What Is Heroism?

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

- Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, II, v, 156

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what defines a hero and what place they had in classical society. On the fields of Troy a fallen soldier pleaded with Achilles, the great hero of the Greeks, to spare his life. According to Homer, Achilles replied, “Do you not see what a man I am, how huge, how splendid. And born of a great father and the mother who bore me immortal? Yet even I have also my death and strong destiny, And there shall be a dawn or an afternoon or a noontime, When some man in the fighting will take the life from me also Either with a spear cast or an arrow flown from the bow string”. With that, he killed him. Heroes have special attributes, but not necessarily humility or compassion. How did the Greeks define their heroes? What place did the hero have in classical society and what do modern ideas of heroism owe to the heroes of the golden age?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Heroism

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Hero means everything and nothing. It encompasses the firefighters who rushed into the burning twin towers, long-distance runners who compete through chronic disease, and the wag on Twitter who makes a point you agree with. The highly specific, armor-bright figure of classical myth has grown a thousand faces. We still want him around (DC Comics recently announced 10 new superhero films to unspool over the next six years, including one about a her: Wonder Woman), but his omnipresence makes him easy to mock. Part of our ambivalence may also stem from the suspicion that his noble deeds are not as selfless as they seem, motivated instead by a thirst for attention, rational egotism, or even masochism.

What’s the psychology of heroism? Is extreme self-sacrifice the result of a pained calculus, a weighing of desire and obligation, or an instinct? (Which would be more heroic? Does it matter?)...

Continue reading Katy Waldman's article: Psychology of heroism and altruism: What makes people do good deeds?

Further Reading

A hero (masculine) or heroine (feminine) is a person or main character of a literary work who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through feats of ingenuity, bravery or strength, often sacrificing their own personal concerns for a greater good.

The concept of the hero can be found in classical literature. It is the main or revered character in heroic epic poetry celebrated through ancient legends of a people, often striving for military conquest and living by a continually flawed personal honor code. The definition of a hero has changed throughout time. Merriam Webster dictionary defines a hero as "a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities." Examples of heroes range from mythological figures, such as Gilgamesh, Achilles and Iphigenia, to historical figures, such as Joan of Arc, modern heroes like Alvin York, Audie Murphy and Chuck Yeager, and fictional superheroes, including Superman and Batman...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on Heroism

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Related Topics

If you’re interested in the concept of heroism, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

Courage | Ethics | The Good LifeHuman Nature | Literature | Psychology

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