Is There Really Such a Thing As a Classical Hero?

A hero is usually a heroic figure, an actual human being or a primary fictional character who, against all odds, compels himself or herself to overcome adversity by means of extraordinary courage, ingenuity, or strength of character. Like other previously only gender-specific words, hero has now become commonly used to describe any gender, although hero only seems to apply to girls. It could be derived from Greek mythology and the hero Homer’s ( Homer’s lyre – the word for “thread” in Latin) Iliad. In the Iliad, the normally war-weary Odysseus asks the goddess Aphrodite for help to defeat Hector in battle and to free his beloved maid Polyphemis from his clutches, but she refuses, assuring the hero that he would repay her kindness with death. Thus, Odysseus finally manages to win his freedom and live happily ever after with his lovely maid.


Antigone, part of the tragic story of the princess Mycenaean, ultimately agrees to sacrifice her life for the sake of her friends and loved ones when her natural born ability to fight leads her into a conflict with her brother, Orestes. For this, she is willing to turn to the unconventional yet highly effective weapon, the bow. However, when she kills the enemy prince Polyphemis, she comes too late and Polyphemis is already dead. At this point, it is doubtful if Antigone has fully learned how to fight or if, like her brother, she simply lacks the courage to kill. However, like Odysseus, Antigone eventually realizes her gift of fighting was more than she could have ever expected, and through the help of Bellerophorous (her knight), she comes to realize that her willingness to accept the risk of dying for others may not have been such a good idea after all.

Heroism, on the other hand, is defined as an act of bravery in which the protagonist takes a direct action that is not contrived, but is completely personal and honest. An example of the type of heroic action is a person who saves his or her child from an abusive situation by himself or herself. This sort of hero does not necessarily display a superlative level of physical prowess or supernatural powers. Rather, he or she displays the willingness to risk his own safety for the sake of others.

In contrast, cowardice is defined as a state of indifference, where the protagonist or heroine shows a kind of moral reticence because of the fear of potential danger or harm. A classic example of this is the Greek god of wine, Bacchus, who is reluctant to throw a party for his own funeral. Instead, his ghostly agents do it for him. The hero does not exude any kind of exceptional levels of courage or bravery, but only the honest willingness to put himself in harms way for others.

The difference between the two styles of heroism is both psychological and situational. For Bacchus, his ghostly agents serve as his protection, but they are not truly heroic in that respect. Bacchus does not need to be a hero to throw a party, but he does need to be brave, just as Odysseus did. While the Greeks may idealize some aspects of this form of heroism, the reality of living in an ancient Greek society and making heroic actions demanded a different set of qualities and behaviors from those who chose to participate.

However, it seems that in recent times, more people prefer the heroic actions that were common for classical heroes in order to express their freedom and power. This may be because modern life is becoming more stressful for most people, and it may also be because people have come to identify with, and identify with the tragic hero, rather than the traditional hero. The truth is that every single culture and society has its own preferred heroic archetype. However, I believe that you can develop into a heroic person if you take a step back and decide that you are willing to do what it takes to become a true hero, whatever that takes.

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