As an infant Achilles‘ mother dipped him into the River Styx, which made him invulnerable everywhere but the heel by which she held him. For ten years Achilles was a great hero in the Trojan War for the Greeks. But in the end, Paris, son of the Trojan king, fatally wounded Achilles in the heel. Today, the tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone is called the Achilles tendon, and a small but dangerous weakness is known as an “Achilles heel.”
Brave and powerful Hercules is perhaps the most loved of all Greek heroes. The son of Zeus and Alcmene (a granddaughter of Perseus), Hercules grew up to become a famed warrior. But Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera, made him temporarily insane, and he killed his wife and children. As punishment Hercules performed twelve seemingly impossible labors, which have been the subject of countless works of art and drama. Hercules is often depicted wearing a lion skin and wielding a club.
Jason was the leader of the Argonauts, the 50 heroes who sailed in search of the Golden Fleece. Jason’s uncle, Pelias, had stolen the kingdom that should belong to Jason. He promised to return it only if Jason would bring home the Golden Fleece—the wool from the magical winged ram that became the constellation Aries. On their journey, Jason and the Argonauts faced down such dangers as the deadly singing Sirens. They ultimately captured the fleece with the help of the sorceress Medea, who became Jason’s wife.
King of Ithaca and a celebrated warrior, Odysseus helped the Greeks triumph in the Trojan War. Afterward, he journeyed nearly ten years to return home to Ithaca and his wife Penelope. Along the way, Odysseus’s courage and cleverness saved him from such monsters as the Cyclops Polyphemus, the Sirens (pictured above), and Scylla and Charybdis. Back in Ithaca, Odysseus proved his identity to Penelope and once again ruled his homeland. These adventures are told in Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey.
The son of Zeus and Danaë, Perseus completed dangerous feats with his quick thinking and talents as a warrior. Most famous was his slaying of the Gorgon Medusa. Because looking directly at the monstrous Medusa would turn a man to stone, Perseus killed her while watching her reflection in a mirror. After beheading the Gorgon with his sword he kept her head in his satchel. Later, to save the princess Andromeda from being eaten by a sea monster, Perseus pulled out Medusa’s head and turned the creature to stone.