A certain G.S. Kirk had studied Greek mythology, finding several common themes in it. His work is much like Lord Raglan's hero profile for hero biographies, though with an overall view.

Greek mythology[]

Here is his list of common themes in Greek mythology (Myth pp. 187-189):

  1. Tricks, riddles, ingenious solutions to dilemmas: to disguise or unmask, catch a thief or adulterer, win a contest, delay pursuit, etc.
  2. Transformations of individuals into birds, trees, animals, snakes, stars, as a punishment, or avoidance of an impasse; of women to evade amorous attention; of deities into humans, temporarily.
  3. Accidental killing of a relative, lover or friend often followed by flight to avoid vengeance or obtain purification (Laius by Oedipus, Aegeus by Theseus, Megara by Heracles, Actaeon by his dogs, etc.).
  4. Giants, monsters, snakes as opponents of gods, guardians of treasures, ravagers to be destroyed by a hero: occasionally friendly (e.g., the Hecatonchires, some Cyclopes, some Centaurs); sometimes of mixed animal and human shape (Sphinx, Minotaur, Centaurs, Satyrs).
  5. Attempts to get rid of a rival by setting impossible and dangerous tasks.
  6. Fulfilling a task or quest, sometimes with the help of a god or girl: killing a monster; gaining an inaccessible object; freeing (and sometimes marrying) a princess.
  7. Contests for a bride, for kingship, for honor.
  8. Punishment for impiety, for attempting a goddess, for boasting that one surpasses a deity, etc.
  9. Displacement of parents or elders: actual or feared displacement, often in accordance with an oracle.
  10. Killing, or attempting to kill, one's own child by exposure to avoid displacement, or by accident, or to appease a deity; often in accordance with an oracle or prophecy.
  11. Revenge by killing or seducing a man's wife or murdering his children.
  12. Sons avenge mother or protect her against an oppressor.
  13. Disputes within the family: sons fight each other; children oppressed by stepmother.
  14. Deceitful wife, vainly in love with young man, accuses him of rape.
  15. Deceitful daughter, in love with father's enemy, betrays father and is punished for the betrayal.
  16. Incestuous relationships.
  17. Founding a city in accordance with an oracle, by following a certain animal or by other tokens.
  18. Special weapons needed to overthrow a particular enemy, cure a wound, etc.
  19. Prophets and seers understand language of animals, propound riddles, cure childlessness, reveal way out of impasse.
  20. Mortal lovers of goddesses and mistresses of gods.
  21. Perils of immortality as a gift to men: danger of infinite old age, if youthfulness is not specified.
  22. External soul or life-token: the life of a hero depends on a hair, a firebrand, etc.
  23. Unusual births from the head or thigh of Zeus, from mother at point of death, by castrating father, etc.
  24. Enclosure or imprisonment in a chest, jar, or tomb.

However, many of these themes can be found in other mythologies, and the Bible contains several of them.

The Old Testament[]

4. David vs. Goliath? The Devil in the Book of Job?
5. King David sends Uriah the Hittite into battle, so that he can have Uriah's wife Bathsheba.
6. The Israelites traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land.
8. Korah's rebellion against Moses; he gets swallowed up by the ground. Worshipping other gods makes YHWH angry at His Chosen People, so YHWH send other nations' armies to conquer them.
10. Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac.
11. Psalm 137 - revenge against the Babylonian captors.
13. Cain vs. Abel, Ham being a Peeping Tom
15. Lot and his daughters, though they do something very different.
16. Lot and his daughters, Ham being a Peeping Tom (voyeuristic incest?).
17. Ancestors of the Twelve Tribes, etc.
22. The witch of Endor channels Samuel's ghost.
24. Slavery in Egypt and the Babylonian Exile.

The New Testament[]

1. Jesus Christ would beat the Pharisees in arguments with his unanswerable one-liners.
4. Jesus Christ successfully resisted the Devil's temptations, making the Devil give up.
8. Judas Iscariot's coming to a bad end?
9. Jesus Christ was mostly indifferent to his parents and sometimes snotty to them.
17. Founding a religious sect may qualify as founding a virtual city.
19. Jesus Christ both made prophecies and fulfilled prophecies.
20. The Holy Spirit with Jesus Christ's mother.
23. Related to 20?
24. Jesus Christ gets crucified and entombed, though he walks out of his tomb a few days later.



  • Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures (Sather Classical Lectures), 1970
  • The Nature of Greek Myths, 1975

This article was originally at the Beacon Library (now defunct).