What Is a Hero? Heroism in Greek Mythology

9, 10, 11, 12

Identifying qualities of a hero in life and literature will enable students to conclude that heroic figures are often depicted as, but do not need to be, “larger than life.” Through readings and becoming familiar with the characters portrayed in Greek mythology, they will recognize elements of heroism as acts of philanthropy and advocacy for the common good.

PrintThree to Four Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learners will:

  • identify characteristics of a hero by selecting someone that he/she believes is heroic, by listing/mapping the “heroic qualities” of that individual and presenting this to the class.
  • create a definition for heroism by analyzing and applying the identified qualities.
  • identify a heroic characteristic he/she or a family member has demonstrated, explaining an event in which he/she gave something to someone else.
  • connect the act of giving to developing the definition of philanthropy.
  • demonstrate an understanding of heroic characters represented in Greek mythology as related to philanthropic actions.
  • visualize and produce a color illustration depicting a character explained to him/her through representative literature.
  • Bulletin board or available area to display “Hero” pictures
  • Construction paper to create letters/mats for bulletin boards
  • Dry erase board and markers
  • Teacher’s choice of traditional or contemporary music directly or indirectly pertaining to heroes
  • CD/tape player
  • Markers, crayons and/or colored pencils
  • Drawing paper (plain white paper)
  • Greek Gods and Heroes by Robert Graves
  • Student copies of (Handout One) Spanish version (Handout Three)
  • Student copies of (Handout Two) Spanish version (Handout Four)

Goldberg, Judy ed. Literary Cavalcade. 2001, 54:1-44. ISSN0024-4511

Graves, Robert. Greek Gods and Heroes. Laureleaf: Reissue edition (February 1995). ISBN: 0440932211

Lang, Andrew. Tales of Troy and Greece. Ware: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1995. ISBN I 85326 1726.

Littleton, C. Scott. "Mythology," World Book Online Americas Edition,

The Iliad. Compact Disc. ISBN: 9626340622

Young, Neil. Let’s Roll. 2001.


  1. Anticipatory Set:At the start of class, have each student get out a piece of paper and brainstorm for five minutes about “What qualities make a Hero?” (If not already established, introduce possible formats for brainstorming, i.e. a list, mapping, etc.)

    Class Sessions One and Two:

    Teacher Note: Two to three days prior to this lesson, the teacher will instruct the students to begin thinking about who they consider a “hero” and search for a photograph or picture of this person or character. (Suggest that the students consider family members, friends, celebrities, elders or fictional characters. Recommend searching for pictures on the Internet or in magazines if necessary. Be careful not to define hero, but to allow each student to consider his/her own interpretation.) Write a three to five sentence description of their person or character with justification.

  2. The teacher will instruct the students to put a line after the last quality identified. The students will use this paper to write down additional words as their classmates present their heroes.

  3. Develop a class definition of “HERO.”

  4. Ask students to recall the “heroes” of 9/11 and discuss how our idea of a hero may have changed after 9/11.

    Instructor Note: You may wish to have your students listen to, “Lets Roll” by Neil Young. It is an excellent song written about the heroic actions of those on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001)

  5. Have each student prepare a visual, either drawing or cartoon, representing the definition of hero fulfilling an act of philanthropy.

  6. Each student will stand up and present his/her picture to the class, explaining who that individual is and what makes him/her a hero.

  7. After all of the students have presented their heroes, each student can put his/her picture on the bulletin board/wall. Students should also place the pictures or graphics brought into class on this board.

  8. Give each student Attachment One. Allow ten minutes to complete.

  9. Discuss the answers to Attachment One

  10. Class Sessions Three and Four:

    Instructor Notes: You may have the class read The Iliad or the book Greek Gods and Heroes by Robert Graves, publisher: Laureleaf, ISBN: 0440932211, reissue edition (February 1995). The decision should be based on the ELA curriculum of the local school district, age/grade level of students and time allotment.

  11. Anticipatory Set: Write the word MYTH on a large sheet of paper or board. Develop the definition of the word myth. Have students recall myths they have read or heard. Discover with them the common elements of myths: to explain natural phenomenon like changing seasons, eclipses, tides; explain relationships and position in society; explain creation, life and death; solve ethical and moral dilemmas.

  12. Set the historical perspective of Greek mythology. Roots can be traced to the merger of Dorian and Mycenean mythology about 1200 B.C. Three major works were: Theogeny by Hesoid, The Iliad disputed credit to Homer and The Odyssey by Homer. Explain that as they read or listen they will encounter gods, goddesses, heroes or heroines, monsters and creatures.

  13. The teacher will introduce the Greek gods and goddesses, heroes/heroines and monsters by listing their names with a brief description so that all students can observe.

  14. The teacher will have the class read aloud at least one Greek tale which can be: adapted version of a play, excerpt from a larger work, or a summarization of a work. (This content should be left up to the teacher and will vary depending on the grade level.) Some great materials are Andrew Lang’s Tales of Troy and Greece; the October, 2001 issue of Scholastic, Literary Cavalcade, etc. or from the following:

    Graves, Robert, Greek Gods and HeroesPublisher: Laureleaf; ISBN: 0440932211; Reissue edition (February 1995)

    The Iliad, ISBN: 9626340622. Format: Compact Disc.

  15. Students complete Attachment Two as they listen to the compact disc, The Illiad, or read their myths from the anthology, Greek Gods and Heroes.

  16. Discuss their responses to the questions.

  17. The teacher will ask the students to determine which of their heroes or other prominent figures are comparable to the various Greek characters. The teacher will lead the students to analyze “why” these characters are “godlike” or “heroic,” how these characters exemplify giving of their time, talent or treasure for the common good, or demonstrate advocacy for the common good. (If using the October 2001 issue of Scholastic, Literary Cavalcade look at page 9. This page compares Olympus to Hollywood and the gods to movie stars, naming different celebrities as the gods and goddesses, i.e. Brad Pitt is Zeus and Jennifer Aniston is Hera.)

  18. Discuss how their heroes are demonstrating advocacy for the common good.

  19. The students will be given crayons, markers or colored pencils and a piece of white paper, and will be given approximately 10 to 15 minutes to illustrate the god, goddess, hero or heroine that they consider to be the most impressive. Students are to produce a drawing depicting the importance of this character as seen in the student’s mind rather than based on other illustrations. 

  20. Write a paragraph explaining their picture.

  21. Each student will discuss which character he/she depicted and how he/she relates to this particular one. Students are to explain visual arts techniques used. Student is to make the connection to philanthropy and advocacy.


Informal presentation evaluation

Class participation during brainstorming (Teacher observation)

Class participation during discussion (Teacher observation)

God/goddess illustration with paragraph

Evaluate Attachment Two


4 Points: Hero depicted clearly and identified, paragraph describes philanthropy and advocacy to philanthropy, is stylistic and grammatically correct. Correct use of visual arts techniques, tools and element of analysis in presentation.

3 Points: Hero is described, example relating to philanthropy or advocacy, grammatical structure correct, visual arts technique and correct tools used.

2 Points: Hero described, no connection to philanthropy, visual arts techniques not developed, no element of analysis in presentation

1 Point An attempt is made

Cross Curriculum 

Develop a display of visuals produced by the students and the pictures they have brought to class.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define the phrase <i>community/social capital</i> and discuss how it relates to all communities and the problem of factions.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.