When reading the stories of great heroes, Gods/Goddesses, and monsters, the Greeks covered a multitude of themes. Like heroism, justice, and vengeance, these themes are seen over and over. But not unlike the concept of love. Being either part or the focus of a great number of Greek myths, the ancient Greeks must have considered this a powerful aspect of human life. It appears that the concept and power of love is so vast that it has affected not only humans but also the all-powerful beings described in these stories. The stories included in this week’s discussion covered several themes, from sacrifice to betrayal, as seen in how Medea was betrayed by her lover, Jason, despite her sacrificing her father and brother to aid him. Or how intertwined with love was jealousy, shown in Psyche’s sisters. “Their envious anger so worked in them that they came finally to plotting how to ruin her” (Hamilton 125). Nonetheless, love was so powerful that these stories depict Gods and Goddesses falling in love and showing compassion for mortals in love. This is seen when Alcyone “had been changed into a bird. The gods were kind” (Hamilton 146) Another thing of note, although it may not be a theme, is how love stories are used to explain things or events. For example, the once-white berries of the mulberry tree turned deep red, and “the death of two young lovers was the cause” (Hamilton 135). Another use of this is seen in the story of Ceyx and Alcyone, where the 7-day calm that occurs every year is due to Alcyone, who was turned into a bird, brooding over her nest until her young bird hatches.
Just like love, heroism is a theme more often seen than not when reading Greek mythology stories. In this week’s reading, we are presented with three distinguished heroes, Perseus, Theseus, and Hercules. Although Hercules is probably the most known, having had a Disney movie, Perseus is known to be the hero who beheaded Medusa. It is in my opinion that although all three did great things that no ordinary man could have accomplished, Theseus is the one regarded with the most respect and is the greatest of the three. Perseus is described as young and proud. He chose to volunteer to behead Medusa when “no one in his senses would have made such a proposal” (Hamilton 200). Although brave in a sense, his reason was not out of honor or to protect, but rather to give a gift that no one else could, to impress a king. On the other hand, Hercules is described as someone whose “intelligence did not figure largely in anything he did and was often conspicuously absent” (Hamilton 226). He killed intentionally and unintentionally, having fits and outbursts, and although he repented when he hurt an innocent, the damage remained the same. Therefore, although great, his physical strength was really all that was impressive about him. Theseus, compared to the latter two, was regarded with admiration. It is said “he was compassionate as he was brave and man of great intellect as well as great bodily strength” (Hamilton 225). His strength and bravery are shown in the defeat of the Minotaur. Meanwhile, his intelligence and compassion are shown in his wanting “a people’s government in where all would be equal” (Hamilton 215).
Compared to Roman heroes, little difference is seen. The detailed stories of brave men and women who overcome and accomplish deeds that no other can, are seen in Greek mythology characters too. Yet one can deduce that the Romans and Greeks may have differed in what they considered to be the essential skills of a hero. Even though Greek characters like Theseus are smart, strong, and brave, it seems that physical strength, like that of Hercules, who is also admired in Roman mythology even though he is Greek, is what really makes a hero.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. 1st ed., Grand Central Publishing, 2011.