So, why are heroes important to a culture? The obvious reasons are pretty clear. They set an ideal to follow, to strive for. They represent the principles the cultures holds in esteem. They represent the culture itself. All cultures seem to have heroes.
But doesn't that make them propaganda tools? Yes, of course it does. When, or if, the hero realizes he is being exploited, he may become self-destructive, as Ira Hayes did. Many who have been placed on that pedestal of high esteem have caused their own fall. Some through normal human failings, some through survivor guilt, some through feelings of unworthiness (seeing their deeds as something less than what the public is told).
Take sports "heroes", for example. They are the gladiators of modern times. Not heroes so much as celebrities. Fawned over for their athletic abilities, their human failings are ignored until they become so egregious as to take center stage. Witness Tiger Woods. Witness the numerous baseball stars who are now under the cloud of performance enhancing drugs.
The symbol of a culture's greatness is suddenly cast as an example of a culture's dark side.
Andreas mentioned Hercules as a "classical hero". But was he a hero? He was, according to myth, half god and half human. He was driven mad (by the goddess Hera, his father Zeus' consort) and killed his family. To atone for this, he had to perform 12 "labors", tests of his courage and strength. So he was a murderer. And the tasks were really attempts to get him killed so he wouldn't challenge his cousin for the throne. He accomplishes these tasks using the strength and agility (his "god side") and often by guile and deceit( his "human side").
Much of ancient Greek and Roman (and other cultures) myths are filled with this kind of hero. Flawed beings, persecuted by the gods, who struggle against overwhelming odds and win. But still often lose everything, or nearly everything, in the end.
Samson is given great strength and is brought down by a woman (and his own spiritual weakness) and re-emerges as a tragic hero in the end. David is favored and then betrayed by Saul. And returns to become a great king before he, too, falls from grace.
I think the stories of heroes inspire us but also seek to scare us a little. They encourage us to be brave, to strive for greatness in the name of others (usually) but to be wary of our own human frailties.
Pearl mentioned in a comment a couple of days ago (in the first of these hero blogs) that there may be many of us that are heroes but have not been tested and that there may be many cowards who have not been tested either. I agree wholeheartedly.
I agree because I have wondered what I would do when tested. We face small tests many times in our lives and we mostly do the right thing but only a relatively few times are any of us tested on a such a grand scale as to warrant the question of heroics.
That may be a good thing.
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago