HEROES - ÍROÆS - ΗΡΩΕΣ
IN ANCIENT GREEK RELIGION

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Írôs - (Hêrô; Gr. Ἥρως, ΗΡΩΣ. The plural is Ἥρωες) Hero, warrior, lord. The etymology has been linked to the name of the Goddess Ἥρᾱ by Λεξικόν Αρκαίας Ελληνικής Γλώσσης Σταματάκου, Francis Edward J. Valpy, and others; her name being etymologically connected to ὥρα, as in the Ὧραι, the Seasons, the natural periods of time. The Hero is perfectly timely as concerns the time of his death, when everything comes together in glory (κλέος). [1] This is an interesting idea because death at the hands of an Olympian deity always signifies deification (ἐκθέωσις or ἀποθέωσις); there are examples of such stories, such as the death of Akhilléfs (Achilles, Ἀχιλλεύς) by Apóllôn (Apollô, Ἀπόλλων) [2].

Klǽos

In the Ἰλιὰς Ὁμήρου, Akhilléfs is given a choice:

 

"My mother Thetis tells me that there are two ways in which I may meet my end. If I stay here and fight, I shall not return (νόστος) alive but my name (κλέος) will live for ever: whereas if I go home my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.” [3]

The word κλέος is associated with the Írôæs (Hêrôes). It has been translated “fame,” “renown,” and “glory,” The first definition in Liddell & Scott is “rumour, report.” This way of defining the word, as applied to the Hêrôes, is more apropos, for it is not the pompous pursuit of fame that they seek, but the desire to make an impact, to make a difference. The report of Akhilléfs’ deeds, of what he accomplished, will be preserved in history, and, thereby, affect the lives of all those who come after him. Therefore, Akhilléfs has chosen an outcome which will have ramifications forever.


The Írôæs are demigods and consumed with virtue

The Heroes, or in Greek, Írôæs, are particular godlike (ἀντίθεος) beings. They are almost Gods, and are thus called semi- or demigods (ἡμίθεος). Because of this, they are usually portrayed in mythology as having one mortal parent and the other a God, a deity with whom they share characteristics. While living right here on earth, yet they are said to dwell in the realm of the Írôæs, those who are about to be deified. They are in between man and the Anthrôpodaimonæs (Ἀνθρωποδαίμονες), the deified mortals. Their souls have been harmonized and will in time enter the realm of freedom and deity.

The Írôs is tied to an Olympian deity with whom he shares characteristics. Since all the Olympians work inseparably from their consorts, it is the Olympian Goddess who is often seen at his side, prodding him on. Sometimes the stories make it seem as if this Goddess is his enemy.

The Íroæs are associated with fantastic, selfless deeds, performed for the benefit of mankind. This is how they appear to us, because they are so tightly in tune with nature; they are able to keep their lives in harmony with the universe and thereby diminish their self-interest or ego, giving them great clarity and power. This enables them to perform deeds of enormous virtue (ἀρετή), or, as we tend to say, enormous heroism.


The Írôæs of mythology

In the popular imagination, we often have in mind the great Hêrôes of the Greek epics, special individuals of enormous achievement, who lived during and before the Trojan War, what is called the Heroic Age. A point is frequently made that they were flawed individuals who sometimes behaved badly. While some scholars of mythology acknowledge that the myths about the Gods must be interpreted, the Hêrôes are often excluded from such consideration. Not to take anything away from those who have analyzed different Hêrôes from a literary or even psychological point of view, but as regards religion, it is a different thing altogether. In ancient times, they were held in the greatest veneration, and special honors were given to their memory; there were shrines, temples, and sacrifices made to them. In Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι Ἡσιόδου, Isíodos (Hesiod, Ἡσίοδος) places these, the most famous of the Hêrôes, in the fourth generation:

“But when earth had covered this generation (the Bronze Age) also, Zeus the son of Cronos made yet another, the fourth, upon the fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god-like race of hero-men who are called demi-gods, the race before our own, throughout the boundless earth. Grim war and dread battle destroyed a part of them, some in the land of Cadmus at seven-gated Thebe when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus, and some, when it had brought them in ships over the great sea gulf to Troy for rich-haired Helen's sake: there death's end enshrouded a part of them. But to the others father Zeus the son of Cronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the Islands of the Blessed along the shore of deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless Gods, and Cronos rules over them; for the father of men and Gods released him from his bonds. And these last equally have honour and glory.” [4]

The idea that Írôæs are evolved beings on the cusp of deification is part of the theology and beyond the literal meaning of stories, for if the story-line of a mythological tale presents events which are absurd or immoral, the actual meaning of the myth cannot possibly be literal.


From the Κρατύλος Πλάτωνος [5] :


Ἑρμογένης: ...but what is the meaning of the word hero?

 

Σωκράτης: I think that there is no difficulty in explaining, for the name is not much altered, and signifies that they were born of love (ἔρως).

 

Ἑρμογένης: What do you mean?

 

Σωκράτης: Do you not know that the heroes are demigods?

 

Ἑρμογένης: What then?

 

Σωκράτης: All of them sprang either from the love of a God for a mortal woman, or of a mortal man for a Goddess; think of the word in the old Attic, and you will see better that the name heros is only a slight alteration of Eros, from whom the heroes sprang: either this is the meaning, or, if not this, then they must have been skillful as rhetoricians and dialecticians, and able to put the question (ἐρωτᾶν), for εἴρειν is equivalent to λέγειν. And therefore, as I was saying, in the Attic dialect the heroes turn out to be rhetoricians and questioners. All this is easy enough; the noble breed of heroes are a tribe of sophists and rhetors.

 

NOTES:

[1] See The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, by Gregory Nagy, The Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, p. 32.

[2] τα μετὰ τον Όμηρο Κοΐντου Σμυρναῖου Book 3.60-63:
 

"From mortal sight he (Ἀπόλλων) vanished into cloud,

And cloaked with mist a baleful shaft he shot

Which leapt to Achilles' ankle."

(trans. A. S. Way, 1913)

In other versions of the story, Akhilléfs is slain by an arrow from Páris (Πάρις), but guided by Apóllôn.

[3] Ἰλιὰς Ὁμήρου 9.410-416, trans. Samuel Butler, 1898.

[4] Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι Ἡσιόδου 156-169, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[5] Κρατύλος Πλάτωνος 398c-398dtransBenjamin Jowett, 1892.



To access an extensive list of terms associated with the Heroes, please visit this page: Glossary of the Hellenic Heroes



The story of the birth of the GodsOrphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.
How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.




The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).


PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as
 

, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.


The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

SPELLING: HellenicGods.org uses the Reuchlinian method of pronouncing ancient Greek, the system preferred by scholars from Greece itself. An approach was developed to enable the student to easily approximate the Greek words. Consequently, the way we spell words is unique, as this method of transliteration is exclusive to this website. For more information, visit these three pages: 

Pronunciation of Ancient Greek         

 

Transliteration of Ancient Greek         

 

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