The Greek Heroic Age, in mythology, is the period between the coming of the Greeks to Thessaly and the Greek return from Troy. It was demarcated as one of the five Ages of Man by Hesiod. The period spans roughly six generations; the heroes denoted by the term are superhuman, though not divine, and are celebrated in the literature of Homer.
The Greek heroes can be grouped into an approximate chronology, based on events such as the Argonautic expedition and the Trojan War.
Many of the early Greek heroes were descended from the gods and were part of the founding narratives of various city-states. They also became the ancestors of later heroes. The Phoenician prince Cadmus, a grandson of Poseidon, was the first Greek hero and the founder of Thebes.
Perseus, famous for his exploits well before the days of his great-grandson, Heracles, was the son of Zeus. Perseus beheaded the Medusa, saved Andromeda from the sea monster Cetus, and was the legendary founder of Mycenae.
Calydonian Boar Hunt
A monstrous boar was sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia because its king neglected to honor her in his rites to the gods. King Oeneus sent messengers seeking the best hunters in Greece, offering them the boar's pelt and tusks as a prize. A number of heroes responded, including Atalanta, Laertes, Meleager, Nestor, Peleus, Phoenix, and Theseus.
The myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece is one of the oldest stories of a hero's quest. Jason sailed on the Argo, and those who accompanied him were called the "Argonauts". Their mission was to travel to the kingdom of Colchis, on the Black Sea, to obtain the "Golden Fleece", a symbol of authority and kingship. With it, Jason would become king of Iolcos in Thessaly.
Generation of Oedipus
(about two generations before Troy)
Generation of the Seven Against Thebes
(about a generation before Troy)
Oedipus places a curse upon his sons Eteocles and Polynices. The underlying theme in the story of the "Seven Against Thebes" is the fulfilment of that curse. Although the brothers had agreed to share the rule of Thebes, when it is time for Eteocles to step aside he refuses, and Polynices brings an army against his beloved city to enforce his claim. In Aeschylus' play the concept of the individual vs. community becomes a central theme. In the Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women), patriotism is a significant theme.
Generation of the Trojan War
Gregory Nagy sees mortality as the "dominant theme in the stories of ancient Greek heroes. In heading for Troy Achilles opts for a short life leaving a memory of immortal renown over a long peaceful one in relative obscurity.
Generation after the Trojan War
- Thirlwall, Connop (1845). A history of Greece. 1. Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans. p. 139. Retrieved 25 March 2010.
- Hesiod, Works and Days 156–73.
- Alden, John B. (1883) The Greek Anthology, pp. 160–162.
- Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. The Heroes of the Greeks (London: Thames and Hudson) p. 75.
- Wood, Michael. "Jason and the Argonauts", In Search of Myths and Heroes, PBS
- Boxer, Sarah. "How Oedipus Is Losing His Complex", The New York Times 6 December 1997
- Bellinger, Martha Fletcher. A Short History of the Drama, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927
- Nagy, Gregory. Ancient Greek Heroes in 24 Hours, Harvard University Press, 2013 ISBN 9780674075429