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Greek heroes vs Modern Superheroes

By Claudia Hickey

Claudia Hickey

on 19 April 2013

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Transcript of Greek heroes vs Modern Superheroes

Conclusion... The influence of ancient Greek culture on modern culture has brought today’s society a countless number of customs, objects and ideas. Their ingenious plans and thinking, such as the wheel, and simple, yet vital mathematical formulae have heavily influenced much of our day to day lives. One aspect of Greek culture was the Greek hero.

The definition of ‘hero’ from dictionary.com defines both today’s view of a hero, and a hero in Classical Mythology (ancient Greek hero).

A man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
Person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
The principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.
Classical Mythology
-Being of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity.
-(In the Homeric period) a warrior-chieftain of special strength, courage, or ability.
-(In later antiquity) an immortal being; demigod. What is a 'hero'? Famous ancient Greek figures such as Heracles, Theseus, Perseus and Jason carried out difficult and dangerous tasks and quests to achieve greatness and please the gods. Greek heroes were always extremely brave and strong as well as cunning, determined, smart and unafraid of most things. These qualities/characteristics have had influential effect on the heroes of our modern culture, ‘superheroes’. In today’s society when we think of a ‘hero’, immediately a mysteriously masked and brave figure comes to mind, usually with bulging muscles and a cape. Today, we think of superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Captain America, but do these superheroes share the same qualities as Greek heroes?

Although there are many differences in the qualities instilled in Greek heroes and those which make superheroes, there are a few noticeable similarities. For example, two heroes: Theseus and Captain America. Both men were courageous, smart and brave and it seems that many of the admirable qualities of Theseus are extremely similar to those of Captain America (Steve). This strongly suggests that the character of Captain America has been based on Theseus. Both heroes worked for the greater good of humanity and they also both dedicated their lives to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the mortals around them. Steve (Captain America) was a soldier during World War II. However, he was chosen to become the first super-soldier, because of his qualities and attributes. He was only a weakling; small and scrawny, but fiercely determined to do his bit for the war effort and his country. Theseus is similar in that he only came from a small city in Ancient Greece and was chosen to slay the Minotaur (man-eating monster). But again (like Steve) he was incredibly determined (for him it was to return home alive), and so, he killed the Minotaur and effectively cleared the way for future generations so they wouldn't have to suffer the fate of going into the Labyrinth. The Greek hero.... MEOW! Superman helping a cat. Similarities... -Both have enemies and a weakness/weaknesses
-Unusual Childhood/upbringing

Like ancient Greek heroes, superheroes have their enemies and weaknesses. All heroes have something or someone against them, a challenger to the ‘good of human kind’ who must be stopped or brought down, but who usually holds something important against the hero or knows their weakness. They are usually known as the ‘villain’ and are generally disliked immensely by everyone, thus emphasising the ‘good guy/girl’ image of a hero. For Heracles, Hera (wife of Zeus) was his enemy. She was angry at Heracles because he was the son of her husband and a mortal woman. The main act of evil she committed against Heracles was, when he was older she drove him mad/crazy and made him kill his own wife and children. This hideous act was the reason Heracles had to perform the ‘twelve labours’ to make up for what he had done. Also, Achilles and his well-known weakness, (his Achilles tendon) is a famous example of the fact that everyone, no matter how good a warrior they are in this case has a weakness. For Superman, it is kryptonite and for Batman (unlike other heroes) it is admitting that he is ‘in over his head’. Whatever the weakness, all heroes (ancient Greek heroes and Superheroes) have at least one.

One characteristic of being a ‘hero’ in ancient Greek mythology usually involved having an abnormal childhood/upbringing, an unusual conception or birth or being abandoned at birth or while very young. We only need to examine a few ancient Greek heroes and Superheroes to see that this is a very common occurrence in heroes. Superman was abandoned on earth as a baby from his home planet, Krypton and was adopted by a farmer and his wife who named him Clark (abandoned while very young). Likewise, Batman (Bruce Wayne) became parent-less as a child when he witnessed the murder of them (abnormal childhood). Heracles strangles two snakes that were sent to kill him as a baby/child, this showing amazing strength at a young age. Theseus moved a heavy stone in order to get his father’s gifts when he was sixteen, and Batman was an orphan raised by his aunt and uncle. All of these examples demonstrate one commonality which almost all heroes share in some way, and which has not changed as a result of time. In ancient Greek culture and mythology these events occurred and also in our modern culture of Superheroes, orphans and strange events during childhood continue to happen. These similarities are, in my opinion, a direct influence of the Greek hero on our modern Superhero.

Linking with this is the purpose of an ancient Greek hero in comparison with that of a Superhero, which can also be quite different. In many cases, heroes made the world around them a safer place by defeating a monster, killing an evil king or righting a wrong. Theseus killed the savage Minotaur, Perseus chopped off Medusa’s head and Superman stopped the monster Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.
The limitations of this task have been the unreliability of sources due to the fact that there are barely any primary sources because of the enormous time gap between ancient Greek times and today. This has meant that the information that I do have may not be entirely reliable and has limited my ability to gather ‘true’ information. With time comes change, and as some of information gathered has been myth-related, the story may have changed quite radically since ancient times because it would have been passed down by word of mouth.

The characters of Superman, Batman, Theseus and so on were not actually real, however the undermining factor is that although ancient Greek heroes only appear in myths, and superheroes in comics and movies, it is the morals and messages behind them that we as society (whether in our recent past or in ancient Greek/Homeric society) take from them. They have been created as a relatable method of demonstrating what is viewed as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and the consequences that follow what is wrong. For example, when Heracles kills his wife and children, he must carry out ‘the twelve labours’ as punishment for this immoral act, demonstrating that when an evil or immoral act is committed, consequentially punishment will follow. I believe that both Greek heroes and Superheroes were created in order to present these messages to society and promote justice in the world.
By Claudia Hickey Greek heroes
Modern Superheroes From Ithaca... ...to New York A hero's journey...
“Many tales in Greek mythology concern the lives of heroes, who rank somewhere between men and gods. They were stronger and braver than other men and achieved great deeds, but they lacked the magic or supernatural powers of the gods and their deeds were accomplished by the use of human characteristics- courage, strength, and endurance. Some had a divine parent and might be called demigods, while others had human parents; but all heroes were mortal, and all knew they must die. But because death was inevitable, heroes tried to win glory and fame, which alone did not die. Along the way they hoped to pick up wealth, power and high status but none of these were hero’s prime aim.” Bibliography Ever since ancient times, we as humans have used stories as a way of explaining the world in which we live. Where ancient Greeks used myths of gods and monsters as an explanation for many issues and events, we do sort of the same in modern society with stories of Superheroes. Superheroes and their various powers and qualities have become modern society’s way of teaching important morals and also inspiring people to do right in times of hardship. They are in short the model of an incredibly ‘good’ person (strong, brave, smart, handsome), but become more relatable to everyday folk in that they also have ‘common’ issues (i.e. love).

“Comic books are modern mythology, in that they are modern man’s method of explaining the world around them through the fantastical.” (1)

(1) - http://witnessing101.hubpages.com/hub/Modern-Mythology-What-Comic-Books-Can-Tell-Us-About-Humanity Differences... One major characteristic and question of a superhero, is their identity. They usually wear masks and full-body suits in order to achieve this and remain something of a mystery to society. Often they also have alter-egos, for example Superman is also an ordinary guy with an ordinary job called Clark Kent. Most of the time superheroes don’t want everyone to know who they are, instead preferring to remain mysterious but heroic. They do not want all of the recognition and attention that comes with performing heroic acts. This is quite unlike Greek heroes who ‘lap up’ the fame and glory which comes as a result of their actions.

Another difference between the modern Superhero and the classical hero is the presence of heroines. In ancient Greece there were goddesses such as Athena and Hera, but they were not really ‘heroes’. In our modern society, where gender equality is so much better than it has ever been (especially as far back as ancient Greece), women are looked up to just as much as men. Wonder-woman has created a strong, brave, intelligent and beautiful female role-model for girls of today, where formerly there has only really been strong and brave male role-models. This introduction of a positive female influence certainly reflects the views and ideas that we as a modern society/culture have in comparison with older times (ancient Greece) and even one hundred years ago.

The major difference between Greek heroes and the Superheroes in our recent history is the religious background of Greek heroes. Greek heroes serve a social and religious role, whereas Superheroes serve more of a social and political role in our modern culture.

In Greek mythology, the gods (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades etc.) were the dictators of ‘way of life’ in ancient Greece. They were everything and mere mortal humans worshipped them, feared them and prayed to them with sacrifices and offerings. As the religion of the gods was so important and paramount in ancient Greek society, a key part of being a hero was to be in some way affiliated with the gods. Demi-gods (offspring of human and a god) and other mortal heroes had to be favoured by the gods in some way in order to accomplish supernatural tasks. In many cases Greek heroes were demigods because of this, for example, Heracles. Like most demigods, Heracles was physically superior to humans in that he possessed extremities of ‘normal’ physical functions. In the case of the hero Heracles (son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman, Alcmene), the early signs of heroism showed at a young age. “A short time after Heracles was born, Hera [Zeus’ wife] sent two snakes to kill him, but the infant leapt from his cradle, grasped each snake by the neck and strangled them.” Through performing this amazing feat at a young age, as well as being a demigod, becoming a hero was almost certain for Heracles. Quite different to that of Superheroes, who do not have the favour or help of such figures of control as the gods, and who instead must earn status and achievements more independently. For Superheroes of today’s society, a society without such strong and important/helpful religious and powerful figures, help comes from other high places, for example the law, science and the police. Superheroes such as Superman, Batman, and Spiderman all had the law on their side and so were able to be helped in some ways to stop the ’bad guy/girl’.

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20111114182241AAh5bSo (Secondary Source)
https://sites.google.com/site/nicoledebra18/sophmore-year/hero-essay-1 (Secondary Source)
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080121193000AAosF0L (Secondary Source)
http://www.maicar.com/GML/Theseus.html (Secondary Source)
http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/creative-writing-greek-gods-superheroes.shtml (Secondary Source)
www.maicar.com/GML/mythman.com (Secondary Source)
www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/index.html (Secondary Source)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman (Secondary Source)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Man (Secondary Source)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman (Secondary Source)

Findlay, M. (1999). Classical Mythology. Auckland: Pearson Education New Zealand (Secondary Source)

Penning, R. Classical Studies teacher, BA, Epic range of knowledge (May/April, 2013) (Primary Source)
Captain America as a soldier and hero in World War II.
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