What Does It Mean to Be an Epic Hero?

An epic hero is a fictional character who appears in epic poems and mythology. They’re usually the protagonists of stories and are traditionally male, though the number of female epic heroes is increasing. As they traverse hurdles on their quest to discover their mission, these heroes display incredible bravery and tenacity.

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Epic Heroism Characteristics

Epic heroes have distinguishing features that help readers tell them apart from other types of heroes. The amount of qualities they share is a point of contention. Some specialists detect as few as five features, while others recognise seven or 10. However, they all agree on a few criteria that define the epic hero.

To begin with, the epic hero is of noble birth (possibly a god’s offspring) and is not a commoner in their cultures. He possesses the power to perform incredible feats of strength, which he frequently displays during his journey. Despite his high status and impressive abilities, the epic hero rarely brags about his achievements. This could be because he frequently obtains divine assistance on his journey.

The Hero’s Adventure

Because their stories all follow predictable narratives, it’s difficult to deny the similarities between epic heroes. They usually begin as ordinary people who must embark on an adventure and return transformed. From classical literature to contemporary tales, the hero’s journey is visible in all of the major epic poems.

This journey is divided into three sections. First, he must leave his home, a decision that frequently requires the support of a mentor or supernatural entity. Then he must traverse across uncharted territory while avoiding perils and challenges. He eventually returns to his home and the people he abandoned.

The Hero’s Journey in Steps

Professor of literature Joseph Campbell recognised 17 steps in the hero’s journey. He hears a call to take on a task during the flight, initially rejects it, but later accepts it. The hero is put through a number of tests in the next round, including a temptation. He faces his uncertainties and realises his purpose after successfully evading this temptation. This gives him the strength he needs to face his most severe challenge.

The hero returns home in the final stage of the adventure. He may not want to return to his normal life in some circumstances. He does, however, frequently obtain supernatural assistance in escaping, particularly when he must return with a valuable object. The hero learns to balance his old life with his new knowledge of the world and himself after coming home.

Epic Heroes in Classical Literature Examples

Classical literature provides some of the most well-known examples of epic heroes. In Homer’s Odyssey, Achilles

The Iliad and Odysseus in The Odyssey both show bravery and fortitude in facing and overcoming challenges. The Sumerian epic The Epic of Gilgamesh’s title character accomplished a quest before erecting a wall to defend his people. Epic heroes from British literature include King Arthur and Beowulf.

Epic Heroes in Contemporary Stories Examples

Epic heroes can also be found in modern literature and cinema. The original Luke Skywalker

As Luke faces Darth Vader in the Star Wars film, he goes through all of the stages of a hero’s journey. Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is another well-known example.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.


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