What Is Heroism?
To most people, heroes and legends are men. Very often, heroes are depicted as strong, brave men, with weapons, shield, and clothing, often dressed in uniforms. Though women may play powerful and bold characters as well, they are far less frequent and are more often associated with comic book and super hero roles. Despite the lack of solid empirical evidence, there is much evidence to support the hypothesis that many children, boys and girls alike, develop hero traits as early as two years of age.
A hero is usually a human being or a primary fictional character who, against all odds, compels himself, sometimes with the help of others, to overcome adversity through deeds of courage, ingenuity, or extraordinary strength. Just like other previously only gender-defined words, such as villain, heroine, and anti-hero, a hero can be used to describe any human being, although the hero and heroine are more often used to identify female characters. In stories focusing on heroic acts, the hero acts heroically: he acts to overcome or escape danger. Most of the time, it is the hero’s family, friends, associates, and the people around him who encourage him and help him make the ultimate sacrifices, while at the same time relying on him to do good deeds and suffer personal loss. Although heroes are normally thought of as being infallible, fictional heroes have also been proven to fall and have been injured, sometimes even fatally. The belief that heroes must overcome great fear and anxiety, and therefore require great strength and courage, is one that has motivated the actions of countless heroes throughout the ages.
The word “fantasy,” as defined by Webster means “a world conceived or presented as imaginary.” In most cases, a hero in a story is not actually a heroic figure: he is an unlikely hero, someone who does incredible acts of heroism because he believes that he can, and because he can’t. He is someone who might be written as a hero in a story because he has exceptional or extraordinary qualities that other heroes don’t have. Fantasy literature involves characters who are usually unrealistic but appealing because of their uniqueness or appeal. They are typically compelling because of their conflicts and their relationships with others.
One of the most well-known Greek and Roman heroes was Hector, who according to legend fought many a fierce enemy in single combat. Achilles was the son of Agamemnon, king of Troy. Though Agamemnon loved his daughter, Clytemnestra, the king never had peace of mind knowing that her husband was constantly scheming to take over the kingdom of Troy and using his secret skills and weapon, the immortal sword, Achilles, to kill off his own offspring. When the soldiers of Troy finally arrived to arrest Achilles’ pursuit of his mother, Clytemnestra allowed herself to be killed trying to protect her son. However, because of her bravery, her sacrifice, and the knowledge that she was the most powerful woman of the city, her son returned to live and fight another day.
Other great Greek heroes were Odysseus, a Greek hero who lived during the Trojan War, and Patroclus, a prince of the Achaean kingdom who fell in love with a lady of Troy who came to be his lover. Another example of an Odysseus-like hero was the Trojan prince, Hector. In Homer’s Illiad and the Odyssey, Odysseus returned home after the Trojan War while Hector fought in Greece against the Trojans. While fighting in Greece, Hector was injured by a bullet caused by a Trojan arrow and had to abandon his ship.
Some moderns such as John Wayne are characters who fit into this mold. Although some might say that these heroes are “courageous,” in essence they are role models for what it means to be a hero. Every person can identify with these heroes and admire their confidence, their sense of wonder, and their ability to rise above others to achieve important goals. This type of hero could be compared to an athlete, a fighter, or someone who is trying to become a great contributor to society…a kind of hero.