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Chapter 10

Classical Studies 2200 Chapter 10: Heroes of Myth


Department
Classical Studies
Course Code
CS 2200
Professor
Aara Suksi
Chapter
10

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Chapter 10 Heroes of Myth: Man Divided Against Himself
The Heroic Pattern
The hero is often born in an unusual (or unnatural) fashion and as an infant faces
terrible danger, but of course survives
The hero often has two fathers, one divine (biological) and one human (father
figure)
The hero’s father figure often faces threats
o These threats represents a projection of the hero’s own hostility toward his
father, whom he perceives as a rival for his mother’s affection
o Having a “good” divine father and a “bad” human father is the hero’s way
of coping with the guilt at his unconscious desire to kill his biological
father
During the hero’s quest, he is eventually isolated from the humans, and must
battle monsters and creatures
Ultimately the hero must confront the divine
Often the hero needs to make a trip to the underworld
o This is interpreted as a decent into the “womb” of the earths goddess
o As the hero participates in both the under and upper world, they
experience the life cycle
The Hero as Redeemer
Fire provides a means of cooking food and creating technology (i.e. using fire to
make weapons)
The hero’s half divine nature, glorious deeds, and relentless pursuit of
immortality, they uplift humanity from its poor condition and reminds the people
of their godlike potential
Nevertheless, they are human and will die
Isolation of the Hero
Isolation of the hero is shown through their relationship with women
The women is both a distraction and a threat to the hero and their path/journey
The Hero and Society
The hero is a divided being
Hero is responsible for the protection of their city
The hero will have unique gifts that allow them to protect their society/civilization
Often these cities/society take advantage of their heroes and glorify themselves
The Hero as Centaur: Image of the Divided Self
Protect the city versus being to violent
The hero, despite his frequent battles with the creatures, resembles the centaur
o A literally divided creature
Centaurs are known for intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom
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There are two stories about centaurs exemplify their inherit contradictions:
Centaurs embody animal nature, raw, and unrestrained
They are said to eat uncooked food and are unable to control themselves when
drinking wine
In contrast, the leader of the centaurs, Chiron, is temperate and wise
o A great teacher to both gods and humans
o Represents culture and civilization
o Eventually is turned into a constellation
The Early Hero: Perseus
Perseus is one of the earliest Greek heroes
No difficulties with women; usually acts on the behalf of them
Does not journey to the Underworld
Perseus’s Early Life
His mother was Danae
o She was imprisoned in a bronze tower by her father, Acrisius, king of
Argos
o He wanted to isolate her from men because he wanted to prevent the
fulfillment of a prophecy that a son of Danae would kill him
o But Zeus comes into her tower in the form of a shower of golden rain
Perseus is half divine
When Perseus is born, Acrisius sets his daughter and grandson to sea in a chest
o Which is a symbol for both a coffin and womb
They are protected by Zeus, and instead of drowning, they float safely to shore on
the island of Seriphus where a fisherman, Dictys, finds them
This is where Perseus grows up
Perseus has hostility with his father substitute when Dictys’s brother, King
Polydectes, who desires Danae
o When she refuses him, Perseus protects her, offering to bring Polydectes
any gift of his choice
o The king asks for the head of Medusa knowing this will kill Perseus
Medusa is one of three Gorgons
Perseus agreed to this impossible mission
Perseus and the Gorgon
Athena steps in to help Perseus and warns him of the difficulties he will face and
tells him to visit the sisters of Medusa, the Graiae
o These are “old hags”, grey from birth, and only have a single eye and
tooth to share among themselves
Perseus snatches their eye and forces them to reveal the location of the nymphs
who possess magical weapons
o These include: a pouch, a pair of winged sandals (belongs to Hermes), and
a cap of invisibility (belongs to Hades)
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Hermes gives Perseus a sickle of adamant which is an unbreakable stone
Because Perseus has these items, he becomes a demigod
When Perseus arrives at Medusa’s cave, he waits until she falls asleep and puts on
the cap of invisibility
o However, even though he is invisible, if he looks into Medusa’s eyes he
will be turned into stone
Therefore, Perseus enters the cave backwards with his shield acting as a mirror
When he cuts off Medusa’s head, a winged horse (Pegasus) springs from
Medusa’s neck
Perseus places the head in his pouch and flies off on Pegasus
Perseus’s entry into Medusa’s cave, is symbolic to the underworld
o And like other heroes, he escapes alive
Where does Pegasus come from?
o According to one tradition, Medusa has sex with Poseidon who takes the
form of a horse
o Which connects her to the upper world
Perseus’ Other Adventures
On the way home, Perseus comes to the Garden of the Hesperides where Atlas is
afraid Perseus will steal the Golden Apples
Perseus is offended and turns Atlas into a mountain of stone using the head of
Medusa
Perseus then stops in Ethiopia, where he sees Princess Andromeda chained to a
rock at the mercy of a sea monster
The princesses mother, Cassopeia, angered Poseidon and therefore he sent the sea
monster to punish the Ethiopians
The princesses father, King Cepheus, was told that only the sacrifice of his
daughter would rid the kingdom, would rid the kingdom of the monster
Perseus offers so rescue her in exchange for her hand in marriage
o In which her parents agree
Perseus kills the sea monster
He is then attacked by Phineus and his allies, but wins the battle with the head of
Medusa
Perseus and Andromeda have a son, Perses, who becomes the king of Ethiopia
Perseus’s Return
Perseus returns home with Andromeda
Perseus finds his mother still pursued by Polydectes
Perseus uses the Medusa head to turn Polydectes and his followers into stone
Perseus then gives Athena the head of Medusa
Perseus as King
After Perseus returns home, he visits his grandfather, Acrisius hoping to be
reconciled
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