Greek Mythology in the Harry Potter World
The Harry Potter books have more references to Greek and Roman mythology than any other world mythology. Let’s look at those mythological references. They are in alphabetical order.
Try it Out!
When you read these Greek and Roman names and the stories behind them, think about how they fit in with the related Harry Potter character or story.
In Harry Potter Alecto Carrow is a Death Eater. She and her brother Amycus become teachers at Hogwarts in The Deathly Hallows. They torture students who display disobedience to the Dark Lord or show loyalty to Harry.
In Greek mythology Alecto is one of the three Furies. The Furies are goddesses who punish evildoers:
Tisiphone (ti-SI-fone-ee) (Avenging)
Megaira (mah-JEER-ah) (Resentful)
- Depicted as ugly hags with red eyes, yellow hair, large wings, snakes in their hair, snakes wrapped around their bodies, and holding whips and torches.
- They punish offenders in the Underworld. If the crime was something the Greeks considered particularly offensive (like killing a king), the Furies pursued the guilty and drove him mad.
- Ancient Greeks never called the Furies by their names. They were afraid of them.
Harry Potter Connection!
Most witches and wizards in the Harry Potter world would not say the name “Voldemort,” because they were afraid of him and his Death Eaters.
In Harry Potter Alastor Moody is an Auror who teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts in Harry’s fourth year.
In Greek Mythology Alastor is the “spirit” of feuds between family members.
In Harry Potter Amycus Carrow is a Death Eater who brings his cruelty to Hogwarts in The Deathly Hallows where he tortures students.
In Greek mythology Amycus was the son of Poseidon and a nymph Melia.
Amycus and the Argonauts
Amycus was the ruler of Bebryces and renown as a skilled boxer. When Jason and the Argonauts came to his land, Amycus challenged the bravest of the Argonauts to a fight. Polydeuces agreed and killed Amycus. A type of laurel grew on Amycus’s tomb; legend says that if a sprig of that laurel gets onto a ship it will make the crewmen quarrel, and they won’t stop fighting until the laurel is found and thrown overboard.
In Harry Potter Andromeda Black Tonks is the wife of Ted Tonks and the mother of Nymphadora Tonks. Andromeda is Narcissa and Bellatrix’s sister and related to Sirius Black.
In Greek mythology Andromeda became the wife of the Greek hero Perseus after he rescued her from a sea monster.
Andromeda and Perseus
The reason Andromeda was at the mercy of the sea monster in the first place was that Andromeda’s mother Cassiopeia (cass-ee-oh-pey-yah) had boasted that she and Andromeda were more beautiful than the sea nymphs, the Nereids. In Greek mythology, it is never wise to upset the gods or goddesses or to compare yourself to them! The Nereids were no exception. They complained to the sea god, Poseidon, and he sent a tidal wave to destroy Cassiopeia’s land and then he sent a sea monster to terrorize her people. Andromeda’s father consulted with an oracle to discover how to appease the angry god, but the oracle told him that the only way to be rid of the sea monster was to sacrifice his daughter to it. Unfortunately for the poor girl, Andromeda, her father chained her to a cliff to await the sea monster. The hero Perseus, who had already killed the Medusa, flew by on the winged horse, Pegasus, saw Andromeda and instantly fell in love with her. When the sea monster came out of the water to devour Andromeda, Perseus cut off his head. Perseus then married Andromeda.
In Harry Potter Argus Filch is the caretaker at Hogwarts. He is bad tempered and seems to always be around whenever the kids are out of bed after hours or when they are in restricted areas.
In Greek mythology Argus was a giant with 100 eyes in his head.
Argus and Hera
The story of Argus involved Zeus and one of his many infidelities. Zeus had fallen in love with Io (eye-o), a young mortal woman, but Zeus’s wife Hera found out about her. Zeus turned Io into a cow to hide her from Hera. The cow is sacred to Hera so Zeus knew she would not hurt Io as long as she remained a cow. Not fooled by Zeus’s trick, Hera asked to have the “cow” as a gift, and Zeus had no choice but to give her to Hera. Hera took Io and had her watched by Argus, the 100 eyed giant. With his 100 eyes he could sleep and still always have an eye open. Zeus wanted to save Io, so he asked Hermes to steal her from Argus. Hermes then went to Argus disguised as a mortal young man, playing music and talking to him. Eventually Argus fell asleep, closed all of his eyes, and Hermes killed him. Hera was sad at the death of Argus and took Argus’s eyes and put them into the tail of the peacock which was her favorite bird. That’s the Greek story for how the peacock got the “eyes” in his tail.
In Harry Potter this is an herb used in the Draught of the Living Dead.
In Greek mythology the Asphodel Meadows was one of the realms of the Underworld. The Asphodel Meadows was a neutral place for the dead who were not good enough in life to go to the Elysian Fields nor so evil as to deserve being sentenced to Tartarus. These dead souls could wander in the Asphodel Meadows for all eternity where the Asphodel flowers grew in abundance. A fitting name for an ingredient in the Draught of the Living Dead.
In Harry Potter Cassandra Vablatsky is Professor Trelawney’s grandmother. She is a “seer.”
In Greek mythology Cassandra was a mortal woman with whom the god Apollo fell in love.
Cassandra and Apollo
After falling in love with Cassandra, Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy. However, Cassandra did not return his love. Apollo could not take away the gift he’d given her—gifts once given by the gods cannot be taken away. Instead he cursed her so that no one would believe her prophecies. Cassandra lived in Troy during the Trojan War and warned the people they would be destroyed by the Greeks but, of course, no one believed her. Troy was destroyed. They should have listened to Cassandra.
Harry Potter Connection!
Professor Trelawney is rarely taken seriously and no one listens to her. Professor McGonagall and Hermione both think she is a fraud, as do Ron and Harry, until Harry hears a real prophecy in The Prisoner of Azkaban, “…then a loud, harsh voice spoke behind him…IT WILL HAPPEN TONIGHT.” (POA, 405). Like with Cassandra, people should have taken Professor Trelawney’s prophecies seriously!
In Harry Potter Circe is one of the witches on the Chocolate Frog wizard cards.
In Greek mythology Circe was a beautiful and powerful witch.
Circe and Odysseus
Daughter of the sun god Helios and a sea nymph, Circe lived on an island where she would turn visitors to her island into animals. The hero Odysseus and his men had a run-in with Circe. When they landed on her island, Odysseus sent a scouting party ahead to check the land. Circe trapped the men and fed them poison acorns which turned them into swine. Unfortunately for the men, Circe’s poison allowed them to keep their human reasoning abilities, so they were aware that they were men trapped in the bodies of pigs—an unpleasant fate! Fortunately for the men, one of the scouting party had stayed behind and did not get trapped; he went back to the ship and told Odysseus what had happened. Odysseus then went to the island to save his men. On his way he met with the god Hermes (in disguise as a young man) who gave him an herb that would allow Odysseus to eat Circe’s food and not be transformed. When Odysseus met Circe and was unharmed by her poison, she was amazed and fell in love with him. She changed his men back, fed them, and they were so happy that they stayed on her island for a year. When they left, Circe told Odysseus how to get through the next part of his journey.
In Celtic mythology, the hero Tadg found himself on an enchanted island with Cliodna. Time had no meaning on her island and, like Circe with Odysseus, Cliodna gave Tadg advice about his life and further adventures.
In Harry Potter Dedulus Diggle is one of the first wizards Harry encounters at the Leaky Cauldron in The Sorcerer‘s Stone. He is one of the wizards who accompanies Harry to Grimmauld Place in The Order of the Phoenix and also helps take the Dursley’s into hiding in The Deathly Hallows.
In Greek mythology Deadalus (note the name is spelled slightly different) was famous for two things: 1) creating the Labyrinth to house the Minotaur; and 2) the flight of his son Icarus. Daedalus was an extremely talented craftsman, engineer, and inventor living in Athens, but he committed a crime and to avoid punishment he escaped from Athens and went to the island of Crete, which was the home of King Minos.
Daedalus and the Minotaur
Daedalus designed the Labyrinth at Crete to house the Minotaur, a creature with a man’s body and a bull’s head. King Minos had angered the god Poseidon and then consulted an oracle to find out what he needed to do to appease the angry god. The oracle told him to build a labyrinth to hide the Minotaur and every year sacrifice seven girls and seven boys to the monster. One year the hero Theseus was one of the boys picked for sacrifice. When Theseus got to Crete, Mino’s daughter Ariadne immediately fell in love with him and offered to help him kill and escape from the Minotaur. She asked Daedalus for help and he gave her a ball of twine (or silk thread depending on the story) to give to Theseus. When he entered the labyrinth, Theseus tied one end of the thread to a bush and pulled it behind him. Theseus killed the Minotaur (with his bare hands!) and took up his ball of thread and found his way back out of the labyrinth.
Daedalus and Icarus
When Minos found out about the Minotaur he put Daedalus and his son Icarus (ICK-ah-rus) into prison, some stories say it was in the Labyrinth. In prison Daedalus invented an ingenious means of escape—he constructed wings made out of wax for himself and Icarus. Daedalus told Icarus to be cautious and not fly too close to the sun. Unfortunately, Icarus was so thrilled by being able to fly that he forgot his father’s caution and flew too near the sun. The wax on his wings melted and he fell into the sea. Daedalus escaped to Sicily, but Minos eventually found out where Daedalus was hiding and invaded Sicily. Daedalus created a way to kill Minos by pouring hot oil on him while Minos was bathing.
Harry Potter Connection!
We also see the labyrinth in The Goblet of Fire when the Tri-Wizard champions have to navigate through a maze to reach the cup. It is interesting that this cup ultimately leads to the “sacrifice” of a boy and leads our hero to an encounter with a “monster.” The “thread” that connects the wands of Harry and Voldemort could be seen as symbolic of the thread that Ariadne gave to the hero Theseus so he could find his way out of the labyrinth. The connection between the two wands eventually leads to Harry’s escape.
In Harry Potter Hermes is a Weasley family owl.
In Greek mythology Hermes is the messenger god, and in fact, the name Hermes means “messenger” in Greek. Hermes is graceful and swift and wears winged sandals on his feet. He appeared often in stories and was one of the primary mentor gods in the story of Perseus. We also meet Hermes in the story of the hero Odysseus.
In Harry Potter Hermione is one of Harry’s best friends. There is no need to go any further, we all know Hermione!
In Greek mythology Hermione was a daughter of Menelaus and Helen. Hermione’s mother, Helen, caused the Trojan War because of her great beauty. Helen’s aunt Clytemnestra raised Hermione while her parents were away fighting in the Trojan War. The word Hermione is a form of Hermes. Hermione is very clever, just like Hermes.
In Harry Potter Hestia Jones is a witch who, along with Dedalus Diggle, takes the Dursleys into hiding in The Deathly Hallows.
In Greek mythology Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and home. In the ancient Greek world there were no stoves or ovens, and every house had a hearth with a fire in it. The household fire was dedicated to Hestia and any outdoor festivals that included a fire always involved a sacrifice to her. Hestia never leaves Mt. Olympus and was rarely depicted in ancient art. Even though there were few stories about her, she was a very beloved goddess, especially with women, who were the guardians of the hearth.
In Harry Potter the Inferi are the undead bodies Lord Voldemort uses to instill fear in his enemies. Harry encounters them in the cave with Dumbledore in The Half Blood Prince when the Inferi rise up and attack him after he touches the water.
In Roman mythology the Inferi are the inhabitants of the underworld.
In Harry Potter Luna Lovegood is one of Harry’s friends and a member of Dumbledore’s Army.
In Roman mythology Luna is a moon goddess. Her Greek equivalent is Selene. Luna actually means “moon” in Latin.
In Harry Potter Mars is mentioned by the centaurs when referring to either the return of Lord Voldemort or the upcoming conflict between Voldemort and Harry. Ronan says, “Mars is bright tonight” in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Ronan is talking about the planet Mars, but it gets its name from Roman mythology.
In Roman mythology Mars is the god of war. The planet Mars was named after the god; its red color being symbolic of war and violence. The god of war was much more important to the Romans than he was to the Greeks, because the Romans engaged in warfare and conquest more than the Greeks. Mars was actually the father of Remus and Romulus, the two legendary founders of the city of Rome.
Harry Potter Connection!
In The Order of the Phoenix, when Firenze is teaching Divination, he tells the class about reading the stars. He says that “…Wizard-kind is living through nothing more than a brief calm between the two wars. Mars, bringer of battle, shines brightly above us, suggesting that the fight must break out again soon” (OOTP, 603). This is not long before Harry and his allies end up fighting in the Department of Mysteries.
In Harry Potter Merope Gaunt is the daughter of Marvolo Gaunt and is Lord Voldemort’s mother.
In Greek mythology Merope is the youngest of the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas (who held up the world) and Pleione (plee-oh-nee), a nymph associated with the goddess Artemis, the goddess of the forest and hunting.
Merope and the Mortal
Orion, the hunter, fell in love with the Pleiades (star nymphs) and pursued them. Artemis pleaded with Zeus to save the Pleiades from Orion, so Zeus turned them into a flock of doves and placed them in the sky. Only six of the Pleiades are visible—Merope, the seventh, is faint and barely visible. The Greek story was that Merope married a mortal, Sisyphus, and bore him children. Merope hid herself in shame for marrying a mortal and that is why she’s the faintest star.
Harry Potter Connection!
In The Half Blood Prince we learn that Merope Gaunt is shamed by her father, Marvolo and brother Morfin for falling in love with Muggle Tom Riddle, “My daughter—pure—blooded descendant of Salazar Slytherin—hankering after a filthy, dirt-veined Muggle?” (HBP, 210). They keep Merope hidden from the world, because they are ashamed of her—she loves a Muggle, and she is a squib. She is the Harry Potter equivalent of the faint star.
In Harry Potter Minerva McGonagall is the deputy headmistress at Hogwarts, the Head of Griffindor House, the Transfiguration teacher, and a member of the Order of the Phoenix.
In Roman mythology Minerva is the goddess of wisdom and defensive war. Minerva is also the patron of arts and crafts, but not like what we call “arts and crafts” today. Arts and crafts in ancient Rome would have been making pottery, woodworking, metalworking (especially in precious metals like gold and silver), architecture, and literature. In Greek mythology her counterpart is Athena. Athena is the patron deity and protector of Athens. She was born out of the head of Zeus/Jupiter. Minerva/Athena is usually depicted in armor and a helmet with an owl on her shoulder or head.
In Harry Potter “morsmordre” is the spell that puts the Death Eater skull in the sky after an attack.
In Roman mythology Mors is the goddess of death.
In Harry Potter Narcissa Black Malfoy is Draco Malfoy’s mother and Lucius Malfoy’s wife.
In Greek mythology Narcissus was a beautiful young man.
Narcissus and Echo
Narcissus was a young man whom all the young maidens were in love with, including the nymph Echo. However, Narcissus ignored and spurned all of them. Echo was so upset by his refusal that she hid in a cave and wasted away until the only part left of her was her voice. Some stories say that Narcissus was punished by the gods on behalf of Echo, other stories he was punished on behalf of all the young women he spurned. Either way Nemesis, the goddess of “righteous anger,” punished him. When Narcissus went to look at his reflection in a pool of water, Nemesis made him fall in love with himself. He could not tear his gaze away and died pining for himself, looking in the water. The spot where his body lay became the narcissus flower.
Harry Potter Connection!
Narcissus staring into his reflection in the pool of water is reminiscent of the Mirror of Erised. As Dumbledore said, “Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad…” (SS, 213).
In Harry Potter “nox” is the counterspell to “lumos.” Nox puts out light.
In Roman mythology Nox is the goddess of Night. Her Greek equivalent is Nyx.
In Harry Potter Nymphadora Tonks is a member of the Order of the Phoenix and wife of Remus Lupin. Harry, Ron, and Hermione know her simply as “Tonks.”
In Greek mythology nymphs are groups of female deities usually associated with nature and who live in woods, groves, valleys, or near springs, rivers, and lakes. Some nymphs are associated with a particular god or goddess, usually one of the nature deities like Artemis, Dionysus, or a water god like Poseidon. The nymphs were also known to help mortals on their journeys. The Nereids, nymphs of the sea, helped Jason and the Argonauts navigate through treacherous waters.
In Harry Potter Pomona Sprout is the Hogwarts teacher of Herbology and the Head of Hufflepuff House.
In Roman mythology Pomona is a nymph of fruit and fruit trees. She is one of the few distinctly Roman goddess, and she has no Greek equivalent. Pomona loves pruning and grafting her fruit trees and stays in her orchard, and she rarely comes out to interfere in the matters of mortals.
In Harry Potter Quirinus Quirrell is the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Possessed by Voldemort, he tries to kill Harry at the end of the book.
In Roman mythology the god Janus sometimes appeared with the name Janus Quirinus. Janus is the god of beginnings and endings, doors and gateways, and depicted with two faces, one facing in each direction. He also symbolizes looking forward, so people worshiped him at times of beginnings like weddings and harvests. We get the name of our month January from Janus.
Harry Potter Connection!
Professor Quirrell is the Professor with literally two faces! Once he is alone with Harry he removes his turban and reveals the face of Voldemort facing out of the back of his head. It is fitting that Harry should encounter this two-faced wizard at the beginning of his journey as a wizard and as the “Boy Who Lived.” This encounter is the beginning of his fight with Voldemort.
REMUS AND ROMULUS
In Harry Potter Remus Lupin, a werewolf, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, and friend to James Potter and Sirius Black. “Romulus” is Lupin’s code name on Harry Potter Watch in The Deathly Hallows.
In Roman mythology Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Mars, the god of war.
Romulus and Remus and the Founding of Rome
The mother of Romulus and Remus, a mortal woman Rhea, was the daughter of Numitor, the King of a city near what would become Rome. King Numitor was overthrown by his evil brother Amulius, and when Amulius took over he forced Rhea to become a Vestal Virgin. Vestal Virgins were young women devoted to the worship of the goddess Vesta and not allowed to marry or have children. When Rhea became pregnant by Mars no one believed her that he was the father. Her uncle, Amulius, afraid that the twin boys would grow up and overthrow him, put them in a basket and threw them in the river Tiber. The basket washed up on shore and a she-wolf took the boys to her den, suckled them, and took care of them until they had grown a little. After that a shepherd named Faustulus rescued the boys and raised them until they were fully grown. When Remus and Romulus learned about their heritage and that Amulius had exiled their grandfather, they killed Amulius and helped their grandfather, Numitor, become King again. Romulus and Remus then decided to found their own city. They could not agree on where to build it so they each built their own city and enclosed it with a wall. Remus made fun of Romulus’s wall because it was so low. He jumped over the wall into Romulus’s town and jeered at his brother. In his anger, Romulus killed Remus. He then went on to found a city—Roma—that became Rome. Eventually, Romulus ascended to Mount Olympus and lived with the gods.
Harry Potter Connection!
The evil Amulius wanted to kill the twins Romulus and Remus, because he thought they would kill him when they became adults. Lord Voldemort attempts to kill Harry for the same reason—he thinks Harry is the one person who can kill him. Also like Remus and Romulus, Harry manages to escape (by not dying!) and grows up to fulfill the prophecy to kill the evil lord.
In Harry Potter Newt Scamander is the author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a textbook at Hogwarts.
In Roman mythology Scamander was a river near the city of Troy, which played a part in the Trojan War.
Scamander and Achilles
According to The Illiad, Achilles, one of the Greek warriors, threw Trojan corpses into the river Scamander. The river asked Achilles to stop. Achilles agreed to stop clogging the river, but not to stop the killing. Frustrated with Achilles, Scamander then asked the god Apollo for help. Achilles, always one for getting his way, fought the river, and was dragged downstream and nearly killed. Hephaestus eventually boiled the river to make it let go of Achilles.
In Harry Potter Scorpius is Draco Malfoy’s son.
In Greek mythology Scorpius was a giant scorpion sent by Artemis and her mother Leto to kill the giant Orion.
Scorpius and Orion
Orion the hunter had boasted to Artemis that he would kill every animal on earth, which was not the smartest thing to say to an earth goddess! Artemis, besides being a hunter, also gave protection to animals, especially wild animals. She wanted to stop Orion, so she had Scorpius fight him. They battled and Scorpius won and killed Orion. Zeus had enjoyed the battle, and to reward Orion, Zeus made him into a constellation. Zeus made Scorpius into one as well, but they appear at different times of the year. The Scorpius and Orion constellations never appear in the sky at the same time.
In Harry Potter the Sphinx appears in the maze in The Goblet of Fire.
In Greek mythology the Sphinx appears in a story.
The Sphinx and Oedipus
We usually associate the Sphinx with the earthen statue in ancient Egypt, and rightly so, but the Greek story about Oedipus (ed-i-pus) and the Sphinx was very popular and is still famous. The Sphinx was a creature with a woman’s head, a lion’s body, and wings. Hera sent the Sphinx to the city of Thebes as a punishment for the abduction of a boy. The Sphinx accosted travelers and challenged them to answer a riddle: “What animal has four feet in the morning, two feet at midday, and three feet at sunset?” The answer is “man.” He crawls on hands and knees as a baby, walks on two legs, and then has to use a cane when old. Oedipus answered the riddle correctly and the people of Thebes made him their king. Dejected, the Sphinx then threw herself off a cliff, killing herself.
In Harry Potter Sybil Trelawney is the professor of Divination.
In Roman mythology Sybil was a wise woman who could foretell the future. She traveled with Aeneas, the greatest hero of Roman mythology, into the Underworld.
More Greek Mythology Characters!
There are two other figures from Greek mythology who are not named in Harry Potter by their proper names, but are referenced. Here are two of them:
In Harry Potter Cerberus is known as Fluffy, a three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the Sorcerer’s Stone.
In Greek mythology Cerberus is a three-headed dog who guards the gate to the Underworld to keep out living people. He allows all dead souls to enter, but they cannot return to the realm of the living. This keeps humans from traveling down into the Underworld to visit their families. If you were a hero traveling to the Underworld you had to get by Cerberus—not an easy feat.
Cerberus was only overcome by two heroes:
- Heracles (Hercules) who fought Cerberus with his bare hands.
- Orpheus who hypnotized Cerberus by playing the lyre.
Harry Potter Connection!
Hagrid gave Harry a flute for Christmas in The Sorcerer’s Stone, “…inside was a roughly cut wooden flute. Hagrid had obviously whittled it himself. Harry blew it—it sounded a bit like an owl.” When Harry, Ron, and Hermione went after the Stone, Harry lulled Fluffy to sleep with the flute, “he put Hagrid’s flute to his lips and blew. It wasn’t really a tune, but from the first note, the beast’s eyes began to droop (SS,275).
On a side note: notice that Hagrid bought the flute off of a “Greek chappie.”
In Harry Potter there is no one with the actual name of Charon, but there is an old man with a boat who ferries people across a lake in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry and the Dursleys travel to the isolated island in his boat to escape the owls and Hogwarts letters.
In Greek mythology Charon is the ferryman who takes dead souls across the river Styx and into the Underworld. He is depicted as an old man with a rickety boat. Dead souls had to pay the ferryman to get across the river, so people in ancient Greece were buried with coins on their eyes as payment for the ferryman. If they did not bring money the souls would wander the bank of the river forever.