent combination of anti-aircraft missiles directed by a phased-array radar. This combat system was called Aegis, and it was named after the shield of Zeus. I thought that was kind of cool, since Aegis boats shield the fleet from attack.
That’s the only time in 30 years that understanding mythology has helped me understand something in even the slightest way. Even then, the only connection between mythology and reality is because someone in the U.S. Navy thought it was a cool idea.
But Mark, I hear you saying, you’re a science geek, and aren’t all the planets and stuff named after characters from classical mythology? Yes, they are. I even did my freshman English class presentation on mythology about the planets and the things they represented. But it was all bullshit.
Planets are gigantic, massive objects orbiting the Sun. Each one has its own orbital parameters, many of them have interesting geography, some of them have weather, and a few have volcanos. These sorts of scientific facts are what’s important about the planets, not what some ancient people decided to call them. It’s absurd to think that mythology is important to planetology in any way except as a source of names. (Not that I wasn’t willing to talk about the connection to get the grade.)
And sure, the asteroids in each of the two Trojan clusters are named after heros on each side of the Trojan war, and yes, there’s a spy in each camp. It’s amusing. But what’s really important about the Trojan asteroids is that they are there because those two locations, relative to Jupiter and the Sun, are the only two stable solutions to the three-body orbital problem. (And personally, I’d heard about Lagrange’s three-body solutions way before I learned any classroom mythology.)
I think the team at Palomar observatory had the right idea when they named the minor planet they discovered “Xena.” It’s hard to see how Xena: Warrior Princess is any less important than classical mythology, having been inspired by it and being representative of the culture that had the ability and drive to discover small rocky objects six billion miles away.
Look, it’s fun that the character Morpheus in The Matrix gets his name from the Greek god of dreams, and if you enjoy classical mythology and want to spend years of your life studying it, I wish you all the best. It’s good to be passionate about your intellectual pursuits. But don’t try to pretend it’s more important than it is.
And please stop making bad movies about it.