What Are the Characteristics of an Epic Hero?

Epics are long poems that often contain at least one heroic figure. A famous example of an epic hero is Homer's Ulysses from his epic poem "Odyssey," though there are many more epic heroes in history. Certain traits are common among epic heroes, and they help the reader to sympathize with and admire the hero.


Epic poetry comes from ancient Greece, where mythological and epic heroes possess greater strength than other men do. Epic heroes like Achilles, Ulysses and Theseus are so strong that they are able to achieve tasks that no other man is capable of, such as Theseus' slaying of the Minotaur. In "The Iliad," Achilles is responsible for the death of Troy's best warrior and prince, Hector.


Epic heroes are always attractive in some way. Ulysses is tall and broad of chest. Achilles is tall with blond hair. Epics almost invariably contain heroes who are handsome or even beautiful, with fair skin and hair.


Heroes in epics typically have authority over other men, either in right or by their mannerisms. In the second chapter of Homer's "Iliad," Ulysses tells a man who has been talking too much, "I will take you, strip you stark naked, and whip you out of the assembly till you go blubbering back to the ships." He then beat the man with his scepter and the man was thus humbled into silence.


Epic heroes tend to have military experience. They plan battles, outsmart other military men and sometimes even outsmart kings and gods. When asked about Ulysses, Helen of Troy describes him as "... a man of great craft, son of Laertes. He was born in rugged Ithaca and excels in all manner of stratagems and subtle cunning."


A hero is not an epic hero without courage. Every hero in the epic genre is a man who goes into dangerous situations either unafraid or with resolve, despite fear. Beowulf defeats the antihero Grendel; Grendel's mother, who is some sort of evil creature; and a dragon before dying himself. Aeneas is a warrior of Troy. Ulysses is an all-around adventurer, spending years at sea, fighting a Cyclops and fighting the Trojan War.

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