Greek mythology is filled with stories of heroes famous for their extraordinary bravery and many adventures. The term ‘hero’ may be overused today, but it gets its original meaning by its connection and reference to these infamous Greek figures. This article explores the lives and deeds of some of the most well-known heroes and heroines of ancient Greece.
Greek Mythological Heroes to Know
Achilles was the greatest of all the Greek warriors of his time and one of the many heroes that took part in the Trojan War. He is the central character of Homer’s epic poem ‘Iliad’. Born of the nereid Thetis, Achilles himself was a demigod, invulnerable in all his body except for one heel, because when his mother dipped him in the River Styx as an infant, she held him by one of his heels.
That is why, even to this day, the term ‘Achilles’ heel’ has taken the meaning of a point of weakness. Achilles was the leader of the mighty Myrmidons and the slayer of Hector, prince of Troy. He was killed by Hector’s brother, Paris, who shot him in the heel with an arrow.
Heracles was a divine hero, one of the most iconic figures in all of Greek mythology, and the protagonist of hundreds of myths. The son of Zeus and Alcmene, he was also the half-brother of Perseus.
Heracles was a paragon of masculinity, a half-god of superhuman strength, and the most notable champion of the Olympian order against many chthonic monsters and earthly villains. Many royal clans of antiquity claimed to be descendants of Hercules, most notably the Spartans. Heracles is most famous for his twelve trials, the successful completion of which earned him immortality.
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Theseus was the mythical king and founder-hero of the city of Athens. He was responsible for the synoikismos (‘dwelling together’)—the political unification of Attica under Athens. He was also famous for his many journeys of labor, his fights against monstrous beasts that were identified with an archaic religious and social order. He was the son of Poseidon and Aethra, and thus a demigod. Among the many foes, that Theseus fought during his journeys are Periphetes, Sciron, Medea, and the infamous Minotaur of Crete, a monster which he killed inside his Labyrinth.
Agamemnon was a mythical king of Mycenae, the son of King Atreus, the brother of Menelaus, and the father of Iphigenia, Electra, Orestes, and Chrysothemis. He is most famous for his participation in the Greek expedition against Troy.
When Helen, the wife of his brother Menelaus, was taken to Troy by Paris, Agamemnon agreed to help him take her back, declaring war on Troy and leading the expedition. The myths concerning Agamemnon appear in many versions. He was murdered upon his return to Mycenae by Aegisthus, the lover of his wife Clytemnestra.
Castor and Pollux
Castor and Pollux (also known as the Dioscuri) are semi-divine figures of Greek mythology considered the twin sons of Zeus. They are famous for their role as patrons of the sailors and for saving those who were in grave danger in war.
They were also associated with horsemanship, following the tradition of the Indo-European horse twins. The brothers were especially linked with Sparta, with temples built in Athens and Delos to their honor. They also took part in the Argonautic Expedition, helping Jason retrieve the Golden Fleece.
Odysseus was a mythical hero in Greek mythology, the king of the island of Ithaca and the main protagonist of Homer’s epic poem, the ‘Odyssey’. The son of Laertes and the husband of Penelope, he was famous for his intellectual brilliance and versatility. He was distinguished for his part during the Trojan War, both as a strategist and a warrior, being the one who came up with the idea of the Trojan horse, thus deciding the outcome of the bloody conflict.
After 10 years full of numerous adventures in sea and land- Circe, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, the Laestrygonians, Calypso – he managed to return to Ithaca and take back his throne.
Perseus was the legendary founder of Mycenae and one of the greatest Greek heroes before the days of Heracles. He was the only son of Zeus and Danae -and thus a demigod- and also the great-grandfather of Heracles.
He is famous for his many adventures and the slaying of monsters, the most famous of which was the Gorgon Medusa, whose head turned onlookers into stone. He was also famous for slaying the sea monster Cetus which led to the rescuing of the Aethiopian princess Andromeda, who would eventually become Perseus’ wife and bear him at least one daughter and six sons.
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In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan god of fire. He is considered one of the most important culture heroes of ancient Greece, who is credited with the creation of humanity from clay, and who defied the will of the gods by stealing fire and offering it to humanity.
For this action, he was punished by Zeus with eternal torment for his transgression. In other myths, he is credited with the establishment of the form of animal sacrifice practiced in ancient Greek religion, while he is sometimes considered the author of human arts and sciences in general.
Hector was the elder son of Priam, the king of Troy, the husband of Andromache, and the greatest Trojan fighter in the Trojan War. He was the leader of the Trojan army and of its allies during the defense of Troy, and he was famous for killing many Greek warriors. He was also the one who proposed that a duel should decide the fate of the war. Thus, he faced Ajax in a duel, but after a full day of fighting the duel ended in a stalemate. Hector was ultimately killed by Achilles.
Bellerophon was one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology. The son of Poseidon and Eurynome, he was famous for his bravery and for the slaying of many monsters, the greatest of which was Chimera, a monster that was depicted by Homer as having a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpents tail. He is also famous for taming the winged horse Pegasus with the help of Athena, and for trying to ride him to Mount Olympus to join the gods, thus earning their disfavor.
Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet and prophet in ancient Greek religion. He was considered the founder of the Orphic mysteries, one of the most important religious cults in ancient Greece. He was famous for his ability to charm every creature with his music, himself being taught how to play the lyre by the god Apollo.
One of the most famous stories about him was his failed attempt to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld. He was killed by the hands of the maenads of Dionysus who grew tired of his mourning, with the Muses, however, deciding to save his head among the living people so he could sing forever, enchanting everyone with his divine melodies.
Atalanta was an Arkadian heroine, a famous and swift-footed huntress. When she was a baby she was left out in the wilderness by her father to die, but she was suckled by a she-bear and afterward found and raised by hunters. She took an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis and also killed two centaurs who tried to rape her.
Atalanta also took part in the voyage of the Argonauts and defeated the hero Peleus in wrestling at the funeral games of King Pelias. She was later transformed into a lion, alongside her husband, for failing to properly honor the goddess Aphrodite.