10/30/2018 The Greek Hero What is a Greek Hero? • Our concept of a hero doesn’t match the Greeks! o Our concept: hero that uses invincibility to do good o Greeks: heroes can use power to do bad/good things • Defining the Greek Hero: o The ancient Greek Hero was a religious figure o A legendary person associated with great deeds o After death, this person would receive cult honors and was expected in return to bring prosperity to the community and fertility to the land o Thought their souls were powerful enough o Literary Figure o Extraordinary elements linked to his birth and childhood o Some heroes were demigods o A key part to the narrative of the hero’s life is that he must undergo some sort of major ordeal or challenge o Enemies usually instigate his achievements – impossible missions, etc. o Heroes are often helped by a human or divine ally to conquer insurmountable problems § Athena o They undertake adventurous quests and enter conflict with human enemies and monsters o The hero, who is mortal, must suffer during his lifetime, and significantly, and must die o Only after death can the hero receive immortalization in cult and in poetry o Kelos = Fame or Glory § Symbolic immortality § Achilles sings kela andrôn (glories of men) § Achilles is aware of this in book 9 of the Iliad § He withdraws from the war because he gets into a spat with Agamemnon § Strategy: withdraw from the war and have Agamemnon to beg him to for help § Agamemnon sends Odysseus, Ajax, to talk to him/bribe him back into the war § “My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I will not return alive but my name will live forever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.” Hero Cult • Thousands of hero cults all across Greece • Every locale had its own set of heroes • This phenomenon becomes widespread beginning in late 8 th century BCE (around the time when Homer was active) and its concurrent with the rise of the polis (city state) • The practice was likely rooted in ancestor worship, but rather than representing one particular family or lineage, the hero represents the city as a whole • Ordinarily, the hero cult was based on the presence of the sôma (body) of the hero in the “earth” of the given locale • The sôma of the dead hero was considered to be a talisman of fertility and prosperity to the community • The “marker” of the sôma was the sêma, which ordinarily took the physical shape of a tomb • Heroes required their proper time (honor). This was given in the form of offerings and sacrifices at the tombs or shrines
Heracles – The Panhellenic Hero • The hero of all Greeks • Hero that becomes immortalized • The greatest/strongest of all heroes • The only hero to gain real immortality: went to live with the gods on Mt. Olympus • Complicated character • Driven to fits of madness and feels bad about this • The Mesopotamian Hero Gilgamesh o
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