Homeric Epic Heroes


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There many heroes in Homer's epic stories but few are considered epic. Find out what makes a person a epic hero.

Homeric Epic Hero

7 Characteristics of Epic Heroes: Summary and Analysis



The two ancient Greek poets Hesiod and Homer, created the first guide on ancient Greek religion and customs. In this guide, it was stated that there were five Ages of Mankind and that the Age of Heroes was the fourth of those ages. In this age, Zeus, famously known as the King of the Greek Gods, created special men who are powerful and noble. Although they are mere mortals, their capabilities and characteristics were god-like. These men are known as epic heroes.

The words “epic hero” bring to mind mortal men defeating terrorizing monsters, a demigod with super strengths, or even a man from a noble birth that is wise beyond his years. But what can we say are the main traits of epic heroes?

There are seven main traits of epic heroes; they are of noble birth or elevated status. They have superhuman capabilities, are a vast traveler, an unmatched warrior, a cultural legend, demonstrate humility, and finally, battle superhuman foes.

7 Traits of an Epic Hero
These 7 principal characteristics can describe epic heroes. They are:

Noble Birth
Most of the epic heroes that we know about were born to a noble family. They usually fall under the category of kings, princes, nobles or another position of high rank. Commoners are not usually found in their lineage.

Superhuman Capabilities
Mose epic heroes have the capability to complete deeds of incredible strength and courage. This means they have the potential for extraordinary deeds considered impossible for most humans. These acts are beyond what the average commoner could do in their life. However, this does not mean that they are necessarily “superheroes”; not all epic heroes are good heroes.

Vast Traveler
Epic heroes are known for traveling to exotic locations, either by choice or by chance, and usually do so to fight against evil.

Unmatched Warrior
Epic heroes usually established themselves as a capable fighter in a war. They also usually have a reputation for being a warrior, even before the start of the story.

Cultural Legend
A hero is usually first recognized in his own home country as a hero, which leads to them becoming known in other lands. Soon they will reach the status of legend where many different countries celebrate them.

Humility
Although recognized for their great deeds as heroes, they should never brag about it or even be willing to accept applause. For example, Oedipus’ intelligence in answering the Sphinx’s riddle earned him the throne of Thebes, yet he didn’t brag about it to Thebes’ people.

Battles superhuman foes
Most epic heroes receive aid from a god or goddess when they are on a quest or are battling against some superhuman forces. This is the part that makes their action epic because they are in a battle that mere mortals cannot fight.

Examples would be Beowulf against Grendel and Odysseus against Cyclops. One interesting fact is that for each of the heroes, their enemies are unique. It is unheard of that a hero would fight the same enemy that another hero has already fought.

The Heroic Age

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According to ancient genealogy, the heroic age spanned approximately 6 generations. This was a time of legendary Greek figures like Perseus, Achilles, Heracles, Jason and Odysseus. These great legendary figures all lived throughout this 4th age. Although filled with great tales of exciting adventures and great challenges, it was also a time of sorrow, turmoil, and bloodshed, and most of these epic heroes died in battle.

It is to be noted again that according to Homer, epic heroes were known to be “god-like.” In other words, they are an exceptional being, one way or another.

However “god-like,” heroes, as they were, are not actually divine. They are humans. They can be male or female, sometimes gifted with superhuman capabilities, and in some instances, a descendant of the gods themselves.

Because of these circumstances, a mere mortal might see heroes as having more in common with the gods than mankind, but that is not the case. While gods live forever, heroes are just like other humans in that they are destined to die.

Mortality is a profound theme in the stories of ancient Greek heroes. It is a question for all heroes within these epic tales to grapple with. Epic heroes usually face dire circumstances in their lives and have to deal with much tragedy. Despite their seemingly superhuman abilities, they are ultimately unable to escape their inevitable demise.

For example, let’s take one of the most famous heroes of all time, Heracles (known as Hercules to the Romans). Heracles is famously known as the son of Zeus. He was the result of a union between Zeus and a mortal woman.

It is commonly known that Zeus has a wife, who is a goddess herself, named Hera. Due to her husband’s affair, she became jealous and using her powers as a god, she delayed Heracles’ birth and instead let Eurystheus, another child, be born first and later became a king.

Hera, together with Eurystheus, who was now a king, plans to conspire throughout Heracles’ life, meaning to meddle with his affairs and trying to make his life as hard as possible. This is punishment according to Hera’s decree.

We also know that Heracles had undergone Eurystheus’ famous 12 labors, in which he had to battle the world’s worst monsters like the Nemean Lion and the hydra serpent.

And up to a point, this punishment is somewhat successful. Although Heracles was born with incredible attributes of strength and courage, he died a terrible death. He was poisoned before getting burnt alive atop a funeral pyre.

Another epic hero, Achilles, from the famous Iliad, also experienced tragedies in the Trojan War. Unlike Heracles, who was born with miraculous strength and courage, Achilles was faced with his own demons in the form of his pride and anger, which outweighed everything else.

On top of that, the gods gave him a choice whereby he could either experience eternal glory at the cost of a young death or no glory but at the cost of eternal life. When his friend, Patroclus, was killed by Hector, Achilles’ Trojan rival, he then went on a rampage before he took his own life on Troy’s shore.

In conclusion, heroes are those who possess god-like characteristics, which earn them the status of legends. Although they faced death after achieving fame, their fame was passed on to what the Greeks called kleos, in which they achieved immortality.

Grand themes like fate are always the main focus in a narrative epic poem, and it usually includes heroic characters and divine beings. Although some women are epic heroes, it is almost always the men at the heart of an epic hero story.

Epic Origins
In general, an epic is a mythologized history. Just like the traits of an epic hero, an epic origin consists of four elements. The first element is that it is a collection of pre-existing stories and characters. Secondly, an epic origin is often of oral origin. That is why some epic heroes have different versions or additions to their stories.


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Thirdly, an epic origin is loosely, or at least, based around historical or quasi-historical characters or events. Finally, an epic origin’s setting is usually in a mythological distant time, traditionally in the past (for example, a time where mythological beasts like the sphinx and pegasus were thought to co-exist with humans).

Morality in Epics
Epic stories always demonstrate moral ideas and taboos with the behavior of their heroes. This means that an epic hero’s behavior and the lessons that he learns along the way usually give us a picture of a culture’s ideals. Monsters and antagonists are usually shown as inferior to the heroes; these characters always represent those who break or defy the moral taboos or ideals of the culture.

Additionally, many events that occur in a heroes’ lifetime usually feature a god or goddess’s influence or intervention. Nearly always in epic stories, the heroic acts and triumph of a hero are divinely ordained. Therefore, there is a moral significance in mythologized history because heroes are divinely guided towards their fate, even if it means they had to face a gruesome death.

Finally, many epics also revolve around the heroes’ journey of self-discovery. This can include the emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual development of the hero. Along the path of the hero’s journey, the hero often realizes that the heroic act is actually not just a physical journey. More importantly, he is a spiritual and psychological journey leading to their own personal development.

Homeric Epic Hero

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Homers’ Epic Heroes



Homers characters are real human beings with all the strengths and weaknesses. They live, they breathe, they love, they hate. They are subject to fear and they tend, on occasion, to rise to heroic greatness. His most explored stories The Illiad and The Odyssey both have characters that exert these characteristics. Although the stories are different, both heroes share similar backgrounds, plights, and triumphs. The heroes of the novels, thanks to the literary prowess of Homer, share similar experiences in their backgrounds. Achilles, the hero of the

Illiad, was early deserted by his mother Thetis and sent by his father Peleus to Mount Pelion to be raised by Cheiron the Centaur. There he was taught the arts of manhood and when only six years old he killed his first boar. Odysseus has a similar experience in book XIX of the Odyssey during his boar hunt on Mt. Parnassus. There are similar stories as well concerning the recruitment of Odysseus and Achilles for service at Troy. Both had been forewarned that the expedition to Troy would be dangerous and both were haled off to Troy only through the trickery of the recruiting fficers.
The relationships that the two heroes have also contribute to their similarities. Both heroes seem to be isolated-Achilles certainly more than Odysseus, who appears, characteristically, with wife, son, father, and people in the final vision of the poem. Yet for all Achilles’ inaccessibility, the intensity of his friendship for Patroclus surpasses Odysseus’ more conventional regard for his men or attachment to his family and homeland. Hardships seem to be the things that define a man’s life. Both Odysseus and Achilles go to extraordinary lengths to achieve their goals.

Odysseus who journeys, who has a number of adventures with adversaries both terrible and beautiful, who visits the land of the dead, and who then comes to a land where he wins a bridal contest, marries the beautiful woman who is the prize and lives on as king of the country. As for Achilles, he must overcome the driving force that is the Achaean army and protect his wife Helen from the Trojans. Odysseus’ plight is much more consuming than that of Achilles. Odysseus is forced to traverse the seas for twenty years before returning whereas Achilles’ plight all occurs near the walls of the ity of Troy.
We see both characters however changing as their plight thickens. Odysseus comes to the realization in book XI that all his traditional gifts are useless, making him appear seemingly somewhat less commanding when he stands alone and uncertain amidst the heroic departed. Much like Odysseus’ downtrodden thoughts, Achilles hears from the delegates what consequences his decision has entailed for the Achaean army. He is reminded of his family, of the wider contexts of his heroism, and of the mythic precedents for his situation.

The war also has any adverse affects on the heroes, just as war affects everyone. Achilles is out of sight through much of the battle, sulking in his tent as Patroclus leads the Achaeans against the Trojans in an attack that is spurred by desperation. This scene, along with the journey of Odysseus from Eumaeus’ hut to the royal palace, sets the stage for two intensely dramatic scenes, Achilles’ return to the battle to avenge Patroclus, and Odysseus’ revelation before the Suitors. This represents the return of the hero in both stories, setting the stage for a climactic return.
Every Greek epic written in it’s time ended in triumph. Man’s desire to appear glorified when all is said and done shows through even in Homer’s word. What a story of a hero be without a dramatic climax. Achilles returns to battle after he sees Patroclus has been slain by Hector. Achilles becomes overcome by rage and is able to march into battle, slaying many Trojans on his way to Hector. In an epic struggle, fit for the climax of this war story, Achilles kills Hector remorselessly and thus avenging the death of his friend. Throughout history man has had to overcome dversity.

When faced with the death of a loved one, men can triumph over mountains. Achilles’ triumph speaks highly of his character. He is a man of action; letting his emotions guide those actions. Odysseus is also a man of action. Upon his return to the palace of the Suitors, Odysseus recaptures the heart of his beloved Penelope. He never gave up even while traveling the rivers of hell. The main similarity between the two heroes is their determination and their abilities to overcome the challenges that face them. A man is based upon what he has in his life.
Both Achilles and Odysseus had friends, family, and glory. In the end the great hero always triumphs. Great characters make great stories. Obviously you wouldn’t have an epic battle without an epic hero. Both Achilles and Odysseus are epic heroes from Homer’s world. The stories of their background, plights and triumphs, along with many other stories, helped inspire the arts of a civilization. The similarities of these characters, their background, plights, and triumphs, added together made for a great story of love and adventure.

Homeric Epic Hero

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