Main Heroes in Greek Mythology

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The Legendary Heroes:
These are the main heroes you will run into when reading Greek mythology. Several are connected by adventure and lineage, the latter of which is pretty obvious when you consider Zeus’ tendency to impregnate all attractive mortal women he encounters.

Atalanta

  • The only woman you will find on the list, she participated in the Calydonian Boar Hunt and, in some versions, the Quest for the Golden Fleece.

Bellerophon

  • The flying horse rider. The horse was Pegasus who had been born from the severed head of Medusa (about which, see Perseus below). He killed the chimera.

Cadmus

  • Founder of Thebes. He killed Ares’ dragon and created the armed men (known as the Spartoi) from the beast’s teeth-seeds. He was the ancestor of the Thebans who suffered fate’s slings and arrows, most notably, Oedipus.

Hercules

  • The Greek mythological hero par excellence, at least for our tastes. He was prolific in adventures and loves, and is best known for the 12 Labors.

Jason

  • The main hero of the Golden Fleece story, he organized the Argonauts and became the common law husband of the witch Medea.

Orpheus

  • A great musician who could melt the heart of rocks. His talent helped the Argonauts int he Quest for the Golden Fleece, but he is better known as one of the very limited number of heroes who visited the Underworld and came back alive.

Perseus

  • An early hero and ancestor of other heroes and races of people, he rescued the maiden Andromeda from the sea monster and decapitated Medusa.

Theseus

  • An especially Athenian hero, he killed the minotaur and fought almost as many foes as Hercules.

Trojan War

Achilles and Ajax play a board game with knucklebones on this late 6th-century lekythos, a type of oil-storing vessel associated with funeral rites. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.  Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011)
Achilles and Ajax play a board game with knucklebones on this late 6th-century lekythos, a type of oil-storing vessel associated with funeral rites. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011)

The Trojan War heroes are basically a more recent generation of hero. They are also considered a bit inferior to the pre-Trojan War legendary heroes (some of whom are even the sons of important gods), as Odysseus explains in Book VIII.221ff of the Odyssey:

But of all others I declare that I am best by far, of all mortals that are now upon the earth and eat bread. Yet with men of former days I will not seek to vie, with Heracles or with Eurytus of Oechalia, [225] who strove even with the immortals in archery.
Homer. The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919. 

Achilles has an immortal mother, but she is not a king of the sky or sea, but merely a minor deity.

Achilles

  • The Greek hero for the Greeks. He was the prized fighter in the Trojan War, but sat out much of the fighting because of a feud with Agamemnon over a war bride.

Agamemnon

  • Not someone we would probably rank among the heroes, but he led the Greeks in battle against the Trojans to redress the grievance caused by the Trojan prince Paris’ abduction of Helen, Agamemnon’s sister-in-law.

Ajax

  • After Achilles, Ajax was the most important warrior among the Greek forces in the Trojan War. He went mad after his honor was slighted.

Hector

  • The best fighter among the Trojans, a noble character in the Trojan War, he was survived by a wife Andromache.

Odysseus

  • The one who was ranked by the Greeks second to Achilles, leading to Ajax’ madness. Odysseus is the cunning hero of the Greeks whose trip home is the subject of the Odyssey.
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