Can someone explain the hero myth, give an example, and explain why it is a hero myth?

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shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The hero myth is one of those aspects of mythology that is interesting because we still see it so often in books and movies today. These kinds of stories have literally been around for thousands of years, their appeal just never dies.

There are a number of things that most heroic myths have in common. The hero usually has to go on a long journey of some sort. During the journey he faces a number of very difficult and life threatening challenges, sometimes of a supernatural nature. The hero usually eventually returns home with increased self-knowledge and worldly experience.

In addition to the garden variety hero, who usually possesses admirable qualities that we appreciate, there are also several different kinds of heroes that may appear in these myths: the tragic hero, who has a significant downfall of some sort; the anti-hero, who may be more villain that good guy; and the Byronic hero, who has had a lot of difficulties in his past and who engages in self-destructive behavior.

One classic example of the heroic myth that most of us study in school is The Odyssey. Here, briefly, is what makes it a heroic myth:

  • Odysseus is a hero who possesses the quality of intelligence.
  • His journey lasts twenty years, and over the course of the journey he encounters some of the more memorable enemies in literary history (the Cyclops, the witch Circe, the sea-nymph Calypso, the Sirens, Scylla, Charybdis, etc.).
  • When he returns home, he realizes how much he loves his wife and his kingdom.
  • Then he uses his intelligence to recapture his kingdom and save his family.

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