Sign in to follow this  
LeopardBoy

Hellenic Hero Worship

Recommended Posts

Hero worship is an important aspect of Hellenic polytheism.  The worship of heroes and heroines serve as a sort of bridge between ancestor worship (the chthonic rites given to deceased relatives) and the worship of the gods.  I'm going to first define what exactly in meant by the word hero in an Hellenic context.  A hero or heroine is a mortal who once lived and died, either in myth or history, in extraordinary circumstances.  By extraordinary, I mean in the true sense of being out of the ordinary.  In modern usage, the word hero has taken on a connotation of virtue.  Modern heroes are expected to be "good" people, typically displaying virtues such as selflessness or charity.  In an Hellenic context, heroes and heroines don't necessarily display these virtues.  In fact, many heroes are deeply flawed, some to the point of committing murder and adultery.  A hero need only to have lived or died in a way that was out of the ordinary, or contributed in some profound way to the culture.  Babies and children could also be considered heroes and heroines if they met such criteria.

 

The heroine Lais was a prostitute in Corinth in the fourth century BC.  She was stoned to death by a mob of angry women, the wives of her clients, in the temple sanctuary of Aphrodite.  Because of the taboo against murder on holy ground, the death of Lais was deemed extraordinary enough to warrant a hero cult in her honor.  A shrine to Lais was erected on the grounds of the temple where she was slain.

 

The children of Herakles were given a hero cult, because in myth they were brutally murdered by their own father during a drunken rage that was brought on by Hera.  The children of Jason and Medea were also given a hero cult because a parent was responsible for their murder.

 

Hero cult status was also a prize in the Pan-Hellenic games.  An athlete who won the full circuit of the four games (Olympic, Nemean, Isthmian, and Pythian) within an Olympiad (four-year cycle) was granted the prize of a hero cult in their honor, to be established upon their death.

 

Like ancestor worship, hero cults are typically centered around the tomb of the hero or heroine, or around a memorial shrine or monument.  Unlike ancestor worship, heroes and heroines could be given worship by anyone, not just those who have familial ties to the person. Their cults also could have a priesthood attached to them, and they could be given thusia sacrifices and communal feasts in the way a heavenly god would typically be honored, even though they themselves are counted among the dead.

Share this post


Link to post

This is fascinating.

 

Was someone only given hero status upon their death?

Are there heroes who existed and were given this status during their living years and were not  hybrid mortal/god/semidivine  ?

Share this post


Link to post
1 minute ago, Amulet said:

This is fascinating.

 

Was someone only given hero status upon their death?

Are there heroes who existed and were given this status during their living years and were not  hybrid mortal/god/semidivine  ?

 

Yes.  Hero or heroine status was conferred only upon someone's death.  In the case of it being given as a prize for winning the full circuit of the Pan-Hellenic Games, it was established upon the death of the athlete.  A person wouldn't be subject to hero cult worship in the ancient sense while still living, because even though hero cults might share some rituals with deity cults, they are still chthonic in nature, and are meant to address the dead.

 

There are many heroes in Greek history that were fully mortal in life (and actual historical persons), but hero cult status was only attained after they had died.  In many cases, the community would democratically agree to the establishment of a new hero cult in honor of a person who had died.  In other instances, a ruler or governing body would establish a new hero cult.  In some cases, an oracle (such as the Pythia of Delphi) would be consulted about whether a specific deceased person was worthy of the status, given the circumstances of their life and death.

Share this post


Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this