Since Pandora released sickness into the world, humans have sought out methods to curb the curse. Hand-washing has proven fairly effective, so in the spirit of foiling Zeus, here are ten myths you can tell yourself while you scrub for twenty seconds.

Divided Waters (Babylonian)
Existence swells with chaos, an endless, formless liquid. Forever passes, and passes again, and then the swirls break from their eternal unity. Apsu, who is cool water, fresh to the tongue, emerges distinct from Tiamat, the frigid, salty depths of the sea. From their union flows forth the first generation known as gods.

Ymir and Audhumla (Norse)
The world is fire and the world is ice. In the residue where they meet, two beings of unimaginable size emerge: Ymir, whom all giants name as foreparent, and Audhumla, the cow with no horns. Audhumla feeds on the salty ice. Her licking forms Buri, from whom the gods descend.

Orbit (Egyptian)
To again view the stars exactly as you do tonight, 365 days must pass. However, it was once 360 days, before Ra cursed his daughter Nut with barrenness every day of the year. The moon god Khonsu gambled away a portion of his light, which Nut turned into new days, one for each of her children.

The Birth of Classism (Chinese)
Surrounded by green foliage and wild creatures, Nüwa was lonely. So she created companions: dogs, chickens, sheep. Still unsatisfied, she formed clay into a figure like her own. The human was noble and magnificent; she made more. But when she grew tired, she swung a mud-dipped rope. Where mud landed, commoners sprang to life.

Mile High Club (Greek)
The disgraced king Ixion received a coveted invitation: to dine with the gods on Mount Olympus. During the meal, he became obsessed with Zeus’s wife, Hera. Suspicious and annoyed, Zeus created a cloud in Hera’s likeness, and Ixion lay with it. The union produced Centauros, the first of the centaurs.

The Wall (Norse)
A giant nearly earned the sun and the moon, leaving the world with only the comfort of starlight. They were to be payment for a wall; an impenetrable wall; a wall worthy of protecting the gods. The sky still shines because the wall was ten stones too small after Loki seduced the giant’s horse.

Save the Bees (Hittite)
The gods are prone to fury. Telepenus, god of agriculture, vanished in a fit of rage, and the fruits of the earth choked without nourishment. The gods searched, but could not find him. A bee spotted him in a field, sleeping. The bee stung Telepenus to wake him, recovering the harvest.

Soulmates (Greek)
The sea nymph Thetis wanted her son to live forever. Achilles was mortal, but magnificent: no man could run faster, throw further, or fight more valiantly. But as strongly as Thetis sought immortality, Achilles’ partner Patroclus sought a meaningful, human life. When Patroclus was slain in battle, Achilles gave all he had to join him.

Cat Got Your — (Egyptian)
Prince Setna stole a book from a tomb. Later, Taboubu, a priest’s daughter, invited him to the temple of cat goddess Bastet. Taboubu required steep sacrifices of Setna, including the lives of his children, but in his lust, he agreed. As they embraced, Taboubu and the temple vanished, leaving Setna naked in the street.

Hummingbird (Maya)
Tzunuum was a plain, humble hummingbird; so simple that she had no dresses or jewelry for her wedding. Her companions conspired to create an outfit so magnificent that she would outshine even the most brilliantly displayed creature. Tzunuum was awed and grateful. The Great Spirit, admiring her humility, allowed her to wear the gown forever.

With thanks to Madeline Miller, Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman, and Carolina Cabral for inspiration.


  1. Geneva Langeland

    What a delight! I’ll ponder these as I scour underneath my fingernails.

  2. Kyric Koning

    Learning new myths and revisiting old ones is always pleasing.


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