Variations on the Theme of the Hero Quest

A) The childhood of the hero
The true hero will show his quality very early, either right after birth or during his youth. Sometimes his appearance in his true character of the first time immediately makes his role obvious. (This second theme is particularly characteristic of heroes who have been brought up away from their homes.)

Theseus -- proved his identity by lifting the stone under which hid father had placed his sword

Jason -- an "unwanted child who survived", he was recognized by Pelias as soon as he appeared before him

Heracles -- by strangling the snakes, he showed his great strength and semidivine descent

B) The departure (death) of the hero
At the end of his life the hero is prepared to face death unafraid. At times death is indeed the climax to his life and sums up the meaning of his existence, or is itself his ordeal and reward combined. (Obviously no every hero has a significant death.)

Ajax -- by his refusal to compromise his honor and to live on terms dictated to him by others, he vindicated his life, and the concepts by which he lived, by his suicide

Heracles -- the symbolism of his funeral pyre, and the reward he received at the end of his series of quests, make him an excellent example.

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