The Hero: Definitions

The following definitions are from the American Heritage Dictionary.
1. In mythology and legend, a man, often born of one mortal and one divine parent, who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for his bold exploits, and favored by the gods.
2. Any man noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose; especially, one who has risked or sacrificed his life.
3. A person prominent in some event, field, period, or cause by reason of his special achievements or contribution.
4. The principal character in a novel, poem or dramatic presentation.
5. Any male regarded as a potential lover or protector.

Etymology: The English word "hero" comes from the Greek word heros, which probably had an original meaning of "protector."

Hera's name is the feminine form of heros.

Additional notes on the ancient hero: He is an extraordinary mortal; i.e., he is a man, not a god, but has one or more superhuman characteristics or abilities. The ancient Greek heroes lived in the distant past; there were no contemporary Greek heroes. One did not technically reach hero status until he died. After death the hero was worshiped with his own special religious cults.


Other important types of heroes:

The Epic Hero: At Phillip Allingham lists some characteristics of an epic hero. An epic hero is introduced in medias res, is both warrior and polished speaker, possesses supernatural talents or gifts, takes a long journey, has a corps of fellow warriors but does solitary deed, possesses virtues admired by his society, possesses arete (Greek virtue or excellence), proves excellence through a series of well-matched combat scenes (aristeia) with climactic confrontation with main antagonist, often a "god-despiser", encounters a divine or supernatural power.

The Tragic or Aristotelian Hero: a noble protagonist brought to ruin essentially as a consequence of some extreme quality which is both his greatness and his downfall.

The Sophoclean Hero: the unyielding person of principle like Philoctetes or Antigone in the plays of Sophocles.

This document was placed on the web by Professor Thomas J. Sienkewicz for his students in CLAS230 Classical Mythology at Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois. It is based upon material he has used in mythology classes for many years, first at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and then at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. If you have any questions, you may contact him at