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?


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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