Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Note to Disney: These Ancient Stories Came First!

Mithradates, the subject of Adrienne Mayor's excellent book, THE POISON KING,  became legendary for not only taking Rome down a peg or two, but for surviving countless assassination-via-poisoning attempts throughout his lifetime. How’d he do it? By imbibing just a little bit of poison every day until his body got used to it. In modern terms, he built up a tolerance, which made him seem indestructible. 

The story kept nagging at me. Where had I heard something similar? And then it came to me.
Before there was this:    
The dashing hero of The Princess Bride, Wesley, made himself immune to poison by taking a little bit of each day, thus tricking the bad guy, Vizzini.

There was this: 
Mithradates protected himself from assassins by making himself so toxic, few poisons had any chance of working on him. But Mithradates wasn't the only ancient character that inspired modern tales. Consider...

Before there was this: 
Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice in Fantasia.

There was this:
Mickey's adventure was actually inspired by a story from ancient Egypt. See an earlier post of mine for a look at how similar the stories really are: 

Before there was this:

There was this:

The story of Rhodopis and the Slipper is the story of a Greek woman who was turned into a slave in Egypt. The Pharaoh wanted her, but she could only be identified by a missing red slipper. Since the story can be dated to Ptolemaic times (when the Greeks ruled Egypt) it was really a political metaphor justifying Greek rule in Egypt. Disney, though, turned it into the sticky-sweet love story we think of Cinderella today. 

It's fascinating to me how many of Disney's movies have their roots in ancient stories. Still, it explains why they always seem so timeless.

And it also explains why I kept craving popcorn while reading Mayor's book!



Robyn Hood Black said...

Can't wait to add my two cents to the next discussion of PRINCESS BRIDE on my hubby's side of the family - we do all love it, but certain members of the fam, who know every line from the movie by heart and blindfolded, have been accused of worship.... Fascinating stuff! :0)

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Might explain why every culture in the world has a Cinderella story! :) e

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

It is amazing how far back these stories go, isn't it?

Cathy C. Hall said...

The Princess Bride= Best. Movie. Ever.

Or at least one of them.

You are a veritable fount of fascinating stuff. Just when I think I know all about fairy tales, you throw in the Egypt Cinderella on me. Seriously fascinating.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks, Cathy!

Borja A. said...

Antiochus III the Great was also known for taking a little bit of poison every day in order to survive to any attempt of killing by poisoning.
Also, Edmond Dantes, the Count of Montecristo of Alexander Dumas's famous fiction novel does the same, and for the same purpose, if I remember well.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks for commenting Luigi! Mayor suggests that Mithradates was trying to emulate Persian leaders, thus it could very well be that he was inspired by Antiochus III. Many books and fictional characters have taken on that "quirk" since. It seems to have captured everyone's imagination.