English contains a surprising number of vocabulary words whose origin can be traced back to classical mythology and history. Here’s a tantalizing list:

  • Colossal: hugely, incredibly enormous (from the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world)
  • Hector: to bully or swagger (what Hector did to Achilles in the Iliad)
  • Hermaphrodite: having both male and female sexes (from Hermaphroditus, son of Hermes and Aphrodite, whose body united with the nymph Salmacis)
  • Mercurial: volatile and unpredictable in temperament (from Mercury, god of travel and thievery)
  • Sisyphean: endlessly toilsome and futile (from Sisyphus, doomed to keep rolling a rock up a mountain in Hades only to have it fall when he nears the top)