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Scientific and Common Names
of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained

Salamanders . Frogs and Toads . Turtles . Alligators and Crocodiles . Lizards . Snakes
Biographical Appendix . Acknowledgements

Copyright and all rights reserved by Ellin Beltz, 2006 . Information for Users at the Bottom of the Page

Mythological Appendix

Cerberus Crotalus viridis cerberus
was the monstrous three-headed black hound of Hades that guarded the entrance to the nether world. Cerberus was the offspring of Typhon and the half-woman, half-serpent Echidne, descendant of Medusa. Heracles, in his Eleventh Labour, stole Cerberus from Hades at the order of King Eurystheus. Hesiod describes Cerberus as bronzed-voiced, with 50 heads. Artistic representations are usually less extravagant and show him with just three heads.

Erebus Drymarchon corais erebennus
was the primeval darkness which emerged from Chaos. According to legends recounted by Hesiod, Erebus was the brother of Night, and became the father of both Day and Sky through his sister, Night.

Eurydice - Eurycea
Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus. After she died, Orpheus tried to rescue her from Hades, but failed he disobeyed Pluto's order not to look back at her during their journey to the land of the living. See Sirens, below for more of Orpheus.

Hades Haideotriton
was one of the sons of Cronus and Rhea, brother to Zeus and Poseidon. After the overthrow of Cronus (Homer, Iliad, Book XV), the brothers threw lots. The portion of Hades was the nether world. Hades means 'the Unseen'; he was also called Pluto, meaning 'the Rich'. Hades was accorded universal respect, and given reverence by those who cared for the condition of the departed. His consort was Persephone. (from Stapleton)

Hylas Hylas
was one of the original Argonauts who sailed with Jason in quest of the Golden Fleece. On the voyage, Heracles broke his oar. The Argo anchored near the mouth of Rhyndacus, he went ashore to look for a suitable tree. Hylas went to look for a spring of fresh water. Upon finding the water, he bent down to scoop some up. The naiad of the spring found him beautiful and pulled him down into the water to keep him for herself. Heracles wandered the island shouting "Hylas, Hylas" but did not find him. (from Stapleton)

Kyklops/Kyklopion - Nerodia cyclopion
The Cyclops were Titans, offspring of Earth and Heaven. (see Polyphemus, below). They were giant sized, with one eye each in the middle of their foreheads. They inhabited an island in the Mediterranean and raised sheep.

Mars Ambystoma mavortium
the Roman god of war and agriculture, was conceived by Juno when she touched a flower given to her by Flora. Mars fathered the twins Romulus and Remus by Rhea Silvia. The month of March (in spring) is named after him in his agricultural aspect and also contains his five day celebration around the spring equinox. On May 29, he was honored in the festivals of Ambarvalia (perhaps continued in our more martial "Memorial Day"). The planet Mars was attributed to him in antiquity.

Molossos Crotalus molossus
was the son of Andromache (widow of Hector). Neoptolemus (also called Pyrrhus, see below) was the son of Achilles and was taken by the Greeks to Troy to fulfill a prophecy. After the fall, he took Andromache as concubine. When they arrived at Epirus they surprised to find Trojans in command of that city. Neoptolemus and his warriers laid waste to the region of "Molossia." Later, Andromache's son by Neoptolemus was named after the vanquished province and gave his name to the Molossian people. Molossos is said the be the brother of Olympias who became the mother of Alexander the Great. Neoptolemus was killed by Orestes in Apollo's temple at Delphi after he tried to take Hermione from Orestes. Euripides' play, Andromache, states that Hermione and Menelaus (King of Sparta) captured Molossus and threated to murder him to get Andromache to leave the safety of the shrine of Thetis but their plan was frustrated. Molossus ruled Epirus until his death.

Nereis Nerodia
was one of the sea nymphs, or mermaids, daughters of Nereus, the old sea god of the Aegean and father of Thetis. Nereus was called the son of Pontus by Hesiod and in myth he is generally credited with great wisdom and the gift of seeing what is to come.

Orestes Desmognathus orestes
was the son of Agamemnon but was living away from home when his father was murdered. Apollo ordered him to avenge his father's death. Returning to Mycenae in disguise, he was recognized by his sister Elektra who helped him kill his mother (Clytemnestra) and her lover, Aegisthus. The furies pursued Orestes until he went to Delphi, where Apollo told him to go to Athens where he was tried in the court presided over by Athena, and defended by Apollo. He was aquitted and returned home to rule with his wife Hermione, daughter of Menelaus.

Polyphemus Gopherus polyphemus
was the clumsy and absurd suitor for a beautiful sea nymph Galatea who was truly in love with Acis, the son of a sea nymph. Polyphemus turned on them and killed Acis and Galatea. Polyphemus was a Cyclops members of the Titans who were offspring of Earth and Heaven. In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew had arrived at the island of the Cyclopes, where he and some of his followers were captured by the one-eyed giant Polyphemus. After the giant had eaten 4 of the company, the rest waited until he was drunk, blinded him with a sharpened and hardened stake. They escaped his cave by clinging to the bellies of the giant's sheep when Polyphemus let the sheep out to pasture. Polyphemus cursed the escaping Greeks, his father Poseidon granted Polyphemus' wish and it was many years before Odysseus returned home, alone.

Priapus Coluber constrictor priapus
was an ancient god of fertility and a latecomer to the company of Greek gods. He was originally a local deity of Lampsacus on the Hellespont. His symbol was the erect phallus. Sometimes he was depicted as a man with an enormous organ, sometimes as merely the organ itself. Some stories make him the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus. His worship in Greece dates from about the time of Alexander the Great (330 BC). He became the guardian of Greek and Roman gardens where his explicit image was often found. Priapism is a neurological disorder resulting in a permanent erection.

Pyrrhus Crotalus mitchelli pyrrhus
inherited the kingdom of Epirus in northern Greece around 306 BCE. He was very warlike and had a string of military victories and defeats. After hearing of his losses, he said, "one more such victory and I am lost," hence the term "Pyrrhic victory." He failed to take Macedonia and Sparta, fled to Argos and was killed by a mob in the street. His wars only left Epirus in ruin.

Sirens Siren
lived in a meadow filled with the bones of men who perished, drawn to their rocky island by the irresistible lure of the Siren's song. Although Homer in the Odyssey (Book XII) never said that the Sirens were birds with the faces of beautiful women, the idea was firmly rooted by the time of Apollonius Rhodius who described them thus (Argonautica, Book IV). Odysseus survived the Sirens by having his men's ears plugged with wax. He was bound to the mast and although he could hear the song, was unable to get to their island. The Argonauts were able to resist the Sirens because Orpheus, the musician, was on board. His song was sweeter than that of the Sirens.

Triton Haideotriton, Pseudotriton, Rhyacotriton and Typhlotriton
honor the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite, and one of the minor sea gods of Greek mythology. He was often portrayed as a merman, human above the waist and fish below with a conch-shell trumpet, blown to still ocean waves. He is best known from his assistance to Jason and the Argonauts. Lake Tritonis in Libya was dedicated to Triton.

Myth-ing Links

  • The Fisher Kings has many culture myths and is a site I intend to revisit.

  • Constellation Mythology from the Legg Midle School Planetarium's award winning site. Also has star maps and great stuff for teachers.

  • Hindu mythology from Webonautics.

  • Latin 101 page by a professor shows how this type of page can be used in academia.
My new book!
Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained

Salamanders . Frogs and Toads . Turtles . Alligators and Crocodiles . Lizards . Snakes
Biographical Appendix . Acknowledgements

Ellin Beltz
December 6, 2006
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