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Greek Religion: Hero Cult

1. What is a Hero?

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the different senses of the word 'hero' in the ancient Greek world, focusing in particular on the general idea of a 'hero' as a role model, but also the 'heroes' of epic and tragedy, and – most importantly for this set of lectures – the 'heroes' of hero cult.


In this course, Professor Richard Seaford (University of Exeter) explores the ancient Greek institution of the hero cult. In the first module, we describe what a hero cult actually is, thinking in particular about the different meanings of the word 'hero' in the Greek world. After that, we trace some of the connections between the kinds of offerings that an individual might receive at an ordinary Greek funeral to those received by 'heroes'. In the fourth module, we think about the kind of figures who attracted hero cult, before moving on in the fifth module to explore the increased importance of hero cult in maintaining political cohesion and stability.


Richard Seaford is a professor of the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter in England. He is the author of academic books, especially on ancient Greece, and has penned over seventy academic papers.

His work on Athenian tragedy and religion has led him to investigate the historical conditions for the radical development of Greek culture in the sixth century BC (sometimes called the origin of European culture), and to argue that a crucial factor in this development was money: the advanced Greek polis of this period was the first society in history that we know to have been thoroughly monetised.

Money and the Early Greek Mind. Homer, Tragedy, Philosophy (Cambridge 2004) explores the socio-historical conditions that made this first monetisation possible as well as its profound cultural consequences, notably the invention of 'philosophy' and of drama.

The investigation is taken further in several recent papers, for instance in ‘Money and Tragedy’ in W. V. Harris (ed.), The Monetary Systems of the Greeks and Romans (2008). His most recent book is Cosmology and the Polis: the Social Construction of Space and Time in the Tragedies of Aeschylus (Cambridge 2012). In 2005-2008 he was awarded a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust. For 2013-4 he was awarded an AHRC Fellowship for a comparative historical study of early Indian with early Greek thought.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Seaford, R. (2018, August 15). Greek Religion: Hero Cult - What is a Hero? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Seaford, R. "Greek Religion: Hero Cult – What is a Hero?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,