The 10 Greatest Heroes of Greek Mythology

Although the world of the ancient Greeks is long past, it lives on in the stirring tales ​of Greek mythology. More than just gods and goddesses, this long-ago culture gave us legendary heroes and heroines whose exploits still thrill us. But who are the greatest heroes of Greek mythology? Was it the mighty Hercules? Or perhaps brave Achilles?

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Son of Zeus and nemesis of the goddess Hera, Hercules was always too powerful for his foes. He is perhaps best known for his fantastic feats of strength and daring, often called the "12 Labors." Some of these labors include slaying the nine-headed hydra, stealing the girdle of the Amazonian queen Hippolyta, taming Cerberus, and slaying the Nemean lion. Hercules died after his wife, jealous that he may have another lover, smeared a tunic with deadly centaur's blood that drove Hercules to kill himself. But Hercules lived on among the gods.

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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 his heel, where she gripped the baby. During the Trojan War, Achilles achieved fame by slaying Hector outside the city gates. But he didn't have much time to savor his conquest. Achilles died later in battle when an arrow shot by Paris and guided by the gods, struck the one vulnerable spot on his body: his heel.

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Theseus & Minotaur
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Theseus was the Athenian hero who liberated his city from the tyranny of King Minos of Crete. Every year, the city had to send seven men and seven women to Crete to be devoured by the monstrous Minotaur. Theseus vowed to defeat Minos and restore Athens' dignity. With the help of the creature's half-sister, Ariadne, Theseus was able to enter the labyrinth where the monster lived, slay the beast and find his way out again.

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A crafty and capable warrior, Odysseus was the king of Ithaca. His exploits in the Trojan War were documented by Homer in the "Iliad" and further in the "Odyssey," which chronicled Odysseus' 10-year struggle to return home. During that time, Odysseus and his men faced numerous challenges, including being kidnapped by a cyclops, menaced by sirens, and finally shipwrecked. Odysseus alone survives, only to face additional tests before finally returning home.

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Perseus was the son of Zeus, who disguised himself as a shower of gold of impregnate Perseus' mother Danae. As a young man, the gods helped Perseus to slay the snaky-tressed gorgon Medusa, who was so ugly that she could turn to stone anyone who looked directly at her. After slaying Medusa, Perseus rescued Andromeda from the sea serpent Cetus and wed her. He later gave the severed head of Medusa to the goddess Athena.

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Jason was born the son of the deposed king of Iolcos. As a young man, he set out on a quest to find the Golden Fleece and thus restore his place on the throne. of assembled a crew of heroes called the Argonauts and set sail. He encountered a number of adventures along the way, including facing down harpies, dragons, and sirens. Although he was ultimately triumphant, Jason's happiness didn't last long. His wife left him and he died sad and alone.

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Bellerophon is known for his capturing and taming the wild winged stallion Pegasus, something said to be impossible. With divine assistance, Bellerophon succeeded in riding the horse and set out to slay the chimera that menaced Lycia. Having slain the beast, Bellerophon's fame grew until he became convinced that he was not a mortal but a god. He tried to ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus, which so enraged Zeus that he caused Bellerophon to fall to earth and die.

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Known more for his music than his fighting ability, Orpheus is a hero for two reasons. He was an Argonaut in Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece, and he survived a quest that even Theseus failed. Orpheus went to the Underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, who had 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, something he was unable to do.

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Cadmus was the Phoenician founder of Thebes. After failing in his quest to find his sister Europa, he wandered the land. During this time, he consulted the Oracle of Delphi, who ordered him to cease his wanderings and settle in Boeotia. There, 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 suffered from guilt for having slain the war god's dragon. As repentance, Cadmus and his wife were transformed into snakes.

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Although Greek heroes were overwhelmingly men, there's one woman that deserves a place in this list: Atalanta. She grew up wild and free, able to hunt as well as a man. When an angry Artemis sent the Calydonian Boar to ravage the land in revenge, Atalanta was the hunter who first pierced the beast. She is also said to have sailed with Jason, the only female on the Argo. But she is perhaps best known for vowing to marry the first man who could beat her in a footrace. Using three golden apples, Hippomenes was able to distract the swift Atalanta and win the race — and her hand in marriage.