Exile in Mythology
“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all” (Journey Quotations). Exile presents itself in many forms throughout Greek and Roman mythology. Regardless of their purpose, however, all Greek and Roman mythological characters realize the above quote by American journalist Dan Rather to be frighteningly accurate. As they step off to begin their ordeal of exile, for some reason, they fail to stay focused on their present, thinking only of their cloudy, uncertain future. These prize-seeking journeyers remain ignorant of what is immediately before them, causing them either great trouble or great accomplishment. Though the dubious reasons why exile is placed (and occasionally forced) upon the benighted characters, they must all undergo this grave and glorious task. In Greek and Roman mythology, many characters of many myths must undergo a period of exile, in order to serve a punishment for a wrong they have committed, to accomplish a task that was appointed to them, or to earn an invaluable prize that is of great significance to them and the world around them.
One of the most common reasons a character must endure their share of exile is to serve a stringent punishment that is orchestrated specifically for their crime or mistake. In ancient Greece, exile was used as the harshest punishment for a crime.
“Many crimes involved monetary penalties. The punishment for murder was
exile. The fine for rape was 100 monies, and the penalty for theft depended on
what was stolen” (Early Laws).
Obviously the idea of “exile” was looked upon as being a great dishonor and embarrassment within early Greek communities. A more tragic use of this unforgiving tool of destruction, is its role as a protective force, which may harm those who are in love. In the myth of “Medea,” Medea is banished from her home of Corinth because of King Creon’s fear that she will react with hatred and dangerous behavior when her husband Jason marries Glouce. “Creon has banished my sons. I will take them with me into exile” (Medea). It is clearly the intention of the King to keep Medea out of his Kingdom, knowing full well her ability to rashly and murderously intervene out of revenge, in order to be protected from her presumed ill-reaction. Medea was severely punished for her previous illicit actions, which have forever labeled her as an overreacting witch. Unlike being punished for the sake of safety, mythological characters have also been sentenced to exile for their emotions. In “Pyramus and Thisbe,” the two young lovers have been found out by each other’s parents, and out of extreme hatred for the other family, the fathers have decreed that the children not see each other. However, “in the hearts of both Pyramus and Thisbe, their blood blazed with flames of equal passion” (Pyramus and Thisbe). The rebellious love-struck teenagers sneak out of the city in order to satisfy each...