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Greek Mythology Trivia Quiz: Heroes

Updated on January 14, 2015
Theseus and the Minotaur
Theseus and the Minotaur | Source

The Heroes of Ancient Greece: Beastbusters!

Test your knowledge in this hero's edition of my Greek mythology quiz series! This quiz focuses on the classic heroes of ancient Greece.

After the quiz are "mini-myths" explaining all the answers to the quiz, with Greek art and stories of derring-do!

Don't feel bad if you don't know all the answers; some of these are a little obscure.

Heroes of Greek Mythology Quiz

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Achilles discovered by Odysseus - Jan De Bray, 17th century painter.
Achilles discovered by Odysseus - Jan De Bray, 17th century painter. | Source

A Hero in Drag

Achilles, a real mama's boy

The sea-goddess Thetis knew her son was destined to die in the Trojan War. Like any good mother, she tried her best to protect him.

First she dipped him as a baby into the Styx, the river of the underworld, to wash away his mortality. Unfortunately, she had to grasp him by the heel, leaving him vulnerable in that one place. Apparently it didn't occur to her to double dip.

When the Greeks were drafting soldiers for the expedition, Thetis disguised Achilles as Pyrrha, "red-haired girl," and stashed him at the court of Aulis. He probably was not much pleased with the arrangement, but it's hard to argue with any mother, let alone a goddess.

The ploy might have worked, had Achilles not been so well-known, but the Greeks had learned from an oracle that they would not be able to take Troy without his help. So Odysseus the trickster was dispatched to fetch the young hero. Disguised as a merchant, Odysseus entered the court and laid out a display of pretty fabrics, jewelry, and a few weapons. Reaching for a spear to examine it, Achilles blew his cover.

Above: "Achilles Discovered by Odysseus," Dutch painting by Jan de Braij in the 1600s (Click for larger view). And we worry about anachronisms in Hollywood!

Procrustes and Theseus
Procrustes and Theseus | Source

Theseus Sleeps Around

Welcome to the Hotel Hellenista

Like most Greek heroes, Theseus was a ladies' man. (Even Odysseus slept with a couple minor goddesses on the way home, and he was considered fairly faithful.)

First Theseus seduced Ariadne, daughter of the king of Crete. Then he ditched her and abducted Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Finally, after the Amazons stole her back (or she was killed in the attempt), he married Phaidra, Ariadne's sister.

There was, however, one bed that Theseus famously avoided. When he was a young man earning his hero-credentials, he cleared out various thieves and robbers outside of Athens. One of them was Procrustes. This sadistic fellow would invite travelers in, feed them a hearty meal, then invite them to sleep on his very special bed. Sounds fishy? It's worse than you think. He would strap them in and cut off their feet if they were too tall, or stretch them if they were too short.

Theseus, naturally, turned the tables on the innkeeper from hell and cut him down to size.

Cetus, Perseus and Andromeda
Cetus, Perseus and Andromeda | Source

Star Myths: Perseus and the Sea Monster

Perseus, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Andromeda, Cetus

If you look up on a clear autumn night away from city lights, you'll see a W-shaped constellation. This is just one of a cast of characters in a myth that plays out nightly across the heavens.

Open up this Autumn sky chart from a great teacher (thanks, Ms. Kaiter!) and follow along. The constellation of Perseus shows the hero returning from his hero-quest with the head of Medusa (ick). The red variable star Algol is her bloodshot eye. Next to Perseus Princess Andromeda lies prostrate next to the ocean, where of course Pisces the fishes are swimming by. What's going on?

See the W-shape? That's Andromeda's mother, Queen Cassiopeia, watching on her throne. She had boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids, sea-goddesses like Thetis. Apparently they appealed to Poseidon, god of the sea. He sent Cetus the sea monster to terrorize the country of King Cepheus (whose constellation resembles a house). Cetus the sea monster, now often interpreted as a whale, is the jumble of stars next to Pisces.

The sea monster can only be appeased by a virgin sacrifice -- in particular, the sacrifice of the queen's daughter Andromeda. Perseus turns Cetus to stone with the head of Medusa, then marries the princess.

Pegasus and Bellerophon
Pegasus and Bellerophon | Source

Pegasus the Flying Horse

And its rider the Billy Ruffian

Even if you've forgotten almost all your Greek mythology, you probably recognize Pegasus, the flying horse. He just looks cool (and was my favorite plastic horse model as a kid).

But what's the story? Well, because she's done such a fantastic job, I'm going to point you to Susanna's fabulous retelling of the myth of Bellerophon and Pegasus. Also see the Bellerophon entry in which is followed by translations of all the ancient sources telling about this hero and his heroic horse.

Trivia: The sailors of the HMS Bellerophon, nemesis of Napoleon, called the gallant ship the "Billy Ruffian."

Athena and herakles.
Athena and herakles. | Source

The Golden Cup of Helios

Now that's an unusual way to sail

The ancients had a puzzling problem: how did the sun set in the west and rise in the east?

Since they imagined the Earth as a table, this was even stranger. In early Greek mythology, this table was surrounded by an outer Ocean (the Atlantic; they assumed that was the edge of things.) Therefore, poets proposed the charming idea that Helios the sun-god stowed himself and his sun in a golden cup and sailed around the rim of the world, just in time to rise the next day.

When Herakles needed to reach the edge of the world for one of his labors (defeating the giant Geryon and taking his cattle), Helios loaned the hero his cup for the trip. In some versions of the story, Herakles demanded the ride at arrow-point!

Above: Herakles and Athena. Photo Credit: Bibi St. Pol

Vatican Odysseus
Vatican Odysseus | Source

The Bow of Odysseus

Indoor archery: an extreme sport

After twenty years, Odysseus came home in disguise to find a mob of aristocratic bachelors had taken up residence in his house, all hoping to marry his widow. Penelope kept putting them off, but even she was losing hope. Finally, a dream sent by the gods prompted her to act. Seeing her disguised husband as a sympathetic stranger, she opened her heart to him and asked his advice on a disagreeable plan:

[Od. XIX.572] "For now I shall propose a contest.

Those axes, those Odysseus used to set in a line

in his hall, like the props of a ship, twelve in all:

standing far off he would shoot right through them.

But now I will set this contest before the suitors:

whoever easily strings the bow in his hands

and shoots an arrow through all twelve axes,

him I will follow, abandoning my wifely home." (my translation)

Odysseus told her, "Do it!"

Of course, he asked for his turn during the contest. Once he got the bow in his hands, he made short work of his wife's tormentors.

There's two problems with this episode. One, how could he shoot an arrow through axes? Well, this was a double-headed axe, a labrys. Iif you check that picture, you'll see that a row of them would form a sort of slot or trough along the top of the axe-heads.

Second, and more seriously, how could Odysseus justify shooting guests in his own house? Hospitality is one of the most sacred traditions of the ancient world. But the poet of the Odyssey takes pains to point out how the suitors are consuming Odysseus' property, eating his cattle, drinking his wine, sleeping with his servants, and generally violating the unspoken guest-host contract.

Above: Vatican Odysseus, photo by Shakko, Wikimedia Commons

Kadmus fighting the dragon
Kadmus fighting the dragon | Source

The Myth of the Dragon's Teeth

Jason and Cadmus (Kadmos), founder of Thebes

Myth, like history, tends to repeat itself. When Jason sailed off in search of the Golden Fleece with an all-star crew of heroes, he could not know he was about to reenact a famous scene from the founding of Thebes, a mythological generation or two earlier.

The Golden Fleece was guarded by a fierce dragon and an equally fierce king, Aeetes. Aeetes set the young prince a challenge: yoke a team of bronze-hoofed, fire-breathing bulls and plough a field, sow it with dragon's teeth, and defeat the spartoi, the "sown" warriors who sprouted.

Jason had to perform this task first. Only later, with the secret help of the king's daughter Medea, could he sneak out, slay the dragon and take the Fleece. So where did the teeth come from? Storytellers found an ingenious answer: it was the other half of the teeth that Cadmus had taken from a dragon he slew in the wilds of Greece. Cadmus, too, had sown the dragon's teeth, and dealt with the warriors who sprouted from the earth.

Both heroes used the same strategy: they tossed a rock in the midst of the warriors, striking some of them, causing each thinking another had struck him. The warlike men fell to fighting and slew each other. Jason, protected by Medea's powerful magic, killed the few survivors. Cadmus recruited the last five, who became the first lords of the city he founded, Thebes.

Apollo purifying Orestes
Apollo purifying Orestes | Source

Orestes the Matricide

Talk about a sexist society

The tragedy of the House of Atreus goes back generation after generation, and includes fratricide, matricide, cannibalism, and... oh, I'm running out of words with -cide in them (from Latin caedo, "I slay").

Orestes is the last player in this long family feud. His father Agamemnon had sacrificed his sister Iphigenia to win fair winds for the voyage to Troy. Orestes' mother Clytemnestra had killed Agamemnon on his return, avenging their daughter. Then Orestes killed his mother, avenging his father.

The Furies, goaded by Clytemnestra's ghost, pursued Orestes from Mycenae to Athens. Aeschylus the playwright wrote a trilogy about the whole fiasco ending with the Eumenides.

In typical Athenian fashion, this play presents the resolution of the myth as a court drama. Apollo speaks as defense lawyer. He argues that a mother is only a vessel, so a son is really only the offspring of his father. Therefore Orestes' filial duties to his father trump any ties to his mother, whereas Clytemnestra's murder of her husband is heinous. Athena, serving as judge, agrees: after all, what does she care about mothers, lacking one? (Or so write Aeschylus, male Athenian.)

The court acquits Orestes. Athena appeases the Furies are by establishing a cult in their honor. Everyone lives happily ever after...provided you are a male Athenian citizen with property, or divine.

Above: Apollo purifies Orestes of his blood-guilt with a pig(!), while the ghost of Clytemnestra rouses the sleeping Furies at left.

Death of Achilles
Death of Achilles | Source

Paris the Archer

Not the most honorable profession

Real Greek heroes used spears and swords. Tricksters like Odysseus and cowards like Paris (abductor of Helen, instigator of the Trojan War) used bows.

I explained the origin of Achilles' vulnerable heel above. The heel is a fairly small target for an arrow, as I can vouch! But fate -- not to mention Apollo, annoyed at Achilles killing his favorite hero, Hector -- made sure that Paris did not miss. To this day, the "Achilles tendon" is the downfall of many an athlete.

Oddly enough, the death of Achilles does not occur in Homer's Iliad. It occurred near the end of the war but before the Trojan Horse and the sack of Troy. We learn about it in flashbacks and later authors. He makes a cameo in Homer's Odyssey, where the dead hero in Hades says that the meanest life is still better than a hero's death.

What happened to Paris? Contrary to the movie Troy, he did not reach the war's end either; another wretch named Philoctetes shot him with Odysseus' bow (yes, the same bow the Odyssey claims was back in Ithaka -- myths have as much continuity as Marvel Comics).

Achilles and Ajax play dice while Athena watches.
Achilles and Ajax play dice while Athena watches. | Source

Ajax the Greater, Hero of the Trojan War

One of the best warriors in Greece

Ajax is a straightforward hero in the Iliad, rated as the second or third best warrior in the Greek army. He's prominent in the battle scenes, defends the Greek ships almost single-handedly from a Trojan attack, and nearly defeats Hector the best of the Trojans on two occasions before the god Apollo intervenes.

Unsurprisingly, when Achilles died, he expected to inherit the champion's armor. After all, he was the new champion, wasn't he? The story goes that he fought off the Trojans while Odysseus secured Achilles' body and pulled it to safety. And then?

There's a gap of time between the Iliad and Odyssey, so we don't quite know what happened, but Odysseus sees Ajax in the underworld, sulking and refusing to talk to him. Odysseus attempts to mend fences, but Ajax turns away. Later writers explain: both heroes had equal claim to the armor, so there was a contest between them. Eventually (claims Ovid), Odysseus won by pleading his case more eloquently to the assembly of Greek chieftains.

Devastated by dishonor, Ajax goes mad (according to Sophocles' Ajax) and commits suicide.

He is not the same warrior as Ajax the Lesser, who earned the wrath of the gods by raping Cassandra and mocking them when he was shipwrecked.

© 2009 Ellen Brundige

Guestbook of Heroes - Visitors' Comments

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    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 6 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      Oh, wow. That was hard! I got only 30% right. Fortunately this year we're slated for Ancient history. (On Egypt now.) So hopefully I'll get to review these stories alongside my daughter during homeschool.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Well, first of all I must congratulate you on your knowledge of greek mythology. I am a Greek myself and I loved learning about all those beautiful myths since I was very young of age. But I feel I need to correct you on one little matter here: Helios did not travel the sky in a golden cup -- he rode on his golden chariot, the one which Phaethon tried to ride one day... but that's another story...

      I'll certainly browse through your lenses on website creation, too.

      Happy to know that our country inspires so many people around the world.

      Na eisai kala -- Be well.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I didin't score so well but who cares when there's so much to learn from you! This is beautifully done!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Helenee -- while Helios crossed the sky in a chariot, the early Greek sources were at a loss how to explain his return to the eastern horizon. They couldn't figure out what to do with the chariot itself, but Aischylos, Stesichoros and others describe him sailing around the rim of the ocean at night in a golden bowl or cup.

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 6 years ago

      @mythphile: Ooops! Even if I had read of this little info when I was very-very young (back when greek mythology was my t.o.p.-favourite subject), it must have been lost somewhere in the mists of time... Anyway, cheers to a studious lover of Greece who insists on making our precious heritage known to the world. We would be happy to welcome you back.

    • MoonandMagic profile image

      MoonandMagic 6 years ago

      60% not bad! great lens I love greek mythology.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago

      Wonderful lenses

    • chocsie profile image

      chocsie 6 years ago

      loved taking this quiz. although i only got a 30%. i guess i need to brush up on my greek mythology!

    • Cheryl57 LM profile image

      Cheryl57 LM 6 years ago

      2/10, Oh dear, I think my brain is on vacation. Another fantastic lens(thank goodness, I can still read! LOL!

    • profile image

      Angela_Rosas 6 years ago

      Cool quiz

    • Bill Armstrong profile image

      Bill Armstrong 6 years ago from Valencia, California

      Great lens and love the quiz

    • profile image

      owenfurio 6 years ago


    • bames24 lm profile image

      bames24 lm 6 years ago

      loved the quiz though I failed with sinking colors LOL

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great lens

    • sushilkin lm profile image

      sushilkin lm 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great lens, I hadn't read about Greek heroes in years! Interesting, fun and informative, thanks for a good lens.

    • profile image

      Jerrad28 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing, very interesting!

    • pimbels lm profile image

      pimbels lm 5 years ago

      Interesting lens and quiz, thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      5 out of 10...bummer! I need to brush up on my Greek mythology!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      Great quiz, not so great result... Thanks again!

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 5 years ago

      I aced it! :))) But then, it's our Greek myths you're dealing with here!

      I like your humorous vein and the way you tell these stories.

    • pramodbisht profile image

      pramodbisht 5 years ago

      Great quiz,had fun,thanks!

    • SaintFrantic profile image

      SaintFrantic 5 years ago

      Great quiz thanks

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 5 years ago

      not bad at all

    • food monkey profile image

      food monkey 5 years ago

      great info!

    • JoyfulReviewer profile image

      JoyfulReviewer 5 years ago

      Very attractive and nicely done!

    • Inkhand profile image

      Inkhand 5 years ago

      I am getting addicted to your greek quizzes. Fun lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Great lens, great stories.

    • Hypersapien2 profile image

      Hypersapien2 5 years ago from U.S.

      I'm a fan of Greek Mythology, so great lens!

    • profile image

      Pangionedevelopers 5 years ago

      great quiz

    • MindPowerProofs1 profile image

      MindPowerProofs1 5 years ago

      I like Greek mythology but the problem is I can never remember their names.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago


    • top-holidays lm profile image

      top-holidays lm 4 years ago

      Very nice info and great quiz

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Another great quiz. Thanks

    • profile image

      Thamisgith 4 years ago

      These are getting harder (but still fun).

    • DataRet profile image

      DataRet 4 years ago

      Great quiz from Greek mythology. Thanks.

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