chapter  15
THE POWERFUL DEAD: Heroes and heroines
Pages 12

The Greeks sacrificed and prayed to a class of supernatural beings they called the heroes, of which the heroes in Homeric epic formed only a subset. No taxonomy of the heroes and heroines can be completely satisfying because they are a large and varied group, sometimes resembling the medieval saints with respect to the way their relics are manipulated, other times the restless and vengeful dead in their malicious and ghostlike activities, and yet other times functioning as tutelary deities who help shape the identity of the polis and protect its lands. The Greeks looked back with intense interest on their own heroic past, and believed that the first generations of men had possessed godlike powers and stature. Hesiod (Op. 123, 141) speaks of early races that died out, yet became “pure ones dwelling on the earth, kindly ones, guardians of mortals” and “blessed ones under the earth.” Most of the epic heroes died (Op. 166-73), yet a privileged few were brought to the Islands of the Blessed to live an existence like that of the gods. Homer and Hesiod are concerned with Panhellenic, shared traditions about the heroes, so they have little to say about heroic cult, which is a varied phenomenon, distinctive to each place.