Balance Point: Modern Superheroes and Ancient Greek Heroes

Modern Superheroes, Ancient Greek Heroes

and the Death of Stan Lee


On November 11, 2018, the world was shocked to hear that Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics had died at the age of 95. According to The Hollywood Reporter:

“Lee, who began in the business in 1939 and created or co-created Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man, among countless other characters, died early Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles  …”

Lee’s legacy is the Marvel Universe which will continue to grow and delight ever increasing numbers of fans.


Pic Credit: Butcher Billy for the Los Angeles Times


Modern Superheroes as Role Models

Countless kids have aspired to be superheroes over the years, and they found hope in the work of Lee. Some of these kids may well have felt inadequate while others were the victims of bullying. MedicineNet states:

“Bullying is defined as physical or verbal aggression that is repeated over a period of time and, in contrast to meanness, involves an imbalance of power.  …  Twenty eight percent of young people from grades six through 12 have been the victim of bullying.”


In the absence of any external help, an imbalance of power can only be rectified through the acquisition of power by the victim. Superheroes always have at least one superpower, which explains why they are often chosen as role models.


As superheroes evolve, they learn that with great power comes great responsibility. It is for this reason that those kids who were bullied, and model themselves on superheroes as they acquire empowerment, are unlikely to become bullies themselves.


On January 7, 2016, The Washington Post ran an article titled, “In defense of superheroes as role models” where it was argued that superheroes can instill in kids a sense of duty and sacrifice and teach them to use their gifts to create a better world. Being a superhero is about “having a sound moral compass and not letting fear, greed or societal pressures move you from your path. It’s about standing up for what’s right, even when it’s unpopular. It’s about applying your gifts to something beyond yourself.”


Superheroes instill the importance of not being selfish, but rather to use superpowers (gifts) to assist and protect the vulnerable, so as to create a better, more compassionate society.


Ancient Greek Heroes

Ancient Greek myths recount the Heroic Age, which was the time of legendary figures like Perseus, Heracles, Jason, Achilles, and Odysseus. These figures, known as heroes, had superhuman abilities as a result of being descended from the gods and having a special relationship with them.


Perseus, son of Zeus and the Argive princess Danae, was the greatest hero and monster slayer before his descendent, Herakles. Perseus was featured in Clash of the Titans (1981) and Clash of the Titans (2010).

Herakles (Hercules), son of Zeus and Alkmene, a mortal woman, was the strongest man alive, and was worshipped as the divine protector of mankind. Herakles has been featured in numerous movies, including Hercules (2014) starring Dwayne Johnson.

Jason (Iason), son of Aison the rightful king of Iolkos (Iolcus) and Polymede, was a Thessalian hero who led the Argonauts in the quest for the Golden Fleece. He married the witch Medea. Jason has been featured in a number of movies including Jason And The Argonauts (2000).

Achilles, son of Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis, was the most skilled warrior and great hero of the Trojan War. Achilles was featured in Troy (2004).

Odysseus, son of Laertes and Antikleia, was a cunning trickster and a hero of the Trojan War, whose fleet was blown off course in a storm on his return, resulting in numerous adventures. Odysseus was featured in The Odyssey (1997) a television miniseries.


Pic: Odysseus and the Sirens, 480-470 BCE


Ancient Greek myths both entertained and taught lessons. The Ancient History Encyclopedia states that Greek mythology “was used as a means to explain the environment in which humankind lived, the natural phenomena they witnessed and the passing of time through the days, months, and seasons. Myths were also intricately connected to religion in the Greek world and explained the origin and lives of the gods, where humanity had come from and where it was going after death, and gave advice on the best way to lead a happy life. Finally, myths were used to re-tell historical events so that people could maintain contact with their ancestors, the wars they fought, and the places they explored.”


Comparing Modern Superheroes to Ancient Greek Heroes

The tales of modern superheroes and the myths of ancient Greek heroes both serve to entertain and provide valuable life lessons. They convey the importance of enduring trials and learning from them, by discovering an inner fortitude which can be employed for the betterment of society.

There is, however, a huge difference. The ancient Greek heroes were always born and not made. This is a reflection of ancient Greek culture, where it was virtually impossible to change your station in life regardless of how hard you worked.

Modern superheroes, however, were sometimes born such as Superman and Thor, while others were made, having been originally ordinary humans. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider turning him into Spiderman. Gamma rays turned Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk. Steve Rogers was injected with Super-Soldier serum (a performance enhancing drug) to turn him into Captain America. Doctor Strange studied the mystical and martial arts under the old Sorcerer Supreme, and eventually took his place. Bruce Wayne, a wealthy American industrialist, used his wealth to become Batman. Tony Stark used his wealth and scientific expertise to become Iron Man.

Modern superheroes offer a glimmer of hope of becoming like them. Kids who take up the challenge of transforming into superheroes do so by honing strengths, addressing weaknesses, being considerate of others and assisting them when required to do so. Kids should never feel discouraged if they don’t make it into the Marvel Universe as they become better people for having tried. Increasing numbers of better people will make the world as a whole a better place.


Tony Mierzwicki

Author of Hellenismos: Practicing Greek Polytheism Today.


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