What is ancient Greek heroism?

“and the rest of Asia imperishable fame.”

“And all the elder women shouted aloud/and all the men cried out a lovely song/calling on Paon farshooting god of the lyre,/and they were singing a hymn for Hektor and Andromache/like to gods.”

These lines, all from Sappho fragment 44, refer to the marriage of Hektor and Andromache. The gaps are frustrating as always, but it seems here that “imperishable fame”—the compensation for death that is awarded to heroes— applies to the doomed Hektor and his wife.

When we read across ancient texts, the mysteries simultaneously deepen and clarify. Sappho’s poem suggests a broader possible context for “imperishable fame,” who is entitled to it, and for what, as Hesiod’s “Works and Days” provides a generational (rather than moral) definition of the Age of Heroes.

Couples (Hektor and Andromache, Odysseus & Penelope), warriors (Achilles, Hektor, Patroclus, Odysseus), women (Briseis, Andromache, Penelope, Nausicaa)—their experiences and fates are woven together, micro narratives that are threads in the macro narratives that we call the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homeric epic song. They earn undying fame because they continue to be sung, recited, or read about. Their names continue to be on our lips, just as the poet(s) intended…

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