What Constitutes a Hero?

A hero is a real person who is always willing to put his or her life on the line for the protection of others. The author of "The Epic of Gilgamesh" introduces two heroic heroes who lived in Uruk, Sumer, in the Middle East, between 2700 and 2500 B.C.E. (Dalley). Sinleqi-poem running's "Gilgamesh" is supposed to be based on gathered stories of ancient mythology about a great king and Babylonian gods. The narrator of the poem portrays Gilgamesh as a supernatural being, two-thirds god and one-third man, which already grants him a heroic characterization but showed that he couldn’t escape the morality and death due to his human heritage. Gilgamesh was also the king of Uruk, which grants him a divine birth (Dalley). The gods of Babylon later created Enkidu, a wild-beast-like man, meant to guide and provide companionship to the willful, arrogant king Gilgamesh. The Gods created Enkidu to be an equal to Gilgamesh regarding strength and speed, but unlike Gilgamesh arrogant traits, he was kind and loyal. The two became lifetime companions and together set off for quests and adventures, and with the help of gods like Shamash, they thrived making them great heroes. The God’s brought in Enkidu with the hope of controlling Gilgamesh’s vice and making him a better king.

The two confronted Humbaba, the evil monster that guarded the cedar forest and killed the Bull of Heaven that was sent to them by the goddess of lovemaking named Ishtar. The quest cost Enkidu’s life, leaving Gilgamesh saddened and led him to the pursuit of immortality. The journey in search of eternal life takes Gilgamesh through 12 leagues of darkness which led him to Utnapishtim the Faraway, the only mortal that had ever tasted immortality, who grants him a secret herb that restores youth which was later stolen by a serpent on his way home (Dalley). Gilgamesh heroic journey demonstrated the features of a real hero in the ancient setting.

According to the Iliad, a real hero or heroine is one who displays courage in the face of danger and portrays at most self-sacrifice for the greater good of all humanity. The Iliad displays heroes as being below the gods but above any ordinary man, dignified by a virtue but may at times convoy a vice. The Homeric hero expected men to be united in battle, respect one another and had to resist intemperate cruelty (Whallon). Throughout the book of the Iliad, the term hero is mentioned frequently praising the various characters such as Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, Hector, and Agamemnon. Among the multiple heroic characters in Iliad was Achilles, Achaian’s greatest warrior. Achilles is associated with excessive pride and self-centeredness in the sense that he was willing to endanger the lives of those dear to him and vitiate the good of the army for self-motives (Whallon). The Homeric heroes were cautious of attaining communal honor in their reign which in most cases acted as a source of strength to them. For instance, Achilles experienced great distress after Agamemnon took Briseis from him as he felt that he has lost his honor before his community (Whallon).

Also, Hector is considered a hero that led his army maturely and courageously. He fought beside his men which made him an inspiration to them. Hector treated humans with great respect as well as the gods who assisted him through his many victories in battle. The Iliad portrays a hero as one who was able to maintain a heroic balance in the sense that he had to acknowledge his greatness as well as preserve chastity before the gods (Whallon). He had to recognize the many times the gods had a hand in his victory and the times they withdrew. Hector is an excellent example of a character that portrayed the heroic balance feature in his ruling.

The epic “Beowulf” recognizes the main character Beowulf as a hero who was a great warrior that fought monsters and dragons. He demonstrated great courage and selflessness and claimed that his most significant way to die was in battle (Whallon). The poem describes Beowulf as a perfect hero who portrayed high strength and power that enabled him to fight for his people. His most significant achievement was killing the monster Grendel with his bare hands and later slashing Grendel’s mother to death (Whallon). What makes Beowulf a legendary hero was his extreme physical strength, courage, loyalty, and selflessness that yielded a greater good to his people.

In the “Song of Roland,” the character Roland is displayed as the dashing hero who achieves greatness by doing good and generous. Ronald gained his popularity from being Charlemagne’s nephew and his bravery that earned him the commander place of the rearguard (Brault). Being born into a wealthy family, he showers loyal knights with lavishing gifts which gains him great popularity and attracts enthusiastic military followers. His uncle admits to Ronald being a successful commander and achieving military greatness. The dashing hero faces a tragic death with 20,000 other knights but manages to destroy the Marsile army which makes it a heroic death (Brault).

The heroic poems mentioned above demonstrates specific typical features of a hero. A hero is one who portrays extreme strengths that help them triumph and overcome extreme settings. For instance, in the epic “Beowulf” the character Beowulf demonstrates supernatural physical strength that enables him to fight monsters and dragons (Whallon). Gilgamesh was a two-thirds god who gave him supernatural strength to confronted Humbaba and kill the Bull of Heaven. Achilles and Hector were also great warriors that portrayed great strength and bravery. A hero is one who is selfless and is willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of his people. Beowulf claimed that he would rather die in battle than any other place shows that he had devoted his life to serving his people. Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed the Bull of heaven that had brought drought in Uruk for years (Dalley). In the epic Iliad, the various heroic characters were great warriors who led their armies in battles and won for their people. Also in the “Song of Roland,” Ronald’s way of being selfless was by being generous, he showed the loyal knights with lavishing gifts (Brault). Heroes are respectful to their people and the gods. An example is Hector in the “Iliad,” who treated humans with great respect as well as the gods who assisted him through his many victories in battle (Whallon). He was capable of maintaining a heroic balance that earned him a great blessing from the gods which made him a legendary warrior.

However, ancient heroes portray distinct features as compared to the modern heroes. In the old world, heroes were warriors who led their army into successful battles. They possessed great strength and bravery that made them real warriors. In modern times, heroes are professionals such as firefighters and doctors who with the help of advanced technology save lives (Raglan). Further, the ancient heroes are associated with extreme arrogance and over-confidence. A great example is Achilles who felt mortal after conquering the city of Troy and thought that no one was above him. However, we later see him being killed with an arrow. Also, Gilgamesh demonstrated arrogance in heroism which led to the creation of Enkidu by the Gods. In the modern times, heroes are more conscious of their actions and take precautions in matters concerning human lives. For instance, doctors do control their confidence as they know that other peoples’ lives much depend on them. Also, we have fearless leaders such as Martin Luther King who demonstrated true selflessness while fighting for his people which makes him a real hero. Above all, both ancient and modern heroes are brave and are willing to risk their own lives to save others (Raglan).

In conclusion, a hero is a genuine soul, always ready to risk his or her life for the safety of others. In ancient times, heroes were expected to be united in battle, respect one another and had to resist intemperate cruelty. A hero as one who was able to maintain a heroic balance in the sense that he had to acknowledge his greatness as well as preserve chastity before the gods. In other words, a hero is one who is caring, selfless, patient, courageous and humble (Raglan). He is respectful and works towards bringing a greater good of human life.

Works Cited

Brault, Gerard J. Song of Roland: An Analytical Edition: Introduction and Commentary. Penn State Press. 2010.

Dalley, Stephanie. "Gilgamesh and Heroes at Troy: Myth, History and Education in the Invention of Tradition. " Archaeology and the Homeric Epic (2016): 116.

Raglan, Lord. The hero: A study in tradition, myth and drama. Courier Corporation . 2013.

Whallon, William. "Formulas for Heroes in the" Iliad" and in" Beowulf". " Modern Philology ." 63.2 (1965): 95-104.

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