Greek Myth in Game of Thrones, Part Three: Characters From A Song of Ice and Fire and Their Mythological Counterparts


Thalia Sutton is an independent scholar and writer of fiction. She holds a Master’s in East Asian Studies from Columbia University in the City of New York, and is delighted every time a form has a box allocated in which to check “Master” as her legal title.

Welcome to the third installment of the Greek Myth in The Game of Thrones series. (Caution! Spoilers through A Song of Ice and Fire book 3!)

Joffery as Eros

So what about Cersei’s children? You may not know this, but beyond the dozens of little-mentioned demi-god children, Aphrodite has three principle children: Eros, Harmonia, and Anteros. Eros has a brother. And a sister! Did you know that? In today’s terms, respectively, they are the gods of Love, Harmony, and Friendship.

Yet, in the ancient times, these terms were slightly different. “Love” was “love at first sight,” among other things — a terrible, dangerous weapon that could not be overcome by anyone or anything; the ultimate wildcard. “Harmony” was “harmony of the spirit,” or “concord,” and “Anteros” governed anything from acquaintances to bed-buddies. There was also a host of lesser brothers: Pothos, longing; and Phobos and Deimos, the twins Fear and Terror. But Pothos’s parentage is liquid, and Phobos and Deimos didn’t live with their mother. The first three are the main three, and, suddenly, they appear in A Song of Ice and Fire. I will admit, I was so happy I squealed.

One of Eros’s greatest symbols throughout history has been his bow and arrow, by which he delivers Aphrodite’s swift justice (of painful, terrible love with prices too high to pay). So if Cersei is Beauty, and Jaime is Bloodlust, and they are the parents of fair-haired Joffery, does he with his crossbow not make the perfect, twisted Eros? Crossbows, after all, were considered a sissy’s weapon (as was love, compared to war), since they didn’t take the manual skill that a “real” longbow did. (Even though they are still incredibly hard to use.)

Eros, in the myths, is around his mother’s side always, either as a baby or a teen, and does her bidding unquestioningly (that is, until he meets Psyche, which will be discussed in detail in part five, with Sansa).  As a child that’s not properly policed — or parented in any way, really — he also goes around on his own, ambushes unsuspecting men and women, and shoots them full of arrows that more or less destroy their lives and soon end them entirely via their obsession-induced derangement. Character is fate, and Eros changes your fate with an inescapable arrow.

Joffery is Eros with a healthy dose of real-life psychology written in. He was almost wholly unparented by his father, despite being so smothered by his mother that he never got the chance to succeed on his own terms. Unlike Lysa Arryn’s son, Joffery begins to think for himself, and Cersei loses control of him completely — a beautiful nod to the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Finally loose, Joffery takes his wreck of a childhood and, when given full authority, commits unspeakable tyrannies on others and metes out swift, cruel “justice,” crossbow always at his side. He is a loose cannon, and juvenile; a monster that neither men nor gods can choose to disobey. His age, too, supports the theory: choosing to make Joffery young appears to be a connection to Eros, rather than, say, making him older, like Hamlet, who is in his thirties.

Myrcella as Harmonia

Harmonia is the most important, incredibly-footnoted character you will ever get in Greek mythology. Aphrodite’s only daughter (or, full-god daughter. This is true only in some versions; in others, she is also mother of the Graces. The point here is that she’s the only daughter of Aphrodite eligible to be married), little is known about her except that she was apparently quite amicable, and was sold off in marriage to Cadmus, a human man that helped Zeus when he was caught with his pants down (literally). All of Olympus was besieged, monsters got control of the lightning bolt (the majority of Zeus’s army), and they had to go to this one sad, faraway soul, who was wondering the earth in search of his sister, for help. His name was Cadmus, and he really seems oddly close to Oberyn.

Clearly, Aphrodite wasn’t happy about her daughter being married off to a mortal, nor was Harmonia, I’d assume, but neither of them had a say. Olympus was saved, and a thanks had to be given. And so, too, was King’s Landing saved. But, like with Harmonia, they were saved, but not through Myrcella’s marrying-off at all.

Starting to sound familiar? Sure, Northern European royalty often married into the swarthy Spanish royal families in the Middle Ages, and it was almost never a welcome thing for either family. But when you add in the fact that Cadmus, later made king of Thebes, as a human was more or less “one of those filthy, second-class creatures and potential usurpers,” it sounds like King’s Landing’s view of Dorne all the way.

Harmonia has a bad go of it in the human world, suffering through a mortal life with Cadmus and eventually getting turned into a snake (with Cadmus too), after a spate of misfortunes that assail her house make her no longer want to exist. These ill things occur because she was found out as a child of Aphrodite’s infidelity to her forced-upon husband. The husband, Hephaestus, gave to Harmonia upon her wedding day a cursed necklace that causes strife among family (in some versions it is a cloak, or both). This storyline is reminiscent, vaguely, of Tyrion and Cersei and the whole situation that gets Myrcella shipped off to Dorne in the first place.

Tommen as Anteros

Onto the last child of this clutch: Tommen. The amusing thing about Tommen is that he’s as minor as minor gets in A Song of Ice and Fire while still being imminently valuable (contrast to Rickon) — and this is exactly the way Anteros is portrayed: He appears and disappears throughout history, and throughout myth, as described in Anteros: A Forgotten Myth. Here, Martin’s “metaphysical” response shines. There is little known about Anteros in general, and even less in the popular imagination; so I don’t think it’s accidental that the only thing said about Tommen by characters or the narrative itself is that he’s “a nice boy with a sweet personality.” Incredibly, Martin not only integrates his own stunning interpretations of the mythological characters as real people (which the myths often fall flat on), but he also integrates a recreation of our society’s general knowledge of a character overall. This is incredibly meta, as Martin pointed out, and hard to do; but also a remarkable piece of social commentary that serves as a time capsule to further generations.

And, true to Martin’s style and Thrones itself, this idea of Anteros as some nebulous nicety is followed by, “and he is easily manipulated therefore.” Thrones is incredibly hard on love for those who are ignorant to it.

This Series comes in 8 parts:

1. Introduction; Robert and Cersei as Zeus and Hera (spoilers through book 1)
2. Cersei, Jaime, as Aphrodite, Ares; Tywin Lannister and Gregor Clegane as Uranus and a Titan (spoilers through book 3)
3. Joffery, Myrcella, and Tommen as Eros, Harmonia, and Anteros (spoilers through book 3)
4. Tyrion as Odysseus (Spoilers through book 3)
5. Sansa as Psyche; Lysa Arryn and son as Demeter and Persephone; Littlefinger as Hermes (Spoilers through book 3)
6. Loras and Renly as Achilles and Patroclus (Spoilers through book 1)
7. Brienne and Margaery as Briseis and Helen of Troy (Spoilers through book 3)
8. Stannis and Renly as Apollo and Dionysus; Stannis’s Crew as Daedalus, Icarus, and Cassandra (Spoilers through book 2)