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Epic Hero: Definition, Characteristics & Examples

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  • 0:02 Epic Hero
  • 0:44 Examples & Characteristics
  • 3:18 Epic Heroes Today
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devon Anderson
In this lesson, we will explore the literary epic hero. We will learn the definition of the term, discuss some of the shared characteristics of this type of protagonist and go over some classic and popular examples of epic heroes.

Definition of Epic Hero

Have you ever felt called to do something important and decided to pursue it? Did you face obstacles? Did you find yourself treading water? Did you find help along the way? Were you distracted at times? Did you eventually reach your goal and learn something about yourself in the process?

If you answered yes to these questions, you have a lot in common with the epic hero. Epic heroes are literary characters from ancient mythology and other stories, which were written down in the form of long, narrative epic poems. The hero is the main character, or protagonist, of the poem. The reader follows the epic hero through a series of adventures and obstacles.

Epic Hero Examples and Characteristics

We can see examples of the epic hero character as far back as the oldest written words. Around 2000 B.C., stories about King Gilgamesh were recorded on clay tablets. The Epic of Gilgamesh is considered the first epic poem and tells the story of the King of Uruk, which is a kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia.

Some of the best known examples of epic heroes come from classical Greek and Roman literature. Homer's Iliad, written around 800 B.C., tells the story of the hero Achilles and the Trojan War. Homer's other great work, The Odyssey, recounts the journey of Odysseus and all the trials he faced while trying to get back home from the war. Aeneas is the best known Roman epic hero, starring in Virgil's Aeneid, written between 70 and 19 B.C.

Examples of heroes from other parts of the world include Vishnu in the Hindu Mahabharata (400 B.C - A.D. 400), Beowulf in the 7th century Anglo-Saxon epic of the same name and Siegfried in the sagas of Norse mythology.

Epic heroes are often born of gods, royalty or some other kind of special circumstances. They are unique somehow - set apart from other people. They also share certain traits and their stories often contain the same elements. Let's see how these traits match up to Homer's epic hero, Odysseus:

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