Top 5 Mythological Superheroes

Ye Really, Really Old Heroes

Robin Hood: “So, is it true, Doctor?”
The Doctor: “Is what true?”
Robin: “That in the future I am forgotten as a real man. I am but a legend.”
The Doctor: “I’m afraid it is.”
Robin: “Hmm… Good. History is a burden. Stories can make us fly.”

Doctor Who “The Robot of Sherwood” (Season 8, Episode 3)

It’s easy to think that superheroes are a recent creation. The superpowered cape and costume crowd began as a genre of pulp novels before growing into the shining movie stars of modern days. It’s all too easy to forget their true origins. Within every modern superhero is a spark of inspiration from stories of mythological superheroes.

For every alien savior from the stars, there’s an unstoppable warrior on a bloodstained battlefield. Poor children forge their own paths without riches and advanced technology. Even superhero gods like Thor struggle with ancient heroes who can hold the gods at bay. So who are the top 5 Mythological Superheroes? Let’s find out.

We’ll choose only one hero per culture. Otherwise, we would need separate lists for Greek, European, and Asian mythological superheroes.

# 5 Cú Chulainn

Culture: Ireland
Famous Stories: Setanta and the Hound of Cullan, The Cattle Raid of Cooley

Cú Chulainn:Don’t worry about it, I’m used to this kind of thing. Heroes always die because of unreasonable orders.

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works “Unlimited Blade Works” (Season 2, Episode 7)

What do you get when you merge Wolverine with The Incredible Hulk and arm them with a spear? You get Ireland’s Child of Light: Cú Chulainn.

Before he became a mythological superhero, Cú Chulainn was a child named Setanta. He was the son of a sun god called Lugh and was prophesied to live a short but glorious life. Much like the Biblical Samson, he was given superhuman strength as long as he obeyed two geas (taboos). Setanta could not refuse offered food and was never allowed to eat dog meat.

As a teenager, Setanta visited a smith named Culann and killed his Cú (guard dog) in self-defense. Setanta swore to serve as Culann’s Cú until he had raised another one, earning the nickname Cú Chulainn (The Hound of Culann).

You would not want to be on a battlefield with Cú Chulainn. He rode into battle on a chariot covered in spikes and sickles. His famous spear, Gáe Bolg, was covered in barbs and impossible to remove without killing the victim. When all that wasn’t enough, Cú Chulainn could enter a state called “The Warp Spasm” that turned him into a shape-shifting berserker.

Cú Chulainn met his end when he refused to marry a goddess called The Morrigan. She learned of his geas and offered him dog meat. Trapped in a catch-22, he ate the meat and was weakened. During his next battle, Cú Chulainn was impaled on a spear. He tied himself to a post so he would die standing up, holding back The Morrigan’s army because they thought he was still alive.

#4 Gilgamesh

Culture: Mesopotamia (Babylon)
Famous Stories: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh:You are beneath me!
I earned this power with my strength and grace
The skies exalt me!
You can’t perceive the power you now face!
You will be vanquished
And no one will remember who you were
So come and face me
And prove to me that you are more than words…”

“Awakening” by Wake The Ancient

There are countless heroes in fiction. The superheroes of the modern day, pulp heroes of yesteryear, and even other mythological superheroes can trace their lineage back to one man. Meet Humanity’s Oldest Hero: Gilgamesh.

First recorded around 2100 BCE, The Epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of a corrupt demigod who rules over the kingdom of Uruk. Gilgamesh spends his days tormenting his citizens, raping women, and killing people. He finally meets his match in Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh.

Enkidu fails to defeat Gilgamesh, but the two bond during the fight. They leave Uruk to go on adventures, such as chopping down a cedar forest and slaying the Bull of Heaven. Unfortunately, their actions anger the gods, who kill Enkidu.

The loss of his only friend makes Gilgamesh terrified of death and leads him to search for a way to become immortal. He is always thwarted and eventually returns to Uruk a wiser and kinder man, accepting that he will die someday. Ironically, the stories told of his adventures lead to him being remembered long after his death. King Gilgamesh died, but his story is immortal.

#3 Karna

Culture: India
Famous Stories: The Mahabharata

Karna: [engulfed in magic] “Warrior who allows Saber of Black to possess his body, tell me your name.
Sieg:My name is Sieg!
Karna:A superb name! And now, with the utmost respect for the greatest rival I have come across in this second life, I shall hereby dedicate my single most powerful attack to you. Thou shalt know the mercy of the gods. The evil dragon will be vanquished. This thrust shall inflict extinction! In this moment, the world reaches its twilight! Incinerate them: VASAVI SHAKTI!

Fate/Apocrypha “Reunion and Farewell (Season 1, Episode 22) 

Most hero origin stories are a twenty page comic or a two-hour movie. Our third mythological superhero’s origin story is a 1.8 million word epic poem.

Karna was the son of the Hindu sun god Surya and princess Kunti. He was conceived during a one night stand and Kunti feared that the birth would cause a scandal. She put him in a basket and floated him down a river, where he was found by a charioteer’s wife. Karna was taken in by the family.

Many bullied Karna for his birth into a lower social caste. He developed a reputation for undying loyalty, wit, and generosity, eventually giving away armor and earrings that made him immortal. He fell in with a group called The Kauravas who opposed Karna’s birth family, the Pandevas. Even after his lineage was revealed, Karna stayed with the Kauravas because they had supported him when he had little.

Karna was an absolute monster on the battlefield. The god Krishna claimed that all the world’s men, Devas, and Asuras would not be able to defeat him. He was eventually slain by his brother Arjuna, but he did not go down easily. Arjuna had to wait for Karna to be defenseless after losing his best weapon, diminished by several curses, and have the intervention of multiple gods.

#2 King Arthur

Culture: Britain
Famous Stories: The Once and Future King

Arthur:Ready my knights for battle! They shall ride with their king once more. I have lived through others for far too long. Lancelot carried my honor and Guinevere, my guilt. Mordred bore my sins. My knights have fought my causes. Now, my brother, I will be… king.

Excalibur

British folklore is home to dozens of mythological superheroes. The Knight of the Lake, Sir Lancelot. Sir Percival, who found the Holy Grail. The treacherous Mordred. And the aptly named Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Article. But all these knights swear fealty to the wielder of Excalibur: King Arthur Pendragon.

Originally called Wart, Arthur was the son of King Uther. He studied the art of chivalry alongside his brother Kay and the eccentric wizard Merlin. He eventually came across a sword embedded in a stone, which legend claims could only be drawn by the true king of England. Arthur succeeded where everyone else had failed, becoming king of the Britons.

King Arthur traveled the land in search of warriors to join his court, dubbing them the Knights of the Round Table. During an adventure, he was given the magical sword Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake. Arthur’s regime seemed unstoppable, but unseen cracks were forming.

The sorceress Morgan le’ Fay seduced Arthur, resulting in a child she named Mordred, who eventually became one of Arthur’s knights. The literal bastard gathered together several lords who opposed Arthur’s rule and attempted to overthrow Camelot. They were aided by the revelation that Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere were secretly having an affair.

King Arthur and his loyal knights fought Mordred’s army at The Battle of Camlann, resulting in Arthur and Mordred’s deaths. Sir Bedivere returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake while Arthur’s corpse was taken to the isle of Avalon. Legend has it that King Arthur will return in England’s darkest hour to save the land he once ruled.

#1 Hercules

Culture: Greek
Famous Stories: The Twelve Labors of Hercules

Hercules:Can’t talk. Fighting.

Incredible Hercules #118

There’s one name everyone chooses when they think of mythological superheroes. Perhaps you use the Greek spelling Herakles. Most likely, you use the more popular Roman spelling. But either way, you know of the legendary Hercules.

Hercules is Zeus’s illegitimate son, much like three-quarters of ancient Greece. He had superhuman strength and durability, the impetus of many adventures. Breaking into the underworld to rescue a friend’s dead wife? All in a day’s work. Freeing the Titan Prometheus from his eternal torture? Child’s play. Joining Jason and the Argonauts? Herc’s up for a party.

Zeus’s wife Hera was enraged by his affair and lashed out at Hercules, because why do the smart thing and divorce the lout? She drove Hercules into a berserk fury and made him kill his family. Herc was told he could atone for his crime by completing twelve Labors, seemingly impossible tasks.

Hercules took down monsters like the Nemean Lion and Lernaean Hydra. He demonstrated humility by serving Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons for a year and cunning by tricking Atlas into getting him three golden apples. So on and so forth until the last Labor was complete. Zeus then allowed Hercules to ascend into godhood and join him on Olympus.

Who is your favorite mythological superhero? Is there one that surpasses these five? Tell us in the comments.

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