07/02/2014 12:09 EDT | Updated 09/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Ten Body Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Etymology offers insights into deity-associated bodily terms to understand the lessons of the Ancients and apply these lessons to entrepreneurship.

ryan burke via Getty Images

Etymology offers insights into deity-associated bodily terms to understand the lessons of the Ancients and apply these lessons to entrepreneurship.


Atlas is the name given to the uppermost spinal vertebra that supports the head. In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan, brother of Cronus, and thus uncle of Zeus. During the war of the Titans, Atlas took the side of Cronus against Zeus and, as punishment, the victor (Zeus) sentenced him to forever bear the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. The burden was eased when Perseus showed him the head of Medusa, which promptly turned Atlas into stone.

Lesson 1. Only attempt to carry the world on your shoulders if your heart is made of stone.

Achilles Tendon

We call the fibrous tissue that runs from heel to calf the Achilles tendon. Achilles was the bravest of the brave heroes of the Trojan War. When he was an infant, in order to make him invulnerable to injury, his mother, Thetis, dipped him into the river Styx. The Styx, the boundary between the living and the dead, held miraculous powers that conferred immortality. But Achilles turned out to be mortal after all, dying during the battle of Troy from a poisoned arrow that pierced his heel. This was the only body part the waters of the Styx hadn't touched because Thetis held on to his heel when she submerged him. She should have let him go.

Lesson 2: Know when to let go.


The umbilicus is the remaining vestige of the umbilical cord. The name comes from omphalos (Greek for 'navel'), an ancient religious stone artifact. According to the ancient Greeks, Zeus dispatched two eagles to fly in opposite directions around the world to meet at its centre, the navel of the world. They met at Delphi. The Omphalos at Delphi was thought to be the stone that Rhea, Zeus' mother, passed off as baby Zeus in order to deceive his father, Cronus. Cronus was afraid that his children, when grown, would take his throne away, so he ate them all. But when Zeus was born, Rhea fed her husband the omphalos stone instead.

Lesson 3: Beware of competing interests.


The iris is what gives our eyes their colouring. Iris was the goddess of the rainbow and the messenger of the Olympian Gods. Her name contains a double meaning, iris, 'rainbow,' and eiris, 'messenger.' She was the go-between from seawater to rain clouds, a perfect name for the moist, multicoloured iris.

Lesson 4: Make your message clear and consistent.


The hippocampus is an important structure in the temporal lobe without which we would remember nothing. It is shaped like two interlocking Cs, resembling a seahorse, a mythical creature with the head and torso of a horse and the tail of a dolphin or fish. Called a hippocampus from hippos 'horse' and kampos 'sea monster,' it was said to pull the chariot of Poseidon, God of the Sea as he voyaged through the ocean depths.

Lesson 5. Taking your business into new realms requires a knowledgeable go-between.

Arachnoid Membrane

Athena was the Goddess of wisdom and the weaving arts. A young girl from Lydia (now western Turkey) called Arachne challenged the Goddess to a weaving contest. She wove 21 tableaux of the infidelity of the Gods e.g. Zeus impersonating a swan to make love to Leda (who then gave birth to Helen of Troy), Zeus as a magnificent white bull abducting Europa, Zeus transforming himself into a shower of gold to gain entry to Danaë. Zeus in the form of an eagle kidnapping Ganymedes, Zeus seducing Alcmene by impersonating her husband (and fathering Hercules), Zeus in the form of an eagle ravishing Aegina, Zeus as a goat-legged satyr seducing Antiope, taking the form of Artemis to lure Callisto (whom Hera subsequently turned into a bear and whom Zeus cast into the sky as Ursa Major).

Athena was offended by the vivid illustrations of her father's bawdy behaviour. She destroyed both the tapestry and the loom and turned Arachne into a spider for good measure. As a spider, she spent the rest of eternity forever weaving and forever serving as a warning. The arachnoid membrane in our brain is named after Arachne, the spider, because it is as delicate as a spider web.

Lesson 6: Some lines must never be crossed.


Io was one of Hera's priestesses whom Zeus seduced in a temple. When he saw Hera entering the temple, Zeus quickly turned Io into a heifer to hide his infidelity. Hera was not fooled and ordered her hundred-eyed servant, Argus, to keep an eye on them. Zeus killed Argus with a thunderbolt so that Io could escape. Hera then sent an oistros (gadfly) to sting the heifer to the point of frenzy. Chased by Hera's gadfly, Io ran across the world in the form of a heifer, until she finally regained her human form in Egypt. The meaning of oistros became madness or insane desire and, by the 19th century, took on a sexual connotation, referring to women's cyclical lust. Thus, estrogen, the hormone that is supposed to generate periodic lust in women.

Lesson 7. Watch out for distractions. They can drive you crazy.


Lust in men can produce priapism, a painful medical condition. This medical emergency is named after the God Priapus, son of Aphrodite. According to Greek legend, Eris, the Goddess of discord, created a golden apple with the inscription, "This belongs to the most beautiful goddess." Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom said, "It's mine, because nothing is more beautiful than Wisdom." Hera said, "I'm the Queen of the Gods, and nothing is more beautiful than Power. Aphrodite said, "I'm the Goddess of Love and nothing is more beautiful than Love."

Someone had to decide who was the most beautiful and the choice fell to a handsome young man called Paris. Athena said to him, "If you give the apple to me, I can make you the smartest person in the whole world." Hera said, "If you give me the apple, I can give you a kingdom and make your armies unbeatable so that you'll conquer the whole world." Aphrodite said, "If you give me the apple I can make the most beautiful woman in the world fall in love with you." And she showed him a likeness of Helen, whose face would soon launch a thousand ships. Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, whereupon Hera cursed the child in Aphrodite's womb, Priapus, with impotence. In an attempt to conquer his impotence, Priapus tried to rape the sleeping nymph, Lotis. The Gods punished him by giving him a massive set of wooden genitals. The story of Priapus gave rise to a collection of ribald verse called Priapeia, 95 poems in various meters on the subject of large phalluses. The following (untranslated) is an illustration of the genre:

Quod sum ligneus, ut vides, Priapus

Et falx lignea ligneusque penis...

Poems of this sort were inscribed on statues of Priapus that usually stood in gardens since he was a God of fertility, protector of horticulture. The statues were often made from tree trunks in the form of a man with a huge, erect phallus that doubled as a club the gardener could use against thieves.

Lesson 8. Less is more.


Hymen was one of the Erotes, the Gods of love. Specifically, he was the God of marriage, usually represented as a youth carrying a torch and a veil. Hymen comes from the Greek hyalos, meaning membrane.

Lesson 9. Don't be afraid to breach seeming obstacles.

Mons Veneris

Finally, the mons veneris, mound of Venus (the Roman Aphrodite), is the pubic prominence appropriately named after the Goddess of love.

Lesson 10. Show love to your supporters.