You’ve probably heard a lot of people say how our modern works of fiction are heavily influenced by ancient Greek myths, but has anyone ever actually sat you down and shown you the parallels? Unless you’ve studied the topic, you may not have encountered a single example of this phenomenon. In that case, today is your lucky day! I’ve picked out a particularly good example that happens to be part of the reading for my 220 English class, Eudora Welty’s Shower of Gold, a short story published in her book titled The Golden Apples (1945). This particular short story bears a striking resemblance to the ancient Greek myth of Danae. In case you’ve never hear the story of Danae, it goes a little something like this:
Once upon a time in ancient Greece, King Acrisius of Argos had a daughter named Danae. After hearing an oracle prophesy that his grandson would eventually kill him, he locked the then-childless Danae in a tower so that there was no way she could become pregnant. Despite all his efforts, however, Danae becomes pregnant after Zeus took a liking to her and appeared to her as a golden rain. Danae gave birth to a son, Perseus, soon after.
When Acrisius found out about this, instead of killing his daughter and grandson and thereby incurring the wrath of the furies, he decides to stuff them in a chest and throw it into the ocean. Danae and Perseus survive the ordeal and Perseus eventually ends up in Larissa to compete in some olympic-style games. Unaware that his grandfather was also in attendance at the games, he accidentally threw a discus off course which struck and killed Acrisius instantly, fulfilling the prophecy.
Ok, so how does any of that correlate have to Welty’s short story? Well, lets look at the plot. The story is set in Morgana, a small town in rural Mississippi, and is told by a character named Miss Katie, who talks about recent events in the life of her neighbor and friend, Snowdie MacLain. Snowdie’s husband, King, has run away since marrying her and only returned once, briefly, resulting in Snowdie becoming pregnant and giving birth to twin boys. Sound familiar? King actions cast him almost as a carbon copy of Zeus, as he briefly appears to Snowdie, impregnates her, and leaves, never to be seen again. King is also rumored to have fathered children with other women, something else Zeus was well-known for. Snowdie, an albino, seemed fated to remain unmarried much the same as Danae was thought to be. And, of course, the obvious reference in the title to the method in which Zeus appeared to Danae is icing on the cupcake.
You’d be surprised just how much ancient mythologies, not just that of the Greeks, permeate our modern stories and our culture at large. Keep one eye in a book of mythology and the other on the lookout, and you never know what you might find.