DWIGHT: I was in a terrible marriage, you know … Oh, yeah, horrible, like a punishment out of Greek mythology. The woman had five heads, suffering, agony.
Greek mythology features an impressive list of some extremely cruel punishments doled out to humans by the gods. The Titan Atlas had to hold up the heavens on his shoulders for all eternity, King Sisyphus had to roll a boulder uphill for all eternity, only for it roll back the second he managed it, Tantalus had to spend eternity surrounded by food and drink without being allowed one mouthful of either, and Prometheus was chained to a rock while an eagle pecked at his liver, which regrew each night so it could start again the next day.
The comment about Dwight’s wife having five heads probably refers to the number of multiple-headed monsters in Greek mythology. The Hydra was a giant nine-headed water serpent, Typhon was a terrible monster with one hundred dragon’s heads, and Cerberus, who guarded the gates of the Underworld, was a monstrous dog with at least three heads, although possibly as many as fifty.
DARREN: Open question – which mythological figure has the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion? Here’s a hint – it’s also the title of a novel by Robertson Davies.
RORY: Oh, manticore.
The manticore is a Persian mythological creature with a human head, body of a lion, and a tail of venomous spines – some depict it as like porcupine quills, while others give it a scorpion tail, as Darren says. There are some accounts that the spines can be shot like arrows, making the manticore a lethal predator. It devours its prey whole, using its triple rows of teeth, leaving no traces of its victim behind. Its name comes from the Persian for “man eater”.
The Manticore is a 1972 novel by Canadian author Robertson Davies. It is the second volume in his Deptford Trilogy, three interrelated works set in the fictional town of Deptford, Ontario. The plot of The Manticore revolves around themes of Jungian psychology and psychoanalysis, and the journey towards becoming fully human.
LORELAI: Um, guys, hi, there’s a lady up there with a rock the size of Neptune around her neck talking about the debutantes of ancient Greece. It’s a lot easier to fall asleep if you’re sitting down, trust me.
The planet Neptune, the eighth planet from the Sun, was officially discovered in 1846, although it had been previously sighted and thought to be a star. It has a mass of 1.0243×1026 kg, making it 17 times more massive than the Earth. It is named after the Roman god of the sea, who interestingly, carries a trident, which Rory referenced earlier.
Symbolically, Neptune is associated with dreams and fantasy, suggesting that the debutante ball is creating an illusion, and there is little that is solid or genuine behind it. Notice that Emily despairs that the elegant ballroom is not all that it appears, the debutantes are “false” in that they have artificially changed their appearance, and that there is something insubstantial about the proceedings – which we barely manage to see. Not to mention that the ball itself takes a rather surreal turn, as if it is all just a dream. (Is it pure coincidence that Lorelai immediately talks about falling asleep?).
Lorelai’s statement about “the debutantes of ancient Greece” can be taken as nothing more than a joke – as if the MC’s reminiscences about her own debut must be positively ancient. However, the ancient Greeks did hold puberty rites for girls, of which you could say debutante balls are the spiritual successor. It seems very unlikely the MC would really mention ancient puberty rites, but the ball is just bizarre enough for this to be taken at face value.