BooI put that line there as my answer to the following question: Are super hero stories modern-day myths?
"Once upon a time, people did use to call us heroes or legends. Or even myths some of us … I don't know what you'd call us today. Maybe we are super heroes. Maybe that is what we're called now."
- Shades, Chapter 4 page 14
For some reason it's one of those questions people tend to get very worked up about. Students of popular culture are keen to argue that they are. Students of the Classics are often the most vociferous in arguing that they aren't. Well, you can see their point. Many of the ancient myths were far more than stories.
Some were attempts to explain natural phenomena in a way that people could understand (and remember), since the scientific knowledge they possessed wasn't quite up to the job. The various Creation myths are excellent examples of that, as are the beliefs in spirits of rivers and woods etc. Other myths were morality tales, establishing guidelines for correct behaviour. George Lucas has explained that the Star Wars movies are based on his understanding of myths as a means of demonstating the rite of passage that youths must go through to become adults.
But that's the trouble with simply saying that super hero stories aren't myths. The argument rests on the assumption that myths perform a specific function that super hero tales don't. In fact, however, there are many different kinds of myth and, at different times in history, they have each performed different functions in different cultures. And some of them, I suspect, were simply intended to be stories with no purpose other than to entertain!
I like to look at the question the other way round. Instead of asking whether super hero stories are myths (that all gets far too complicated far too quickly!), I prefer to consider whether the heroes of myth are, in fact, the super heroes of the ancient world.
Looked at that way, I have no problem concluding that they are. Whatever other functions their stories may have performed (or, more accurately, we assume they performed!) the ancient heroes of mythology are super-powered beings fighting super-powered monsters, villains and spirits. That's why Wonder Woman and Thor, for example, are able to draw so extensively on mythology and still fit so neatly into their respective super hero universes.
Herakles is clearly a super hero of his time. Odysseus, the master strategist, could be an ancient Bruce Wayne. The super-warrior Achilles is not so different from Steve Rogers. You want flying heroes? Icarus was there way before Angel. Super speed? Mercury. As far as I'm concerned, ancient myths were defining the super hero genre long before Action Comics gave us Superman!