The Phenomenon of the “Hero” in Ancient and Classical Literature
Heroes have always existed from time immemorial. They were people of extraordinary courage who were willing to sacrifice their own life for the sake of peace, prosperity and continuity of others. In most people’s eyes, they were seen as great warriors who were fearless and virtually untouchable. These people were widely respected and their achievements were narrated from one generation to another. They were depended upon whenever there was a crisis. Their deeds were used to inspire others to achieve or surpass such achievements in order to gain legendary status. Therefore, heroes formed an integral part of the society and apart from helping in times of problems, they set examples for others to follow.
There are various types of heroes-tragic, sophoclean and epic. A tragic hero is one who possesses great deal of strengths that endear him to people in the society. However, these strengths also form part of his flaws and eventually lead to his breakdown. An example is Achilles. He was a superb warrior who fought in the Trojan War. He is held in high esteem for defeating the Trojan hero called Hector but is remembered for another reason: Although he was strong and virtually unconquerable, a Trojan warrior called Paris shot him in his heel with an arrow. This is what caused his death and gave rise to the phrase “Achilles heel” to mean an undoing or a weakness.
Similarly, epic heroes are those warriors who possess supernatural gifts but tend to act alone and like to prove their prowess in the fight against evil. In the case of the sophoclean hero, they are people who stick to their principles and never surrender. For example, Antigone was rebellious and broke rules. She differs with the idea that women must fear men. She even allows herself to be humiliated in public and sent to her death for she believes the gods will reward her.
During the Homeric age, heroes were humans of both genders in whose lineage were gods. They thus had supernatural gifts and were of common birth. However, these personality traits changed over time. At the time of the classical period, heroes were of royal births and had to perform extraordinary things In addition, they were mortal with their deaths supposed to occur in a strange way. Interestingly, Greek heroes valued their physical appearances as opposed to Roman ones. They too were named after natural objects like the sun and human feelings. In Mesopotamia, the heroic culture was similar to that of the Greeks.
Importantly, there were certain circumstances that inspired the development of the “hero model” in Greek culture during Homer’s era. After the fall of the Mycenaean civilization, their territory was under attack and they faced frequent invasions. They therefore had to form defensive mechanisms to avoid their own demise. The people valued success (arête) in the battlefield and demanded that from anyone who wanted to be their leader. The men who volunteered to go to the battlefield had to be courageous and fearless in order to face the enemy. Meanwhile, there was a growing desire to connect with one’s god for protection in the face of real danger and this contributed a great deal to heroism. Oedipus, who was a Greek tragic hero once, sent Creon to Delphi to find the cause and solution to the plague that had rocked the city. This reflected the Greek’s nature of wanting to know the reasons behind certain events. In addition, the Greeks believed in fate-one’s destiny was already chosen and decided for you. This is seen when Oedipus is born because he was chosen to eliminate his father and then marry his own mother, of which he did.
Consequently, every heroic model plays a significant role in highlighting the cultural habits of its people. The actions of that specific hero can be used to judge the beliefs and practices of a society. For example, in the Greek hero stories, they talk openly about a woman’s body. This shows that they had no problem with discussing sex matters in their public discourse. This is different from other societies that considered such topics a taboo. From the different characters in a heroic model, one can tell the level of respect given to women, what form of punishment was given to various crimes, popular foodstuffs consumed, religious affiliations and even key economic activities of any culture among others.
These ideas are presented in the visual arts by way of role casting. If a particular culture does not treat women as equal to men, then the male actors will be seen talking to their female counterparts in derogatory terms while mistreating them. The difference between rural and urban communities can as well be shown by the choice of locations for filming. Furthermore, the mode of dressing by the actors can be used to depict the extent of morality. The presence or absence of social amenities can illustrate the level of civilization while the system of governance can be used to indicate the type of political structures present in that society.