Greek heroes notes Essay

Submitted By marodri
Words: 1160
Pages: 5

“With great power, comes great responsibility”. This quote was used in the modern film Spiderman to summarize the characteristics of a fictional hero. In modern society a “hero” might be characterized and molded by current morals and values. As a result, today’s society sees “heroes” as morally guided individuals that would make sacrifices for the greater good. However, in ancient Greece heroes had a different set of moral values and characteristics. In ancient times, the nature of heroes was determined by a predefined set of factors that were molded through myths. One of the most relevant factors was how heroes were divine individuals who were predestined to overcome impossible obstacles regardless of the consequences, which ultimately would grant them immortality. In this essay I will discuss the supernatural birth and divine heritage of different heroes (1). Secondly, I will highlight how their supernatural strength can lead to the endangerment of those around them, since they used their brute strength instead of mind power (2). Lastly, I will summarize how ancient heroes needed to accomplish impossible tasks to repent for their irrational actions and how the latter will help stamp their mark in history (3).
In order to determine the nature of a hero, it is necessary to look at their birth. According to the ancient Greeks, to be defined as heroes individuals had to display certain characteristics which were present from birth. One of these characteristics is that heroes were “part divine and part human” meaning he had a human parent, but also a divine being somewhere in their lineage. For instance, verses from Ovid’s metamorphoses demonstrate how Perseus had both a mortal parent (Danae and Acrisius) and immortal parent (Zeus): “Acrisius warred with the god, denying that Zeus was his father. Perseus too he disclaimed, the child of the shower of gold that quickened Danaë’s womb. Yet mark you the power of truth: Acrisius was forced to repent of both these arrogant gestures, violence toward the god and disowning the child of his daughter” 1. In addition, the passage also indicates that Perseus was born in a supernatural manner as Zeus disguised himself as shower of gold in order to conceive Perseus in Danae’s wounds. Another example of a hero who was conceived in a supernatural way is Heracles. His birth is represented in Hesiod’s shield of Heracles, having the god Zeus as his father as well as Amphitryon, a mortal. “Zeus, most skillful of planners, descended at Typhaonium. On the Hill of the Sphinx he rested, plotting wonderful things. Disguised as her husband, that night he enjoyed the bed of Alcmena. But on that self-same night came Amphitryon, guard of the people. His task accomplished, he hurried in such an amorous frenzy” 2. From the two passages we could conclude that one of the necessary characteristics for ancient Greek heroes is that they must have some divine heritage. In his work, author Carter Phillips expresses how the divine heritage given to Heracles in Greek mythology "is for the sole purpose of myths"3. This means his heritage was molded in order to fulfill ancient society's beliefs. Heroes half divinity was used to separate them from normal individuals but still give them a place among humans. Being among humankind, they must not rely only on their divine heritage as they also need to prove themselves to the Gods in order to achieve immortality.
The actions taken by ancient heroes may be considered irrational by today’s standards. This is because they often used their brute force rather than their intellect, which could lead to the death of the individuals closest to them. However, this way of thinking was necessary as Greeks valued power and strength over individual intelligence. For example, Euripides expresses the insanity and irrational behavior of Heracles in these verses: “Megara screamed, “To these you once gave life. Will you, their father, be their cause of death?” The old man and the slaves