The Grecian Hero Archetype

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Everyone knows the hero or heroine as the most important character in a story, but the ancient Grecian hero takes an even bigger role throughout the literature and culture of his age. In Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey Achilles and Odysseus represent typical Grecian heroes. Theseus, Persius and Oedipus, three other famous heroes also represent the Greek heroic archetype. These heroic tales were well known to Grecians of the time and had a great impact on the Greek culture. When speaking of the Iliad Moses Hadas writes that, “throughout their history the Greeks were as closely familiar with its text as Puritans with the text of the Bible” (Hadas). The extreme importance placed on these pieces of literature explains much of the ethical and moral conduct of the time. In many cases morals were not even in tact. Men did what they saw fitting in their own eyes. In an article on the ethics of ancient Greece, one author states that, “in the poetic literature of the 6th and 7th centuries B.C. there were, as in other cultures, moral precepts, but no real attempts to formulate a coherent overall ethical position” (“Ethics”). The lack of a strict religion in Greece allows for these heroic qualities to become more and more important in Grecian society. They use these heroes and their conduct as role models. Moses Hadas also writes about the concepts presented in Homer’s writings. He explains that “glory is the driving force and the object of existence and honor is the paramount code” (Hadas). Many of the qualities prized in Grecian heroes can be viewed as both good and bad qualities. These controversial qualities such as pride and glory are very common, but viewed by Grecians as completely acceptable. The Grecian hero is portrayed similarly throughout many writings and this universal archetype of masculinity, pride and selfishness, courage, and glory display the morality and social values of ancient Grecian culture.

Masculinity is one prized quality in the Grecian hero. A great amount of importance is placed on the warrior and his abilities. The Grecian must prove his strength in some way in order to gain his title as hero. The warrior is very highly valued in the Grecian society, and portrayed as a necessity in the community. In James Redfield’s article on the hero he describes the Homeric society as “people living in small groups dependent on one another for their mutual security against a hostile world” (177). He further describes this “hostile world” as a time “…when men feel themselves free to steal from anyone with whom they have a grievance” (177). This not only shows the society’s total dependence on the warrior, but also the selfishness and crudeness that was expected in Grecian society. No common courtesy was shown for the stranger. This is illustrated in the Odyssey when Odysseus is disguised as a beggar. He is a stranger to the group of suitors and is treated with disgust (Homer 361). The heroic warrior carries even more significance than other warriors in society. Redfield explains the importance of the heroic warrior in Grecian literature and his superiority over the other soldiers. “[Others] may appear on the battlefield, but they are insignificant in the course of the war; battles are won and lost by those who step forward from the mass…” (Redfield 177). In Homer’s the Iliad, only a select few warriors are named or given any credit for the results of the war (Homer). In each of these Grecian tales the hero must perform some feat to show his strength or ability. For Achilles, in the Iliad, it is in battle particularly when he defeats Hector. Odysseus survives many of these tests throughout the Odyssey including killing the Cyclops, surviving the island of the sirens, and escaping Calypso’s isle (Homer). Oedipus first shows his heroism by saving the city of Thebes from the Sphinx (Sophocles). Theseus proves his heroism by defeating the Minotaur and Persius by defeating Medusa. In the...
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