Follow TV Tropes

This is based on opinion. Please don't list it on a work's trope example list.

Following

Nightmare Fuel / Classical Mythology

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/francisco_de_goya_saturno_devorando_a_su_hijo_1819_1823_6.jpg
Advertisement:
  • Many of the monsters in these stories:
    • The Lernaean Hydra (a serpent with nine heads, that can continually regenerate when injured)
    • The Chimera (a hideous amalgamation of a lion, a goat and a dragon)
    • Cerberus (a vicious three-headed dog that in some myths had a back covered in living serpents)
    • Orthrus (Cerberus's two-headed, serpent-tailed little brother), and various other creatures definitely count.
    • Perhaps the worst is Typhon — father of the above along with the Mother of All Monsters, Echidna — Typhon is described by some writers as being as tall as the sky itself, and having a hundred dragon-like heads, all of which screamed and breathed fire. It's not hard to see why almost all the gods had a collective Brown Note when he appeared, and fled Greece, leaving Zeus to face the creature by himself.
    • Advertisement:
    • And then there's creatures like Scylla and, even worse, Charybdis, once beautiful women turned into eldritch things of pure horror. Scylla we at least know is horrifying to observe, looking like a giant, beautiful women from the waist up, with a scaled tail below, and the heads of six, rapid wolves snapping at her waist.
    • Medusa, whose face was apparently so frightening that anyone who saw her turned into stone. Much like Scylla and Charybdis above, she also used to be a beautiful woman before the Gods transformed her, except when she was a monster from the beginning.
  • Prometheus' fate of being chained to a rock and having an eagle peck out his liver each day. He endured it for hundreds of years before being released.
    • Similarly, the fate Cheiron the centaur faced before he sold his immortality: living forever, with the maddening poison of the Hydra eternally burning through his veins.
  • The fate of mortals unfortunate enough to piss off the Olympians.
  • Many gods of the Pantheon were terrifying in the same way as Anthony from "It's a Good Life"; by marrying incredible power to a complete lack of temperance or discipline. Even the mightiest of gods could be vain, petty, selfish, lecherous, vindictive, and very enthusiastic when it came to Disproportionate Retribution. And, unlike the deities of most other belief systems who get the same accusations from time to time, this is not a matter of Alternate Character Interpretation; their own believers regarded these gods as a bunch of Spoiled Brats and humanity as just another Cosmic Plaything.
  • The few tales of cannibalism (such as Tantalus and Atreus).
  • Zeus makes another woman pregnant, then hides her underground. She gives birth to a giant... and dies of childbirth.
  • The same giant flirts with Artemis. He gets sent off to Tartarus to be forever eaten alive by eagles. This was not Prometheus, just some Casanova Wannabe.
    • Other versions claim that said giant (Tityos) was sent to Tartarus for trying to force himself on Artemis' mother Leto. Fortunately, Artemis and Apollo heard their mother's cries of distress and killed Tityos by raining arrows upon him.
  • Ephilatus and Otus tried invading Olympus. They eternally drown in the center of a waterfall, tied by snakes to a pillar, while Fate watches them as an owl. Ouch.
  • Some of the bandits whom Theseus defeated were known for their exceedingly barbaric cruelty:
    • Procrustes, who tied his victims to a bed and chopped body parts if they did not fit.
    • Sinis who bent down two pine trees with his great strength, tied the hands of passer-bys to the tips of the two trees, and then let go.
    • Sciron, another bandit, was tame by comparison, but still pretty terrifying—living on a cliff overlooking the sea, he posed as a kindly old man and asked travelers to help him wash his feet. If they accepted, he'd wait for them to kneel...then he'd kick them off the cliff. Depending on the version, they'd either fall to their deaths or be devoured by a giant turtle that lurked in the waves below. Either way, Sciron very clearly did this for fun.
  • The Minotaur's young victims were imprisoned in the labyrinth and force to run for their lives until the beast catches and devours them or they drop dead of exhaustion, hunger and thirst. It's like the first teen slasher flick.
  • The future Olympians were able to live and grow in Kronos's stomach how exactly? Squick indeed.
  • Antaeus the giant, who was building a temple using human skulls.
  • The fate of the few mortals sent to Tartarus:
    • Ixion - bound to an ever spinning flaming wheel.
    • Sisyphus - forced to roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down.
    • Tantalus - chained to a pool from which he can never drink because the water recedes. There are fruit trees whose branches he can't reach because the breeze blows them away.
      • The whole reason Tantalus ended up the way he did; he was invited to a banquet on Mount Olympus and asked his father Zeus to allow him to bring back some ambrosia to share with his mortal friends. Zeus said no (most probably because ambrosia burns mortals to death), so Tantalus left and sought to humiliate the Gods by revealing to the world that they're Not So Omniscient After All. How? By killing his own son, Pelops and boiling his flesh in the soup he planned on feeding to the Gods. The Gods all immediately figured it out what he did (except Demeter, who was too busy mourning the loss of Persephone) and were absolutely horrified. Zeus pretty much incinerates Tantalus on the spot and then demands the Fates to bring Pelops back to life to make up for what Tantalus did. And what's worse, they couldn't restore his whole body; Demeter had absentmindedly eaten one of his shoulder blades and Hephaestus had to make him a new one.
      • The reason Ixion was there? He was invited to Olympus for dinner and started creepily and obviously flirting with Hera. To get proof, Zeus made a cloud copy of Hera and made sure Ixion could find the cloud copy easily (while hiding the real Hera). Ixion promptly attempts to rape the copy. Zeus, waiting only for the chance to catch him in the act, struck him dead and prepared the above-described punishment.
      • The reason Sisyphus got punished? Back then, Thanatos, the god of Death, actually knocked on your doors visibly and in person, so when he came to Sisyphus, Sisyphus knocked him out and tied him up, causing nobody on Earth to die. Ares noticed that though there was enough mangling and bloodshed going on on his favourite battlefields, nobody died, which put a bummer on the whole thing for him, so he went to look for Thanatos. After finding him under Sisyphus' bed, he freed Thanatos and the two of them killed Sisyphus then and there. In the Underworld, Sisyphus started whining to Hades about how his wife had no time for proper burial rites and how without them he could never really enter the afterlife, so Hades let him back to the world of the living to arrange things, but he told his wife not to complete the rites and stayed on as a ghost. After a while, when it was obvious Sisyphus was not planning on going back, Hades fetched him himself and put him to the task described above.
    • A smaller example, but the Danaides, the fifty daughters of Danausnote , were punished for killing their husbands by being forced to fill a bath that would cleanse their sins. The problem? The bath (and sometimes the bowls/jugs they need to use to fill it) is perpetually leaking, meaning that no matter how much they fill it, it will never be full.
  • A non-mortal prisoner of Tartarus was Arke, Iris' twin sister. It was said that during the Titanomachy, Arke had betrayed the Olympians in favor of the Titans and became their messenger. When the Olympians won the war, Zeus not only cast her into Tartarus along with the Titans, he also tore her wings off for good measure.
  • King Diomedes, who fed humans to his flesh-eating horses. In a Karmic Death and/or Ironic Death twist, he himself was fed to them.
  • The fate of Orestes, who killed his mother to avenge his father. He is forever tormented by the Furies, who were physical manifestations of madness.
    • The entirety of the Atreidae lineage (which Orestes is part of), really. They were a royal family who have been cursed by Zeus due to the arrogance of the bloodline's founding member (Tantalus, who is already mentioned above). It all goes downhill from there. Oh, yes, their story is a grim one filled with murder, incest, and cannibalism, among other things. And speaking of cursed families...
  • The Labdacids (AKA Oedipus' family). They received Apollo's curse from Pelops (of the aforementioned Atreidae) for causing the death of the latter's son. This curse leads them to inevitably kill each other, and then there is poor Oedipus.
    • Imagine marrying your own mother and unknowingly having intercourse with her! Horrible! Then, to top it all off, Oedipus gouged his own eyes out after he discovered all this.
  • Icarus plummets to his death after the wax keeping his man-made wings together melted from the heat of the sun.
    • Phaeton, son of Helios or Apollo, had a similar fate: after being allowed to drive the sun chariot, he loses control of it so bad he has to be blasted out of the sky by Zeus. His charred remains crashlanded in Italy and his sisters died of grief at the lake that formed at the crater of impact.
  • The rape of Callisto. She was raped (once she realized who her attacker really was and what he was going to do she fought), by Zeus disguised as his daughter Artemis. Callisto was a follower of Artemis and one of the goddess’s favorite companions. In other words, Callisto was raped by a god in the form of her best friend. Callisto is cast out, turned into a bear, separated from her son for 15 years, and upon seeing him after those 15 years, is almost killed by him. (In some versions they are only spared by one killing the other or killing each other by Zeus literally invoking Mama Bear in turning the son into a bear cub, upon which all fighting ceases).
    • If you thought death had mercy on her, think again: when she died, she (and her son) were transformed into Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, but Hera still held such a grudge that she convinced the deities in control of the movement of the constellations to not let either of the Bear constellations to rise beyond a certain point.
  • Athena's birth. The clanging produced when Metis forged Athena's armor gave Zeus a massive headache, and he was willing to do anything to stop the headache...ANYTHING, including go to one of his least favorite people in the world, Hephaestus, and have him split his skull wide open. Then, Athena burst out of Zeus' bleeding skull, fully grown and armored, and letting out a battle cry.
  • Her mother, Metis, was fated to give birth to a son more powerful than Zeus. So he turns her into a fly and swallows her whole.
  • The Graeae. Dear Gods, the Graeae! Spooky old witches who only had one eye and one tooth among them. They shared both items among themselves and even fought over both! Even worse, some versions say that they were half-human and half-swan.
  • After a woman seduced a king, his wife organized for the other woman's children to be killed. But the seducer switched their clothes, and the queen murdered her own kids. When the two lovers were discovered, they were tossed off a cliff and became sea gods.
  • Medea. Where to start? First, she killed her brother and threw his diced up corpse into the sea bit by bit to make sure she and her boytoy Jason escaped her father, the king of Colchis. When Jason dumped her for a princess, she then decided to murder the princess with a cloak that instantly turns the wearer into a fireball. She also kills Jasons' future father-in-law, and finished this up by killing the kids that the couple had together. She makes her get-away by flying into the sky on a chariot driven by Dragons. Finally, Medea manages to make peace with her father afterwards by killing her uncle, who had deposed the father as king. She is Nightmare Fuel for anyone who goes through messy divorces with psychopaths.
    • Before she eloped with Jason, he swore a high oath never to abandon her. When he does and thus she kills his new bride to be, his new father-in-law-to-be and their children (causing Jason to be driven out of his rightful homeland upon pain of death, penniless), Hera goddess of jealous wives, women scorned and obsessed yanderes, who was Jason's patron goddess and was one of or even THE deity invoked at the oath, couldn't add any more punishment to Jason other than to let him sleep in the bed he made, ie., let him live without her giving back anything that was taken from him.
  • Lycaon. He (or his sons, depending on the version) knew full well that Zeus makes a habit of dropping by in disguise to see if kings and hosts behave as they should, so when the big guy did show up, they suspected he might actually be Zeus. So what do they do to put him to the test? Why, kill a child from the next village over and serve him up as food. So Zeus turns them into the first werewolves, in some versions even noting that nothing about their behaviour changed.
    • Expanding on that, some sources add that Lycaon had a daughter as well as sons. Her name? Kallisto- whom you might know as the woman turned first into a bear then into the constellation Ursa Major, for getting knocked up by Zeus. She gave birth to a boy called Arktos, but they got separated right after, she was wandering the wilderness and the boy went to his grandfather. The versions that mention Kallisto as Lycaon's daughter go on to also specify that the child was cooked up for a visiting Zeus being Arktos himself, who gets resurrected when Mr. Thunder realizes what happened.
  • Cronus eating his children one by one, with his wife powerless to do anything. (Until Gaea helps her with the hint of going to Crete and giving a rock to Cronus when she expects her sixth child...)
  • The myth of Hades and Persephone has many interpretations, but the original, ancient tale is pure Adult Fear at it's finest from both the perspective of Demeter and Persephone. Persephone is out picking flowers with her friends and strays from the group when she spots a narcissus, which is really a trap laid out by Hades to ensnare her. When Persephone plucks the flower Hades bursts out of the earth in his chariot and pulls her in while she is vainly attempting to fight him off and screaming for help, but they plunge to the earth before anyone can come to the goddess's aid. Hades arrives in his kingdom with his justifiably terrified bride-to-be and drops the bomb that they're getting married on her while the poor girl is still trying to process the fact that she was just snatched from her home, her beloved mother and everything else she's ever known, and is about become her abductor's wife and queen of his kingdom.
    • While Persephone is crying out for her, her mother Demeter immediately drops what she is doing in order to save her daughter, but she is already gone by the time Demeter comes. The goddess then goes on to search the world for Persephone to no avail while starving the earth and slowly killing of mortals in the process. In the middle of her search Demeter discovers that Persephone has been married off without her knowledge or consent at the blessing of Zeus, Persephone's father, is is rightfully furious about this and vows to never let anything grow on Earth until her daughter is returned to her. In every single version of the myth, even the ones where Persephone willingly went with Hades, Demeter has no idea what happened to her child and was willing to starve and kill off pretty much all life on earth in retaliation.
    • Demeter goes crazy enough from the loss of Persephone to attempt to claim somebody else's child as her own to fill in the void. After being informed of Persephone's abduction Demeter exiles herself to the mortal realm and comes to the city of Eleusis, where she is taken in by its kind king and queen who make her a wet nurse to their son. Demeter gets attached to the baby and decides to make him immortal (a process which involves anointing the infant in ambrosia and sticking him in the fire at night). Metanira, the queen of Eleusis, happens upon this when she gets suspicious of the old woman and panics at the sight, accusing Demeter of trying to kill her son before Demeter reveals herself.
    • After all of this, Demeter continues to starve off all of humanity and vows to keep it that way until Persephone is returned to her. Not only is she willing to kill off mortals, but also possibly bring down her entire family with her if they disappear from lack of human worship. Moral of the story: Do not piss off the goddess in charge of agriculture, especially where her daughter is concerned.
  • Hera was a notoriously jealous goddess. While Zeus's infidelities were hardly admirable, her responses to them were nothing short of horrifying. She would wreak cruel vengeance against the women he slept with, including those who didn't know their lover's true identity and even women her husband raped. Not only that, she was incredibly malicious to his children, even though it's obviously not their fault they were fathered by the King of the Gods.
    • Exhibit A: Once, by the time she could pinpoint the exact woman and child involved, the kid was already an adult and the woman already dead, meaning Hera couldn't take revenge on her. So what does she do? She poisons the watersources of the island the man is a king of and arranges all nearby kingdoms to attack him at once. (Solution? The man prayed to his father who offered to help and the man asked for an army as organized and disciplined as the ants, and so the Myrmidons were born.)
    • Hera wasn't nicer to Io, even though Zeus was only planning on raping her before Hera caught up with him in some versions. Since Zeus turned Io into a cow (Hera's sacred animal), she couldn't kill her, so she sent a gadfly to torment her for eternity. And when poor Io happened on Prometheus, Prometheus told her the only way she can turn back to a human is go back to Zeus- because Herakles, the only one who can free Prometheus, will be born of Io's bloodline generations later.
    • For the obvious question, "why isn't she taking her anger out on Zeus, the one who is actually cheating on her?"... she tried. she tried organizing a coup against him but it failed. As punishment, Zeus tied her above the Gap (Chaos) in strong chains and with an anvil tied to her ankles, and used her for target practice.
  • The Nemean Lion, a vicious, bloodthirsty beast with an impenetrable hide and claws that could cut through just about anything.
  • The fate of anyone unlucky enough to incur the wrath of Herakles - from the teacher he killed with a punch in his youth to his killing of his wife and children, or even a prince (a king thought Herakles stole some cattle and sent the son who idolized Herakles to ask) who did nothing wrong.
  • In a mythos where gods and heroes perform incredible deeds, perhaps the most disturbing thing about Nyx, the primordial embodiment of night, is that she never needs to prove her power. Even Zeus, whose only defeat was a very temporary one by Typhon, doesn't dare provoking her to anger, leaving us to imagine what kind of being might frighten Zeus himself into complacency.
  • In the Dionysiaca, we have Typhon spelling out to Zeus all the lovely things he plans on doing to the Olympians when he takes over. These include, but are not limited to...
    • Chaining up Poseidon with the same chains that Iapetus is bound by.
    • Sending a bigger, stronger eagle (possibly Typhon's own offspring) to peck out Hephaestus' liver to avenge Prometheus.
    • Trapping Hermes in a jar forever.
    • Enslaving Ares, Selene, Aphrodite and Apollo.
    • Forcibly marrying off Artemis, Leto and Athena and letting their husbands rape them.
    • Forcing Hera to marry him (Typhon) specifically.
  • Think about what poor Leto had to go through when Hera found out she was pregnant with Zeus' twins—Hera basically tells Leto she's banned from giving birth literally anywhere on Earth, starts spying on her as she desperately searches for someplace to give birth and in some versions sends a freaking dragon to chase Leto as she wanders. And just when Leto finally found a haven (sometimes provided by Poseidon at Zeus' behest) to give birth, a massive storm happens and the Goddess of Childbirth (sometimes Hera, sometimes her daughter) refuses to help her, leaving poor Leto to desperately cling to her patch of land and give birth, hoping that the storm doesn't wash her away. Fortunately, she succeeds.
  • The tale of Marsyas, a satyr and friend of Dionysus; basically, after finding a double flute discarded by Athena, he proceeded to play it for Dionysus' retinue and boasted that he was even better at music than Apollo. Apollo, naturally, isn't pleased to hear this and shows up to settle the score, challenging Marsyas to what can best be described as a bet: They'll compete to see who's the better musician, and whoever loses has to do whatever the winner tells them to do. Marsyas agrees to it and, predictably, Apollo wins. Marsyas humbly admits defeat and asks what Apollo wants him to do. Apollo's response? All Marsyas has to do is stand there...while he skins him alive. Marsyas' discarded skin is hung up on a cavern to warn people what will happen to them if they give in to hubris and it is said that the skin dances to the music of the flute but falls still and silent in the presence of lyre music.

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report