by Dr. Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
The identification of Thrice-Hero (Tris-Heros) is a point of discussion. The name was found twice on tablets with the Linear Script B from Pylos. Thrice-Hero was mentioned together with the other gods on the human-sacrifice tablet and the name appeared also in context with the offerings of a golden vessel and perfumed oil. This means that Trice-Hero was worshiped during the Mycenaean period as a local deity in Pylos and offerings were made in his honor. The cult of heroes was common in the Greek world. There was a supposition that this worshiping originated in the Mycenaean cult of dead, and from there became part of the Archaic Greek religion (Nilsson).
According to another theory the worship of heroes derived much later from the influence of eight century-epic poetry (Burkert). But the name of Thrice-Hero in the Linear Script B and the offerings giving to him are indication that the roots of the hero-cult reached the Mycenaean period. The cult of this hero was performed to honor some important deceased person, who was worshiped as a half god (or demigod). The rites consisted in a developed stage of blood sacrifices, of offerings of food and libations, as well as of a preparation of a bath and of weeping and lamentations.
We are not sure what exactly could be meant by the name Tris-Heros. Vermeule noted that this name, which has no good classical counterpart, could mean the Great Hero — Triple Great. She was probably right with this characterization, because the number three played an important role in the old European thoughts, symbolizing the infinity, the perfection, power and greatness. The ancient authors used the names "Trikeraton," "Trikefalon" or "Trigaranus," which meant always the same — the three-headed. The three heads or three bodies underlined some universal capability of its representative. The three-headed creature was used in the Greek mythical imaginary and it was also known from European thoughts (especially from Celtic iconography).
There is an idea that from the form Trigaranus the name Geryon appeared. According to the myths Geryon was the three-headed and three-bodied giant with six hands, the strongest man. Heracles fought him, and one of his arrows pierced all three of his bodies. The fight between them was depicted in a frieze of the Corinthian pyxis as early as 675-650 BCE (presently in the collection of the British Museum in London). The three-bodied figure was also presented on a pediment of the Old Temple of Athena on the Acropolis of Athens. This figure, dated mid-sixth century BCE, was sculptured as a three-headed and three-bodied winged monster with a serpents' tails, holding certain symbols in its hands. The small snakes were attached to the shoulders and arms of the figure. The creature is usually identified as Nereus, sometimes also as Typhon, but there are some doubts about these identifications and the symbolic significance of this three-headed figure.
It would be difficult to prove if there is some connection between these images and the Thrice-Hero, who was without any doubt a representation of the hero-cult in the Pylos palace. The existence of such cult was an important thing in every region. The power of a local hero was felt only indirectly, but the consensus connected to a hero influenced the life of the whole local community — their crops, the health of their families, of their children and of their animals too. For this reason the hero was worshiped as a half god in every region and the first libation after the gods was donated to their heroes.
- Boardman, J. (1993). Greek Sculpture. London.
- Burkert, W. (1994). Greek Religion. Harvard, p. 203.
- Chadwick, J. (1994). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge, p. 94, 97.
- Dontas, G. (1990). The Acropolis and its Museum. Athens, p. 76.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 287, 981.
- Kerényi, C. (1992). The Gods of the Greeks. New York, p. 45.
- Nilsson, M.P. (1950). The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and its survival in Greek Religion. Lund.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iv, 36, 3.
- Vermeule, E. (1972). Greece in the Bronze Age. London, p. 294.