10 Greek Heroes and Heroines of Greek Mythology
If the myths about Greek gods are fascinating, the deeds and feats of the most legendary Greek heroes and heroines are even more exciting. Greek mythology has consolidated them as a superior race to men but inferior to gods, with attributes such as courage, strength, cunning, and majesty. Don't miss their stories and feats.
What is a hero in Greek mythology?
In Greek mythology stories, since ancient times the heroes appear next to the gods as a superior race to humans but inferior to the gods. In fact, as a result of the union between a god and a mortal, or a goddess and a mortal, Greek heroes can be considered demigods.
In some cases, they could even be crowned as gods and enjoy all their privileges, such as the paradigmatic case of Heracles who, after overcoming the twelve tests, he is accepted in the Olympus. In any case, the heroes are based on mortal human beings whose deeds and extraordinary life deserved to be narrated for posterity.
Often the figure of the hero is between reality and legend, especially those heroes based on kings, military chiefs and battles. Most Greek heroes come from Zeus, who used to come down to earth from time to time because he was a womanizer, so he was credited with dozens of relationships and their respective fruits.
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The 10 most famous heroes and heroines from Greek mythology
Most of the most famous Greek heroes are related to the Epic Cycle, a series of Greek mythological narratives that focus on the Trojan War. But in the Olympus of heroes, there is also room for other demigods and demigoddesses.
The Greek hero par excellence is called Heracles (Hercules in Roman mythology) and was the fruit of the union between Zeus and the mortal Alcmena, daughter of King Electryon of Mycenae. The mythological story says that Zeus adopted the figure of her host husband to lie with her, and from the fruit of that copulation was born an extraordinary being, Alceo.
Eventually, he became the servant of Hera, Zeus' wife, and from there he took the name of Heracles. Since he was a child, he showed a hasty and angry character, with outbursts of anger that could lead him to lose control. When he killed his wife and children due to his madness, he was condemned to overcome 12 jobs.
The twelve titanic trials that Heracles had to overcome were: Kill the lion of Nemea, kill the Hydra of Lerna, capture the deer of Cerinea, kill the boar of Erymanthus, clean the stables of Augias, kill the Stymphalian birds, capture the bull of Crete, steal Diomedes' mares, steal Hippolyta's belt, steal Geryon's cattle, take the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides and capture Cerberus.
Since then, Heracles was allowed to enter Mount Olympus, and he has the archetypal traits of the male Greek hero: virility, boldness, strength, pride, battle courage, and sexual vigor.
Odysseus (or Ulysses) is the most famous Greek hero in literature thanks to his immortalization in The Odyssey and The Iliad by Homer. Odysseus was king of Ithaca, an island in the Ionian Sea, a descendant of Laertes and Anticlea, and holder of the values of cunning, brilliance, strategy and versatility.
The legend of this hero presents him as a just and honest sovereign who in his virile age marries Penelope, daughter of King Icarius of Sparta and sister of Helena, who in spite of being promised to Menelaus, flees with Paris to Troy taking the wealth of Sparta with her. This unleashes a war whose outcome is attributed to the genius of Odysseus.
According to legend, after ten years of unsuccessful siege of Troy, Odysseus built a giant wooden horse with about twenty Greeks inside it led by Ulysses himself. After the heroic deed of Troy, The Odyssey narrates Ulysses' return to Ithaca in a long ten-year journey full of dangers that he will overcome thanks to his cunning.
The Oracle of Delphi had told Odysseus that the Trojan war would not be successful without the help of Achilles, one of the great heroes of Greek mythology. Indeed, he is one of the main characters of the Iliad, considered the fastest of men and attributed invulnerability throughout the body, except in the heels.
Who killed Achilles? According to some sources, he died in the Trojan War when an arrow hit him in the heel. That story gives rise to the name of a muscle in anatomy, and an expression that refers to a person's weak point. On top of that, Achilles is said to be the most beautiful and attractive hero of his time.
The myth of the Achilles heel is, in fact, based on the legend of his births. Achilles was the son of King Peleus and the nymph Thetis, and when his mother was born she immersed him in the river Styx to make him immortal, but the waters impregnated his entire body except for his heel by which she held him, making this point a vulnerable spot.
One of Achilles' victims was Hector, another Greek hero, who was a Trojan prince in charge of defending the city against the siege of the Achaeans. He is involved in one of the most exciting duels of Greek mythology when he confronts Achilles in a battle to the death.
The most legendary version says that Pontus had rescued him from the Tartars, where the Titans had been imprisoned since their defeat before the Olympic gods and brought to the world in a body of stone. In his genealogical line, he is the son of Priam, King of Troy, and his second wife, Hecuba, and he is married to Andromache, a symbol of love and fidelity in the face of the cruelty of war.
In the Trojan cycle, Hector represents the counterpart of Achilles. Both are unfounded with the great qualities of the Greek warrior, but unlike Achilles, Hector is the most human of Homeric heroes, and for that reason, he suffers, is afraid, and doubts whether to give his life for his people or remain faithful to his wife and family.
Son of the ninth king of Athens, Aegeus, and Aethra, Pittheus' daughter, king of Troezen, in some tales he is considered the son from the union of Poseidon with an oceanid daughter of Ocean and Thetis. In the most accepted version, Aegeus was drunk by Pittheus' father so that he put in his daughter the heir to the throne of Athens that the oracle of Delphi had predicted.
When his father's name is revealed to him in adulthood, he gathers his virtues of strength and courage to undertake a journey to Athens and claim his right to the throne. On his trip to Athens, Theseus faces many adventures and dangers trying to emulate his great idol, Heracles. On the way, he defeats several giants and overcomes hard tests.
However, his role in Greek mythology acquires relevance in the myth of the Minotaur. According to legend, Aegean had killed Minos, king of Crete, who as revenge had besieged the city of Athens and every year he sacrificed his children to feed the Minotaur, a monster that lived in a maze.
Theseus becomes a hero when he decides to end such humiliation by entering the labyrinth himself to kill the Minotaur. When he arrives in Crete, the king's daughter falls in love with the hero and offers him an invisible thread so that, once the monster is dead, he can find his way out.
The Oracle of Delphi had foreseen that Acrisius, king of Argos, was killed by his grandson. To avoid this, he imprisoned his daughter Danaë in a tower where she did not have any contact with other men. However, Zeus turned into gold rain that falling from the ceiling got Danaë pregnant, from where Perseus was born.
Tradition attributes Perseus the foundation of Mycenae, but also strength and courage. Once, Polydectes tries to get rid of Perseus to marry his mother, and he asks him to bring him the head of Medusa because they were looking for it for revenge.
Athena offers him a shield through which he can see the Medusa without looking at her directly, and be able to beat her. The helmet of Hades made him invisible to the immortal sisters of Medusa, who were looking for revenge.
Perseus is also credited with the liberation of Andromeda, who had been chained to a rock and offered as a sacrifice to Ceto, a sea monster. After defeating Ceto, Perseus frees the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, marries her and begets seven children.
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Although the figure of the hero was consolidated in Greek mythology as a male figure, there are also some famous heroines that lived in the Olympus. One of the most famous heroines of Greek mythology is Persephone, Zeus and Demeter's daughter.
According to legend, Persephone's mother was beautiful, but she rejected all her suitors (Hermes, Ares, Apollo, and Hephaestus) and stayed away from the rest. On one occasion, her daughter was picking flowers in the forest next to the nymphs when Hades appeared emerging from a crack in the ground.
Hades kidnapped Persephone, and for many days Demeter searched for her daughter all over Olympus without success, which plunged her into a deep depression. Zeus, no longer enduring the pain of his beloved, sent Hermes to free Persephone. Hades gave her in, but before he forced the demigoddess to eat six pomegranate seeds.
From then, Persephone was cursed: every year she had to return to the underworld with Hades, one month for each seed she had eaten. So Demeter lived six months a year with her daughter, during which time the land was filled with fertility. Finally, she rescued Persephone from her punishment by revealing the Eleusinian mysteries.
Since then, the Eleusinian mysteries became one of the essential initiation rites of classical Greek culture. The abduction myth of Persephone is also famous because it mitigates this heroine as the goddess of the underworld.
One of the most outstanding heroes of Greek mythology is Agamemnon, son of King Atreus of Mycenae and the Cretan princess Aérope. He is also the brother of Menelaus, a key figure in the Trojan War legend.
According to legend, Atreus ordered his sons to find Thyestes, son of Aegisthus, to lock him in a dungeon. Atreus ordered Thyestes to kill Aegeus, but he recognized his father and, killing Atreus, exiled Agamemnon and Menelaus, who wandered until they reached Sparta. Agamemnon married Clytemnestra and had several children, including Iphigenia, and Menelaus married Helena.
After returning to Mycenae, he dethroned Thyestes and was crowned king. When Paris kidnapped Helena, the Achaean warlords chose Agamemnon as commander-in-chief of an army that after seven years of preparation was launched into war against Troy. After his return home, he was murdered by Aegisthus, who had seduced his wife.
For his dignity, power, and majesty, he is one of the most important Greek heroes, although inferior in strength and courage to Achilles.
The origin of Clytemnestra is found in the fertilization of the mortal Leda by Zeus, for which the god took the form of a swan. However, on the same night, she lay with her husband Tyndareus, so she laid two eggs: from one were born Clytemnestra and Castor, sons of Tyndareus, and from the other were born Pollux and Helena, children of Zeus.
The figure of Clytemnestra in Greek mythology is fundamental: a tragic character, symbolizing both passion and pride. At first, she remains as a faithful wife to her husband, the flattered and gallant general Achaeus Agamemnon, but when he decides to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia for the gods to be favorable in battle, the anger blinds her.
As revenge, in the absence of her husband, who for ten years led his troops in the Trojan War, she takes his enemy Aegisthus as her lover. During their romance, they plan to kill Agamemnon, which her sweet and cold revenge.
For many years, Clytemnestra and her lover ruled Mycenae. According to some versions, the other three children of the married couple know about her mother's betrayal, and Electra convinces Orestes to avenge Agamemnon.
The protagonist of Euripides' works and the epic cycle, this tragic character from Greek mythology is consolidated as a victim of human mistakes, the wrath of the gods, and the misfortunes of hatred and war.
Iphigenia, a Greek heroine, was one of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's daughters. When the men of Agamemnon mistakenly hunt a sacred deer, the goddess of hunting Artemis rages and causes the ship of the king and his hosts to be shipwrecked when they return from the Trojan War. After consulting the oracle, Agamemnon is asked to sacrifice Iphigenia.
Agamemnon agrees and tells his daughter to go with him, making her believe that he wants to marry her to Achilles. According to one version, when Iphigenia is about to be sacrificed, Artemis takes pity on her and puts a deer in her place, taking the mortal with her and making her a priestess. However, in other versions, Iphigenia is the one sacrificed and will later be avenged by Clytemnestra.
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