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Characteristics of epic heroes

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Heroic epics are among the more popular of the genre. This includes well known titles like The Odyssey and The Aeneid. Although epics are not limited to Greek culture, they can be argued as some of the most influential to modern day literature and society.


There are varying definitions of an epic hero, as well as what makes a hero. Homeric heroes tend to fit "the powerful image of the physically perfect young hero dying for fame and escaping maturation by achieving a 'good death'"

Another agreed on definition of an epic hero would be: "The heroes of epic should be, if not idealized or 'perfect' figures, at least admirable ones who inspire in listeners and readers an awe and a desire, however misplaced or unrealizable, to imitate; heroes should be exemplars of moral and physical action"

Homeric Heroes

Although Homeric epics were not written or told by one person, they are often attributed to Homer. Homer is one of the most famous poets of antiquity, known for his Homeric Hymns, as well as The Iliad and The Odyssey. Homer had a large amount of influence on future writers, both in antiquity and in modern society.


Achilles is the center of Homer's epic The Iliad and the deciding factor of the Trojan War. He is the son of Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis. Achilles is the self-proclaimed aristos Akhaiôn or "best of the Achaeans"; although this title is given to many throughout the Iliad, Achilles is the unparalleled warrior. Known for his godlike strength, ferocious temper and divine rage or menis, Achilles is an example of what a hero should be physically, embodying an animalistic or nature oriented image, as many similes in epic refer to. Often referred to as podokes or swift footed, or "godlike Achilles", Homer uses Achilles as an example of what one would strive for in terms of brute strength or bia. The Achillean hero "both deals violent death and seeks it out" but also remains "always apart" and in comparison to the Odyssean style hero, see's things on a more simplistic level.

In Dean Miller's The Epic Hero, Achilles is categorized as one with surface brilliance. Achilles' lionlike image obscures his "considerable powers of human intelligence" and transparency of sight and speech, or as James Redfield words it, Achilles "sees the situation so clearly because he sees only one part of it"


Hector is another character of Homer's Iliad, he is one of the Trojan princes and a son of Priam. He is a strong warrior, often referred to as "Man-killing Hector" or "Hector of the Shining Helm" referring to his war helmet, and noted to have many other warrior like qualities. However, Hector also possesses a strong intellect, and has a way with words. He is able to convince his men to stand by him, and rouse his love-struck brother into action. Hector also has a characteristic that one doesn't often see in heroic epics, especially in the face of war. Thought of as polu pherteros, or better, in comparison to Menelaus and Patroklus, Hektor represents the superior in the confrontation of heroes that is often seen in epic. Hector shows compassion and mercy, which we see on numerous occasions, including the scene with Andromache and Astyanax, as well as before he dies at Achilles' hand.

While Hektor doesn't have claim to any divine lineage, as Achilles and Aeneas do, or favor from the gods, Gregory Nagy points out that many times Hektor wishes he were a child of Zeus, often comparing himself to Apollo and Athena. "In the specific case of Hektor, the time to which he aspires to is that of Apollo and Athena themselves". Despite the fact that Hektor is the sole protector of Troy, his people can not worship him in the same manner that they worship the gods, this alludes to the ignored symbiosis of the gods and heroic cults that is seen in the Iliad.


Odysseus is the hero of The Odyssey, although he is also an important character in The Iliad. His character acts as a source of inspiration for other poets in the future. He is often referred to as polymetis, much resourceful, and polymechanos, of many wiles. Although Odysseus is a good warrior, he is not as strong as Achilles; he makes up for his lesser strength by using his cunning words and intellect, or metis. In The Odyssey, we see countless examples of Odysseus' quick thinking and "winged words" to get him out of tricky situations and aide him on his nostos home. An Odyssean style hero is one that has depth and complexity, often relying words and wit to battle rather than physical attributes.

Dean Miller categorizes Odysseus as a character with depth, complexity and occlusion. Defined as "an epical trickster whose talents are made most apparent in the related realms of craft, guileful speech and guileful practice", Odysseus' characteristics provide one half of a "true example of a heroic team".


Is often questioned as a hero in modern times. While he has the makings of a proper hero (good looks, lineage, well spoken, etc.), he fails at times. Described as "Half-way between Apollo, the model kouros and the warrior Ares", in the Apollonius' Argonautica, he has to meet his manhood. Although charming and well-spoken, Jason lacks any other characteristics that qualify him as an epic hero. Due to his young age, Jason is inexperienced in many ways. In response to the many criticisms of Jason's character as a hero, some note that Apollonius' writings are more Hellenistic and done in a more realistic fashion. In comparison to Homer's "monolithic and fixed picture of heroism", Apollonius provides a "series of contrasting models in which 'heroic values' were always matters for dispute". Having a more realistic idea of a hero in Jason, alludes to the Aristotelian approach, in which characters "should be morally good, appropriate, like us and consistent", or aligned with the realist tradition.


The idealized hero in The Argonautica, and the ideal leader of the Argonauts, but he doesn't accept the role. Called theios hêrôs, Herakles is the divinized or godlike hero, as he was the only hero to be physically lifted to Olympus and made into a god, by his father Zeus. He embodies Achilles like characteristics, seen in his physical strength and temper, as well as simplistic and realistic view of things. It was Herakles that reminds the Argonauts of their quest on the island of Lemnos, Eventually, he leaves the Argonauts in pursuit of his own quest of immortality. Throughout the Argonautica, we see Herakles as a far off model of heroism for the Argonauts, suggesting that Apollonius used Herakles' character as an "unambivalent sign of 'heroic status'".


Characteristics of epic heroes Wikipedia

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