Classical Greek Mythology

The Greek Mystery Cults and Hero Sagas

Who were the most popular of the Greek mythic heroes of the Classical period, and what characteristics define them as true heroes?

Besides the heroes of the Homeric epics, who remained popular in the Classical period, three heroes stand out. These are Herakles, Theseus, and Perseus. These heroes all conform to the characteristics of the archetypal hero outlined by Joseph Campbell when he describes the heroic monomyth. They are all products of miraculous conceptions, “sons of god” in that they were all fathered by gods. Like heroes of most cultures, each was threatened in childhood by people of the status quo who wanted them eliminated. Each entered into a difficult quest involving the killing of monsters, and each descended to the Underworld and returned. In addition to Herakles, Theseus, and Perseus, a more flawed but nevertheless important hero was Jason, the hero of the Argonautica, the epic by Apollonius of Rhodes about the search for the Golden Fleece.


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