About the Exhibition

dueling warriors

Dueling Warriors (detail), Attic black-figure mastos, ca. 530 BCE.

Read the Book, Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece

Heroes Book Cover

Featuring essays by leading authorities in the field, this book draws on recent archaeological, literary, and art historical research to explore such issues as gender, cult, and iconography, as well as overlooked aspects of familiar and unfamiliar heroes.

This book is available for online purchase in hardcover or softcover editions.

The exhibition Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece will present one of the central figures of ancient Greek culture: the Hero. Greek heroes were primary characters in a complex mythology, subjects of local religious worship, and models for the ancient citizens. To the Greeks, however, they were not fictional characters, but mortals who had lived, died, and were worthy of worship. The lives of the heroes and heroines were a constant presence in daily life, since artists represented both the mighty deeds, and the challenges that beset heroes, on monuments and everyday objects.

Many traits of Greek heroes are mirrored in our modern conception of heroes. Whether it is the value of extraordinary physical ability or mental acumen, the Greek conception of a hero influenced our own heroic ideals. While we do not worship deceased heroes as gods, we still honor and memorialize them. Indeed, there seems to be an inherent human need for superhuman and mortal heroes in every culture, and our modern society is no different.

The exhibition is composed of four sections, and presents four of the most popular heroes and heroines: Herakles, the mighty hero-god; Odysseus, the cunning traveler; Achilles, the hot-tempered warrior; and Helen, the eternal beauty.

Identification of the Hero

This introduction section will help the visitor to identify the Heroes by their special iconography, by content, or inscription. It also offers a complex family-tree, which demonstrates the relationship of gods, heroes, and mortals.

Who am I ?

This section will introduce the stories of our heroes, which are depicted on vases, reliefs, and jewelry, as well as statuary. The images tell stories of childhood, marriage, and family, of agony and glory, of despair, friends and monsters, as well as the their death.

Heroes in Cult

Heroes and heroines were worshiped locally throughout Greece. They were regarded as heroic ancestors, founders, protectors, healers, or helpers, but also occasionally as dangerous spirits. Worship included festivals, rituals, sacrifices, and offerings.  In return, one could expect some other form of divine aid. Worshipers left offerings of images which could vary from small models to large reliefs. A reconstructed shrine, as well as an altar will demonstrate the ritual practices.


Heroes and heroines were inherently human, and for that reason were models of behavior for the ancient Greeks. The variety of heroes meant that many people, ranging from warriors to musicians, could look up to a specific hero as a role model. This section highlights several groups of people for whom heroes and heroines served as models of behavior.

This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Christine Dunbar Sarbanes (1935-2009), a true and abiding hero of our time. Odysseus-like in her commitment to the Walters Art Museum, she was a compassionate advocate for the audiences we strive to serve.

The planning and implementation of this exhibition have been generously supported by grants from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The exhibition catalogue received a leadership grant from the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA). The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The presentation in Baltimore has been made possible by the Women's Committee of the Walters Art Museum, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and generous individual donors. Through the generous gift of Mr. and Mrs. Peter G. Angelos, this exhibition is offered at the Walters Art Museum free of admission charge.