The Characters of Greek Mythology Speak About Risk

The risk is the magnitude of the potential damages associated with a certain situation. In other words, what could happen causing harm.

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The risk is the magnitude of the potential damages associated with a certain situation. In other words, what could happen causing harm. Knowing the risk that exists will help you to avoid it or, at least, be prepared in case it happens. Following this approach, Klinke and Renn illustrated six kinds of risks with characters from Greek mythology from 700-500 BC.

These mythological figures represent the desire of the human being to be conscious of himself and to “create the future” instead of being exposed to the pairo of luck and circumstances. There are six different types of risks: Damocles, Cyclops, Pythia, Pandora, Cassandra and Medusa. These risks are differentiated by their probability of occurrence, by the damage they can cause and by what we know about them. Let’s see them one by one.

Klinke and Renn identified six characters from Greek mythology with six types of risk.


Among the characters of Greek mythology highlights Damocles. Damocles was a courtier of Dionysus. He thought that his king was fortunate to have power and wealth, which made him an envious and a flatterer of Dionysus. To try to give him a lesson, Dionisio offered Damocles to exchange with him for a day.

That same day a banquet was held where Damocles delighted himself by being treated as king. However, at the end of the meal, Damocles noticed a sharp sword that hung over his head tied by a single strand of horse hair. Suddenly the desire for delicacies and luxuries was removed, requesting Dionisio to leave his post.

This myth serves as an example of the insecurity of those who hold great power. Not only can they lose all their power, but also their life. This type of danger is what exists in good times. Its main characteristics are a low probability of it happening and a significant amount of potential damage. Some examples of this risk are found in nuclear energy or the impact of meteorites. It is unlikely that they will happen, but, in case they did, their damage would be very great.


Cyclopes are a kind of giant that only has one eye located in the middle of the forehead. By having a reduced vision, your perception of reality is also reduced. This type of risk can not be estimated well. It is not known what their chances of occurrence are, but the potential damage is catastrophic.

In this type of risk we find earthquakes and volcanic eruptions as well as the use of weapons of mass destruction. We can not be sure if they will happen or when, but that their damage will be shocking.


When the Greeks wanted to know the future, they consulted their oracles. One of the most important was the Oracle of Delphi, whose spokesperson was the priestess Pythia. This priestess intoxicated herself with gases to make predictions and, thus, warn about the future. However, to the misfortune of those who consulted the oracle, their prophecies were always ambiguous.

The type of risks represented by this history correspond to those of which neither the magnitude of the damage nor the probability of occurrence is known. An example is found in sudden climatic changes or exposure to chemical or biological substances. These risks, as well as others related to technology, such as those derived from genetic engineering, are difficult to estimate.


One of the most controversial Greek mythological characters is Pandora. Pandora was created by the gods as a form of punishment after Prometheus stole the fire to give it to humanity. Pandora was so beautiful that neither the gods nor the humans could resist her. Thus, the gods of Olympus gave him his best gifts, among which was curiosity. Which led him to open the box that contained all the evils of the world.

This risk tells us that small gestures can cause great disasters. Normally, these risks are discovered once it is already late, such as those caused in the environment. The characteristics of this type of risk are its high propagation, its persistence over time and irreversibility. An example is chlorofluorocarbons. In principle they were considered harmless, but over time it was found that they destroyed the ozone layer.


Cassandra was a Trojan seer who had been cursed. His curse was that no one would ever believe his predictions. He was the one who predicted the fall of Troy before the Greeks, but his compatriots did not took it seriously because of the previous curse that accompanied it. Later, as is well known, the Greeks left the famous wooden horse and razed the city.

This history corresponds to events whose probability of occurrence and the magnitude of their damage are known. However, because there is a delay between the cause and the consequences, the risk is ignored or underestimated. In addition, risks of this type have a high probability of occurrence and a high potential damage. Examples are climate change and the loss of biological diversity.

Troy Horse

The last of the characters in Greek mythology that will be discussed is Medusa. Medusa was one of the three Gorgon sisters, the only mortal of the three. Nobody dared to approach her, because it was said that even his gaze could leave petrified whoever crossed paths with her.

The type of risk associated with this myth is one that is rejected despite being innocuous. That is, a risk that seems very high, but that there is no evidence that it is such. An example is the electromagnetic fields. Their potential damage is low, but people feel that they are affected.

As we have seen, the different risks can be interpreted from these analogies with characters from Greek mythology. However, the most important thing is not comparisons, but to know what kind of risk corresponds to each of these categories so that they do not translate into potential damage: either the feared one or another derivative of one’s own anticipation.