Classics Literature

On Heroes

Are heroes important? I’m not necessarily referring to modern heroes, and certainly not superhero movies (though I have certain soft spots for various “superheroes”). I’m referring to the heroes of old, those names and legends of myth, history, and our cultural consciousness.

Why should we be concerned with heroes, especially those heroes long dead and whose deeds are only recorded in ancient books often thousands of years old? While it is customary to read the heroes of yesteryear as superhuman demigods superior to us—this is certainly true, in some respects, say with Hercules—the fact remains that the heroes of antiquity were humans just like us. They have passions, desire, and a human heart just as much as we do today. The difference: they weren’t cuddled in our comfortable technological age; they struggled in the flesh and blood world of human existence in all of its tumult and turbulence.

The importance of heroes is that their stories can awaken us from our own slumber to rediscover the intensity and passion of human life and existence. In their faces, in their names, in their struggles, our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are also discovered. While we may not etch our names into eternity like Achilles and Odysseus, their stories of love, compassion, and forgiveness still inspire us and move us to actualize the human life that they sought, failed to achieve, or struggled to achieve.

In fact, the heroic insight of Achilles reminds us that we can all be heroes. For the most heroic thing is human love. As he accosts Odysseus whom showered him with praise upon meeting him in the underworld, these words are uttered from the voice of the greatest Homeric hero: “I’d rather slave on earth for another man—some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—than rule down here over all the breathless dead. But come, tell me the news about my gallant son.” Heroes from antiquity like Achilles and Odysseus wanted love. As human creatures filled with the same soul, heart, and spirit, we too desire love. Their stories can inspire to venture out into the messy and often grisly world to discover the one reality that brings serenity in the midst of darkness, death, and destruction. We can die alone, comforted in our homes, apartments, and beds; or we can die in the grand pilgrimage of love seeking, struggling, and perhaps finding, the love that governs the moon and the other stars.

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