Heroes in Greek Mythology are definedas individuals who were differentiated from the rest of the people by theiringenuity, intelligence and charisma. They were also believed to possess greatskills and strength. Heroes that were the child of a god or a goddess werecalled semi-gods, while the rest of the heroes were called mortals. Althoughthe semi-gods were born with divine qualities, some of the mortals stillmanaged to exceed them when it came to their reputation. Considering all thegood deeds that these heroes would do for humanity the gods were willing tosupport them and help them through their obstacles (“Greek Heroes”).Aftera lot of research Joseph Campbell discovered common patterns that were used inhero myths.
His research allowed him to contribute to the creation of The Hero’s Journey which portrays thebasic stages that the hero-quest goes through (Hero’s Journey worksheet). Twofamous heroes that followed these basic steps are Odysseus and Heracles. WhileHeracles was a semi-god, Odysseus was a mortal hero which shows that The Hero’sJourney is not only valid for one type of a hero. The first stage of the Hero’sJourney is the ordinary world. Odysseus completes this stage when he is inIthaca, with his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus. As soon as Odysseusleaves for the battle at Troy he begins his call to adventure stage. Therefusal stage is when Odysseus is reluctant to leave his family and sail toTroy because he knows that it will be a very long journey and he will not beable to watch his son grow. Once Odysseus accepts the call he enters theunknown.
At Troy Odysseus and his men are in constant danger. The war went onfor ten full years and there was still no end in sight until Odysseus thoughtof using the Trojan Horse as a way for the Greeks to enter Troy ad surpriseattack the Trojans. The Trojan Horse helped Odysseus and his men to win thewar. (Sigda). Odysseus’ helper is Athena, the goddess of wisdom, crafts, andwar.
While the other gods turn their back on Odysseus Athena gives him guidanceand saves him from death. On his way back home from Troy Odysseus comes acrossmany obstacles. His first stop is the Island of the Cicones that his men try toraid.
However, Odysseus and his men are attacked by the Cicones and as a resultOdysseus lost some of his men (Sigda). After that they stop on the Island ofthe Lotus Eaters where Odysseus sends his men to look for food.Unfortunaterlly, some of the men eat the Lotus plant that forces them to loseall grip on reality. Odysseus has no choice but to force the men back on theship against their will (Sigda). Odysseus obstacles consistent of manydifferent islands each with its own challenges that he has to face andovercome. Odysseus reward is when king Alcineous gives him a ship and a safepassage home. This is when he finally returns home in Ithaca (Sigda).WhenOdysseus arrives home Athena continues to help him by disguising him as abeggar in order to help him learn who is really loyal to him and kill all ofthe suitors.
Finally, Odysseus is able to take his place back as a king and bewith his wife Penelope. The journey of Hercules is differentthan that of Odysseus. However, it still follows the basic stages of thehero-quest. Heracles is considered to be the most popular hero in Greekmythology.
Hercules completes the ordinary world stage when he is at home withhis foster parents before he begins to question who his real parents are. Hiscall for adventure begins when he realizes how different and unique he iscompared to the rest of the humans. He prays to Zeus to help him find his realparents when Zeus informs him that in reality he is his father. Hercules ischallenged to become a hero on Earth in order to be reunited with his fatherZeus. Since Hercules is the son of Zeus and Alcmene, a mortal, Hera refuses toaccept him and wanted to persecute him (Maurizio).
Hera manipulated Herculesinto killing his own wife and his children. As a punishment Hercules had toserve Eurystheus for twelve years. With the punishments come twelve labors thatare almost impossible to survive. As Hercules begins to face these labors heenters the unknown. Hercules’ first challenge is to skin the Nemean lion whichhe successfully completes contrary to Eurystheys’ belief that Hercules wouldnot be able to survive this challenge.
Afterwards, Hercules kills the Lernaeanhydra Iolaus. Athena gives Hercules castanents which help him to kill theStymphalian birds. Hercules’ fourth challenge is to capture the Cretan bull andbring it in mainland Greece. He also defeats an Amazon and conquers manydifferent animals and people. (Maurizio) With Athena’s assistance Herculesfinishes all twelve of his labors successfully.
Athena is Hercules’ ally whilethe twelve labors represent the Supreme Ordeal (Hero’s Journey worksheet). As aresult of completing the labors, Hercules is rewarded the right to enterOlympus and marry the goddess Hebe. This journey makes Hercules stronger thanever and changes his life for the better. Both Hercules and Odysseus had manyobstacles to overcome during their journeys. Luckily, they were both successfulat doing so and showing why they are heroes. Although they both followed thebasic steps of the Hero’s Journey, their journeys were different. Hercules’obstacles required a lot of skill while Odysseus’ obstacles were mostly basedon luck. Odysseus was not alone during his journey.
He had his team of men, aswell as the help of Athena. While Hercules also had the help of Athena, he hadto face his challenges alone. Unlike Odysseus he did not have a team thatfollowed him around and helped him during his battles.
Another differencebetween these journeys is that Odysseus had to overcome all the differentchallenges in order to arrive back home, while Hercules was forced to face thetwelve different challenges as a punishment for having killed his wife and hischildren. I thought both journeys were really interesting, especially seeingthat although they are completely different they still follow the basic stepsof The Hero’s Journey. Both journeys challenged the heroes and highlightedtheir powers, proving why both Odysseus and Hercules are heroes in Greekmythology. Besides the heroes in Greekmythology, there are heroes in many different cultures.
For example, theEnglish culture introduces us to many different epic heroes one of whom isBeowulf. Epic heroes are defined as individuals that possess qualities thatmere mortals lack (Jankowski). Some of the characteristics of epic heroes arebravery, superhuman intelligence, strength and skills. Epic heroes often battlefor the good of others.
Beowulf is a Geatish hero that provides help to theKing of the Danes when him and his people are attacked by a powerful monsternamed Grendel. Grendel is invulnerable to the weapons that humans use as theytry to defeat him. Although Beowulf’s strength is doubted by some of the Danishwarriors he proves them wrong by defeating Grendel. However, the battle is notover. After Grendel’s mother witnesses his death she vows revenge.
She goesback to Heorot to surprise the Danish warriors. By killing the king’s mosttrusted adviser she warns the Danish warriors that she is coming back forrevenge. As a result, Beowulf goes back to help them once again (Jankowski). As seen from the epic poem Beowulf, epic heroes are willing to risktheir own life for the good of others. Unlike the heroes in Greek mythologythat I have analyzed above, this epic hero from the English culture fights forthe peace of others.
Both Odysseus and Hercules overcome many challenges inorder to get to their final destination. They fight for themselves and go on ajourney that will lead them to their own personal goals. Heroes in Greekmythology fight with the intent to prove how strong and powerful they are, theyfight to earn a reputation as the most powerful and to prove that nothing candefeat them. However, Beowulf does not fight for himself. In the English culture,a hero is someone that is willing to use his strength and his powers for thebetter of those around him. Epic heroes “provide the common people with a senseof security and they display honor in every act” (Jankowski). Rather than fighting for themselves, theseepic heroes use their strength and powers to help those in need. Consideringthe different cultures and how they portray heroes, an individual that isconsidered to be a hero in Greek mythology may not be considered a hero in theEnglish culture or vice versa.
For example, since epic heroes are portrayed asindividuals that sacrifice their life for the greater good of others, bothOdysseus and Hercules may not be considered epic heroes since they overcameobstacles to reach their own personal goals. However, since The Hero’s Journey consists ofbasic steps of the hero-quest it can also apply to other cultures. Beowulf’sordinary world was Geats in Sweden. His call to adventure is when he is askedto save the Danish warriors from the monster. Beowulf gathered his best men andleft for Denmark. King Hrothag can be seen as Beowulf’s mentor by teaching himthat a king that cannot fight for his people when they are in trouble isuseless.
This allows Beowulf to be a better king than Hrothag was. Beowulf’stests consist of his battles against Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Using hispower and his intelligence Beowulf wins both battles and saves the Danishwarriors. As a result, he is rewarded with the finest horses and a massivetreasure by King Hrothgar. When Beowulf returns home he becomes the king of hishomeland.
Although heroes are portrayed indifferent ways depending on what culture they belong to they still follow thebasic steps of a quest-hero. These basic steps allow the readers to understandhow someone fulfills the characteristics of a hero without knowing a lot ofinformation about the culture from where the hero comes.