7 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology


Dear friend,

I’ve gained a lot of inspiration from ancient Greek and Roman Mythology.

Life and death

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In ancient Greek/Roman Mythology — they talk a lot about the underworld, ruled by Hades (hell).

To me, I don’t believe that heaven and earth exist as physical places after we die. Rather, I think of heaven and hell as a concept— of our lives here on earth.

I believe if we live a virtuous, purposeful, and loving life— we are living heaven on earth.

If we are living a life of desire, misery, anxiety, fear, and desire— we are living a life of hell on earth.

Why live a miserable life?

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I have no idea what will happen to me after I die, but I believe we can avoid ‘hell on earth.’

I have been meditating upon these thoughts by studying a lot of ancient Greek/Roman mythology.

A lot of these tales are lifted from Seneca’s tragedy on Hercules .

I will start with a few random stories, and head on more towards the ancient mythologies:

1. Why reach forward in life?

Joseph Mallord William Turner ‘The Shipwreck’, 1805

> The sailor; life ever at risk; commits his canvas to the winds, while the breeze fills its flapping folds. – Seneca

For me, I’ve always thought that happiness in life was to gain more. Gain more money, power, and influence.

That is what we are taught in America, and most of the western world.

However, living life always lusting for more is like being a sailor, who has been ship-wrecked several times, but attempting to sail the cruel sea again.

Takeaway point: Enjoy what you already have

Why do we keep putting our lives at risk?

I like the idea of finding more contentment in the things, life, and people we *already* have. Rather than sailing the turbulent seas, risking a ship-wreck (and death) — why not enjoy our beautiful, calm, and peaceful homes at the shore?

2. The shortness of life

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> Known to but few is untroubled calm; and mindful of times swift flight; hold fast the days that will never return. – Seneca

Very few of us know what ‘untroubled calm’ feels like. Many of us are living lives of anxiety — constantly checking our emails, scared of getting trouble from our bosses, afraid of the results of our stock investments, and always afraid of losing it all.

I feel that ‘happiness’ in life is more about peace, tranquility, and calm — not living an ‘exciting’ life.

Takeaway point: Enjoy today

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One of the ways I am able to find more peace, contentment, and happiness in life is to enjoy today. To know that time flies faster than a falcon. When a day passes, it will never return.

So for me, I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Or if I will be alive tomorrow.

So let us enjoy the best of today. To hug our loved ones, to count our blessings, and do meaningful creative work today.

3. Life doesn’t slow down

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As I’m getting older, time is flowing forward even faster:

> Life speeds on with hurried step; and with winged days the wheel of the headlong year is turned. – Seneca

The winged days — they fly away. And once the wheels of time turn forward, you can never turn them backwards.

Just like the ancient Roman tale— the ( Moirai ) women who string the threads of life — you can never go backwards:

The harsh sisters ply their tasks; yet they do not split backwards the threads of life. – Seneca

Atropos cutting the thread of life

Takeaway point: Don’t waste your life

When I was younger, I was in a rush to live. To succeed. To accomplish. To buy all this stuff I wanted.

I wasted a lot of time. The biggest lesson I learned from Cindy was this:

> Don’t waste your life.

The idea of ‘wasting your life’ is different for everyone. For me, a ‘waste of life’ is worrying about what others think about me, desiring more material things, more money, more fame, and more power.

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Now, I try not to waste my time by doing meaningful work. Creative work that I hope empowers others. Like this blog post, articles , books , photos, videos , or even the words of advice I give my close friends and family.

But at the same time, you want to enjoy your life. To know how to enjoy time.

For example, I think it is a good investment to have a relaxed, 3 hour dinner with loved ones and friends. It isn’t a good investment wasting 3 hours on a business meeting that might not go anywhere.

4. Anger is like blood-thirsty war

Achilles dragging Hector’s dead body // Illiad

> Arms observe no bounds; nor can the wrath of the sword, once drawn, be easily checked or stayed; war delights in blood. – Seneca

Anger has fucked up so much in the world. The problem with anger— it is like blood-thirsty war.

War can never be quenched. Like Seneca said, weapons know no boundaries or limits. When we draw our sword (become angry) it is hard to put the sword back into the sheath:

Takeaway point: Conquer your anger

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I know for myself, anger is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.

When I become angry, I lose all rationality. When I get angry, I want to repay my suffering onto the other person. The sad thing, I often get angry at my loved ones— like Cindy, and hope to inflict pain upon her.

Our anger is like the wrath of war. Once we enter battle, and draw our sword; it is hard to put the sword back into the sheath.

So in terms of anger, once we say something evil, we can never take it back. Saying hateful things to others— it is like staining your sword with blood.

Think of anger like a sword— would you draw blood from your loved ones?

Learn how to Conquer Anger .

5. Never be forced to do anything

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Why is it that we do so much shit in life that we don’t want to do? The problem is that we are still afraid of being negatively judged, of being ostracized by society, and ultimately— we fear death :

> ‘Who can be forced has not learned how to die’ – Seneca

Think about it. We are all ultimately afraid of either pain or death. Death is the biggest fear we all have.

Takeaway point: Don’t fear death

If you don’t fear death— you will live life to the fullest.

In terms of photography, photograph each day like it were your last — or like it were the last day of your loved ones.

6. Kill the Hydra

Heracles and hydra, Hans Sebald Beham, 1500s.jpg
Hercules killing the Hydra with a club and fire

The hydra was a mystical creature, when you cut off one of its necks, two grows back in its place.

The Hydra is like a metaphor for our lust for more. More money, more cars, more clothes, more fame, more power.

Once we think we obtain what we want, our Hydra necks will continue to grow.

Takeaway point: Cauterize the stumps of the Hydra

Gustave Moreau's 19th-century depiction of the Hydra, influenced by the Beast from the Book of Revelation
Gustave Moreau’s 19th-century depiction of the Hydra

The only way to conquer this insatiable lust for more— we need to burn off the stumps of the necks of the Hydra. This is what Hercules did to prevent the re-growth of the necks of Hydra.

We need to put a limit to our desires. Once you own things which are 80% ‘good enough’ in your life— be satisfied. And use the rest of your time, energy, and effort to helping others, to [creating more art](https://erickimphotography.com/blog/art), and finding more beauty in the world.

7. Phoenix


The phoenix is a mystical creature (a bird), that when it dies, it burns into ashes. But it rises every time from the ashes.

I like the analogy of the Phoenix. It is like when something really shitty happens in our life, we are reborn with more vigor, energy, and enthusiasm.

Takeaway point: Rebirth from your ashes

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So when you lose a loved one, when you go bankrupt, when you gain an illness— or anything else horrible happens in your life, think to yourself:

> How can I be like the Phoenix and be reborn from my ashes— with more power and vigor?



I have been studying a lot of the Fables of Aesop , and reading the tragedies of Seneca . I learn a lot of life and moral lessons from these mythological stories.

As long as we live, let us learn how to live a meaningful, purposeful, and loving life.


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