What Made a Hero?
When you think of a hero, you probably imagine someone who risks his or her own interests — or even life — to help someone else. Today, a hero can be anyone who acts with courage or integrity. Most people would say that heroism is defined more by how a person acts than by who that person is.
The ancient Greeks would agree with some parts of that definition but would scratch their heads at others. To the ancients, a hero had to be a certain kind of person and act in a certain way. Here are some of the qualities that defined a hero:
Noble: Heroes were of high birth. Often, at least one parent was divine.
Courageous: Heroes didn't show fear in the face of a challenge.
Strong: Heroes possessed great physical strength — in some cases, to an almost supernatural degree.
Bold: Without hesitation, heroes undertook difficult quests, adventures, and exploits to prove themselves.
Skillful: Often the skill mastered by heroes was warfare, but they were expected to excel in some pursuit.
Hospitable: The laws of hospitality were important to the ancients, and heroes were expected to follow them, whether as host or as guest.
Favored by the gods: The gods took an interest in heroes — sometimes opposing them and sometimes supporting them. But usually a hero had at least one powerful god on his side.
Heroes often performed amazing feats that no ordinary person could accomplish. They were mortal, and they were rewarded by the gods after death. Heroes also had very human flaws, such as pride, rage, or jealousy. Unlike modern heroes, classical heroes could be self-centered; they were concerned with their reputation and sometimes put themselves ahead of others. Finally, heroes had to be able to help their friends (showing loyalty) and hurt their enemies (showing bravery and fierceness).