The significance of mythology in today's world

By Parham Shafti

In the Western tradition of ideas, philosophy is the system of thoughts and questions that relate to how we view ourselves and that shape our existential outlook on life. At the same time, philosophy has its origins in antiquity, whose hub was Greek mythology, which formed the cradle of Western civilisation, and with that set the foundation to how our modern society has been formed. We think its place in how businesses are being shaped are as relevant. Here is why.

The term Greek mythology is a catch-all for the legends and heroic tales that created an awareness of right and wrong among ancient Greeks, and where wisdom could be found in the consequences of the actions of the mythological characters and their subsequent fate. The strength of mythology also lay in the ease with which people could identify with the characters in the tales, as these were always individuals with their own faults and shortcomings.

Thus the mythological tales identified the repercussions of our actions in a way that emphasised the importance of wisdom. Mythology sounded a cautionary note about making wrong decisions by using the fate of the mythological characters as examples. With their help, lessons could be learned and we could avoid a similar fate ourselves. They provided a message of wisdom to carry with us before facing our own considerations and values in life.

The narrative of one myth in particular stands out among all the others when it comes to our most critical modern issue, the climate crisis.

It follows that anyone who believes that mythological tales belong in the past is jumping to the wrong conclusion. The myths have survived to this day due to the fact that their narratives are still valid in contemporary contexts and correspond to situations that occur in our own day and age. Above all, the power of the myths lies in their symbolism, which not only helped shape the origins of modern story-telling, but also influenced the most tone-setting stories of our modern popular culture. For example, the Star Wars movies, which owe so much of their inspiration to mythology, could not have existed without the ancient myths, and the number of movies that have drawn on elements of mythology is large.

The significance of mythology and its ability to give rise to important material for thought not only applies in the film world. It is reflected in far more revolutionary contexts than this. The narrative of one myth in particular stands out among all the others when it comes to our most critical modern issue, the climate crisis.

It is the myth of Phaeton, son of the sun god Helios, who after his parentage had been challenged by his peers swore to them that he would prove that his father was Helios by driving the sun chariot across the sky, something that nobody else, not even the gods, could manage. Driving the sun chariot entailed controlling the sun itself, with all its untameable force. It was a task that placed tremendous demands on anyone who held the reins in terms of strength, experience, responsibility and knowledge. However, having sworn to his peers, Phaeton’s pride made it impossible for him to accept anything else than to have his own way.

When Phaeton explained to his mother what had happened, she failed to persuade him to change his mind. It is worth mentioning at this point that Phaeton had never had the opportunity to meet his father during his childhood as his father’s daily task had made it more convenient for his mother to raise him. However, when Phaeton told his mother that his peers had laughed at him and that she had also been branded a liar for claiming that Helios was his father, his mother decided to allow her son to meet his father in the hope that Helios could be persuaded to let Phaeton borrow the sun chariot for a single day. When father and son met for the first time, Helios was so pleasantly surprised that he immediately promised to grant his son’s first wish. Phaeton did not hesitate and asked to be allowed to drive the sun chariot. Helion was appalled by this idea and straight away asked if he could take back his promise. He tried everything to change his son’s mind, describing how difficult it was to control the sun chariot, how much responsibility it involved, and the dangers and consequences for the Earth if even the slightest mistake was made, but in vain. His son refused to change his wish. As Helios was a god, he had no choice but to keep his promise. He begged his son one last time to change his mind but again to no avail. So it was that Helios was obliged to fulfil his promise.

It was a task that placed tremendous demands on anyone who held the reins in terms of strength, experience, responsibility and knowledge.

Having accepted the inevitable, Helios tried instead to help Phaeton by giving him the advice that he needed to cope with all the dangers along the way, the most important of which was never to use the whip. However, his son, who was determined to impress his peers, was too eager to get started and did not listen to him.

So when the time came and dawn was approaching, Helios reluctantly passed him the reins. The chariot shot off across the sky and the god could do nothing but watch and hope for the best. Phaeton, for his part, was intoxicated by the power and speed of the horses and soon forgot his father’s advice. He began urging the sun chariot forward even faster, and it was not long before he used the whip. When the horses noticed this and the fact that the usual experienced hands were not holding the reins, they became wilder and more boisterous and Phaeton found it increasingly difficult to control them. He could barely restrain them, and the horses began straying from their usual course more and more. Finally, Phaeton lost control of the chariot completely and had to fight to keep his balance and not be thrown out into space.

Sofi writes for the
Prepublica blog

Join our network of Social changemakers.

Get the Prepublica newsletter, twice a month.

or check out the about us page

It was not long before the immense power of the sun began affecting the stars and the constellations, which were pushed out of position and started to shift across the sky to find a new spot away from the sun’s heat. At the same time, the rampaging chariot affected life on Earth. The intense heat sparked enormous fires that singed the Earth’s surface and caused the people and animals of the Earth to flee head-over-heels, while the oceans began to evaporate and the poles to melt. Up in the heavens, the heat also released all the fearsome monsters of the constellations that until then had been encased in the northern ice.

Thus mythology still fulfils a purpose, as it always has, because it provides the insight that we all need.

While Phaeton was struggling in vain to regain control of the sun chariot, Gaia, the primal Mother Earth goddess, broke her silence. She could not just stand by and do nothing; all hope for the Earth would soon be lost and she pleaded with Zeus, the king of the gods, for help. Zeus explained that he could do nothing without the permission of his brother Helios. So Gaia immediately went to Helios’ abode and knocked loudly on his gate. Helios, who had been agonising over the decision that he now realised had to be made, greeted her. He had long put off the inevitable, but when Gaia confronted him, he could no longer delay.


Hardly had Helios given his permission before Zeus hurled a lightning bolt into the sky that hit Phaeton in the chest. The son of Helios was thrown out of the chariot and came tumbling down to Earth in a wide arc and into the river Eridanus. In the nick of time, the gods had averted the ultimate disaster and the earth could begin its arduous road to recovery.

When bearing in mind the climate crisis, the tale of Phaeton has such symbolic meaning on multiple levels that the parallels with reality are almost uncanny. Likewise, the myth of Phaeton illustrates how mythological tales remain relevant, regardless of the age that we live in.

Thus mythology still fulfils a purpose, as it always has, because it provides the insight that we all need.

Humankind would never have progressed this far had it not been for subsequent generations benefitting from the accumulation of human experience and knowledge.

Narration has played an essential role in this progress. At the same time, insight has been neglected during our modern era due a lack of available time and education, and if we consider how various forces are currently putting our beliefs and our good judgement to the test, while our consumer society is severely draining the Earth’s resources, mythology can provide an excellent source of wisdom. Hence, the ancient mythological tales and their innate wisdom have an important role to play, arguably more than ever before.

It is with that in mind that we ask you to dig deep in your pursuit of building a meaningful brand. By finding out how your business relates to the universal stories and emotional associations that all human beings share, we believe you can devise a modern mythology that facilitates the understanding of the roles your organisation play, the lessons you learn and the paths you have chosen to walk. A story that demonstrates integrity and authenticity, and by doing so, to evoke the imagination, dreams and aspirations of your audience and generations to come.

Written by: Christopher Persson

Quick question, was this article meaningful to you?