Heroes: Symbolism and Meaning behind the Names of the Petrelli Family

Writers create entire worlds for our enjoyment. Everything and every person in these worlds are specifically created with a purpose, although that purpose is not always clear. In the television series and comic book, Heroes, the members of the Petrelli family have been carefully crafted as the main characters that move and cause the plot(s) within the storylines to occur. Each of their names has a definite sense of symbolism and meaning that could be indicators of how the plot of Heroes will play out.


Arthur Petrelli:

He is the patriarch of the family, and currently the master manipulator of the story. For all intents and purposes, he seems to be the leader of the villains, as far as we the audience are concerned. Is his chosen first name so blatant that he is supposed to be an Arthurian archetype? In many ways Arthur Petrelli (AP) being a twisted, or shadow version[1], of this archetype does fit within the story. AP certainly has ideas for making a just and united society of his people — those who’ve been genetically altered. So much so that he’s willing to complete this formula to give powers to all, yet still remain in the seat of absolute power — i.e. the irony of having a monarchy in a society of equals. Although AP’s version of justice is more fanatical than the majority of society would be comfortable with, he does have some logic behind his actions. In fact, AP is nothing if not frighteningly methodical.


To go with the Arthurian legend, Arthur’s bastard son is destined to go into battle with Arthur, and either be victorious or participate in both characters, the father and son, killing each other. Since AP is a shadow version of this archetype, how does that change the myth? Instead of a bastard son (Gabriel/ Syler) involved in the battle, will it be his firstborn (Nathan)? In literature, when dealing with shadow characters such as AP, usually their mirrored opposite is destined to battle them and either kill or assimilate the shadow character. We as the audience know that AP has told Nathan that he views his eldest son as being most like himself. Does this mean that for Nathan to succeed he must destroy his shadow character, our must Nathan allow the shadow to become one with him?


Angela Petrelli:

She may be the mother figure, but her character as well as her own psychological state is obviously fractured. To go with the Arthurian legend archetype, she becomes a combination of Guinevere and Morgan Lafaye. Her own name, Angela, would denote the more Christian religious aspect of pure love within the Guinevere archetype. On the other hand, her cleverness and ability to manipulate, as well as her ability to see the future – (a divination ability more closely related to Paganism) all demonstrates the Morgan Lafaye archetype. Some may argue, however, that Angela Petrelli’s (AnP) ability to see the future could make her a tool of God, related to the role of an angel, and hence her name. There may be some clout to this, but there isn’t much proof to show AnP as having any other angelic abilities.


If AnP is the Guinevere archetype, we can see how her character has betrayed the Arthurian archetype in the story. Linderman, who becomes almost like Lancelot, realizes that AP actions are evil — namely wanting to kill his eldest son, Nathan, and wiping his wife’s memory to prevent her from interferring. Linderman offers AnP the truth, but only if she’s willing to accept him and his healing hands. The sensuality and intimacy within these moments are quite clear, and are illuminated even further by AnP’s act of aggression as she ultimately betrays and immobilizes her husband through the use of poison. These actions of AnP further demonstrate her fractured psyche as she goes from the loyal and unquestioning Guinevere archetype to the cunning and dangerous, but maternally protective, Morgan Lafaye archetype.


Nathan, Peter, and Gabriel Petrelli:

Strangely enough, the three sons all have Biblical names. Additionally, the fact that there are three of them further emphasizes more religious undertones that represent a number of religious symbols tied to the number three. Each character’s religious namesake may add a good deal of insight into the future of Heroes.


Nathan Petrelli:

Biblically speaking, Nathan was a prophet to King David and King Solomon. As a mouthpiece of God, he directed King David to build a temple, but he also exposed King David when he killed Bathsheba’s husband to have her in his bed. Nathan is also noted as a prophet who thwarted Adonijah’s attempt to take the throne from his brother, Solomon.[2]


Taking these biblical ties to our story, we’ve already seen how Nathan has felt like a mouthpiece of God, but how he is also struggling with his faith and ideology of what he should and shouldn’t do. He definitly wishes to expose the evil king, his father, and remove him from the throne. But does Nathan, the evil king’s son, wish to be the next king? And if he does, will he face a lethal battle between him and one of his brothers?


In relationship to Arthurian mythology, it is difficult to say what Nathan’s part is. We know that in this story the Arthur archetype has been corrupted, thus possibly reversing how each archetype’s role will play out within the story. Thus, does Nathan become a moralistic version of Mordrid? Or is Nathan a representation of the Arthurian archetype’s battle between absolute power (AP) and absolute love (AnP) — (how some of the Arthurian myths derive the power struggle between Paganism and Christianity).


Peter Petrelli:

Although there have been many Peters throughout history, most historians have traced the namesake back to the original source of (Simon) Peter, one of the three main apostles of Jesus. This biblical Peter was most noted as being rash and acting forcibly, which we could definitely tie to Peter Petrelli (PP). Stories from the bible of the biblical Peter display him to be defensive and protective over Jesus and his prophecies. Many of the most notable scenes with Jesus in the New Testament depict Peter as almost always being nearby and more or less involved.  After the death of Jesus, the biblical Peter is generally referred to as the first pope, and travels all over spreading the word. In 64 ACE, he is captured and crucified, but at his own request is crucified upside down as he feels unworthy of receiving the same method of death as his master, Jesus.[3]


Relating the biblical counterpart to PP, we can definitely see the forceful, and sometimes rash, actions and decisions made by PP. True, PP is driven to be so forceful because he has traveled to and seen the future, and is trying to prevent disaster. Additionally, PP has always been involved with the main plot, like the biblical Peter, but not necessarily as the main character or as the character with the full source of power. Does this mean whoever PP is protecting is the Messiah archetype? And if so, will PP have to watch this individual die for the benefit of the masses?


Besides standing next to his brother, Nathan, and supporting his mother, Angela, Peter’s role within the Arthurian symbolism is somewhat vague. It is clear that he is definitly not in the role of the Mordrid archetype, twisted or otherwise, so perhaps he’s only in the role of a side character. With his immense amount of power and knowledge, however, he could very well fit the Merlin archetype. He has an immense amount of power, can cause allusions, and can see the future, so this archetype would prove rather prudent. With his recent loss of power, as AP took all of PP’s powers, how does that relate to the Arthurian symbology? In some myths, it is said that Merlin did everything to put Arthur on the throne, and give Arthur and Camelot complete protection while sacrificing himself and his powers — does this have any parallels to our story? Since we are looking at a shadow Arthurian archetype, reversing the story to where Merlin’s powers are forcefully taken instead of willfully given would fit rather nicely. Whether our Merlin archetype, PP, will find a way to gain back his power to defeat the darkness of AP and his delusional twisted version of Camelot is yet to be played out.


Gabriel Petrelli (Syler):

 The angel Gabriel is only mentioned four times by name within the bible. Usually he’s depicted as delivering messages from God that explain dreams within the Old Testament,  and announce  the births of John the Baptist and Jesus within the New Testament. Generally, he is one of three angels that are named: Gabriel, Michael, and Rafael. Christianity usually depicts Gabriel as the Archangel of mercy, and Michael as the Archangel of judgment, but this is reversed in Judaism. [4]

 Some religions also believe that Gabriel will sound the trumpets from the east announcing the second coming of Jesus.


Within Heroes, Gabriel Petrelli (GP) has gone from a monster to an almost decent and loving character. Is this reflection of how various religions have viewed the Archangel Gabriel compared to the Archangel Michael, as stated above? It could be, however, if GP is the culmination between AP and AnP, then he is a truly a torn individual based on what his parents symbolize. GP is adopted and never really knew a father figure, so with the discovery of AP it is not surprising that he wants to please him. On the other hand, he has developed a bond and a love for his brothers and wants to protect them as well. GP’s desire to love and protect definitely stems from his mother, and will most likely cause a great deal of battle between GP and AP.


GP is like the bastard son within the Arthurian legend. Taken away from living in the castle, he was raised without any knowledge of his true self. Going along with the twisted Arthurian archetypes, if GP is the Mordrid archetype, instead of wanting to kill Arthur he wants to be united with him. As this archetype, however, GP is a representation and constant reminder to AP of the ongoing struggle between himself and his wife. I doubt if even AP trusts that GP will stay continually loyal to his side. One could even wonder if GP will sound the call of a symbolic second coming that could dethrone AP.





[1] Refer to the works of Sigmund Freud referring to the shadow persona of the fractured psyche.

[2] Blank, W. “Nathan the prophet.” The Church of God Daily Bible Study: The Ministry of God’s Word. http://www.keyway.ca/htm2001/20010729.htm

[3] Konig, G. “Peter the Apostle.” AboutBibleProphecy.com. 2001-2008. http://www.aboutbibleprophecy.com/p58.htm

[4] Knight, K. “St. Gabriel the Archangel.” New Advent. 2008. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06330a.htm


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