See E. R. Farnell, Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality (1921).
Mythological or legendary figure, often of divine descent, who is endowed with great strength or ability, like the heroes celebrated in early epics such as
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A hero (from Greek ἥρως hērōs), in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, the offspring of a mortal and a deity, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion.
Later, hero (male) and heroine (female) came to refer to characters (fictional or historical) that, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self-sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good, originally of martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.
Stories of heroism may serve as moral examples. In classical antiquity, hero cults – veneration of deified heroes such as Heracles, Perseus, and Achilles – played an important role in Ancient Greek religion. Politicians, ancient and modern, have employed hero worship for their own apotheosis (i.e., cult of personality).
Heroes in myth often had close but conflicted relationships with the gods. Thus Heracles's name means "the glory of Hera", even though he was tormented all his life by Hera, the Queen of the Gods. Perhaps the most striking example is the Athenian king Erechtheus, whom Poseidon killed for choosing Athena over him as the city's patron god. When the Athenians worshiped Erechtheus on the Acropolis, they invoked him as Poseidon Erechtheus.
Explicit defenses of Carlyle's position were rare in the second part of the 20th century. Most philosophers of history contend that the motive forces in history can best be described only with a wider lens than the one he used for his portraits. For example, Karl Marx argued that history was determined by the massive social forces at play in "class struggles", not by the individuals by whom these forces are played out. After Marx, Herbert Spencer wrote at the end of the 19th century: "You must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown....Before he can remake his society, his society must make him."
Thus, as Foucault pointed out in his analysis of societal communication and debate, history was mainly the "science of the sovereign", until its inversion by the "historical and political popular discourse".
The Annales School, led by Lucien Febvre, Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel, would contest the exaggeration of the role of individual subjects in history. Indeed, Braudel distinguished various time scales, one accorded to the life of an individual, another accorded to the life of a few human generations, and the last one to civilizations, in which geography, economics and demography play a role considerably more decisive than that of individual subjects. Foucault's conception of an "archeology" (not to be confused with the anthropological discipline of archaeology) or Althusser's work were attempts at linking together these various heterogeneous layers composing history.
The concept of a story archetype of the standard "hero's quest" or monomyth pervasive across all cultures is somewhat controversial. Expounded mainly by Joseph Campbell, it illustrates several uniting themes of hero stories that despite vastly different peoples and beliefs hold similar ideas of what a hero represents.
Some argue that while there may be many stories that fit the monomyth, the belief in such a truly ubiquitous form may be due in part simply to neglecting those that do not.
He distinguished between seekers and victim-heroes. A villain could initiate the issue by kidnapping the hero or driving him out; these were victim-heroes. On the other hand, a villain could rob the hero, or kidnap someone close to him, or, without the villain's intervention, the hero could realize that he lacked something and set out to find it; these heroes are seekers. Victims may appear in tales with seeker heroes, but the tale does not follow them both.
In modern movies, the hero is often simply an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, who, despite the odds being stacked against him or her, typically prevails in the end. In some movies (especially action movies), a hero may exhibit characteristics such as superhuman strength and endurance that sometimes makes him nearly invincible. Often a hero in these situations has a foil, the villain, typically a charismatic evildoer who represents, leads, or himself embodies the struggle the hero is up against. Post-modern fictional works have fomented the increased popularity of the anti-hero, who does not follow common conceptions of heroism.
The most compelling reason for the hero-as-self interpretation of stories and myths is the human inability to view the world from any perspective but a personal one. The almost universal notion of the hero or protagonist and its resulting hero identification allows us to experience stories in the only way we know how: as ourselves.
One potential drawback of the necessity of hero identification means that a hero is often more a combination of symbols than a representation of an actual person. In order to appeal to a wide range of individuals, the author often relegates the hero to a "type" of person which everyone already is or wishes themselves to be: a "good" person; a "brave" person; a "self-sacrificing" person. The most problematic result of this sort of design is the creation of a character so universal that we can all identify with somewhat, but none can identify with completely. In regard to the observer's personal interaction with the story, it can give the feeling of being "mostly involved," but never entirely.