In Greek mythology, there are a variety of themes within every myth. Heroic behavior is a theme that is most prominent in Greek mythology. Throughout the tales that have been passed down through generations, most of the time there is a hero with the story. I will be focusing on the myth of Perseus and Medusa, Hercules and the twelve labors, and Theseus and the Minotaur. It is constant throughout these myths that the problem is solved by the hero and all is saved.
The legend behind Medusa, is that she was once a gorgeous woman who was turned monstrous. Medusa lived in Athens in Greece, and was a woman who worshiped the gods and goddesses. Every day, Medusa would boast about her beauty to others but no one ever listened. One day she went to the Parthenon which was the biggest temple in Greece. At the altar, Medusa stated how beautiful the temple was, but that it wasted on Athena since she is prettier (Ancient History Encyclopedia). Others who were there fled immediately because they know how angry Athena will be once she hears what Medusa said.
Athena heard medusa compare their beauty and almost immediately appeared in the temple. She told Medusa how foolish she was to compare their beauty and told her that her beauty will one day fade and she will be left with nothing (Ancient History Encyclopedia). When Athena said she would make her beauty fade away now, Medusa hair turned into snakes along with her body. She was then vanished to the end of the earth to live where no innocent people would fall victim to seeing her and turning to stone.
Perseus was ordered by the King to deliver him the head of Medusa, in order to free Danae. Perseus then traveled the next day to go and behead Medusa. Hermes and Athena both came to Perseus and said that they wanted to help him on his quest since he is the son of Zeus. Hermes gave Perseus a gold word that belonged to Zeus, and Athena gave a polished shield to protect him from Medusa’s eyes. Perseus was also given armor to wear that would make himself invisible to others.
All of these would work well in Perseus favor in defeating Medusa.
Perseus then set off and discovered the gorgon sisters guarding Medusa’s lair. He took the eye that the old sisters used for sight and wouldn’t give it back until they told her where Medusa was. One sister said the information and Perseus was off to find Medusa again (Ancient History Encyclopedia). When he arrived, there wear stones of men who had looked Medusa in the eyes. Medusa knew that there were trespassers when her snakes were hissing. Medusa went looking for the intruder while Perseus used his shield to locate Medusa. After an altercation with Medusa, Perseus severed her head successfully and placed it in a bag for protection. He traveled home with it and was able to free his mother. He used Medusa’s head to turn the king and his followers to stone forever.
This myth has two examples of heroism within it. The most obvious is the way Perseus freed his mother. He severed Medusa’s head and turned the king to stone, which saved his mother. The other heroic part of this myth is the actually slaying of Medusa. Medusa is a monster who would turn anyone who crossed her path and looked at her into stone. Once Perseus had killed Medusa, innocent travelers would no longer be turned to stone from accidental contact. No more people would be turned to stone for eternity by the monster of Medusa. This is heroic because not only did Perseus save his mother, but he also prevents future misfortunes.
Hercules is required to complete twelve labours, which displays heroism within most. His first labour was to bring King Eurystheus the skin of the Nemean Lion, who had been terrorizing the town. Hercules is widely known for his strength, which is why this is a possible task for him. Hercules ventured to Cleonae where he met a boy, who said he had to return within thirty 30 days with the skin of the loin (Tufts University). If he did not return within thirty days, or if he died, the boy would sacrifice himself to Zeus. He grabbed arrows to use against the lion and other weapons as he was unsure if the golden fur was damageable.
Hercules got to Nemea and began his tracking of the lion. He shot an arrow and quickly discovered it bounced off of the lion. Unfortunately, the lions golden fur was impenetrable. Hercules continued to track the lion to its cave that had two entrances (Tufts University). He blocked one of the entrances and grabbed his club to use against the lion. He used his club to stun the Lion and then his mighty strength to choke the animal to death. Ignoring the lion’s strength ad claws, Hercules was able to destroy the terrible lion.
Hercules then returned to Cleonae before the thirty days, carrying the slayed lion. Since he returned in time, Molorchus and Hercules were able to sacrifice to Zeus together, instead of Molorchus as a dead man. Hercules then ventured back to Mycenae to tell Eurystheus about his completed labor (Tufts University). The King grew terrified of him since his was able to complete what he thought as an impossible task. The king forbade the hero Hercules from entering the city. He was afraid of Hercules capabilities, but still wanted to assign him labors. He then would send Hercules commands through a herald, to avoid seeing him in person.
This myth has two significant reasons as two why the heroic theme applies. Hercules was assigned a labor to protect the city by destroying the Nemean lion that was taunting Nemea. He defeated the lion, saving the city and keeping them safe. He was viewed as a hero for that action alone. He also was able to save Molorchus from sacrificing himself to Zeus. Molorchus stated that if he returned within thirty days, they would both be able to sacrifice the skin of the lion to Zeus. However, if Hercules did not return within thirty days, or died, then Molorchus would be sacrificed to Zeus. Hercules not only defeated the lion and protected Nemea, he also saved Molorchus.
As the myth goes King Minos of Crete fought a hard battle with his brother to become king. One he won, he prayed to Poseidon for a snow white bull. He wanted the bull to be a sign of approval of his kingship from the god. Once the bull ascended, Minos was ordered to sacrifice the bull. However, Minos believed that the bull was so beautiful and pure that he couldn’t sacrifice it. Poseidon was angered by the disobedience and made it so Pasiphae, the wife of Minos, would fall in love with the snow white bull (Ancient History Encyclopedia). Once she was so deep in love, the bull and Pasiphae mated and had a male child with the head and tail of a bull. The Minotaur was original cared for by the mother, but it was vicious when it grew up.
The Minotaur was then kept in a labyrinthin for safe keeping due to its erratic behavior.
King Minos son had died, and the city of Athens was held responsible for his death. The king had ordered the city to pay tribute by sacrificing seven of the noble youth and seven of the finest maidens every year. The sacrifice involves the sacrifices to be sent to Crete on a ship, and cast into the labyrinth and be eaten by the Minotaur (Ancient History Encyclopedia). This was a gruesome sacrifice that was followed for many years by the people from the city of Athens. Theseus, the son of King Aegeus of Athens, wanted to stop the sacrifice by taking the place of the youth in the sacrifice.
Theseus and the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne, had fallen deeply in love. They had traveled together on the ship with black sails toward the labyrinth that held the Minotaur. When he arrived in the place of the sacrifices, he used the thread that Ariadne gave him to unravel as he traveled deep into the Labyrinth. This would help Theseus find his way out of the Labyrinth after defeating the Minotaur. He managed to defeat the Minotaur after a battle, and restored safety to the youth and the city of Athens (Ancient History Encyclopedia). There would no longer have to be sacrifices every seven years from the Athenians.
I believe that there are two reasons as to why this myth has a heroic theme. The most obvious example is that Theseus slayed the Minotaur and was able to save the youth from further sacrifices. This restored peace to the city of Athens and the youth knowing that they would no longer have to sacrifice the young to the beast. The second example is a subtle thought of freedom for the Minotaur. The Minotaur was locked away in a Labyrinth when he grew up due to his behaviors. The beast had no control over this and was locked away for the rest of his life. I believe that the Minotaur must have been miserable and wanted to escape the Labyrinth. I think that when Theseus defeated him, he was a hero to the beast since he was then relieved of his imprisonment.
From my analysis of a few Greek myths, I believe that heroism is a huge role that is played within the myths. It gave hope to the believers and worshipers of the Greek Gods and Goddesses. I believe that heroes were placed in most Greek myths to provide happy endings to their beliefs and tales passed down through generations. I believe the theme is still relevant in everyday life and culture. Movies are made that constantly have heroes that save the day and create happy endings. There is an antagonist and protagonist in every movie to create a plot and an interest from the audience. This causes viewers to despise one character and make the other character out to be the hero. Similar to the Greeks, heroes will continue to be incorporated everyday life, whether in a movie, a book, or in a religious belief.