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Heroes in Ancient Greece

We’ve all heard the stories of the classic ancient greek heroes, Odysseus, Achilles, Hercules and so on, but what qualities did these heroes show that made them different to the average guy? And does being a hero in Ancient Greece still mean the same thing as it does now?

In this essay I will explore how heroes in Ancient Greece were portrayed as having strong Arete, meaning using all of their faculties e.g wit, leadership, strength to achieve a goal, and how specific qualities of this Arete varies and changes in ancient representations versus modern ones.

The stories stay the same, but the way we interpret and show the heroes in the stories has changed through modern society. The texts I will be comparing is the odyssey and the iliad and the movies i will be looking at are Troy (2004) and Hercules (2014). I will also be comparing the Eleusis Amphora by the polyphemus painter (7th century).

In ancient representations, a hero’s Arete is represented with specific qualities such as intelligence, wit and bravery or patience.

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This is shown in many different situations, such as in the Odyssey, Book 9, page 119; when Odysseus and his men arrive at the island of the Cyclopes, with the intent to greet Polyphemus in hope of receiving Xenia (guest- friendship). When Polyphemus turned out to be aggressive and violent, after eating a few of his men; Odyseuss showed Arete by staying calm and collected while crafting a plan with his men to escape. This was shown when he said: “Here cyclops, have some wine to wash down that meal of human flesh, and find out for yourself what kind of vintage was stored away in our ships hold.

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I brought it for you as an offering in the hope that you would take pity on me and help me on my homeward way. But your savagery is more than we can bear. Hard-hearted man, how can you expect ever to have a visitor again from the world of men? You have not behaved rightly.”

‘The cyclops took the wine and drank it up’. Odysseus then proceeded to sharpen a wooden pole with help from his men in a fire and blinded the cyclops. This was an example of Arete because Odysseus used his mental stamina and bravery not to grieve and panic after his men were devoured, his wit to form the plan, leadership to command his crew and their combined strength to drive the stake into polyphemus’s eye. This shows that in the Odyssey, intelligence, bravery and leadership are qualities that are highly valued and considered to be strong aspects of Arete in ancient representations.

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Heroes in Ancient Greece. (2020, Sep 02). Retrieved from

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