Hellenic hero vs Roman hero

This collegium and forum are dedicated to the study, discussion, re-creation and application of classical Roman and Greek religion and philosophy.

Moderator: Aldus Marius

Hellenic hero vs Roman hero

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Sat May 07, 2005 3:59 pm


Sicne the comparisment between the Roman Hercules and the Hellenic Herakles has come up, I have written an article on the differences of Roman and Hellenic heroes. Its just a draft, but I would like to know what you guys think of it?
The Hellenic hero vs. the Roman hero

If we look at the two cultures we see that there are many similarities. But the Roman idea of a hero is quite different from the Hellenic hero. A Hellenic hero is driven by his ego, his need to achieve a goal no matter how difficult it is – but it is still rooted in selfishness. A Roman hero on the other hand is not like that. Take Aeneas for example. He sacrificed everything to gain so little. So why would anyone do what Aeneas did? He escaped from Troy to lose his father, his wife, his lover to found later a city that would be eternal. Why would anyone in his right mind do that? The answer lies that in the fact that the Roman hero’s do everything for a ideal, for the state. The behavior of a Hellenic hero in Rome would be considered outrageous. The Roman hero would do anything for the state that is immortal if he or she wants to achieve immortality. The Roman hero was serious concerning his purpose, devoted to duty to the state and the Gods. He was a true Roman patriot. He is not driven by ego. It is enough for him that Rome would be immortal and sharing in that immortality. Unlike the Hellenic counterpart, who frequently gives in to emotional excesses; anger, grief or rage, the Roman hero tries to avoid these things. The Hellenic hero want achieve immortality and be remembered throughout the ages. But the Roman hero doesn’t seem to want that. The Roman hero knows that his life is about one instant in a long span of history. To them egocentrism was an illusion. His achievements and sufferings are nothing in the grand scheme of things, unless they contribute to the ultimate goal - the triumph of Rome. Scenes like Achilles and Hector fighting to prove their prowess, their skills are not seen here. War is not anymore about personal goals and needs, but it’s a grim and should be avoided when possible. The Roman hero is submissive to his destiny and to the Gods. He understands that one lifetime isn’t long in the long span of history so he should be loyal to the state and to his Gods when they call upon him. In the Aeneid, there is a scene where Aeneas is with Dido and enjoying his time with her until Mercury comes along and tells him to leave the shores of North- Africa. Aeneas doesn’t hesitate to answer the call of the Gods and leave his lover. He knows that his life means little in the grand scheme of things and he should do what the Gods and his country demands of him no matter what the costs are. The Hellenic hero would most likely not give up his own goals and personal needs for the greater good. For the Hellenic hero, the greater good is his personal needs and achievements. In a way those ideals can correspond with the modern world. Today people think of heroes as people who are willing to go all the way to save other people - to do things ordinary people couldn’t do, but heroes are also people who are soldiers, firemen, cops, those who give their lives to save others. But our idea of a hero is seriously skewed by the Hollywood version of the hero; a person who fights for the greater good, is a moral and decent person. So what is wrong with this idea? Normally, I would say nothing, but heroes are people who have flaws and are far from perfect no matter what the entertainment industry is trying to shove down our throats. In various movies and comics you would find Hercules the Hellenic and Roman hero being portrayed as a moral and decent person who is like Superman and travels the world to help other people in need against enemies whose character is full of clichés than a real enemy. Especially the syndicated series Hercules: the Legendary Journeys is a prime example of this. The world of Hercules was one of black and light, never shades of grey. You had good people and bad guys. At the end of every episode you knew that Hercules had defeated his enemy of that episode. Neither the Romans nor the Hellenes had a screwed up version of the world in their myths. They knew that people could be both good and bad, but it depended on the environment, education and circumstances to determine which side would be dominant. But even the bad guys weren’t treated as pure evil like we like we want our criminals to be. Criminals back than just did their time depending on what kind of sentence they were given. After their time, they were released back into society. With the heroes, you see a similar thing. Heroes weren’t moral superior people; they were just as like every other human being, with flaws and weaknesses. Although in Hellenic mythology, heroes were often half gods, in Roman mythology this is not always the case. Roman heroes were often ordinary people, soldiers, citizens, etc… Few of them were actually half gods like Romulus and Remus, Hercules, etc… In Hellenic mythology the heroes were most likely half gods like Herakles, Perseus, Kastor and Polydeukes to name a few. What all heroes – both Roman and Hellenic- have in common is that they were all helped by Gods. Herakles received assistance from Hermes and Athena among other deities. Perseus was also helped by Athena. Jason was helped by Hera and later by Hekate through Medea. In Roman mythology, the Roman Gods usually watch by the sidelines and only intervene when necessarily. They are observers. They only show up at the scene to guide the hero to his destiny or to try to stop him. In Hellenic mythology, Gods do play a more active role like Gods fighting with half gods or mortals over women or over the death of a child like when Herakles kills Diomedes, it enrages Ares who wants to avenge the death but is stopped by Zeus. The same Ares also has to justify his actions when he kills the son of Poseidon after he had attacked his daughter. It is clear that the Gods play a more active role in Hellenic mythology than that they do in Roman mythology. That is why the Hellenic Gods are so involved in the lives of heroes whom they guide to their destination. Not all heroes are half gods. Some of them are also mortal like Orestes or Odysseus. In the case of Orestes or Oedipus we can say that they are a different kind of hero than Odysseus. Although mortal, they are like Herakles: tragic heroes. Their lives are filled with misery and grief and yet they overcome it. This is usually done with the help of the Gods. Orestes had the help of Apollon and Athena when he was pursued by the Erinyes. They defended him in his trial on the Areopagus. Herakles had the help of Athena during his labors. She was the one who knocked him out when he was about to kill more people than just his family.
If you compare the two, you see clearly the differences between them. Roman heroes sacrificed almost everything on the altar of the Gods and state to gain little in return, while the Hellenic heroes will do everything to reach their destination, but their motivation to get there is often out of selfish reasons than with the Romans heroes. Romans devoted their lives to their state and to their Gods, so when they set out on an expedition, it’s rarely for selfish reasons like to achieve eternal glory. They are satisfied with sharing in the eternal glory of their city than personal eternal glory. So when it comes down too, no Hellenic hero is better than a Roman hero. They all are heroes in their own right and they do things that in normal circumstances, no mortal would dare to do. The reason of doing what they do might be different, but in their courage and strength lays the similarity.
valete optime

Quintus Aurelius Orcus
Rector ColRel
Princeps gentis Aureliae
User avatar
Quintus Aurelius Orcus
Posts: 937
Joined: Sat Sep 14, 2002 5:05 pm
Location: Ghent, Belgica

Return to Collegium Religionum et Philosophiarum

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests