One of them main themes within christianity is the idea of self-sacrifice: Jesus is said to have accepted crucification in order to save mankind. In contrast, in older mythologies, like the greek, the hero stories (Heracles, Perseus, Theseus) revolve more around strength and courage, sometimes cunning.

What are the most famous greek myths about self-sacrifice in order to save or help others?

  • You could think of Heracles burning him self alive as self-sacrifice, although that was more "Ah, I'm in so much pain but it'll take way too long to die of centaur's blood poisoning, so I'll just self-immolate."
    – 267126
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 16:51
  • I am more interested in self-sacrifice to help others, not as an act of despair or bravado
    – Marcel
    Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 17:31
  • Do you mean Greek Myths that are 'like' the Jesus/Christian narrative? The notion of heroic deeds was based on winning fame and glory and honour above all else, (aided by gods) rather than on self-sacrifice and altruism (e.g. biologist George R. Price). Though, arguably Perseus did 'save' people and humanity from danger. The Christian narrative of Jesus Christ is that he was crucified and resurrected to save mankind from sin (in general). From the Roman perspective, as Prof. Beard says, Jesus was seen as just another criminal.
    – user7559
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 17:43

5 Answers 5

  • Prometheus defied Zeus in order to benefit humanity, and was punished harshly for it (Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound)
  • Alcestis offered her life to save her husband's (Euripides' Alcestis)
  • Iphigenia allowed herself be sacrificed by her father (Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis)
  • Could Pericles be considered as someone who, aided by the (Goddess Athena), led the Greeks to salvation (narrative) through his contribution to early Greek democracy and therefore culture, leading to the golden age of Greek culture and consequently greater prosperity (albeit for the few)?
    – user7559
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 16:57
  • @Dylan I don't see how Pericles' life could be reasonably seen as centered on self-sacrifice, even if we were to stretch the definition of a "Greek myth" enough to include him
    – b a
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 17:59
  • Yes, I see. Greek Myths rather than instances containing myths, i.e. Prometheus (pure myth) vs. Pericles (aided by a Goddess). Pericles is an actual historical figure, as was Jesus. I just drew the parallel between the Christian narrative of God and Jesus, and Pericles and Athena. Though Pericles believed that the Greeks 'should have freedom from Tyranny', however unlike Prometheus, there is no defining moment of self-sacrifice. But Prometheus was punished by a god (Zeus), Jesus was not, only punished by a Roman culture that wanted to preserve their pantheon.
    – user7559
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 18:30

Andromeda agreed to be a sacrifice to save her mother and kingdom, when the queen angered the gods. Fortunately, Perseus saved her.

Another story about self sacrifice was Theseus taking a young boy's place in the labyrinth.

I did some more research and persephone although immortal did agree to be hades' wife for a third of the year even though she loved picking flowers this is technically self sacrifice and she agreed because if she hadn't done as Zeus asked demeter would have flooded the underworld with mortals who starved and hades would have opened the gates of the underworld but persephone choosing to appease hades for a portion of the year prevented a war

  • Theseus wasn't expecting to die, so I wouldn't count him as a sacrifice. But Andromeda is a good one.
    – Marcel
    Commented Apr 16, 2021 at 11:56

Macaria, daughter of Herakles, sacrifices her life in order to save her siblings in Euripides' "The Children of Herakles."


Antigone, daughter of Oedipus. After Antigone brother, Polynices, king of Thebes gets killed, King Creon takes the throne and orders his people to not bury nor mourn Polynices. Antigone defies this order and gets buried alive in a tomb. Creon son, who was in love with Antigone kills himself, and her mother, the wife of Creon, follows them afterwards. In this way, Antigone not only sacrifices herself to do the right traditions but also shatters Creon's household.


I'd propose:

  • Hector

He could have fled Troy, but stayed to defend his home and family, even ultimately facing Achilles in a battle he knew he could not win.

When Achilles drags Hector's body around Troy, the corpse is incorruptible, which can be taken as a precedent for Jesus' incorruptible body.

the daughter of Zeus, Aphrodite, kept dogs from him by day alike and by night, and with oil anointed she him, rose-sweet, ambrosial, to the end that Achilles might not tear him as he dragged him. And over him Phoebus Apollo drew a dark cloud from heaven to the plain, and covered all the place whereon the dead man lay, lest ere the time the might of the sun should shrivel his flesh round about on his sinews and limbs.
[Source: Iliad, 23.161]

The structure of the Iliad supports the importance of Hector—it begins with the "rage of Achilles" and ends with "the funeral of Hector, breaker of horses."

The pity that is evoked by that final line is on par with pity felt towards religious martyrs, and Hector is definitely regarded as the main martyr of Troy—most esteemed and impeccable in his conduct.

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