Midterm 2 Notes:
The Greek Sagas
What is a Saga/legend?
Kinds of Traditional Tales which also
include myth, folktales or fairytales
Remember that Pure example of these
categories are unlikely to exist.
Saga/Legend: has a perceptible
relationship to history, however it is often
fanciful and imaginative. Unlike myth, where an
exact date for an event cannot be given.
A legend may be true or false, but its main
purpose is to connect human history
In myths, the principal characters are gods and goddesses.
In legends, the principal characters are humans, even though gods and
goddesses often play a role
o Support to tell about events from human past
o Are stories about heroes
Hierarchy: Olympians, minor gods, demigods, heroes, and mortals
So, What is a hero?
The Hero and Heroine in Saga and Folktale:
There are 10 Hero motifs that often appear in Greek Sagas:
o Hero usually has elements of the extraordinary linked to his birth and
o He inevitably faces opposition of one sort or another from the
beginning. This is what allows him to prove his inherent worth by
o His enemy or enemies usually instigate his achievement
o Helped by at lease one ally, divine, or human
o Faces apparently insuperable obstacles- either labors or quests
o Adventurous conflicts with divine, human or monstrous opponents
present physical, sexual and spiritual challenges
o May observe taboos
o Death itself is the ultimate conquest- usually achieved by going to and
returning from the Underworld
o Heros success may be rewarded with marriage, political security,
wealth or power
o Knowledge through suffering and more lasting spiritual
enlightenment are also attained.
Similar to a hero, a heroine also has specific traits:
o Divine beauty, great power, and mothers of heroes
1 o Girl leaves home
o Girl is secluded
o Made pregnant by a god
o Suffers punishment and/or rejection or similar unpleasant
o Is rescues and her son is born
Features of the Greek Hero based on Prof Notes:
May have a divine parent (only optional feature)
Miraculous birth, but little known of his childhood
o Much of childhood is spent elsewhere (exile)
Physically imposing; great size and strength- Heroic stature
Falls under an enemys power
o Compelled to perform impossible labours (the
o Often the hero is the guest in an opponents
Resist the temptations of an enticing but dangerous
Help from gods, spirits, magical objects
Returns home, atones for crimes returning hero
back to humanity.
Magnificent funeral at his death
Specific example of a Hero: Bellerophon
Bellerophron is flying on a horse in this image. He is on top of a divine (non-
mortal) lion, the Chimera
Major questions that should be able to be answered:
1. What is a legend? What is the most important distinctions to be drawn
between legends and other traditional tales? How does a legend differ
from a myth?
Legend is part of traditional tale. Specifically, it has a perceptible relationship
to history- whether it be true or false. Thus, the character/event in legend do
not need to exist, may not be true, but still lie in human timeline.
Unlike myths, legends are more historically accurate. Myths are set outside of
human history. You cannot ask the specific date or time of the myth- myth
stands out of historic time. Fairytales/folktales are fantastical stories that are
often short and mythical creatures.
Myths are stories that are concerned with the gods, and how mortals interact
with the gods. Myth and legends can sometimes be blended together. Recall
the idea of muthos and logos. Logos= spoken account, ways of persuading an
2 audience. Muthos= a way of entertaining an audience. When talking about
legends, mainly muthos is linked. Myths are out of human time line, unlike
legends. As well, legends are more often occurring in human land and
historically related to humans. Legends were a way of exploitations for
humans and cities. Legend has mainly human characters- but gods and
goddesses can be involved secondary. Legends are chiefly stories of heroes.
2. What are the typical characteristics of a Greek Hero? Why is a hero like
Frodo Baggins not like a Greek Hero?
General overview of Greek hero:
o May have a divine parent (only optional feature)
o Miraculous birth, but little known of his childhood
Much of childhood is spent elsewhere (exile)
o Physically imposing; great size and strength- Heroic stature
o Falls under an enemys power
Compelled to perform impossible labours (the quest)
Often the hero is the guest in an opponents land.
o Resist the temptations of an enticing but dangerous woman
o Help from gods, spirits, magical objects
o Returns home, atones for crimes returning hero back to humanity.
o Magnificent funeral at his death.
Frodo differs from a Greek Hero:
o He is humble, filled with self-doubt about finishing his quest. Heroes
are often very confident and often take on challenged without self
o Not seeking glory, surprised when he himself volunteers.
o He is a Hobbit: without the clear strength and superior size of a Greek
hero, he avoids violence. Greek heroes are much larger and stronger
o He (kind of) fails in his quest *major difference.
3. Retell the legends of Bellerophon. How well does Bellerophon fit the
model of a typical Greek hero? Are there points on which he does not fit
Story is written above showing how it follows the typical Greek hero.
The Theban Saga
Thebes- legend rather than myth. Probably because of the more human-like
activity. Although still have involvement of the gods, we are focusing on
human part instead.
3 o Divine Parent (?): miraculous birth; impressive physical stature
The Heros Quest- pattern of stories/adventures:
- Impossible task performed while under the power of enemy/ opponent.
- Enticing but dangerous woman- often mortal, but sometimes a sorcerers
- Help from gods, spirits, magical objects
- Inevitable success
- Return home, atonement for any crimes; make amends restoring life.
The Founding of Thebes
Cadmus was the legendary founder of
King of Tyre, Agenor, had two
important children: Cadmus and
Europa is abducted from the city of
Tyre and it is the mission of Cadmus to find her.
Europa was abducted by Zeus who had disguised himself as a bull. He took
her away from Tyre to Crete through the waters.
Cadmus went to find Europa, and ended up in Delphi to get advice from the
o Apollos (oracle) message: Not to worry about Europa and instead
follow a certain cow and wherever the cow rests, that city will be his
He followed Phocis, the cow, which led him to Boeotia, where was later called
As a token of gratefulness, Cadmus wants to sacrifice the divine cow in the
honor of Athena. He sends his men to the sacred water spring of Ares, which
is guarded by the serpent child of Ares. The snake kills Cadmus men and
Cadmus kills snake.
Athena tells Cadmus to take the teeth of snake and sow them in the ground.
This gave rise to army of men who fought each other until 5 remained =
The spartoi became the noble families of Thebes.
Punishment of Cadmus for killing snake was to be Ares slave for 1 year. Once
term was over, he was given Harmonia, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, as
City of Typre, in Phoenicia (in Eastern Mediterranean)
Zeus abducts Europa by deceiving her. She was very
beautiful thus attracted both his attention and lust.