You may recognize names like Hercules, Achilles, and Odysseus, but do you know how they made their claim to fame? They are all heroes in Greek mythology, and their stories have been told for centuries.
Greek mythology focuses on deities, creatures, and heroes as teaching tools to tell a story. What began as ancient cultural lessons have grown to reach civilizations all throughout the world. So, what are these Greek heroes’ stories and who make the top 10 Greek heroes in mythology?
The most popular and possibly most admired hero from Greek mythology is Hercules. The story of Hercules resonates with many because of his strength and perseverance to conquer many labors and challenges in life.
Hercules was born with odds against him. His father, Zeus, who was the king of gods, was married to the goddess, Hera. However, Zeus had an extramarital affair with a mortal woman, Alcmene, who became pregnant with Hercules.
Hercules was born a demi-god and showed his great strength early in his life. As an infant, Hera sent serpents to kill Hercules as he slept in his crib, but Hercules strangled them to death.
Hera’s vengeance continued into Hercules’s adult life. Hercules married and had many sons. To take everything away from Hercules, Hera inflicted madness on Hercules, which caused him to kill his wife and children. When Hercules realized what he had done, he sought repentance for his wrongdoings and consulted his cousin, Eurytheus.
Hera continued to try to destroy Hercules by persuading Eurytheus to set twelve dangerous and deadly labors for Hercules to overcome to repent for his transgressions. Hercules successfully overcame each labor, putting him at the top of the list of Greek mythology heroes.
Prometheus was born a Titan god and was responsible for providing mankind with gifts to help them survive and succeed. Prometheus gave mankind the gift of fire, but how the gift was given can be told different ways.
One version of the story describes Prometheus searching the workshop of Hephaistos and Athena to find a gift for man. Hephaistos was the god of fire who forged houses, weapons, and armor, so Prometheus stole fire from Hephaistos and Athena’s workshop to give to mankind the tools for metalworking.
The other version of Prometheus stealing fire for mankind is derived from the story of Prometheus tricking Zeus into eating bones and fat of animals, instead of the desired meat. Zeus angrily took fire away from man to force man to consequently eat meat raw. In return, Prometheus stole fire to return the gift to mankind.
Prometheus is one of the top heroes in Greek mythology because he provided the gift of fire. Many Athenians are potters, blacksmiths, and metalworkers; all occupations that require the use of fire.
Achilles was born to the sea nymph, Thetis. To make her son immortal, Thetis submerged Achilles into the River Styx while holding Achilles by his heel. His heel remained exposed, which would be attributed to his downfall.
Achilles was the star of the Trojan War, winning numerous battles during the 10-year war. Achilles main triumph was slaying Hector, the prince of Troy.
While Achilles was frequently victorious, he would be defeated by Paris near the end of the Trojan War. Paris shot an arrow that was guided by the gods to pierce the heel of Achilles. Today, the tendon that connects the heel to the calf is called the “Achilles tendon.”
Odysseus was the King of Ithaca who provided much wisdom, counsel, and intelligence during the Trojan War. Odysseus recruited Achilles to lead the Trojan War, which contributed to the Greek victory.
While Odysseus was victorious during the Trojan War, he is most known for his heroic return to Ithaca once the war was over. Facing sirens, a Cyclops, and Scylla and Charybdis, the 10-year journey of Odysseus returning home was documented in Homer’s The Odyssey.
Once he returned home, he disguised himself as a beggar because his kingdom had presumed he was dead and requested his wife, Penelope, remarry. Though she did not want to, Penelope hosted a challenge among the suitors. If a suitor could string a bow and shoot an arrow through the heads of twelve axes, she would marry.
Knowing that none of the suitors would be able to fulfill such a task, Penelope watched as suitor after suitor failed. The beggar attempted the challenge and was able to complete the challenge with ease. After he won, Odysseus revealed himself, killed each suitor with his bow, and reclaimed his life with Penelope.
The story that makes Perseus heroic is his victory in defeating Medusa. Medusa was a creature who could turn anyone who looked at her into stone. Perseus approached Medusa and used the reflection in his shield to view her without looking directly at her. Perseus was able to behead her and put her head in his satchel.
On his way home, Perseus encountered Andromeda who was bonded to a rock awaiting a sea monster to attack. Before the sea monster could attack, Perseus appeared and used the head of Medusa to turn it to stone, saving Andromeda and marrying her.
When he returned home, Perseus discovered his mother had been abused by King Polydectes. To protect his mother, Perseus uses the head of Medusa to kill the king. Perseus then presented Medusa’s head to Athena.
The greatest warrior for Troy in the Trojan War, it is said that Hector killed 31,000 Greek fighters. Hector is featured many times throughout The Iliad, but it is his battle with Achilles that is most well-known.
Hector chooses to defend the house of Priam in the city of Troy, embracing his wife and son as he departs. Hector and Paris gather Trojan warriors and battle the invading Greeks. In his last battle, Hector fights Achilles, unknowing that Athena was helping Achilles in the battle. Depleting all of his weapons during battle, Hector mustered up the bravery to charge towards Achilles with only a sword, knowing he would be slain.
Hector’s bravery, courage, and strength through his battles in the Trojan War made him one of the most favored heroes in Greek mythology.
Bellerophon is one of the top 10 Greek heroes in mythology for his success at slaying the Chimera, who was a monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. Before slaying Chimera, Bellerophon would capture the winged horse, Pegasus, to assist in slaying Chimera. Once captured, Bellerophon rode on the back of Pegasus to locate and defeat Chimera.
Bellerophon boasted and grew arrogant upon killing Chimera, which resulted in his demise. Bellerophon’s story is one of great strength and bravery, but also a reminder that you must stay modest.
Son of the goddess Aphrodite, Aeneas was a leader in the Trojan War, fighting for Troy against the Greeks.
Even though Troy fell to the Greeks during the Trojan War, Aeneas would survive the war alongside the great leaders of Troy; Hector and Paris. Hector would come to Aeneas in a vision and tell him to flee to a new city overseas.
Aeneas would finally reach the area which would be built and known as Rome.
Known for his music and poetry, Orpheus would use his talent to become one of the top Greek heroes in mythology.
Orpheus was married to Eurydice who died of a snake bite in a meadow. As Orpheus was heartbroken from losing his love, the gods suggested that Orpheus visit the underworld to retrieve Eurydice. Playing beautiful music, Orpheus was able to soften the heart of the violent Hades. Hades allowed Orpheus to take his wife under the condition that he walks in front of her and not look back until they had both reached the earth.
Orpheus agreed to the condition; however, as Orpheus neared the earth, he could see the sun and looked back at Eurydice in delight. Eurydice would disappear, and Orpheus would lose her forever.
Theseus was one of the early kings of Athens, implementing democracy and fairness throughout the civilization. During his reign, men and women would be sacrificed to be eaten by a Minotaur; a half-bull, half-man creature. To stop the sacrifices, Theseus would be one of the sacrificed men to enter the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur.
Entering the Labyrinth, Theseus met Princess Ariadne. Ariadne would give Theseus a thread for him to unravel as he made his way through the labyrinth. This would show Theseus the way out of the labyrinth once he slew the Minotaur.
Theseus was successful at slaying the Minotaur, and with the help of Ariadne, he found his way out of the labyrinth and took Princess Ariadne with him back to Athens.