The age of the heroes, from the first appearance of the Hellenes in Thessaly to the return of the Greeks from Troy, was supposed to be a period of about two hundred years. These heroes were believed to be a noble race of beings, possessing a superhuman though not a divine nature, and superior to ordinary men in strength of body and greatness of soul.
Among the heroes three stand conspicuously forth: Hercules, the national hero of Greece; Theseus, the hero of Attica; and Minos, king of Crete, the principal founder of Grecian law and civilization.
Hercules was the son of Zeus (Jupiter) and Alcmena; but the jealous anger of Hera (Juno) raised up against him an opponent and a master in the person of Eurystheus at whose bidding the greatest of all heroes was to achieve those wonderful labours which filled the whole world with his fame. In these are realized, on a magnificent scale, the two great objects of ancient heroism, the destruction of physical and moral evil, and the acquisition of wealth and power. Such, for instance, are the labours in which he destroys the terrible Nemean lion and Lernean hydra, carries off the girdle of Ares from Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, and seizes the golden apples of the Hesperides, guarded by a hundred-headed dragon.
Theseus was a son of AEgeus, king of Athens, and of AEthra, daughter of Pittheus, king of Troezen. Among his many memorable achievements the most famous was his deliverance of Athens from the frightful tribute imposed upon it by Minos for the murder of his son. This consisted of seven youths and seven maidens whom the Athenians were compelled to send every nine years to Crete, there to be devoured by the Minotaur, a monster with a human body and a bull's head, which Minos kept concealed in an inextricable labyrinth. The third ship was already on the point of sailing with its cargo of innocent victims, when Theseus offered to go with them, hoping to put an end for ever to the horrible tribute. Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, became enamoured of the hero, and having supplied him with a clue to trace the windings of the labyrinth, Theseus succeeded in killing the monster, and in tracking his way out of the mazy lair. Theseus, on his return, became king of Attica, and proceeded to lay the foundations of the future greatness of the country. He united into one political body the twelve independent states into which Cecrops had divided Attica, and made Athens the capital of the new kingdom. He then divided the citizens into three classes, namely, EUPATRIDAE, or nobles; GEOMORI, or husbandmen; and DEMIURGI, or artisans.