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The Great Heroes before the
The Definition of Hero
•The definition of hero (from Merrian-Webster)
1 a: a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability;
b: an illustrious warrior;
c: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities;
d: one that shows great courage.
2 a: the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work;
b: the central figure in an event, period, or movement.
In Greek myth,
a hero was the offspring of one mortal parent and one immortal—an example is Herakles, son of Zeus and the mortal queen Alkmena. Because of
their half-human, half-divine nature heroes had difficulty adapting to the demands of mortal life, and their personality disorders—not to mention their
divine attributes—often caused trouble in the mortal world. (For instance, Herakles periodically went mad and at one stage murdered his own
children; Helen's superhuman beauty was a direct cause of the Trojan War.) Such problems, and the more-than-mortal appeal of heroes generally,
led to heroes playing the main roles in most myth-based stories and hence to the word being applied to the protagonist of a piece of fiction
generally. The Romans, making over Greek myth for their own purposes, sometimes allegorized the hero's conflicts in what we would think of as
psychological terms: Aeneas's dilemmas in Virgil's Aeneid, for example, are caused not so much by the struggle between divine and mortal sides to
the same nature as by (for instance) the conflict between love and duty.
In later fiction of the simpler kind (for example folk tales), heroes lost the dual mortal/immortal identity, but kept their ability to move between the
human and superhuman worlds. Favourite types of hero-stories are those involving quests and those involving ‘making something of oneself’
(usually moving from rags to riches as a result of application, cunning, superhuman intervention or all three at once). In more complex fiction, the
Roman model is often followed and the hero is the figure in whose character and actions some moral, ethical or other dilemma is worked out
"Hero." Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought. Ed. Kenneth McLeish. London: Bloomsbury, 1993. Credo Reference. Web. 16 Mar. 2016
Definition of Hero
hero, in literature, broadly, the main character in a literary work; the term is also used in a specialized sense for any figure celebrated in the
ancient legends of a people. These legendary heroes belong to a princely class existing in an early stage of the history of a people, and they
transcend ordinary men in skill, strength, and courage. They are usually born to their role. Some, like the Greek Achilles, are of semidivine
origin, unusual beauty, and extraordinary precocity.
War or dangerous adventure is the hero’s normal occupation. He is surrounded by noble peers, and is magnanimous to his followers and
ruthless to his enemies. In addition to his prowess in battle, he is resourceful and skillful in many crafts; he can build a house, sail a boat, and, if
shipwrecked, is an expert swimmer. He is sometimes, like Odysseus, cunning and wise in counsel, but a hero is not usually given to much
subtlety. He is a man of action rather than thought and lives by a personal code of honour that admits of no qualification. His responses are
usually instinctive, predictable, and inevitable. He accepts challenge and sometimes even courts disaster. Thus baldly stated, the hero’s ethos
seems oversimple by the standards of a later age. He is childlike in his boasting and rivalry, in his love of presents and rewards, and in his
concern for his reputation. He is sometimes foolhardy and wrong-headed, risking his life—and the lives of others—for trifles. Roland, for
instance, dies because he is too proud to sound his horn for help when he is overwhelmed in battle. Yet the hero still exerts an attraction for
sophisticated readers and remains a seminal influence in literature.
The appearance of heroes in literature marks a revolution in thought that occurred when poets and their audiences turned their attention away
from immortal gods to mortal men, who suffer pain and death, but in defiance of this live gallantly and fully, and create, through their own
efforts, a moment’s glory that survives in the memory of their descendants. They are the first human beings in literature, and the novelty of their
experiences has a perennial freshness.
"hero." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
Parents: Danae and Zeus
Prophecy: King Acrisius of Argos locked his
daughter, Danae , away to avoid her having a
grandson that was said to kill him. Zeus came to
her and she bore his son. When King Acrisius
found out he sent them both away in a box by
Saved by the people: the fisherman, Dictys, and
Seeks and finds grandfather and accidentally
takes revenge: Goes on a quest for the perfect
wedding gift and in the end kills King Acrisius by
accident at a discus-throwing competition.
Perseus with Medusa’s head
Perseus, bronze sculpture by
Benvenuto Cellini, 1545–54; in
the Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence.
In Greek mythology, the slayer of the Gorgon
Medusa and the rescuer of Andromeda from a
sea monster. Perseus was the son of Zeus and
Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius of Argos. As an
infant he was cast into the sea in a chest with his
mother by Acrisius, to whom it had been
prophesied that he would be killed by his
grandson. After Perseus had grown up on the
island of Seriphus, where the chest had
grounded, King Polydectes of Seriphus, who
desired Danaë, tricked Perseus into promising
to obtain the head of Medusa, the only mortal
among the Gorgons.
Aided by Hermes and Athena, Perseus
pressed the Graiae, sisters of the
Gorgons, into helping him by seizing the
one eye and one tooth that the sisters
shared and not returning them until they
provided him with winged sandals
(which enabled him to fly), the cap of
Hades (which conferred invisibility), a
curved sword, or sickle, to decapitate
Medusa, and a bag in which to conceal
the head. (According to another
version, the Graiae merely directed him
to the Stygian Nymphs, who told him
where to find the Gorgons and gave
him the bag, sandals, and helmet;
Hermes gave him the sword.) Because
the gaze of Medusa turned all who
looked at her to stone, Perseus guided
himself by her reflection in a shield
given him by Athena and beheaded
Medusa as she slept. He then returned
to Seriphus and rescued his mother by
turning Polydectes and his supporters
to stone at the sight of Medusa’s head.
A further deed attributed to Perseus was his rescue of the Ethiopian princess Andromeda when he was on his way home with
Medusa’s head. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, had claimed to be more beautiful than the sea nymphs, or Nereids; so Poseidon
had punished Ethiopia by flooding it and plaguing it with a sea monster. An oracle informed Andromeda’s father, King Cepheus,
that the ills would cease if he exposed Andromeda to the monster, which he did. Perseus, passing by, saw the princess and fell in
love with her. He turned the sea monster to stone by showing it Medusa’s head and afterward married Andromeda.
Later Perseus gave the Gorgon’s head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, and gave his other accoutrements to Hermes. He
accompanied his mother back to her native Argos, where he accidentally struck her father, Acrisius, dead when throwing the
discus, thus fulfilling the prophecy that he would kill his grandfather. He consequently left Argos and founded Mycenae as his
capital, becoming the ancestor of the Perseids, including Heracles. The Perseus legend was a favourite subject in painting and
sculpture, both ancient and Renaissance. (Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze statue in Florence of Perseus with Medusa’s head is
especially famous.) The chief characters in the Perseus legend, Perseus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and the sea monster
(Cetus), all figure in the night sky as constellations.
Perseus, portrayed by Sam
Worthington, in Clash of the Titans
Perseus- Six Traits
1. Innocence Lost- Killing Medusa to provide a “worthy” wedding
2. Chaos and Complexity- his family story from being cast away, to
being accepted by a new family, to a complicated journey, to
returning with a gift for a wedding that was canceled, to accidently
murdering his grandfather.
3. The Heroic Quest- To obtain Medusa’s head as a wedding gift for
his mother and Polydectes
4. Gurus and Alliances- Hermes and Athena
5. Trials, Tests, Initiations- escaping with Medusa’s head from her
Gorgon siblings; Saving Andromeda from a sea serpent; Defeating
Polydectes; the accidental murder of his grandfather at the
6. Insight and Transformation- Realized that King Acrisius had done
his best to kill Perseus and his mother; married Andromeda and
lived happily ever after.
Theseus Profile- A hero and lover
The father of Theseus was Aegeus and his
mother was Aethra. However, before meeting
Aethra, Aegeus had desperately wished for a
son and although having twice married no child
was forthcoming. For advice and guidance to
solve this problem he decided to visit the oracle
at Delphi but unfortunately this visit was not
successful as the oracle was incomprehensible
to him and with heavy heart he made his way
back to Athens.
He decided therefore to go to the temple of Zeus
and placed his sandals and sword under a rock
next to the temple. He then told Aethra that, if
she bears him a son, she should not reveal the
name of his father and when he reaches puberty
she must tell the son to go to the rock next to
and, if he is able to lift it he will reveal the signs
by which he can search for his father in Athens.
In time, Aethra had her child and it was a son.
She named him Theseus after the Greek word
"ethese", meaning "he put under", as his father
had put the signs of recognition under the rock.
Time passed and Theseus grew into a brave
and strong young man. When he reached
sixteen years old his mother, Aethra, led him to
the rock next to the Temple of Zeus and here he
raised the rock with ease, retrieved the paternal
signs and began his journey to seek his father in
the city of Athens.
On the way to Athens, the Hero met with a series of villains. Firstly, at Epidaurus he met Periphetes, son of Hephaestus and Antikleia.
Periphetes#5 was known also as Korynitis because he roamed the region with an iron cudgel killing all who where passing by. The hero killed
him and fashioned a weapon from the iron cudgel.
At Kechrees near Isthmus, he met the next villain, the son of Poseidon named Sinis, who was also known as Pityokamptis. This name derived
from his custom of killing people in the most gruesome way as follows: he bent and fastened the tops of two large pine trees to the ground with
rope and tied his victims to these uppermost branches. Then, he unfastened the rope that held the two trees down causing them to spring back
into the air and, as they did so, their momentum ripped the victim into two. Theseus killed Sinis in the same way.
Sinis had a very beautiful daughter, Perigoune, who on seeing the fight between her father and the Hero was scared for her own life and, looking
around for somewhere to hide noticed a clump of thorn bushes. She begged them to conceal her and in return she would ensure they were never
burned. They opened their branches and took her in. However, on completion of his feat, Theseus found her and promised to stay with her and
The fourth feat was on Skirronides rocks, or the Wicked Scala. Here Theseus met Skiron, the son of Pelops. Skiron was forcing travellers who
where passing by to wash his feet. When they bent down in front of him to carry out this chore he kicked them into the sea where they were
eaten by a giant tortoise. Theseus threw him into the sea to meet his death in the same way.
The fifth feat of the hero was in Eleusis. There Cercyon #7, son of Poseidon, was killing people by forcing them to grapple with him. The hero
lifted him up and knocked him to the ground, beating him not only with his strength but also with his cleverness, therefore they say that the
fight is an art first coined by the hero.
Lastly in his path the hero met Procrustes. He lived near the Sacred Way (Iera Odos) from Athens to Elefsis. This villain had a hostel with two
beds: one short and one long, supposedly to accommodate travellers. Once he had lured the unsuspecting travellers into his hostel he forced the
tall ones to lie on the short bed and the short ones to the long bed. Then, taking up a hammer he repeatedly struck the short victims flattening
them until they fitted the dimensions of the bed, with the tall victims he simply cut away the parts of their bodies that hung over the short beds.
Theseus punished Procrustes in the same way.
During all this time that Theseus had been growing up, Aegeus had given refuge to Medea who he later married. She in turn healed him from his
assumed sterility and given him a son who they had named Medes.
When Theseus arrived at the palace, the king had already heard about the brave lad and his accomplishments. Aegeus never imagined that it
might be his son, but Medea, who was a witch , realized that it was so and plotted against him, persuading the unsuspecting Aegeus to poison
him during dinner.
Theseus had not yet revealed who he was, but during the dinner, Theseus under the guise of carving the meat, stuck his father's sword into it. On
recognizing his sword and understanding what it meant, Aegeus threw the glass of poison away and embraced his new found son. Aegeus then
gathered all his subjects around him and presented his son Theseus to them. Medea fled with her son Medes to Asia.
Theseus greatly influenced the story told in The Hunger Games
Appears in several of Shakespeare’s plays
Theseus- Six Traits
1. Innocence Lost- Grew up without his father until he was strong enough
to move the rock which hid the shoes and sword his father left for him.
2. Chaos and Complexity- Instead of taking the easy route to his father by
ship where he would be safe, he decided to go by land to become a hero
like his cousin Hercules. Also, experienced chaos and complexity at the
end with his wife’s death and son’s banishment.
3. The Heroic Quest- slaying the Minotaur to save the people
4. Gurus and Alliances- Hercules and Pirithous
5. Trials, Tests, Initiations- Killing the bandits for safe travel; was part of
the mission to find the Golden Fleece; assisted Oedipus when Oedipus
was cast out and protected Oedipus’ daughters; comforted Hercules
when he was experiencing family hardships; went to the Underworld
with Pirithous; then experienced his own family drama
6. Insight and Transformation- Learned the truth after his wife killed
herself for loving her stepson too much and he blamed and banished his
son for the lies she created. Theseus was killed later, but recognized as
the “protector of the defenseless.”
Hercules or Heracles Profile
Parents: Zeus and Alcemena
Prophecy: No prophecy was listed in this
Saved by the people: Theseus stopped
him from killing himself and took him to
Athens to live with him.
Known for his: confidence and physical
strength, but lack of intelligence ; his fatal
rages and his punishments.
Acknowledged by his father: Amphitryon,
his stepfather, tried to console him after
Hercules killed his family.
Hercules or Heracles
His first exploit, in fact, was the strangling of two serpents that she had sent to kill him in his cradle
Later, Heracles waged a victorious war against the kingdom of Orchomenus in Boeotia and married Megara, daughter of Creon, king of Thebes.
But he killed her and their children in a fit of madness sent by Hera and, consequently, was obliged to become the servant of Eurystheus. It was
Eurystheus who imposed upon Heracles the famous Labours, later arranged in a cycle of 12, usually as follows: (1) the slaying of the
Nemean lion, whose skin he thereafter wore; (2) the slaying of the nine-headed Hydra of Lerna; (3) the capture of the elusive hind (or stag) of
Arcadia; (4) the capture of the wild boar of Mt. Erymanthus; (5) the cleansing, in a single day, of the cattle stables of King Augeas of Elis; (6) the
shooting of the monstrous man-eating birds of the Stymphalian marshes; (7) the capture of the mad bull that terrorized the island of Crete; (8)
the capture of the man-eating mares of King Diomedes of the Bistones; (9) the taking of the girdle of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons; (10) the
seizing of the cattle of the three-bodied giant Geryon, who ruled the island Erytheia (meaning Red) in the far west; (11) the bringing back of the
golden apples kept at the world’s end by the Hesperides; and (12) the fetching up from the lower world of the triple-headed dog Cerberus,
guardian of its gates.
Having completed the Labours, Heracles undertook further enterprises, including warlike campaigns. He also successfully fought the river god
Achelous for the hand of Deianeira. As he was taking her home, the Centaur Nessus tried to violate her, and Heracles shot him with one of his
poisoned arrows. The Centaur, dying, told Deianeira to preserve the blood from his wound, for if Heracles wore a garment rubbed with it he
would love none but her forever. Several years later Heracles fell in love with Iole, daughter of Eurytus, king of Oechalia. Deianeira, realizing
that Iole was a dangerous rival, sent Heracles a garment smeared with the blood of Nessus. The blood proved to be a powerful poison, and
Heracles died. His body was placed on a pyre on Mt. Oeta (modern Greek Oiti), his mortal part was consumed, and his divine part ascended to
heaven. There he was reconciled to Hera and married Hebe
In art and literature Heracles was represented as an enormously strong man of moderate height; a huge eater and drinker, very amorous,
generally kindly but with occasional outbursts of brutal rage. His characteristic weapon was the bow but frequently also the club.
"Heracles." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 16
Hercules- Six Traits
1. Innocence Lost- As a baby, Hercules killed two snakes with his bare
hands that were sent by Hera out of jealousy.
2. Chaos and Complexity- Under Hera’s power, Hercules kills his wife
and 3 sons.
3. The heroic Quest- Helped the gods conquer the Giants, fought and
conquered the Minyans, Fought death and brought back the wife of
4. Gurus and Alliances- Theseus, Iolaus, Athena, and Atlas
5. Trials, Tests, Initiations- “The 12 Labors of Hercules” given by
Eurystheus to purify his guilt.
6. Insight and Transformation- His guilt became too much to bear.
“Since death would not come to him, he would go to death.” He was
taken to Heaven and reunited with his father Zeus. He made amends
with Hera and married her daughter Hebe.
Parents: Real parents are unknown. When Atalanta’s
father found out he had a daughter instead of a son,
he decided she was not worthy and left her on the
mountainside wear a she-bear took her as her own
Saved by the people: She was found by a few hunters
and they took her to live with them.
Known for her ability to outshoot, outrun, and
outwrestle the men.
Seeks and find parents: After she beat Peleus, the
father of Achilles, at the funeral games she
discovered who her parents were and went to live
Atalanta- Six Traits
1. Innocence Lost- raised by a hunter and became handy with the
bow and arrow.
2. Chaos and Complexity- Parents did not want her for being a
girl, but in the end welcomed her back because she was just a
strong as the men.
3. The heroic Quest- the hunt of the Calydonian bear
4. Gurus and Alliances- Meleager
5. Trials, Tests, Initiations- killing two centaurs without
hesitation who were after her; the hunt of the Calydonian bear
6. Insight and Transformation- Melanion (or Hippomenes), with
the help of Aphrodite, was able to trick Atalanta during the race
and won her hand in marriage using three golden apples. The
two were turned into lions because of an insult to Zeus or
Aphrodite after she bore a son, Parthenopaeus, who was one of
the Seven of Thebes.