The Ten Greatest Greek Heroes

How Many Do You Know?

Who was the greatest hero of Greek mythology? Achilles was the greatest hero of the Trojan War, but it's difficult to rank Hercules second to anyone. Besides, in the Iliad I, Nestor says that all the heroes of the Trojan War were second rate compared to giants like Theseus. Read on for my personal picks.

For fun, try my quiz: Which Greek Hero Are You?

01
of 10

Hercules
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Son of Zeus and nemesis of Hera, Hercules was always too powerful for his foes. He grew up to become the hero who beat the odds time and again, performing amazing feats, and yet was full of human foibles. He even slew his own children (tricked by Hera, of course).

Learn more: • What You Need to Know About HerculesLabors of HerculesMadness and AtonementMore You Should Know About Hercules • Women in Hercules' Life • Hercules and the OlympicsDeath of HerculesApotheosis of Hercules

02
of 10

Achilles
Ken Scicluna / Getty Images

Achilles was the Greeks' finest warrior in the Trojan War. His mother, the nymph Thetis, dipped him in the River Styx to make him invulnerable in battle—except for ​the spot where she gripped the baby. He died when the gods guided the hand of Paris to shoot an arrow into Achilles' heel.

Learn more: • Achilles (Glossary Entry)Achilles - The Loves, Weak Spot, Transvestism, and Valor of a Greek HeroGenealogy • Amazons • Ghost Stories • Homeric Questions • Olympics • The Lesser Share • A Goddess for Men • Jason's Angels • QuotesOdyssey Bk XI

03
of 10

Theseus & Minotaur
De Agostini / Archivio J. Lange / Getty Images

Theseus was the Athenian hero who liberated his city from the tyranny of King Minos of Crete and his monstrous Minotaur. With the help of the creature's half-sister, Ariadne, Theseus was able to slay the monster and find his way out of its labyrinth.

04
of 10

Odysseus
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Craftier by far than any other hero, but also a very capable warrior, Odysseus was considered second only to Achilles by the Greeks. Odysseus was the one who came up with the Trojan Horse. He was also one of the few Greeks to reach home (Ithaca) after ten years of war and ten years of troubles at sea. He was a descendant of Hermes, god of thieves.

05
of 10

Perseus
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Perseus was the son of Zeus, who impregnated his mother Danae as a shower of gold when Danae's father tried to prevent just such a liaison. After a bleak childhood, Perseus was helped by the gods to obtain the deadly head of snaky-tressed Medusa. With the help of her head, he could then turn anyone he wished to stone.

06
of 10

Jason
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Jason was another hero with an unfortunate childhood. To win back the throne that was rightfully his, Jason was sent to capture the Golden Fleece. He set out with a band of the greatest heroes the world has ever known—the Argonauts—and had a series of epic adventures.

07
of 10

Bellepheron
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Bellerophon comes off as a bit of a second-rate Perseus. But he rode the winged horse Pegasus, killed the monster Chimera, and tried to fly Pegasus to Olympus. His grandson Sarpedon was an important ally of the Trojans in the Trojan War.

08
of 10

Orpheus
Ingo Jezierski / Getty Images

Known more for his music than his fighting ability, Orpheus is a hero for two reasons: He was an Argonaut in Jason's Golden Fleece quest, and he survived a quest that even Theseus failed. Orpheus went to the Underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, who had just died of snakebite. He made his way to the Underworld's royal couple - Hades and Persephone - and persuaded Hades to give him a chance to bring his wife back to life. He got permission - on condition that he did not look at Eurydice until they reached the light of day.

09
of 10

Cadmus
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Cadmus was the Phoenician founder of Thebes. He had set off on his adventures to find his sister Europa but failed. When he settled down in Boeotia, in fulfillment of an oracle, he lost his men to a dragon of Ares. Cadmus killed the dragon, planted its teeth, and watched as armed men (the Spartoi) emerged from the ground. They fought each other down to a final five, who helped Cadmus found Thebes. Cadmus married Harmonia, daughter of Ares, but Ares wasn't finished punishing the family of Cadmus for killing his dragon.

10
of 10

Atalanta
Bibi Saint-Pol / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Greek heroes were overwhelmingly men. There's one female that deserves a place in this Top 10. She is Atalanta, the sole woman aboard Jason's Argo, according to some. This paved the way for the return trip with the witch Medea of Colchis on board. Atalanta is also the hunter who first pierced the Calydonian Boar. Atalanta is best known, however, for losing a foot race because she kept stopping to pick up golden apples.

Learn more: • Profile of AtalantaCalydonian Boar HuntAll About the ArgonautsLove Apples