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What is a Classical Hero?

It is a character archetype known for their noble qualities, courage, and heroic deeds in literature and storytelling. They undertake extraordinary journeys, face extraordinary circumstances and challenges, and inspire audiences with their virtuous actions. In Greek mythology, examples like Achilles and Hercules showcase superhuman strength and great talent, but their journeys also reveal their true nature and vulnerabilities. Classic heroes are distinguished by a set of timeless traits that make them stand out as exemplars of valor and righteousness. They differ from other heroic characters in very specific ways. For instance everyman heroes are set apart from classical heroes. While superhuman powers may be captivating, many readers relate more to everyman heroes who face real-life challenges, mirroring the human experience. Comparably, often found in fantasy literature, the epic hero archetype possesses superhuman abilities or qualities and embarks on grand quests.

Exploring the Classic Hero Archetypes

The main character in a novel is typically the central figure through whom readers experience the unfolding story, and their heroic actions and flaws can capture readers' hearts. The central character's journey often reflects the human struggle to act heroically, making readers reflect on their own lives and potential for greatness, even without extraordinary abilities. When you think of a hero, what comes to mind? Is it an everyday person with extraordinary abilities or qualities? Or, does your mind race to someone who has beyond-human skills or powers? Either way, you are thinking about a hero!

Classical Hero Examples

Below is a blank storyboard template, as well as an example of how students could create a storyboard for Pony Boy of The Outsiders.

Recommended Lesson Plan

Overview of the Lesson:

Who are classical heroes? Who are superheroes? How can I tell them apart? Teaching students this literary device and asking them to think deeply about the hero's attributes, and how they affect the work as a whole, will instill a deeper understanding of many literary works.

Hero Definition

Classical heroes are otherwise normal people, except they may have a great talent that distinguishes them from an ordinary person. Sometimes this is great skill, but other times it is a quality of character, like courage. It's important to remember that they possess something others do not have, but are otherwise equal in their worlds. Some of the best examples of heroic characters are those who, despite possessing extraordinary abilities, still struggle to achieve their goals and face setbacks despite their superhuman strength. Heroes with a strong moral compass ultimately lead the narrative towards themes of righteousness, inspiring readers with their virtuous actions despite the odds. Examples include: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Atticus Finch, Ponyboy, Rikki-tikki-tavi, or King Arthur.

Superheroes can start out as classical or even everyday heroes. Somewhere along the way, they acquire power that makes them "super". However, most superheroes are born with beyond-human qualities. Well-known examples of superheroes would be Superman, Spiderman, or Wonder Woman.

Other archetypes include romantic heroes, reluctant heroes, tragic heroes, and epic heroes. To learn more about other types, take a look at our article on "Types of Heroes".

Six Typical Characteristics of a Classical Hero

Humble Upbringing These heroes could have been orphaned, or are poor, and through their humble or modest upbringings, they learned how to face adversity.
A Greatness Foreshadowed For sometime before the hero in them emerged, people foreshadowed this character's greatness.
Strong Ability or Attribute They mostly have the same abilities as everyone else. However, they are just a bit better at certain things than their counterparts.
Emotional Quest This character typically has some tragic flaw that can lead to critical plot developments and character growth as they overcome obstacles and act heroically. These may be related to his quest.
Battle of Pride Often the major battle comes just as the hero is sorting out his issues and overcoming his pride.
Death Usually, the characters who plays these parts in novels die when they sacrifice themselves for the greater good, or because they are betrayed.

Time: 45 Minutes

Grade Level: 8-12


Although this lesson can be used for multiple grade levels, below are examples of the Common Core standards for Grades 9-10. Please see your Common Core standards for other grade-appropriate standards.

  • ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text
  • ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5: Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest

Lesson-Specific Essential Questions

  1. What makes a person a hero? What are some common traits?
  2. Is heroism an innate quality or a type of behavior?
  3. What do we learn from classical heroes?


Before starting this lesson students should be able to list various heroes from multiple genres.

After the lesson, students will be able to define, list various types of heroes from works of literature, film, and television.

Anticipated Student Preconceptions/Misconceptions

Some students will have prior knowledge and may know the definition of a hero or confuse the everyday hero with a classical hero.

Lesson Details/Procedure

Teaching the Term

Students will be given the worksheet on the various types of heroes and will be instructed to fill in the boxes to the best of their ability. Do not give students the definition of each type yet, just ask them to make a list and try to categorize them without your assistance. If students cannot fill in a particular part, then instruct them that they may leave it blank. After 5-10 minutes, ask students to compare lists with someone sitting near them.

Defining the Term

After students have categorized each type of hero, ask them to come up with their definition for each type, based on the heroes listed in that column. Once the students have shared each definition with the class, give them the textbook definitions and see how close they were!

While Reading

After students have come up with their definition and characteristics, ask them to fill out and keep track of the attributes by writing the answers on: "Six Typical Characteristic of a Classical Hero Worksheet".

After Reading

Reinforce this lesson by asking students to complete their storyboard showing the hero and their attributes. Make sure they are using a scene and quote from the text as evidence. This lesson extension, coupled with a slide show presentation, will help students master the concept.

Related Activities of a Classic Hero and Superhero

Check out these activities from our guides on The Outsiders, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Freak the Mighty.

How to Teach Students To Apply Classical Hero Themes to Personal Growth


Introduce Themes

Start by introducing students to the themes and characteristics of classical heroes. Discuss traits like bravery, resilience, perseverance, and selflessness. Use examples from mythology, literature, or history to illustrate these themes.


Reflect on Personal Values and Goals

Guide students to reflect on their own personal values, strengths, and goals. Have them think about what is important to them and what they aspire to achieve. Encourage self-reflection and introspection.


Identify Personal Challenges and Obstacles

Help students identify personal challenges or obstacles they have faced or may encounter in the future. Encourage them to think about situations where they need to demonstrate qualities similar to classical heroes. Discuss the importance of facing challenges and growing from them.


Connect Hero Themes to Personal Growth

Guide students in connecting the themes of classical heroes to their personal growth. Encourage them to identify how qualities like courage, determination, or compassion can help them overcome obstacles and achieve personal goals. Discuss how these themes can be applied to their everyday lives.


Set Goals and Develop Action Plans

Support students in setting goals that align with their personal growth and values. Have them develop action plans that outline steps they can take to embody classical hero traits and overcome their identified challenges. Encourage them to think about specific actions, behaviors, or habits they can adopt.


Reflect and Evaluate Progress

Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their progress and evaluate their growth. Have regular check-ins where students can share their experiences, challenges, and successes. Encourage them to identify areas where they have demonstrated classical hero themes and areas for further growth.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Classical Hero and the Superhero

What makes a classical hero, and why are they important in storytelling?

This type of everyman hero is a brave, selfless, and determined character who faces challenges and obstacles to achieve a greater goal or quest. They often have special abilities or powers and are aided by supernatural or divine forces. Classical heroes are important in storytelling because they create exciting and relatable characters, and they help convey important themes and messages.

How has the concept of the classical hero changed over time?

The idea of what makes a hero has changed over time, reflecting different cultures and values. In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, classic hero examples were characterized by men with exceptional physical and intellectual abilities, who performed heroic deeds to gain fame, honor, and glory. Nowadays, the idea of the hero is more complex and can include a variety of characters with admirable qualities and different strengths and weaknesses. Some other hero types include: the tragic hero, the epic hero, the romantic hero, and even the anti hero.

Are there any criticisms of the classical hero archetype?

While this hero type has been popular in literature and storytelling, some critics argue that it can be limited and exclude diverse perspectives and experiences. For instance, the hero's journey structure has been criticized for its gendered and heteronormative assumptions, as well as its exclusion of non-Western cultural traditions and narratives. Despite these limitations, the classical hero archetype remains an important literary trope and a valuable tool for engaging students in critical thinking and analysis.

Image Attributions
  • Movie • João Lavinha • License Attribution (
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