What Makes Them Heroic?

Heroes are nearly always remembered and revered as fearless and exceptional individuals who acted out of selfless love, giving of themselves to protect or assist others in need. Usually, a hero is a natural individual or a major fictional character who, against all odds, combats great adversity with courage, ingenuity, or extraordinary strength. In the past, the hero and heroine were often interchangeable; nowadays, however, the hero often refers to a male protagonist in a story while female protagonist is almost always described as a hero. Both terms seem to be increasingly used today.


The idea of heroes can stem from several different sources. Some people point to stories where the main characters take on an almost mythic role-that of a legendary, superhuman being, a powerful helper, a noble savior, or a rival for the protagonist that everyone recognizes and can identify with. These stories, from Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare” to “Sleeping Beauty” imitative, offer an escape for children from the harshness of normal life and gives them a fantasy world where there are no pain or evil, just the desire to help and protect others. Other people note that heroes are almost always present during times of war, either in parades or war movies, or they are the ones destined to fight for the ideal and exacting ideals. It could almost be said that they are our country’s soldiers, sent off to do their part in keeping the peace and protecting the citizens from destruction.

Still other people prefer to view heroes as archetypes: for instance, the Greek god of war, Aesir, is sometimes represented as a horse with a human rider on the back, representing the ideal warrior. Achilles is a great Greek hero who is famous for winning Achilles’ war with his son Paris. In later Greek literature, Orestes, the founder of the city of Troy, is a character identified as a kind of Odysseus, journeying across the sea with his friend Menelaus, to carry out a mission of personal glory. In modern times, however, we have seen antihero movies, most notably the Harry Potter series, which feature heroic characters that are later punished or killed by the society that oppresses them.

We have all seen archetypes of classical heroes in different forms. In the play “Othello”, acting outwrights Desdemona and Rosaline in turn become Odysseus. In Alexander the Great’s “Theban”, Achilles and Anchises, two of the classic characters, are transformed into leaders and conquerors. In the play” comedies” such as “The Merchant of Venice”, the ever-smooth Chretien is presented as a suave rake while Fagin, the drunkard, becomes a tactician and advisor. The most famous of these archetypes, however, is the Trojan War, which Homer portrays as a struggle between Greeks and Trojans.

The classical heroes of Greece and Rome were, on the one hand, great men who displayed an impressive prowess in warfare; on the other hand, they were often deeply concerned with issues of justice and fairness. They were prone to jealousy, resentment, intolerance and revenge. On the other hand, they were sometimes depicted as being willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good of humanity. Their achievements were frequently overshadowed by the quagmire of war.

The contemporary world has seen its share of great heroes too. One can name Sun-Star, Hector, Neo-imanthon, John Smith and Han Solo in Star Wars, George Bailey in The Matrix or Professor Snape in Harry Potter. While it is debatable whether any of these heroes truly stands out as a true representative of classical ideals, one thing is certain – they each embody qualities that are much admired in this genre. Whether it be Odysseus Aeneas, Achilles or Superman, each Greek hero has proven time and again that with determination, a little luck and a lot of work, one can be a true hero.

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