What Is the Definition of Heroic Ideal?

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The heroic ideal is a cultural idea of the perfect person, one who embodies the best of all the qualities a culture values. This vision differs by culture. Heroic ideals are most easily identified in stories, but they are also present as cultural expectations.

Contemporary western culture values courage, self-sacrifice and perseverance in its heroes. However, heroes from other cultures show different traits. For instance, the Trickster hero, popular in Native American stories of Raven or Coyote or in African tales of Anasazi the Spider, is often cowardly, but always clever and funny. Ancient Greek heroes sought out a perfect heroic death, which had to be immortalized in song in order to be considered heroic. Being victorious was more important, in Greek thought, than being good or selfless.

While past literary heroes have tended to be masculine men and feminine women, modern heroes are often women who take on the heroic traits of men. Joss Whedon’s female characters, for instance, have been heavily influential in Western storytelling; they tend to be tough, smart, brave and self-sacrificing in the same way male heroes were only a little earlier in history. Heroes that subvert contemporary ideas of heroes are popular as well. Nevertheless, the traditional brave, self-sacrificing male hero is still the core heroic ideal of Western culture, all other heroic types being an expansion or revolt against him.