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Classical Greek Mythology

The Meaning of the Greek Hero Myths

Is there a deeper meaning to the hero myths?

There is a level—in our post-Freudian age best called “psychological”—at which hero stories would have spoken to the Greeks much as they still speak to us. Many of the great Greek heroes—Achilles, Perseus, Herakles, and Theseus, for example—were miraculously conceived and therefore special. Usually one parent was a deity, but the other was a human being. A miraculous conception would seem to suggest in the Greek hero myths as it does in the hero myths of other cultures—the Jesus story for Christians, the Zoroaster story for Zoroastrians—that although we are human with human failings in sometimes tragic situations, we also contain within us whatever is represented by divinity. The divine aspect of the hero is the potential within us all—the potential to transcend human limitations and problems. The facing of these problems is, in the psychological sense, represented by the hero quest. Heroes like Theseus search for a father—a source of identity. Others, as do Jason and sometimes Herakles, search for an object, which when found becomes a sign of worthiness. Most of our heroes must fight and overcome monsters, which can represent the inner demons that confront all of us in different forms—alcoholism, sex addiction, narcissism—some more extreme than others. When Perseus decapitates Medusa and when Theseus defeats the Minotaur, their actions are, in the psychological sense, metaphors for vanquishing our own demons. The fact that heroes are helped by the gods symbolizes the “divine” potential within us all to overcome those demons.



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