Across the world and the cultures that call it home, humans have created stories. Stories of triumph, love, tragedy, perseverance and much more have enthralled humanity for centuries, and we still read and learn from these stories today.
From the Greek tragedy of Medusa and her head full of snakes to the magic of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, and Romulus and Remus in the world of Roman lore, there are many ancient tales to be inspired by for your next tattoo.
If you are looking for a meaningful tattoo idea, keep reading for an introduction to some of the most popular stories in Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Chinese mythologies.
To some, Medusa is a monster that was slain by a hero; to others, Medusa was a victim to which fate handed down a lot of terrible cards.
Once a priestess of Athena in Ancient Greece, she was cursed by Athena for breaking the vow of chastity. Her curse was to lose her beauty and have it replaced with a deadly gaze and hair made from snakes.
She was then banished to a cave to live out her days.
“The hero Perseus was sent on a quest to kill Medusa. He was able to defeat the Gorgon by lopping off her head, which he was able to do by fighting her reflection in his highly polished shield. He later used her head as a weapon to turn enemies to stone,”Thought Co.
However, did she really break her vow? Some sources say no, not on purpose, as she was raped by Posiden after she rejected his advances.
With this in mind, her story takes a different route, to one of being punished for something that wasn’t her fault.
Due to this, there has been a reclaiming of the myth of Medusa in the 21st century. Luciano Garbati, an Argentine-Italian artist, turned this story on its head with his sculpture, depicting Medusa holding the decapitated head of Perseus instead of the other way around.
As such, Medusa has become a symbol of feminine power and rage and works well as a feminist-inspired tattoo.
Pegasus was a winged horse in Greek mythology who came into being from the blood of Medusa after Perseus killed her. From there, Pegasus helped Greek heroes on their missions.
“With Athena’s (or Poseidon’s) help, another Greek hero, Bellerophon, captured Pegasus and rode him first in his fight with the Chimera and later while he was taking vengeance on Stheneboea (Anteia), who had falsely accused Bellerophon,”Britannica
However, that doesn’t mean that Pegasus was tamed…Bellerophon tried to fly the horse to heaven but was unseated. Afterwhich, Zeus made Pegasus a constellation.
The Pegasus stars are in the northern hemisphere, and this constellation is one of the oldest known ones – second-century astronomer Ptolemy was the one who listed it.
Today, Pegasus is more than just a constellation in the night sky – this winged horse has lived on in our collective consciousness and has deep symbolism attached to it.
According to Universe Of Symbolism,
“Wild and free, a breathtaking beauty, the meaning of the Pegasus represents attaining ultimate freedom, with no boundaries of time and space.”
Due to this, a Pegasus tattoo can represent your love of freedom, as states Tattoo Go To,
“The freedom to be unchained, capable of flying and traveling great distances. Maybe this feeling is what everyone is missing or searching for in life. The ability to have no burdens and to fly as high as your ‘wings’ allow you.”
As such, if you are affected by wanderlust and love traveling and exploring, this winged horse could be the perfect tattoo inspiration for you.
Isis, or Aset, is one of the most revered goddesses of Ancient Egyptian mythology. As much, there are many stories about her. However, there is one that she is most well known for.
First of all, you have got to understand that marrying your siblings in Ancient Egypt was kind of normal. It is said that Isis and Osiris, her husband and brother, were already in love with one another in the womb.
When they were gods, their other brother, Set, dismembered Osiris and scattered his body parts across Egypt. Isis was unwavering in her efforts to find him and put him back together.
“Isis was very important to the ancient Egyptians because she had so many different powers. She was both the protector of women and the bringer of magic. Isis began as a secondary figure to her husband Osiris, however after thousands of years of worship, she was transformed into the Queen of the Universe and the embodiment of Cosmic order,”Egyptian Museum
An Isis tattoo can be a tribute to magic and ever-lasting love throughout challenges, as well as to the strength of womanhood. Tattoo Do adds,
“Isis tattoos can be a feminine and creative way to invite more harmony, romance, and wellbeing into your life.”
Eye Of Ra Tattoo
Egyptian mythology is full of interesting and powerful deities. Arguably the most important of these deities is the god of creation, Ra. He was believed to be the god of the sun and the beginning of all things on earth.
But, his right eye kind of had a mind and following of its own.
“It was actually a separate being from the sun god Ra and functions as his feminine counterpart. It’s often referred to as the ‘daughter of Ra’, a widely worshiped deity in ancient Egypt,”Symbol Sage
The Eye of Ra was thought to be linked to the heat of the sun, as such possessed a violet and dangerous power.
Do not confuse the Eye of Ra with the Eye of Horus; they may look similar, but they have different symbolism attached to them.
“…the Eye of Horus has a legend of regeneration, healing, and divine intervention from the gods. On the contrary, the Eye of Ra is a symbol of protection rooted in fury, violence, and destruction.”
An easy way to tell the difference between the two eyes is that the Eye of Ra is drawn as a right eye, while the Eye of Horus is drawn as a left eye.
Romulus And Remus Tattoo
Romulus and Remus were twin boys who are said to have discovered Rome. However, their story didn’t begin as kings or princes… In fact, the king at the time banished them to die by the elements after they were born.
Their mother was a priestess of Vesta, meaning that she had to remain chaste. When it was discovered that she was pregnant, there were myths that the children were from the god, Mars, or the demi god, Hercules.
As to not be blamed for the outright murder of a god’s children, the king ordered them to be placed in the dangerous elements. The person responsible instead set them afloat on a river. They arrived safely on a bank where a she-wolf found them and suckled them.
After being found by a family, they became shepherds, after which, in a divine twist of fate, they ended up killing the king who had initially attempted to send the twins to their death.
After rejecting the crown that could have been theirs, they set out on their own to discover their own city: Rome.
A tattoo highlighting the Romulus and Remus symbolism can represent triumphing over adversity.
The Jade Rabbit Tattoo
This Jade Rabbit, also known as the Moon Rabbit, is a popular character in Chinese folklore.
The story of this famous bunny is one of selflessness and sacrifice, and his acts won him a place on the moon with the Jade Emperor.
The Jade Emperor was looking for someone to make the elixir of life for the immortals. However, he did not want to go the human route, so instead, he disguised himself as a beggar and went to a forest.
Looking like a man in dire need of help, he cried out. A monkey, a fox, and a rabbit heard him and decided to go out and find him food.
The monkey came back with fruit, the fox came back with fish, and the rabbit came back with nothing – he could not find anything on the forest floor for the beggar.
When the rabbit came back, he saw that the beggar was eating fruit from the monkey and fish from the fox in front of a fire, and was sad that he did not contribute anything.
So, he decided to make the ultimate sacrifice and throw himself on the fire so that the beggar could eat him. At that moment, the beggar transformed back into the Jade Emperor and saved the rabbit from the flames.
“Having found the most noble of creatures to take on the role of creating the elixirs, the Jade Emperor carried him up to the moon, where he learned to make divine medicines and he could be kept safe from humans wishing to steal the elixir of life,”Wai Yee Hong
This story can translate into a beautiful tattoo. You could opt for a simple rabbit tattoo, or add to it with a design of the moon. This tattoo can represent this ancient story, as well as symbolize selflessness, piety, and sacrifice.
The Legend Of The White Snake Tattoo
The legend of the white snake is a fairytale dating back to the 6th century in China. Over the centuries, this story has been adapted into plays, movies and series.
It begins with two snakes: A white snake and a green snake. One day, they become immortal and gained amazing powers, which they used to turn into human women.
As they were walking around the human world, they met a man. The white snake lady fell in love with him, and they got married. All seemed well – they had a thriving business and lived happily together.
That is until a monk came to visit their store. He told the man that his wife was actually a snake, and gave him a potion to prove it.
The man gave his wife this elixir and found out the truth. He promptly dropped dead from the shock of finding out that his wife was not human.
Wanting to save her husband, the white snake lady went in search of a magic herbal remedy but was met with a slew of resistance from different entities.
Eventually, her husband recovered, and told his wife, “Human or not, I will love you always.”
This beautiful story is one of choosing love despite the odds and can translate into an amazing tattoo symbolizing everlasting love.
The most obvious route to go here would be a white snake tattoo. This tattoo is adaptable, as you can opt for many placements, and many different styles: Wrapping around the wrist, shaped into an infinity sign, or depicted slithering on your hand.
The tragedy and triumphs of the human condition can be found woven into many ancient tales, and there is a reason why we still reference these stories in our modern era: We can still learn from them and be enthralled by their words.
Because of this, many people feel a connection to these stories, even though they were authored thousands of years ago. What better source of inspiration for a meaningful tattoo design?