Brief lives of 15 European and Middle Eastern heroes, from Gilgamesh to El Cid, accented by handsome full-color art and engaging introductions (folk heroes are "an inch or so taller, somewhat bolder, and a great deal more daring than you or me"). Without becoming tedious, Saxby supplies source notes for his retellings, plus historical and cultural background (including family trees), and draws together themes common to the heroic tradition--initiation into manhood; the task or quest; the magic talisman--and offers a particularly penetrating discussion of friendship. Ingpen imparts individual, often unexpected, guise to the heroes--Beowulf is distinctly raffish, Samson blond and with a heavy, classically Grecian physique--emphasizing nobility of character rather than physical prowess. A handsome book, intended to introduce the precursors of this century's comic-book heroes. A companion volume of heroines is promised. Bibliography; summary chart; index.