Defining The Hero

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“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

Joseph Campbell

Lindos,  Rhodes

Hercules, Perseus, Theseus – these were the myths for which I searched the libraries as a 10-year-old.  Magnificent heroes, blessed with superhuman strength and unfaltering courage, forged their destinies through journeys fraught with danger and treachery.  As time passed, I chose new stories to take their place.  Ones that were more in line with what I considered credible and more suitable for my reality.  While I still enjoyed the hero myths, I lost that singular childhood enthusiasm.  When I grew older, I became less sure of their relevance in my life. Indeed, the word “mythology” has the implication that what has been written is so fantastic that it simply cannot be true. That being the case, what significance can be given to these narratives?  The real question is, do we still need heroes?

The heroic story is not only limited to Greek mythology; rather there are common elements through all mythologies that speak to the need for a hero, a model, someone who can be emulated, someone who makes us proud to be human.  Their journeys are more about overcoming an internal conflict than achieving an external victory.  The quest pattern begins with a journey over land or sea into the unknown.  The hero confronts danger to bring back a person, object or knowledge. Gilgamesh  overcame despair and grief in his pursuit of the meaning of life. Jason led the Argonauts on an expedition in search of the Golden Fleece to secure his kingship. Hercules performed twelve labours and achieved immortality.

Our modern world still holds these same qualities is high regard.  We pursue a “Golden Fleece”, the symbol of authority, to establish our position within society.   We identify with Gilgamesh  in our search for the meaning of life.  We live in a finite existence, yet we recognize the possibility of the infinite, of immortality.

We need hero myths to remind us we are on a personal quest that celebrates the life that has been granted.  Joseph Campbell once said, “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”  

We travel the path of heroes.