Greek Heroes and Heroines
The son of Zeus and a human woman, Heracles was probably the most famous of the Greek heroes. Many modern movies have been made about him. He was said to be the strongest man on earth. Heracles was best known for completing twelve nearly impossible tasks. These included killing a mighty lion and the deadly hydra (a snake-like monster with nine heads). He had to capture the world’s fleetest deer, a wild boar, and a wild bull. He had to steal the belt from the leader of a tribe of warrior women. Finally, he had to capture Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the underworld. Hercules completed all of the tasks, becoming one of the all-time greatest heroes.
Another son of Zeus and a mortal woman (Zeus got around), Perseus accepted the challenge to kill the Gorgon Medusa. Medusa had snakes for hair. Anyone who looked her in the eye turned to stone. Perseus used a pair of winged sandals to travel to the remote cave where Medusa lived. He used a shiny bronze shield as a mirror. Then he snuck up on Medusa while she slept without looking directly at her. With a mighty swipe of his sword, he cut off her head. From her neck came the winged horse Pegasus. In that moment, Perseus became a hero and one of Greek mythology’s most famous creatures was born.
Achilles was described as the greatest Greek warrior in the Trojan War. Before he went to war, a nymph held him by the ankle and dipped him in the River Styx. That made almost his entire body invincible. His only weak spot was his heel. That was the one spot that didn’t get dipped in the water. Perseus killed the eldest son of the King of Troy in battle. He himself was later killed when an arrow struck him in his vulnerable heel. Today, we still use the term “Achilles heel” to describe someone’s weak spot.
Odysseus was another of the mightiest warriors from the Trojan War. He came up with the idea of the Trojan horse. Greek soldiers hid inside the giant wooden house. The Trojans thought the horse was empty. They brought it into the city of Troy. That night, the Greek soldiers crept out of the horse. They opened the gates to the city and allowed the rest of the Greek army to enter. This allowed the Greeks to win the war. The Greek poet Homer told the story of Odysseus’s war service and his 10-year journey home in the epic stories the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Jason had one of greatest adventures in all of Greek mythology. He led a group called the Argonauts in an attempt to find the mythical Golden Fleece. He and his crew finally arrived in the land of Colchis, where the fleece could be found. According to the legend, Jason had to complete three tasks to earn the fleece. The last task involved taking the fleece from a dragon, which Jason did. What an adventure!
One of the few females among the Greek tales of heroes and heroines, Atalanta was a famous hunter. She took part in a hunt to kill a wild boar that was ravaging the land of Calydon. She was the first hunter to wound the beast. According to legend, she was the only female to sail with Jason in his quest to obtain the Golden Fleece. She promised to marry the first man who could beat her in a race. Finally, one young man tricked her by throwing golden apples in her path. When she stopped to pick them up, he surged ahead. He won the race. He also won the right to marry her.
Written by John Micklos, Jr.