Why is Greek mythology so popular on TikTok?

Pol Gisé's videos on the social media site, which discuss stories from the Bible and Greek mythology, have been surprisingly successful. The Spanish actor has just published a novel about Hades, the king of the underworld

Pol Gise
Pol Gisé in a street in the center of Barcelona.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI
Jordi Pérez Colomé

On TikTok, there are long videos about Eros and Psyche, or the wedding of Hera and Zeus, that have racked up more than five million views. These clips are so expansive (at least, by social media standards) that their creator – actor Pol Gisé – has to divide them each into two parts, since TikTok doesn’t allow videos lasting longer than ten minutes.

Gisé, 30, from Barcelona, has achieved something seemingly unattainable on TikTok: 1.2 million followers with 180 stories from Greek mythology. He narrates while looking into his camera, walking through a local forest.

The success he has achieved has two probable reasons: his use of colloquial language and his treatment of the stories as pure gossip.

“People like gossip. Some people are interested in mythology as something mystical, but some people like it in a gossip format,” Gisé explains, during a conversation with EL PAÍS in Barcelona. His videos always begin with the phrase, “here comes some mythological gossip.” He has essentially put together a minipodcast by using TikTok, which is popular among the youngest social media users.

“I knew [this medium] could work well… but I never expected this,” says Gisé, who created the channel last summer while he was writing a novel that has just come out in Spanish. It is translated as Hades, the Least Evil God.

The choice of narrative style is something essential to Gisé. “I’ve focused more on the content being captivating, so that people see that there’s a real story. I explain it casually to make it more entertaining – I take away the solemnity.” Language is one of the obvious pillars of his account: “In the videos, I use internet language. I explain things the way I like to have them explained to me. I try to [teach] what I would have liked [to be taught] when I was younger. I [used to get] very frustrated when I was little whenever people explained things to me that bored me. It was when I read it for myself that I realized how interesting it all was,” he recalls.

The choice of TikTok was clear from the beginning, “because it’s where there are the most viewers.” The extension of Gisé's videos is further proof of TikTok’s resistance to new formats. The idea that it’s merely the “little dance” app is losing ground every day. “Today, we’re [told that] only short and fast content works. I said no. I started making these Greek mythology videos that were at least 10 minutes long. And they did very well,” Gisé notes.

He believes that the notion of TikTok and other video apps being meant only for short content doesn’t always apply. “It’s not just about people doing [random] challenges in a pool… sure, that content exists, which is fine – but there’s also a lot of variety.”

Pol Gisé in Barcelona

Gisé's mythology is a contribution to this variety. “The algorithm controls your life. If I have to work and I pop onto TikTok to entertain myself a bit, that’s it – the work is over. [It’s a huge company] that will do whatever it takes to keep you scrolling,” Gisé explains. Wanting to help users stop getting lost in the mindless fascination of watching video after video, Gisé opted to add his mythological gossip to the forum.

“One of the reasons why I started making mythological content is because I felt a little bad. If I go on TikTok and find five videos in a row that don’t make me reflect at all, I appreciate it if the sixth one tells me [something interesting]. I’m grateful when something like that appears,” he shrugs.

Gisé's success on TikTok comes after he’s already found popularity on two other social media sites. He went to acting school in Barcelona and, after beginning his career, opened an account on Vine – a six-second video network that Twitter bought (and later closed). There, he made humorous sketches about everyday things. Today, Gisé has a smaller “non-mythological” account on TikTok, where he maintains that spirit of comedy.

In 2017, another important change came about: he jumped to YouTube with a new format that involved explaining stories from the Bible with the use of emojis and voiceovers.

“I reconnected with my actor self, who also likes to write,” he sums up. “I don’t just enjoy performing, but also writing and creating. Not just thinking about a sketch every day.” The most popular videos on his YouTube account are about Adam and Eve, the extinction of the dinosaurs (according to the Bible) and Lucifer.

When he ran out of the best Bible stories, he turned to myths. “I’ve taken my Greek content, – which took a week-and-a-half to make – and simplified it. The script is improvised. It’s like I’m explaining it to a friend. Funny things come out of me!”

His book intends to explore these myths in a more traditional format. “In the book, I want to bring the people who follow me [on TikTok] to something that I sometimes enjoy the most, which is writing. I try to transfer the language of the internet to a more literary sphere. I’ve never read a book like the one I’ve written, with [colloquial] language and slang [used in the discussion of these topics].”

Gisé knows that the generation that watches him on TikTok – like himself – has permanently lost some of its attention span. It’s a sign of the times.

“I also need to release dopamine all the time. It’s what I do on TikTok – I swipe and follow, as a person who needs to be entertained. Every video is new. Sitting down to read a book, on the other hand, is difficult if you’re not trained beforehand. What’s positive about my books is that I’ve done what I can to write in an enjoyable fashion. If someone reads me, they can develop a certain amount of interest in the subject matter,” he says.

Regarding the future, Gisé doesn’t believe that mythology is going to end. “There are other mythologies that interest me and maybe I would like to write my own. I won’t go back to the Bible… it’s not as good as Greek mythology. The Bible has become more famous, but the Greek characters are more complex and rich,” he affirms.

Being an actor, he has thought about the option of taking these stories to the stage, as some successful podcasters have done. “I’ve developed a bit of stage fright, because now I do everything at home. But if someone directs or guides me, I would do it.”

The only future to which he closes the door on at the moment is for ChatGPT to write a script for him. “I haven’t tried it. I would get depressed. It scares me…. I don’t know how the AI thing will continue, but I don’t think I want to know.”

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS