As with cliches, Greek and Roman myths can refer to commonly understood paradigms. Or at least they do when speakers and writers know what they are saying.
This was brought home when I saw a document unsarcastically state that someone had “opened a Pandora’s box of delights.” Uh, no.
Does Your Writing Open a Pandora’s Box?
The name Pandora means “all gifts.” The Greek mythological gods created Pandora, the first human woman, and gave her qualities including wealth, beauty, intelligence and deceit. Another gift was a container with the warning to never open it. Well, you guessed it, she opened it and released evil into the world.
Opening a Pandora’s box never leads to good things, only bad ones. When lawyers use phrases they don’t understand, they are not communicating well. Clueless references devalue your message. If you’re not positive about the significance of your colorful language, omit it.
This Means (a Trojan) War
Homer’s “Iliad” tells the ancient story of the Trojan War; the “Odyssey” is his story of the warrior Odysseus’ 10-year journey home after the war.
Referring to a person’s Achilles’ heel describes an action (a bad hire?) or quality (e.g., overconfidence) that could undermine that person. Achilles was a hero of the Trojan War. When he was an infant his sea-goddess mother held him by his heel and dunked him in the River Styx to make him impervious to attack — except at his heel, which had stayed dry. He was killed when a poisoned Trojan arrow pierced his heel.
When you counsel your client whether to accept that juicy-looking merger offer, perhaps there should be a discussion about whether it’s a Trojan horse that could result in destruction of the target company as currently organized. Greeks gained access to the walled city of Troy by building a giant wooden horse and offering it to the Trojans. Once the horse was inside the walls, the warriors hidden inside emerged and attacked.
Young lawyers are frequently advised to find a mentor to help them manage their integration into practice. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, took the human form of Mentor, an old man, to counsel Odysseus’ son Telemachus in his search for his father after the Trojan War.
Every day, lawyers help clients choose between a metaphorical rock and a hard place, such as committing to expensive, risky litigation versus an unsatisfactory settlement. One of the perils Odysseus faced was to navigate the narrow strait of Messina between Scylla, a monster perched on a rock who would chew up at least some of his sailors, and Charybdis, a treacherous whirlpool likely to destroy his ship. He had to choose between a rock and a hard place, two bad choices. (You can visit Scylla’s rock in Calabria, Italy, today.)
Should you just play it safe and stick to boring legalese?
Maybe. Or maybe a carefully chosen, mythological reference will increase your argument’s effectiveness.
At the bottom of Pandora’s box was hope.