Heroism: Virtue and Hero Essay

Submitted By tanasqui
Words: 968
Pages: 4


While once the words “Hero” and “Heroin” typically referred to the classic hero's such as Achilles, Gilgamesh, and , who were some nothing shy of demigods, the definition has however grown to encompass a much broader description. This evolution of the meaning of being a hero into one who is virtuous as opposed to the more prevalent hero of war has progressed through the years. In the patriarchal societies of the ancient world the “Hero” oft had many virtuous qualities, but along with those came a darker side, a trickster facade, especially seen in the male deities, that exemplified that they too possessed many less virtuous qualities. In the Greek and Roman patriarchal societies the male gods and hero's were often promiscuous, short-tempered, devious, and, or, dishonest. Often the “Hero's” of classic mythology projected “trickster” qualities which were not always looked down on as a weakness, just simply a facet to their personalities. In Homer's Iliad, the protagonist, Achilles, was prone to fits of rage, epitomized in the abundance of jealousy and pettiness felt over the dishonor and indignity of losing his war prize, Briseis to Agamemnon. Achilles' anger at the loss of Briseis was enough that he withdrew his men from battle, and began preparations to withdraw completely and return home. It is ultimately his rage and hubris that lead to his death. As with most stories of a hero's quest the protagonist is often described in detail at the beginning of the story to be differentiated in some way from the extraneous players. This essential individuality often comes in the form of nobility, supernatural abilities, elevated intelligence, supreme prowess in battle, or a combination of these traits. The hero's back-story often sets them apart from other characters, this history often lends to the understanding of the hero’s initial state of mind, and their personal or cultural values. A hero may have always been a hero, or have a villainous past, faced some great strife in their upbringing, been swaddled in the finest silks of china, or have an illustrious divine ancestry. Their background often lends direction, perspective, or a specific skill to aide the protagonist in their quest or to humanize the protagonist for the readers benefit in identifying with the hero. While these romanticized story's from antiquity hardly provide a moral compass, it is often the result of these myths that some lesson could be derived and therefore passed on through the retelling of surviving myths from generation to generation, serving to improve the quality of life through education while being entertained. My personal definition of a hero, while it shares many of the qualities of the hero's and heroin's of antiquity primarily draws from what would be considered a definition stemming from around 400C.E Europe just prior to the early Middle Ages that developed through the High Middle Ages. Digby's definition of chivalry is a shining example of the virtues I think every hero should possess: “Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world.”
During this time Chivalry provided a code of conduct for Knights. Heroic chivalry could be decomposed into three primary areas of duty, duties to countrymen and fellow Christians which consisted of showing mercy, courage, valor, fairness in everyday interactions while, providing protection to the weak and poor. Duties to your fellow man also included a willingness to risk ones own safety or and be willing to lay down ones life to protect another. The virtues of a chivalrous hero in Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight personifies this idea of the moral