Zeus And The Heroes In Ancient Greek Mythology
Greek mythological heroes are so phenomenal and are more affiliated to gods than humans as they are perceived to be an exaggerated ideal of human attitudes, strengths, flaws and beliefs. Zeus’ creation of the “more just and superior godly race of men-heroes…” during the heroic ages presents a canonical depiction of how heroes are perceived in Greek myths. Heroes are expected to be exceptional in one way or another, Heracles is the strongest man alive, Odysseus, the most cunning and Achilles, the most skilled warrior. These remarkable attributes aid in characterising the heroes as god-like as the Greeks gods similarly possess unnatural strength, cunning, exceptional leadership and battle skills as well as cults of dedicated followers.
Heroes’ abilities that aid them in achieving their goals are mainly categorized under metis and bia; guile and force which are comparably utilised by the gods in their challenges. Each hero has a varying measure of both metis and bia that is similar to the gods. Heracles successfully performs miraculous physical feats through the utter use of bia when he defeats the Nemean Lion, Lernaean Hydra, Cretan Bull and Cerberus, whom he subdues after wrestling with pure strength. As the son of Zeus, his bia-orientated skills can be compared to that of Zeus’ during the defeat of the Titans (Hesiod Theogony 687-710). Likewise, Theseus engages in battle with the merciless Minotaur, ultimately slaying it by stabbing at its throat (Ovid Metamorphoses 8.169-71) utilising his bia-orientated potency to a degree that is more akin to gods than humans. Achilles, “who in the day of battle is a tower of strength…” is known for his extraordinary force on the battlefield during the Trojan War, and is often compared to the war god, Ares.
There are, however, heroic figures such as Odysseus, that display a combination of metis and bia with wisdom unusually surpassing strength. Though his strength can be regarded as that of a fighter, Odysseus demonstrates implausible stratagem during his stay at Kalypso’s island by ensuring his safe departure by forcing Kalypso to prove her sincerity when she swears an oath to the Styx (Homer Odyssey 5.178-79). He also uses incredible cunning to triumph as the only one, amongst all other suitors, who could restring Penelope’s bow (Homer Odyssey 21.146-7). His aptitude of forethought and wisdom is parallel to that of one of the primordial gods, Gaia. She is known to be the first being in Greek mythology who uses metis in her plan to free her suppressed children from their father, Ouranos. This exceptional stratagem is also shown by Rhea when she plans to overthrow Cronos and secure her son’s, Zeus’, place on the throne.
Regardless of their superhuman attributes and accomplishments, the heroes prove to be similar to the gods in a contrary manner; their vulnerability to fate and the wrongful circumstances it occasionally brings upon them. As the child born from Zeus’ infidelity, Hercules is subject to Hera’s jealousy and she seeks to eliminate him at every stage of his life. She sends snakes to his crib in an attempt to attack him, but given Hercules’ god-like strength, he manages to strangle the snakes (Ovid Heroides 9.14). During his young adult years, she drives him to madness, causing him to murder his own family, and she continues to conspire against him despite his attributes of courage and strength. In spite of all his accomplishments, Heracles is poisoned and burnt alive above a funeral pyre, a tragic and painful end to greatest Greek hero.
As an infant, Perseus, is similarly loitered near death when his mother, Danae, and he are flung onto the sea in a wooden casket by Acrisius, his murderous grandfather (Pseudo-Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.34). In this sense, the misery and anguish endured by heroes is comparable to that of particular gods. Like Hercules and Perseus, Cronos and Zeus are both persecuted as children. Cronos is threatened with imprisonment by his father, Ouranos, and Zeus is nearly devoured by his father, Cronos. In the case of Persephone, although she was abducted by Hades and deceived into living in the Underworld, in spite of Demeter’s despair and Zeus’ negotiations, she is forced to live with Hades, as his wife, for majority of the year. Even though gods and heroes alike, possess extraordinary abilities, they are still subject to the nature of fate, a reality that is faced by humans.
Heroes are proven to be complementary to the gods, as an authoritative figure over their subjects. Gods, due to their ancestry and powers, are born with jurisdiction over mortals, likewise, heroes are traditionally born from royal or deity bloodlines, differentiating themselves from the average human. Heracles is the son of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Alcmene, a mortal princess descended from the hero Perseus. Having both deity and royal blood running through his veins, Heracles is given elevated status in society prior to his accomplishment of the 12 Labours. Likewise, Achilles’ mother is Thetis, a nereid, and his father, Peleus, is the king of Myrmidons, so Achilles too had a reputable family tree. Odysseus, Theseus and Jason are born into royal families and eventually take their place as the reigning monarchs in their respective kingdoms after completing their corresponding trials. Through their status and high regard in society, the heroes are distinct from humans and more affiliated to the gods in the societal and patriarchal hierarchy.
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