1650s, "demigoddess," from Latin heroine, heroina (plural heroinae) "a female hero, a demigoddess" (such as Medea), from Greek hērōine, fem. of hērōs (see hero (n.1)). Meaning "heroic woman, woman distinguished by exalted courage or noble achievements" is from 1660s. Sense of "principal female character in a drama, poem, etc." is from 1715.