Have powerful heroes ever shown deep fear or fled?

I am aware that foes and enemies of heroes at times flee them but I cannot think of any incidents where some powerful figure of martial might in any mythological or folklore tale is outmatched and runs away or shows deep fear.

Have such things happened in any stories? figures of great might who when called to fight shook in their boots and ran away?

Gods are fine as well, so long as they are at least partially heroes, not beings of evil to be vanquished by the good gods or heroes.


3 Answers 3


Hector's last fight

A prime example is Hector trying to flee Achilles during their final duel in Book 22 of the Iliad. Hector was a celebrated warrior, the greatest of the Trojans and commander of their army. By the time of his ill-fated duel with the best of the Achaeans, he had survived an earlier duel with Achilles (mentioned briefly in Book 9), one with Protesilaus (whom he killed), and one with the second greatest of the Achaeans, Telamonian Ajax (a tie).

Here's how Homer describes the moment the mighty Trojan prince realizes he stands no chance against the enraged Achilles:

So he pondered as he abode, and nigh to him came Achilles, the peer of Enyalius, warrior of the waving helm, brandishing over his right shoulder the Pelian ash, his terrible spear; and all round about the bronze flashed like the gleam of blazing fire or of the sun as he riseth. But trembling gat hold of Hector when he was ware of him, neither dared he any more abide where he was, but left the gates behind him, and fled in fear; and the son of Peleus rushed after him, trusting in his fleetness of foot.

Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Murray, A T. Loeb Classical Library Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1924.

The two run around the walls of Troy three times until Hector regains his courage and decides to fight.

Interestingly, Paris, Hector's younger brother, also fled a duel (Book 3), with a little bit of help from Aphrodite. This time it was against Menelaus and their duel was an attempt to end the war. It should be noted, however, that Paris is described by Homer as lacking in military prowess - especially in comparison to his brother. He probably doesn't quite fit your definition of a powerful figure of martial might.

Typhon & the flight of the gods to Egypt

In another example from Greek mythology, when the serpentine storm giant Typhon attacked Olympus, the gods - except Zeus, Athena and in some versions Dionysus - disguised themselves as animals and fled to Egypt in panic.

Here's a version of the story, as told by Antoninus Liberalis:

Typhon was the son of Ge (Gaea, Earth), a deity monstrous because of his strength, and of outlandish appearance. There grew out of him numerous heads and hands and wings, while from his thighs came huge coils of snakes. He emitted all kinds of roars and nothing could resist his might.

He felt an urge to usurp the rule of Zeus and not one of the gods could withstand him as he attacked. In panic they fled to Aigyptos (Egypt), all except Athena and Zeus, who alone were left. Typhon hunted after them, on their track. When they fled they had changed themselves in anticipation into animal forms.

Apollon became a hawk [i.e. the Egyptian god Horus], Hermes an ibis [the Egyptian god Thoth], Ares became a fish, the lepidotus [Egyptian Lepidotus or Onuris], Artemis a cat [Neith or Bastet], Dionysos took the shape of a goat [Osiris or Arsaphes], Herakles a fawn, Hephaistos (Hephaestus) an ox [Ptah], and Leto a shrew mouse [Wadjet]. The rest of the gods each took on what transformations they could. When Zeus struck Typhon with a thunderbolt, Typhon, aflame hid himself and quenched the blaze in the sea.

Zeus did not desist but piled the highest mountain, Aitna (Etna), on Typon and set Hephaistos on the peak as a guard. Having set up his anvils, he works his red hot blooms on Typhon's neck.

Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 28 (trans. Celoria)

If you wish to find out more, Theoi Project, an invaluable online reference, has extensive information on Typhon. Wikipedia's Typhon article is also quite comprehensive.

  • 1
    Great example with Hector! (I'm embarrassed I didn't recall that one;)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 17:40
  • 1
    Those are fine examples, and I will look up Theoi. The Typhon example fits my needs very well, thank you.
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 3:07

This is just an initial list--I'll have to return when I have more time to provide references to source material, and will likely be expanding the list.

  • Enkidu frozen with fear in the Cedar forest [Epic of Gilgamesh]

  • Agamemnon at Aulis is terrified that if he doesn't sacrifice his daughter, the Achaeans will murder him. (Achilles might be considered afraid as well, at first offering to protect Iphigenia, then stating that there's nothing he can do against an army.) [Iphigenia at Aulis]

  • Orestes is famously driven by the fearsome Furies after murdering his mother. [Libation Bearers, Eumenidies]

It's been a while since my last read of the Odyssey, but I seem to recall Odysseus terrified at various points during his travails.

If Gods are included:

  • Loki fleeing the gods before he is bound.
  • I look forward to seeing more details when you have time. What made Enkidu freeze with fear?
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 12:23
  • @NepeneNep As I recall, it was the roar of the monster!
    – DukeZhou
    Commented May 31, 2019 at 17:04

Ares the god of war

Although in literature Ares represents the violent and physical untamed aspect of war, the last thing you would think is that the god of war is a coward.

In Homer's version of the character he was considered a coward (losing to Athena mostly, this is because she picks her sides carefully and thinks her every move through thoroughly.) , shown in the Iliad screaming and retreating to Mount Olympus whenever he was wounded.

Then looking at him darkly Zeus who gathers the clouds spoke to him: "Do not sit beside me and whine, you double-faced liar. To me you are the most hateful of all gods who hold Olympus. Forever quarrelling is dear to your heart, wars and battles.

Iliad, Book 5, lines 798–891, 895–898

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