Last time, I posted about the Greek gods an their great and not so great exploits if you’re stuck in their mythological universe. This time I write about the significant mortals and demi-gods most likely featured in Greek myths. In many ways, they’re a diverse lot with heroes, maidens, and other figures. Some were the children of gods and others were just regular people who made good. Yet, some might have suffered tragic fates since someone tried to avoid fulfilling a prophecy without using much common sense. Still, either way, they’ve inspired all kinds of literature and movies as well as tend being depicted better or worse than in actual mythology. So without further adieu, here is a cheat sheet of significant mortals and demi-gods in most Greek mythology mediums.
1. Heracles (or Hercules)
You know him as: One of Ancient Greece’s most beloved mythical heroes known for his super strength (which surpasses many Greek gods) and performing his Twelve Labors as well as whatever stepmother Hera threw at him. In many ways, an epitome of Greek manhood with his sexual prowess, athletic skill, and success in war though smart enough to use his wits when needed (the Spartans, Greek kings, and Alexander the Great claimed descent from him) who shows up whenever a strong man is needed. Upon his death he was made a god. In some ways, the Ancient Greek equivalent to a modern day superhero.
What you don’t know about him: That Heracles performed his Twelve Labors as penance for killing his first wife and children during a bout of insanity thanks to Hera. Though he’s said to do a world of good and was willing to help his friends, he’s not exactly a paragon of heroic virtue since he killed more than one innocent person for being to close to him during one of his temper flare-ups (he did show remorse though). He was also prone for starting a huge war over a mere verbal insult. Also, had to live as a woman for three years after killing a king and his family. Still, didn’t take well being cheated by his enemies and was killed by his third wife with a poisoned shirt.
You know him as: The guy who killed Medusa and saved Andromeda from a sea monster (which wasn’t a Kracken by the way) with quick thinking outside the box as well as gifts and stuff he stole from the gods. Was great to his mom and contrary to what Disney would’ve told you, he rode Pegasus, not Hercules.
What you don’t know about him: Actually killed Medusa just to save his mother from marrying the evil king Polydectes who he later killed by using her head at him. Still, he only killed Medusa because the gods wanted him to and she may not have deserved their wrath (said to be a priestess to Athena who Poseidon might’ve raped and was turned into a monster by Athena). Not to mention, he might’ve been involved with the death of his grandpa which was said to be an accident (of course, he did drive his mom out after the golden shower incident with Zeus). Also, said to be the founder of and king of Mycenae according to the Ancient Greeks. Still, though he might’ve been the chosen one, he was one of the nicer Greek heroes who was a loving son and faithful husband, rarity in Greek mythology.
You know her as: Greek mythology’s most famous heroine known for being very fast, unwilling to marry, and hunt in the woods. Her dad also abandoned her at infancy for not being a boy as well as won in a Calydonian boar hunt for drawing first blood. Made a deal to only marry a guy who’d beat her in a foot race and any guy who lost to her would be executed. However, with a guy like Hippomenes and a few golden apples, she met her match.
What you don’t know about her: That her winning the Calydonian boar hunt led to a family disintegration of one of her admirers which yielded fatal results. She also had a son named Parthenopaios though his paternity varies according to version (Hippomenes, Ares, or Melager were suggested) who’d also have his own story. Yet, she was also said to abandon him, too, in order to hide she wasn’t a virgin anymore. As for her and Hippomenes, they would be later turned into lions for having sex in one of Zeus’ temples (of course, Ancient Greeks thought that lions couldn’t mate with each other contrary to science). Also, said to be one of the Argonauts along with Heracles (and Philocetes who wasn’t a satyr).
You know her as: A powerful demi-goddess and princess of a distant kingdom who falls in love with Jason as well as helps him obtain the Golden Fleece while betraying her father and brother (and killing him) in the process. She is said to restore the dead to a younger and healthier state as well as could kill immortals with a mere look. She even accompanied him on the return trip in which he promises to stay with her forever and they had two boys together. However, once home, Jason sets to marry Creusa to strengthen political ties with Corinth so she killed his fiancee an her dad as well as their kids (in some versions) before taking off on her grandfather Helios’ chariot to Athens (some say she might’ve set Corinth on fire or have the city hit by an earthquake). Of course, Ancient Greeks thought she was totally justified since a woman dumped at the time could result in having her children killed or enslaved anyway.
What you don’t know about her: After her life with Jason, she’s said to heal Heracles at Thebes before driven out of town as well as marry King Aegeus in Athens making her stepmother to Thesseus who she tried to poison to ensure her own son would get the throne but escaped when the scheme produced the exact opposite result. Some say returned home to kill her uncle and restore her dad to his throne or went to Iran depending on the version. Said to have become a goddess after her death.
You know him as: The guy who can charm all living things with his music as well as even Hades an Peresphone. Tries to get his wife Eurydice back from the Underworld after she dies but fails when he looks back at her during the journey to the upper world either for being careless or not fully trusting Hades, which leaves him heartbroken.
What you don’t know about him: He was an Argonaut with Jason as well as the son of the muse Calliope. He never recovered from losing Eurydice in the Underworld and disdained the worship of all gods save Apollo and was eventually ripped apart by the Maenad nymphs for not honoring his previous patron Dionysus (there are other versions though). Still, some accounts said he didn’t really die and was still singing sad songs until the people of Lesbos buried his head and built a shrine in his honor.
You know him as: The king of Ithaca who left to fight the Trojan war and trying to return home while leaving a wife and son at home for twenty years. Of course, he also helped ally the Kings of Greece for Helen’s hand as well as came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse to capture the Troy and end the war (which lasted for ten years). However, he had to apply his intelligence and cunning as well as his willingness to take advice from Nestor or anyone else. Yet, he also spends the next ten years trying to get home to his family in Ithaca but his pride as well as gouging and boasting about blinding Poseidon’s son Polythemos doesn’t do him any favors and his daddy makes the trip a nightmare (though the cyclops also tried to eat his fellow sailors). Sure he may have had sexual relationships Circe and Calypso but they were goddesses and weren’t really consensual on his part. He does come home to his wife Penelope (thanks to Athena) and him and his son, Telamachus kill all her suitors and maids allied with them.
What you don’t know about him: That Penelope didn’t recognize him when he came back for obvious reasons (since it was twenty years since she last saw him) until she said their bed was moved but he says it would be impossible since he carved the thing. Not to mention, the citizens of Ithaca weren’t too pleased with him killing his wife’s suitors but Athena tries to get both sides to make peace. Also, he was an influential champion in the Trojan war with a long list of accomplishments including winning Achiles’ armor through persuasion as well as has a lot of fanfiction attributed to him in non-Homeric continuations (and yes, the ancient Greeks weren’t above doing this with some depicting him and his wife both cheating on each other and him dying at sea). And then there’s a dispute whether Laertes or Sisyphus was his real father.
You know him as: The king of Mycenae as well as leader of the Greek forces during the Trojan War and Menelaus’ older brother who has the most ships than anyone else. Manages to get in a fight with Achilles which nearly results in his army’s defeat as well as pisses off Artemis after killing a deer in which he has to sacrifice his daughter Ipheginia for a favorable wind. May not be as smart as Odysseus but does give him good advice before they part ways. However, unlike Odysseus, he does not return to a happy home and is killed by his wife Clytemnestra and her boyfriend. His kids Orestes and Electra kill them both in retaliation and are driven insane by the Furies at least for awhile.
What you don’t know about him: That Agamemnon’s family was so screwed up with a family history that reads like a Game of Thrones marathon complete with rape, murder, incest, and treachery. And Menelaus is about one of the only adult members who doesn’t do something unforgivable and probably married Helen just to get the hell out of Mycenae (and become king of Sparta and the fact Agamemnon was married to her sister). Also, took Cassandra as a concubine from Troy but she was killed by Orestes and Electra. Still, he was no more evil than the other Greek or Trojan warriors.
8. Telamonean Ajax or Ajax the Great
You know him as: King of Salamis and the biggest soldier among the Greek forces during the Trojan War who’s determined to follow his will even without help from the gods as well as the second best warrior. He’s a cousin to Achilles and their dads were Argonauts and companions of Heracles. Still, when the gods stopped helping the Greeks, he’s the only hero standing who never stops fighting despite being wounded by several gods. He never gets beaten not even by the gods, has a body count roughly equal to Achilles, and would’ve killed Hector if the gods weren’t there to save his life. Just as smart as Odysseus who is close to his half-brother Teucer and could be a pretty decent guy outside the battlefield. His pride and individualism eventually lead him to be driven mad by Athena and he ends up committing suicide shortly after.
What you don’t know about him: That he fought against Hector twice and actually went on a sadistic sheep killing rampage. Also, he didn’t take it too well when Odysseus gets Achilles’ armor. Not to mention, archaeologists might have found a palace which might’ve been his home on Salamis and he’s been popular among the people there sort of like a folk hero. Still, while there’s no evidence that he existed, his house certainly did. Oh, and there’s a line of cleaning products named after him.
You know him as: The Greek hero of the Trojan war and cousin of Ajax. Said to have his mother Thetis dip him in the river Styx when he was a kid in order to be invincible though she held him by the heels (we’ll get to that later). I mean he beats a local river god while crossing a river. Though one of the biggest jerks of ancient literature (since he has facing a lot of stiff competition even in Greek mythology in that department), he has his moments such as being upset at Agamemnon for justifiable reasons and bringing Hector’s body to his family after killing him. And then there’s him falling in love with a dead Amazonian queen as well as his relationship with Patroclus. Basically fights because he likes it and not for honor or gain even if it means an early death. Is killed by a poison arrow shot by Paris either in the heel or somewhere else depending on the version.
What you don’t know about him: Contrary to popular media, his experience in the battlefield is minimal compared to the other kings participating. Also, the judgement of Paris is supposed to take place at his parents wedding and that Zeus and Poseidon both had designs on his mom (and that Greek storytellers may not be very good at math or that Achilles was born some time before then but I highly doubt it). His father was king of the Myrmidons and his mother was a nymph and a goddess (and he was said to be a mamma’s boy with good reason). Not to mention, he didn’t give Hector’s body back to Priam after mutilating it in retaliation for killing Patroclus who may have been more than his best friend which he blamed himself for (you’d never know about these relationships in Greek mythology but he’s said to have kids though). Still, though he was a raging killing machine, he had a lot of trouble caring about anybody but himself and sometimes Agamemnon had to coax him into fighting. And when he does, he doesn’t learn the lesson of team work and friendship.
You know him as: The crown prince of Troy and Trojan hero of the Trojan War. A noted family man with wife Andromache and little boy Astyanax (seriously?). The only guy among the Trojans who thinks that kidnapping Helen from Menelaus was a spectacularly stupid idea (you think?) but can’t really avoid fighting once the war’s on. One of the only decent guys of the whole lot who just wants to live a quiet life. Too bad he never gets that chance since he’s killed by Achilles after he slays his best buddy Patroclus. Luckily his foe brings his body back to his dad Priam. Had a fan following during the Middle Ages as well as modern times. Doesn’t hurt that he has a name most would consider normal by today’s standards.
What you don’t know about him: That Hector probably would’ve died in the Trojan War earlier if the gods didn’t save him in some of the duels he fought. Also, he mutilated Patroclus’ corpse to Achilles’ ire and only attacked him with a swarm of men. And he tries to flee when Achilles (or whoever he thinks is Achilles) confronts him and is only willing to fight him when he thinks his brother Deiphobus is with him. Still, that’s kind of understandable since you don’t want to one-on-one with a Achilles and he kind of knew he was a goner in such situation. Yet, he’s one of the few people in Troy to treat Helen decently despite having every right not to and she actually mourns for him. However, while he may be a great warrior and decent guy, he’s nowhere near as heroic than his depiction in modern portrayals. And he doesn’t really listen to advice as well as overconfident. Also, after his death, his wife and sister become sex slaves (his mother becomes a slave, too) while his son is thrown from the city walls.
You know him as: The guy who started this whole mess by choosing Aphrodite as a winner in a divine beauty contest and asked for Helen as his prize, despite her being already married to Menelaus. Oh, yes, and he goes to Sparta and runs off to Troy with Helen causing her husband to invoke an alliance with the other Greek kings, which kicks off the whole ten year Trojan War. Also, fights as an archer during the war and kills Achilles in retaliation for him killing his brother Hector as well as duels with Menelaus before Aphrodite spirits him away (of course, neither are said to be very good soldiers but the Spartan king could’ve kicked his ass even bare handed). Gets killed by Philocetes (who’s not a satyr.)
What you don’t know about him: That he already had a girlfriend who was a nymph named Onene who knew prophecy and medicine which he later dumped for Helen. Oh, and he usually relies on Aphrodite to bail his ass out as well as turns to archery due to his fear on the front lines (which in ancient Greek terms makes him a dirty coward). Also, even the Trojans think he’s a philandering, cowardly jerk responsible for the war and were rooting for Menelaus to crush his ass. Not to mention, everyone in Troy knew he was foretold to damn Troy since he was a baby and his dad took great pains to kill him but no one had the heart to do it (as with most Greek works). And though he abducts her, he doesn’t defend Helen when other Trojans call her a whore (Hector and Priam do though). Not to mention, his kidnapping Helen breaks serious hospitality values (taken very seriously in the ancient world) and has plenty of political ramifications for Menelaus.
You know her as: The woman who launched a thousand ships after she was abducted by Paris (though he more or less started it). She was also Queen of Sparta and Menelaus’ wife (in an arranged marriage) as well as considered one of the most beautiful woman in the area and gets a lot of unwanted attention for it. Was in Troy during war as Paris’ wife and later married to his brother Deiphobus after he was killed. Once he’s killed during the Greek sack of Troy, she goes back to Menelaus. Also, she was nearly kidnapped by Thesseus and his buddy when she was a girl but brothers Castor and Pollux save her. Said to have been conceived during her mother’s encounter with Zeus disguised as a swan.
What you don’t know about her: That she probably may or may not have consented to running off with Paris to Troy and perhaps may or may not have had feelings for him depending on the version. Also, she calls Aphrodite a jerk when she urges her to sleep with him and only seems to have kind words for Hector and Priam (as far as Homer is concerned). Oh, and her brothers were both killed in the Trojan War as well as feels a lot of guilt over the whole thing but only because so many Greeks were killed. And it’s said when she and Menelaus get back together, their marriage is strained (which is understandable), but at least she gets a better deal than her sister Clytemnestra.
You know him as: The guy who slew the Minotaur in the Labyrinth at Crete during the regular sacrifice and with help from Ariadne (who was the Minotaur’s sister). He also slew and sacrificed the Marathonian Bull in order to be recognized as King Aegeus’ son (though he may have been Poseidon’s kid). Was king of Athens and married the Amazon queen Hippolyta and Phaedra (who later tries to bang her stepson Hippolytus which ends very badly). Also, known for killing serial killers and bandits (kind of like an ancient Greek version of Dexter that is if Dexter actually had to kill a guy with a bull head and everyone knew about his deeds). Not to mention, he appears in stories involving Heracles, Oedipus, and Medea with the first two turning to him for asylum.
What you don’t know about him: Although he may have been a son of a king (or god), he basically had to do almost everything on his own. After the Minotaur slaying, was a massive jerk to Ariadne and her sister Phaedra who he abandoned on the island (though some versions said he was forced to but at least Ariadne got a happy ending, Phaedra not so much). Also, forgot to change the sails when returning home resulting in Aegeus’ suicide. Had a nasty habit of kidnapping women against their will or their husbands.’ Notable abductions include kidnapping his first wife which started a war and him and his buddy’s attempt to kidnap Helen and Persephone even if he knew it wasn’t a good idea (but unlike his buddy, he lived). Almost got poisoned by Medea.
You know him as: Literally the most famous motherfucker who ever lived and where we get the term Oedipus Complex (though he didn’t really suffer from it since he killed his dad and married his mom without deliberation or knowingly). He also kills his dad for cutting him off in traffic and being an asshole. Of course, he didn’t know it until right before he gouged his eyes out at the revelation because the people he thought were his parents never told him he was adopted at a time as well as who his real parents were when having no known direct ancestry could cause no end in problems for a guy in a prominent position like King of Thebes. Also, known for solving the Riddle of the Sphinx. Of course, this would make his two sons his half-brothers and his two daughters his half-sisters. Though he was foretold to kill his dad and wind up with mom which his parents took great pains to avoid by abandoning him, the prophecy probably would’ve never been fulfilled if he was raised by his parents in the first place. Not to mention, if you follow Sophocles, his kids become pretty messed up as well.
What you don’t know about him: That the tragedy surrounding Oedipus is that he was actually a good king who committed patricide and two decades long incest without even knowing it before it was too late. However, eventually he had to find out about it twenty years later amid a crisis in Thebes in which whoever killed King Laius must be brought to justice. Well, guess who becomes irony’s bitch to the self-fulfilling prophecy? Of course, his fate depends on version since Sophocles says he gave up the throne and exiled himself while Homer states he ruled until his death. And in Greek mythology, prophecies will always come true.
You know her as: The beautiful Trojan princess who could tell the future but no one would believer because she was cursed by Apollo after his thwarted rape attempt. And all her prophecies would come true, especially when it pertained to Troy falling in a fiery blaze. She also ends up losing most of her male relatives as well as losing her sanity and gets to watch Troy burn. The Trojans should’ve listened to her big time.
What you don’t know about her: It gets worse. When the Trojan War is over, she hides in the Temple of Athena but is kidnapped and violently raped by Ajax the Lesser and later becomes Agamemnon’s concubine as well as taken to Mycenae. Oh, and she later gets killed by Clytemnestra. As a princess, her story veers in the exact opposite as you’d see in a Disney movie in which she doesn’t live happily ever after at all.