hero, in Greek religion, famous person, who after his death, was worshiped as quasi-divine. The heroes might be actual great men and women, real or imaginary ancestors, or "faded" gods and goddesses (i.e., ancient gods who for some reason were demoted to human status). Homer treats his heroes as nobles and fighting men, but many Homeric heroes, such as Hector and Achilles, later became objects of worship. Hero cults were distinctly different from the attendance to the dead, which was meant only to afford comfort in the afterlife. In hero worship, as in the worship of all infernal powers, rituals were performed at night, black animals were sacrificed, and blood and other liquid offerings were poured beside the hero's tomb. The worship centered in general on the supposed place of the hero's tomb; the cult of some heroes, notably Hercules, was, however, widespread.
See E. R. Farnell, Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality (1921).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.