The Meaning of Heroes
Heroes are generally thought to be special people, endowed with special qualities beyond normal human capacities who act out in time of need. They may be ordinary people, living ordinary lives, who act out in extraordinary ways when necessary. But heroes are not usually our regular run of the mill types of people. They are not the type who will get out of bed at dawn and leave your home in order to seek adventure. They are usually those who choose a path between safe and dangerous and make the choice to follow it regardless of the cost to themselves or to others.
A hero is an independent and decisive person who, against all odds, combats against adversity through exceptional feats of strength, courage, or ingenuity. In general, hero is used to describe any gender, although traditionally, hero usually refers to only women. For example, we can look at William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is the archetypal hero, who for several pages masterfully negotiates her way out of the seemingly hopeless situation while displaying a high degree of bravery, cunning, and cleverness. She displays the qualities we would expect of a modern-day Florence Nightingale.
Most modern literature, in fact, contains quite a few instances of heroic behavior. Famous examples include the story of the Virgin Mary, whose self-sacrifice at the moment of her mother’s death is commemorated in a religious ceremony that includes many centuries of Christian symbolism. The story of Odysseus, master traveler and Trojan prince, is filled with themes of courage, enterprise, and sacrifice. Even the legendary hero Achilles is presented as a role model for many of today’s heroes, having experienced a near fatal injury at the hands of the enemy and yet continuing on to complete an incredible series of quests in search of his own life’s meaning and purpose.
One of the most common characteristics of classical heroes is their immortality. They are immortal not only in body but also in spirit, and this is why their deeds are remembered for centuries to come, even by those who did not live to experience them. Achilles, and other classical heroes are beloved not only because of their achievements on the field of battle, but because of the enduring example they set in the manner in which they lived their lives. They experienced courage in order to face danger and adversity, and they never lost faith in themselves or their fellow man.
Perhaps the most common characteristic of classical heroes was their profound understanding of the Greek language and culture. Most Greek words or phrases are rendered incomprehensible by today’s vocabulary, and this is why they remain deeply rooted in people’s minds. When tragedy is involved, these deep emotions are expressed in memorable and moving songs, which instantly make everyone understand what the characters were feeling at the time. In addition, classical heroes were beloved not only because of their achievements on the field of battle, but because of the way in which they carried themselves, both inside and outside of the battlefield. Greek art, for instance, owes a lot to the beauty of its classical heroes.
One of the most famous heroes of all time is William Wallace, who defeated the dragon Balducci in a famous ballad called The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This story, together with others like it, shows that a character’s greatness is not measured by how much he understands and values his fellow man, but by the way he carries himself. Thrice famous Greek heroes such as Hercules, Ajax, and Lycos, along with their respective supporting cast, make the pages of history books. Nowadays, we can even look up historical information about our own heroes online, thanks to the work of databases and online encyclopedias.