Names of Villains from Ancient Legends
Villains are as vital to any legend as the hero. Villains are more than just the enemy; they are the driving force nipping on a hero's heels, driving him towards his destiny. The names of villains from ancient legends are never as well remembered as the hero's, but from Calypso to Medusa to King Eurystheus, the earliest villains appear frequently in Greek mythology.
Due to the capricious nature of the Greek gods, they can be listed as villains in many tales. However, the following villains were either human or once were human.
Two legends of Medusa persist from ancient times. In one, she and her two sisters were born gorgons (monsters), serpent women who could transform anyone who looked upon them into stone. In another legend, Medusa was a ravishingly beautiful priestess of Athena. When the god Poseidon seduced Medusa in the temple, Athena took such great offense that she transformed her into the monster so that no man would look upon her as such again.
When Hercules submitted himself to the king to complete twelve labors (link to new Greek Myths and Legends article), the evil monarch set before the hero impossible tasks. He wanted Hercules to be his slave forever, but was forced to release him when Hercules completed all twelve labors successfully.
The Greek nymph held Odysseus hostage for seven years, refusing to let him free until ordered to do so by Zeus.
A powerful witch, Circe transformed her enemies into animals. She trapped many of Odysseus' men until he was able to rescue them.
Roman villains of legend include mad emperors, foreign enemies, and province governors.
The infamous emperor is known for his mad and tyrannical leadership. He persecuted the Christians, he assassinated family members, and put to death his enemies. He is also known for fiddling while Rome burned.
A war hero in Carthage, Hannibal is the general best known for marching his forces, including war elephants, across the Pyrenees and the Alps in Northern Italy, occupying large portions of Rome's Empire before he was defeated.
One of Jesus' twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot earned his place as a Roman villain for his act of betrayal and turning Jesus in to Roman authorities. His act of villainy made his name synonymous with betrayer.
In the icy cold of far northern Europe, Norse legends of monsters, giants, and capricious gods were told around the fires.
Loki is a Norse god with numerous origin stories. Loki's reputation as a troublemaker is taken to extremes when he helps to kill the god Baldur. Angry at his acts, the other gods bind him so that a serpent's poisonous venom drips on him, leaving him in agony.
In the epic poem Beowulf, Grendel is a monster who is a descendant of Cain. The creature has been hunting and eating every person he encounters until Beowulf slays him.
Frost giants or jotnar were superhuman creatures that opposed the rule of Woden and other Norse Gods. They often warred against the gods and humans alike, determined to end their rule.
Egyptian mythos is very different from Greek, Roman, and Norse. The primary villain in Egyptian legends was the god Set.
A god of chaos and desert storms, Set became associated with darkness and evil when he slew his brother Osiris in jealousy then dismembered his body and spread the pieces throughout the world.
Ancient Legends Today
Many of these historical villains continue to influence Western literature in comic books, novels, television, and film.