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Ships' Names from the Classical World

Many Earth Force ships bear names from Classical mythology and history. Most of these originate in Ancient Greece, but some are also taken from indigenous Roman myth. This note is intended to give a short outline of the stories behind the names.

The predominance of Greek names is easily explained, as Classical mythology heavily relies on its Greek legacy. The Romans later adopted many of the Greek stories and complemented them with figures from the lost culture of pre-Roman Italy. Very often this meant that the protagonists remained the same, but were given other names.

Greek mythology is based on a complex creation story which brought forth a number of different orders of natural and supernatural beings. The following is only an outline of the central pedigree: In the beginning, Gaia, and Ouranos (Earth and Heaven) begot the Titans. These in turn were overthrown by their rebellious children, the Gods. The families of the immortal Gods eventually faded into mortal humanity. Gods and Humans could interbreed, producing powerful demi-Gods. Besides there was a range of minor spirits, monsters, nymphs and the like.

Some of the ships' names are also taken from real Greek and Roman history.

In Greek mythology, one of the rivers of the Underworld. It may mean something like `River of moaning'. If the Dead are buried properly, they are ferried across the Acheron by Charon. Only Heracles and Orpheus ever crossed the Acheron alive and returned to the world of the living. Acheron is also often used as a name for the Underworld itself. It seems a strange choice of name for the ship that carries Lochley to Babylon 5. (No Compromises)

In Greek mythology, a prminent figure in the defence of Troy. He was the son of a mortal men and Thetis, the Goddess of the Mediterranean. In the Trojan War, he was the champion of the Greek army. When he had some differences with Agamemnon, the God's favoured Troy, until Achilles managed to slay Hector, the son of the Trojan king. Achilles was invulnerable on most of body except his heel, and he was eventually killed by an arrow which struck him there. Reputedly, the arrow was directed by the God Apollo. The meaning of the name is unknown, it may well be older than Greek.

The Achilles is a freighter who gets attacked by raiders in an attempt do divert attention from a coup for a Centauri faction on Babylon 5 (Signs and Portents). The name is mentioned by jms as belonging to the same group of Omega Class destroyers as the other ships with Classical names ("Point of No Return").

In Greek mythology, the name of the king who led the Greek army against Troy. He was the brother of Menelaos, whose wife Helena had been abducted by the Trojan prince Paris. Before leaving Greece for Troy (in modern Turkey), he was made to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to Artemis in order to get a favourable wind. Iphigenia was saved by the godess and transferred to a temple out of reach of her father. On his return from Troy ten years later, Agamemnon was betrayed by his wife Klytaimnestra and subsequently slain by her lover. The Character probably goes back to an older deity of the Earth.

The Agamemnon was was built shortly after the Earth-Minbari War; she was Sheridan's ship before he came to Babylon 5 and again when he moved to win back Earth. He also encountered her a few times while he was captain of Babylon 5 and was on board when he was betrayed to Earth. (Points of Departure; All Alone in the Night; Messages from Earth; Between the Darkness and the Light; Face of the Enemy; Endgame). Jms confirms that the choice name for Sheridan's ship is no accident.

In Roman history, a common by-name borne by many powerful people, including consuls, Romanised Hebrew kings and memebers of the first imperial dynasty.

The Agrippa is one of the Earth ships that attack Babylon 5 after it has declared independence. She gets destroyed in the battle. (Severed Dreams)

In Greek history, a conqueror of the late 4th century BC, known as Alexander the Great. As king of Macedonia, he set out to fight off the threat to his small kingdom from Persia. In the process, he conquered the huge Persian Empire and walked his troops as far as the borders of India. He died at the age of 33. His name means `a defender of men'. Alexander was also the by-name of Paris in the Story of the Trojan War. It was a common name in ancient Greek, but it seems likely that the ship was named for Alexander the Great. The Alexander was General Hague's ship, with which he defected from President Clark's forces at an early date. Together with the Churchill, the Alexander defended Babyon 5 gainst Earth Force after Babylon 5 had declared independence. (Severed Dreams). She appears again later patrolling space at the re-taken colony Proxima 3 (No Surrender, No Retreat)

In Greek mythology, a God of light, son of Zeus and brother of the hunter goddess Artemis. He was adopted by the Romans, who knew his sister as Diana. His name, Greek Apollon, means `proclaimer'. The destroyer Apollo took the lead in Earth's Defence against Sheridan in the civil war. (Endgame)

A place in Greece, where Apollo provided guidance to men through the medium of a prophetess, the Pythia. This `oracle' of Delphi was used by legendary heroes as well as historical characters.

In Greek mythology, a demi-God, son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alkmeme. He was designated to be king of Mycene by his father. However, Hera, wife of Zeus, prevented this and Heracles ended up being a servant of the king of Mycene, Eurystheus. Heracles was renowned for both his supernatual strenght and his intelligence. With the help of these qualities and his nephew and devoted friend Iolaos he managed to solve 12 dangerous tasks set by Eurystheus, who hoped that Heracles would not survive them. Heracles is now better known by his Latin name Hercules. His name means `famous for strength'. He was venerated, especially by the common people, as a helper in need. The Heracles led a number of Earth Force ships against Sheridan in defence of Proxima 3. The others defected or were destroyed.(No Surrender, No Retreat)

In Greek mythology, a serpent of the sea. As one of his tasks, Heracles had to kill the Hydra. In later versions of the story she had nine heads, one of them immortal. Her name means `the watery one'.

In Greek mythology, name of a Titan and epithet of the Sun-God Helios, his son; hyper-ion meaning `one who walks above'. The ship was named for the original Web host to the `Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5' (A Voice in the Wilderness). There is also a Hyperion class of ships, which contrasts with the more modern Omega Class, to which most of the other ships named here belong. The Hyperion has fought in the Earth-Minbari War and can be seen with the Prometheus in Atonement.

In Roman mythology, Goddess of women, marriage and birth; equalled with the Greek Hera as wife of Jupiter (Greek Zeus), the king of the Gods. Her name may possibly linked with words for `young woman', it has nothing to do with her husband's name, despite the apparent similarity.

The Juno remained non-hostile at Proxima 3 and defected to join Sheridan. (No Surrender, No Retreat)

In Greek mythology, the personification of just revenge. She is said to bethe daughter of the Titans Nyx (Night) ans Okeanos (Ocean) and in some versions of the story the mother of Helena, the beauty who became the cause of the Trojan War.

The Nemesis fought at Proxima 3 and defected to Sheridan's Party.(No Surrender, No Retreat)

In Greek mythology, two brothers by the same mother, Pollux, son of Jupiter, was immortal, his brother Castor was mortal. When his brother died, Pollux grieved so much that Jupiter had pity and put them both into the night sky, where they became the constellation Gemini (Latin for `twins'). Pollux is the Latin form of the Greek name Polydeukes (`one who cares much'). The brothers were venerated as protectors of those in danger or in need.

The Pollux was destroyed in the battle for Proxima 3 (No Surrender, No Retreat).

In Greek mythology, a Titan who gave humanity the secret of fire, which he had stolen from the Gods. Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock, where an eagle slowly devoured his liver. He was eventually freed by Heracles. His name means `one who thinks ahead'.

The Prometheus had fired the first shot in the Earth-Minbari-War.(A Late Delivery from Avalon; Atonement; In the Beginning)

In Roman mythology, a Goddess of fire as a life-giving element, associated with the hearth and the altar. The eternal fire in her temple was guarded by holy virgins. The cult goes back to pre-Roman times in Italy.

In the Battle for Proxima 3, the Vesta was commanded by an old friend of Sheridan's, who refused to engage Sheridan's White Star (No Surrender, No Retreat). Her hull sports an emblem of torches.

In Greek mythology, the highest of the Gods. He had led the rebellion of the Gods against their parents the Titans. He is also a notorious womaniser who consequently became the father of a great number of Gods and demi-Gods. Among the most famous of his offspring is Europa, the personification of Europe. The Roman equivalent of Zeus is Jupiter. Both names come from an ancient word meaning something like `daylight' or `divine'. (The -piter part of Jupiter means `father'.) The Zeus appears briefly in the battle for Earth. (Endgame).

The odd one out here is the Icarus, a civlian ship with a classical name. It is however rather significant, as its history closely resembles the Classical story. The story is of Greek origin, although the spelling Icarus is Latin. Ikaros was the son of Daidalos. Both were held in prison in Crete, from where they fled with wings made of feathers and wax. Despite his father's warning, Icarus became over-confident and flew too high, too close to the sun. The wax melted, Ikaros fell into the sea and died. Similarly, Interplanetary Expedition's Icarus embarked on a mission rather beyond their capabilities. By landing on Z'ha'dum, they ventured too far and perished. (novel: The Shadow Within; references in Knives; Revelations; In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum; Z'ha'dum)

This document was prepared with the help of

Gerhard Fink, Who's who der antiken Mythologie, München 1993 (in German, sorry)
This is a kind of dictionary of mythological figures, and an equivalent in English is certainly available.
Der Kleine Pauly, Lexikon der Antike , 5 vols.
Short version of one of the most comprehensive Encyclopedias of the Classical World.
Frisk, Griechisches Etymologisches Woerterbuch, 2 vols.
A dictionary of Ancient Greek etymology.
David Bassom, The A to Z of Babylon 5, London 1996
The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5 (Guide and Archives of jms-Postings)

If you are interested in the details, the most fundamental Greek sources are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod's Theogony. The former relate events leading up to the Fall of Troy (also called Ilion) and the subsequent troubled voyage home of Ulysses (Odysseus). These epic poems, which were probably written down around the 8th century BC, provide copious background information in addition to the stories. Hesiod's Theogony (`origin of the Gods') is a treatise on the prehistory of the world, written around the same time. All three texts are available in translation.

Incidentally, Ulysses is also the subject of Tennyson's poem, which Sinclair likes to quote (e.g. The Parliament of Dreams).

Copyright by Katrin Thier 1999

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Last update: June 26, 2004