18 Classic Myths Explained with Animation: Pandora’s Box, Sisyphus & More

Greek myths have an incredible shelf life.

We may not retain all the players’ names or the intricacies of the various plot lines, but the creative punishments the gods—Zeus, in particular—visited upon those who displeased them have provided modern mortals with an enduring shorthand for describing our own woes.

Tempted to sneak a peek inside a lover’s diary? Take a teeny swig from the liquor cabinet whilst housesitting? Go snooping in your teenager’s Internet history?

DON’T DO IT, PANDORA!!!




But if curiosity compels you to explore beyond the famous punchlines of mythology’s greatest hits, TED-Ed’s animated Myths from Around the World series is a recommended rummage.

Averaging around five minutes per tale, each episode is packed tight as a snake in a can of mixed nuts. Prepare to be surprised by some of the tidbits that come springing out.

Take Pandora’s box, above.

(Actually it was a jar, but why quibble?)

Not to unleash too many major spoilers, but how many of us remembered that the thing contained a bit of good along with all that evil?

Or that the vessel she wasn’t allowed to open was but one of many gifts the gods bestowed upon her at birth? In fact, Zeus gave her two presents, that pretty box, jar, whatever, and—wait for it—an irrepressibly inquisitive nature.

Or the close connection between Pandora and Prometheus? Zeus conceived of Pandora as a retribution for Prometheus stealing fire and returning it to earth.

Remember Prometheus?

No, not the guy who’s doomed to spend his life rolling a massive rock uphill, only to have it roll back down before he reaches the top. That’s Sisyphus, as in Sisyphean task, like laundry or cleaning the cat litter.

Prometheus is the Titan who winds up chained to a rock so Zeus can send a hungry vulture—some say eagle—to devour his liver once a day.

(Which kind of puts the cat litter in perspective.)

In addition to ancient Greek crowd pleasers, the 18-episode Myths from Around the World playlist delves into the familiar stuff of Norse, Chinese, and ancient Egyptian legends, as well as less widely known Cambodian and Irish tales.

Each video’s description has a link to a full Ted-Ed lesson, with the usual complement of quizzes, resources and opportunities for teacher customization.

Watch the full playlist here.

Related Content:

The Myth of Sisyphus Wonderfully Animated in an Oscar-Nominated Short Film (1974)

Greek Myth Comix Presents Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey Using Stick-Man Drawings

Concepts of the Hero in Greek Civilization (A Free Harvard Course) 

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this March. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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