"Cuchulain Slays the Hound of Culain", illustration by Stephen Reid from Eleanor Hull's The Boys' Cuchulain, 1904

The term "demigod", meaning "half-god", is used to describe mythological figures whose one parent was a god and whose other parent was human. Demi-gods include the Celtic hero Cúchulainn, Gilgamesh, or Heracles.

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Greek demi-godsRectify

Part of the dual nature of Greek heroes that gave rise to the "demigod" conception of them -- a repeated theme in the story of their birth -- is a double paternity: one father is a king of some kind, and another is a god. The hero's mother manages to lie with king and god in the same night (mother of Theseus) or to be visited secretly by the god (Danaë, mother of Perseus), and the seed of the two fathers is mixed in her womb (not a modern biological possibility, but one that was firmly established in Antiquity). Thus the heroes have Liminal qualities that enable them to have great strength, to cross the threshold between the worlds of the living and the dead yet return safely, and to mediate long after their death between human and divine.

Zeus became the father of many heroes as a result of his dalliances, and after death they were accorded honors, especially among those Greeks who claimed to be their descendants and, through them, to have claims on the protection and patronage of a god. The veneration of heroes was part of Chthonic rites in the religion of Greece. An exception was Heracles, who was accepted in the passage of time among the Twelve Olympians. Such "demigods" were usually mortal, but were pre-eminent among humans, and some had unusual powers.

Structurally, mythic narratives of such heroic figures falls into the Genre of Romance (genre), as Northrop Frye defined and described it. Alexander the Great encouraged the mythmakers in his retinue to spread the legend of his "secret" Olympian paternity. His legend survived the end of Antiquity; a cycle of medieval romances developed around his legend.

Christ as a demi-godRectify

Though not acknowledged by Christianity, the concept of a demi-god's double paternity from a god and a king seems related to the major Christian concept of Jesus Christ being the son of both God the Father and Saint Joseph (who was a descendant of the House of David and thus the legitimate King of Judea, even if not actually holding the throne). The concept of a demi-god's double paternity was an essential part of the cultural background in which the early Christians lived.

Demi-gods in numismaticsRectify

2002 Austria 20 Euro Baroque front

Demi-gods in numismatics

Demi-gods have been the main motive for many collector coins and medals, the most recent one is the famous silver coin Euro gold and silver commemorative coins (Austria) issued in September 11 2002. The obverse side of the coin shows the Grand Staircase in the town palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy in Vienna, currently the Austrian Ministry of Finance. Gods and demi-gods hold its flights, while Hercules stands at the turn of the stairs.



  • Burkert,Walter (1984) Greek Religion.
  • Kerenyi, Karl (1959) The Heroes of the Greeks.