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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir Galahad, a hero of Arthurian legend, detail of a painting by George Frederic Watts

A hero (heroine in female) (Ancient Greekἥρως, hḗrōs), in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion.[1] Later, hero (male) and heroine (female) came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good, originally of martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.

Stories of heroism may serve as moral examples. In classical antiquity, hero cults – veneration of deified heroes such as Heracles, Perseus, and Achilles – played an important role in Ancient Greek religion. Politicians, ancient and modern, have employed hero worship for their own apotheosis (i.e., cult of personality).



The literal meaning of the word is "protector" or "defender" [2] and etymologically it is thought to be cognate with the name of the goddess Hera, the guardian of marriage; the postulated original forms of these words being *ἥρϝως, hērwōs, and *ἭρFα, Hērwā, respectively. It is also thought to be a cognate of the Latin verb servo (original meaning: to preserve whole) and of the Avestan verb haurvaiti (to keep vigil over), although the original Proto-Indoeuropean root is unclear.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the Indo-European root is ser meaning "to protect". According to Eric Partridge in Origins, the Greek word Hērōs "is akin to" the Latin seruāre, meaning to safeguard. Partridge concludes, "The basic sense of both Hera and hero would therefore be 'protector'."

Classical hero cults

Hero cults could be of the utmost political importance. When Cleisthenes divided the ancient Athenians into new demes for voting, he consulted the Oracle of Delphi about what heroes he should name each division after. According to Herodotus, the Spartans attributed their conquest of Arcadia to their theft of the bones of Orestes from the Arcadian town of Tegea.

Heroes in myth often had close but conflicted relationships with the gods. Thus Heracles's name means "the glory of Hera", even though he was tormented all his life by Hera, the Queen of the Gods. Perhaps the most striking example is the Athenian king Erechtheus, whom Poseidon killed for choosing Athena over him as the city's patron god. When the Athenians worshiped Erechtheus on the Acropolis, they invoked him as Poseidon Erechtheus.

In the Hellenistic Greek East, dynastic leaders such as the Ptolemies or Seleucids were also proclaimed heroes. This was an influence on the later, Roman apotheosis of their emperors.[citation needed]


The classic hero often came with what Lord Raglan (a descendant of the FitzRoy Somerset, Lord Raglan) termed a "potted biography" made up of some two dozen common traditions that ignored the line between historical fact and mythology.[citation needed] For example, the circumstances of the hero's conception are unusual; an attempt is made by a powerful male at his birth to kill him; he is spirited away; reared by foster-parents in a far country. Routinely the hero meets a mysterious death, often at the top of a hill; his body is not buried; he leaves no successors; he has one or more holy sepulchres.

The first Hero:

Hero (mythical priestess), in Greek mythology, priestess of Aphrodite, goddess of love, at Sestos, a town on the Hellespont (now Dardanelles). Hero was loved by Leander, a youth who lived at Abydos, a town on the Asian side of the channel. They could not marry because Hero was bound by a vow of chastity, and so every night Leander swam from Asia to Europe, guided by a lamp in Hero's tower. One stormy night a high wind extinguished the beacon, and Leander was drowned. His body was washed ashore beneath Hero's tower; in her grief, she threw herself into the sea.

The validity of the hero in historical studies

The philosopher Hegel gave a central role to the "hero", personalized by Napoleon, as the incarnation of a particular culture's Volksgeist, and thus of the general Zeitgeist. Thomas Carlyle's 1841 On Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History also accorded a key function to heroes and great men in history. Carlyle centered history on the biography of a few central individuals such as Oliver Cromwell or Frederick the Great. His heroes were political and military figures, the founders or topplers of states. His history of great men, of geniuses good and evil, sought to organize change in the advent of greatness.

Explicit defenses of Carlyle's position were rare in the second part of the 20th century. Most philosophers of history contend that the motive forces in history can best be described only with a wider lens than the one he used for his portraits. For example, Karl Marx argued that history was determined by the massive social forces at play in "class struggles", not by the individuals by whom these forces are played out. After Marx, Herbert Spencer wrote at the end of the 19th century: "You must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown....Before he can remake his society, his society must make him."[3]

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his analysis of societal communication and debate, history was mainly the "science of the sovereign", until its inversion by the "historical and political popular discourse".

The Annales School, led by Lucien Febvre, Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel, would contest the exaggeration of the role of individual subjects in history. Indeed, Braudel distinguished various time scales, one accorded to the life of an individual, another accorded to the life of a few human generations, and the last one to civilizations, in which geography, economics and demography play a role considerably more decisive than that of individual subjects. Foucault's conception of an "archeology" (not to be confused with the anthropological discipline of archaeology) or Louis Althusser's work were attempts at linking together these various heterogeneous layers composing history.

Heroic myth

The four heroes from the Chinese classic Journey to the West

The concept of a story archetype of the standard "hero's quest" or monomyth pervasive across all cultures is somewhat controversial. Expounded mainly by Joseph Campbell, it illustrates several uniting themes of hero stories that despite vastly different peoples and beliefs hold similar ideas of what a hero represents.[citation needed]

Folk and fairy tales

Vladimir Propp, in his analysis of the Russian fairy tale, concluded that a fairy tale had only eight dramatis personæ, of which one was the hero,[4]:p. 80 and his analysis has been widely applied to non-Russian folklore. The actions that fall into a such hero's sphere include:

  1. Departure on a quest
  2. Reacting to the test of a donor
  3. Marrying a princess (or similar figure)

He distinguished between seekers and victim-heroes. A villain could initiate the issue by kidnapping the hero or driving him out; these were victim-heroes. On the other hand, a villain could rob the hero, or kidnap someone close to him, or, without the villain's intervention, the hero could realize that he lacked something and set out to find it; these heroes are seekers. Victims may appear in tales with seeker heroes, but the tale does not follow them both.[4]:36

The modern fictional hero

Hero or heroine is sometimes used to simply describe the protagonist of a story, or the love interest, a usage which can conflict with the superhuman expectations of heroism. William Makepeace Thackeray gave Vanity Fair the subtitle A Novel without a Hero.[5] The larger-than-life hero is a more common feature of fantasy (particularly sword and sorcery and epic fantasy) than more realist works.[6]

In modern movies, the hero is often simply an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, who, despite the odds being stacked against him or her, typically prevails in the end. In some movies (especially action movies), a hero may exhibit characteristics such as superhuman strength and endurance that sometimes makes him nearly invincible. Often a hero in these situations has a foil, the villain, typically a charismatic evildoer who represents, leads, or himself embodies the struggle the hero is up against. Post-modern fictional works have fomented the increased popularity of the antihero, who does not follow common conceptions of heroism.[7]


It has been suggested in an article by Roma Chatterji[citation needed] that the hero or more generally protagonist is first and foremost a symbolic representation of the person who is experiencing the story while reading, listening or watching; thus the relevance of the hero to the individual relies a great deal on how much similarity there is between the two. The most compelling reason for the hero-as-self interpretation of stories and myths is the human inability to view the world from any perspective but a personal one. The almost universal notion of the hero or protagonist and its resulting hero identification allows us to experience stories in the only way we know how: as ourselves.

One potential drawback of the necessity[citation needed] of hero identification means that a hero is often more a combination of symbols than a representation of an actual person.[citation needed] In order to appeal to a wide range of individuals, the author often relegates the hero to a "type" of person which everyone already is or wishes themselves to be: a "good" person; a "brave" person; a "self-sacrificing" person. The most problematic result of this sort of design is the creation of a character so universal that we can all identify with somewhat, but none can identify with completely.[citation needed] In regard to the observer's personal interaction with the story, it can give the feeling of being "mostly involved," but never entirely.

See also


  1. ^ See Heros, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, 'A Greek-English Lexicon', at Perseus and Plato, 'Cratylus'
  2. ^ Hero: Online Etymology Dictionary, entry "Hero"
  3. ^ Spencer, Herbert. The Study of Sociology, Appleton, 1896, p. 34.
  4. ^ a b Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folk Tale, ISBN 0-292-78376-0
  5. ^ Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p 34, ISBN 0-691-01298-9
  6. ^ L. Sprague de Camp, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy, p 5 ISBN 0-87054-076-9
  7. ^ Hero: Encyclopedia - Hero

Further reading

  • Craig, David, Back Home, Life Magazine-Special Issue, Volume 8, Number 6, 85-94.
  • Guntis Smidchens, "National Heroic Narratives in the Baltics as a Source for Nonviolent Political Action," Slavic Review 66,3 (2007), 484-508.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Heroes article)

From Wikiquote

For the TV show, see Heroes (TV series)

A hero (male) or heroine (female) is a person of great bravery who performs extraordinary and praiseworthy deeds.



Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.
  • Andrea: "Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero."
    Galileo: "No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero."
    • Bertolt Brecht, Life of Galileo (1938), Scene 12, p. 115
    • Variant translations: Pity the country that needs heroes.
      Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes
  • He knows a hero when he sees one. Too few characters out there, flying around like that, saving old girls like me. And Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people. Setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them, cheer them, scream their names. And years later, they'll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them how to hold on a second longer. I believe there's a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.
  • Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed. You can look it up later.
  • The goal of the hero is to return (normal) life to the living.
    • Journey into the Void (2003), Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  • A hero's greatest act is to lay down his sword.
    • From the film Hero.
  • A coward can be a hero, but a hero cannot be a coward.
  • You put your life on the line, no one really appreciates you enough for it. Being a hero isn't what it's cracked up to be anymore.
  • In the real world, heroes don't look like me. In the real world, they got bad teeth, a bald spot and a beer gut. I'm just an actor with a gun, who's lost his motivation.
  • You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
    • Harvey Dent/ Two Face, The Dark Knight

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • True heroism is alike positive and progressive. It sees in right the duty which should dominate, and in truth the principle which should prevail. And hence it never falters in the faith that always and everywhere sin must be repressed, and righteousness exalted.
    • John McClellan Holmes, p. 312..
  • Never was there a time, in the history of the world, when moral heroes were more needed. The world waits for such, the providence of God has commanded science to labor and prepare the way for such. For them she is laying her iron tracks, and stretching her wires, and bridging the oceans. But where are they? Who shall breathe into our civil and political relations the breath of a higher life? Who shall touch the eyes of a paganized science, and of a pantheistic philosophy, that they may see God? Who shall consecrate to the glory of God, the triumphs of science? Who shall bear the life-boat to the stranded and perishing nations?
    • Mark Hopkins, p. 312.
  • The courage of Daniel is true heroism. It is not physical daring, such as beneath some proud impulse will rush upon an enemy's steel; it is not reckless valor, sporting with a life which ill-fortune has blighted or which despair has made intolerable; it is not the passiveness of the stoic, through whose indifferent heart no tides of feeling flow; it is the calm courage which reflects upon its alternatives, and deliberately chooses to do right; it is the determination of Christian principle, whose foot resteth on the rock, and whose eye pierceth into heaven.
  • With quaint manners and quaint names these men had the hero's heart and the confessor's faith. Their faith was, indeed, their strength. Strong in the supremacy of conscience, in that real earnestness which springs from conviction, and which prompts to enterprise; far-sighted in political sagacity, because seeing Him that is invisible; shrewd enough to know that the truest policy for the life that now is, is a reverent recognition of the life that is to come, they were brave in endurance and patient under trial; and never losing sight of the principle for which they struggled, and of the purpose of their voyage afar, they " won the wilderness for God."
  • Don't aim at any impossible heroisms. Strive rather to be quiet in your own sphere. Don't live in the cloudland of some transcendental heaven; do your best to bring the glory of a real heaven down, and ray it out upon your fellows in this work-day world. Seek to make trade bright with a spotless integrity, and business lustrous with the beauty of holiness.
  • The grandest of heroic deeds are those which are performed within four walls and in domestic privacy.
    • Jean Paul Richter, p. 313.
  • The calm, tranquil energy of the Redeemer's soul; the deep strength of principle which nothing could shake; the serene courage which looked down upon menaces, clamor, contumely, sacrifice, death, — this is the temper which pours contempt upon the intrepidity of heroes, but which the Holy Spirit infuses into the humble Christian.


  • Better to be a lion for one day than a hundred years as a maggot
  • No hero is more braver then a ordinary man, he's just braver five minutes longer
  • We can be Heroes, just for one day. What d'you say?
  • We can all be heroes in our virtues, in our homes, in our lives.
  • Each man is a hero and an oracle to somebody; and to that person whatever he says has an enhanced value.
  • Nobody, they say, is a hero to his valet. Of course; for a man must be a hero to understand a hero. The valet, I dare say, has great respect for some person of his own stamp.
  • Great men need to be lifted upon the shoulders of the whole world, in order to conceive their great ideas or perform their great deeds. That is, there must be an atmosphere of greatness round about them. A hero cannot be a hero unless in an heroic world.
  • By my love and hope I beseech you: Do not throw away the hero in your soul! Hold holy your highest hope!
  • Do you know who a hero is? Nine times out of ten, a hero is someone who is tired enough, cold enough, and hungry enough not to give a damn. I don't give a damn.
  • Heroes never die. They live on forever in the hearts and minds of those who would follow in their footsteps.
    • Emily Potter
  • True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost.
    • Arthur Ashe
  • Today, looking at the mirror, I've found what I was searching for year. I've found my hero.
    • Sir. Ethan Loods-Laton
  • Heroes abilities are not limited by the impossible but by what is needed of them.
    • Shane O'Neill

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HERO (Gr. i t I l ion), a term specially applied to warriors of extraordinary strength and courage, and generally to all who were distinguished from their fellows by superior moral, physical or intellectual qualities. No satisfactory derivation of the word has been suggested.

Ancient Greek Heroes. In ancient Greece, the heroes were the object of a special cult, and as such were intimately connected with its religious life. Various theories have been put forward as to the nature of these heroes. According to some authorities, they were idealized historical personages; according to others, symbolical representations of the forces of nature. The view most commonly held is that they were degraded or " depotentiated " gods, occupying a position intermediate between gods and men. According to E. Rohde (in Psyche) they are souls of the dead, which after separation from the body enter upon a higher, eternal existence. But it is only a select minority who attain to the rank of heroes after death, only the distinguished men of the past. The worship of these heroes is in reality an ancestor worship, which existed in pre-Homeric times, and was preserved in local cults. Instances no doubt occur of gods being degraded to the ranks of heroes, but these are not the real heroes, the heroes who are the object of a cult. The cult-heroes were all persons who had lived the life of man on earth, and it was necessary for the degraded gods to pass through this stage. They did not at once become cult-heroes, but only after they had undergone death like other mortals. Only one who has been a man can become a hero. The heroes are spirits of the dead, not demi-gods; their position is not intermediate between gods and men, but by the side of these they exist as a separate class.

In Homer the term is applied especially to warrior princes, to kings and kings' sons, even to distinguished persons of lower rank, and free men generally. In Hesiod it is chiefly confined to those who fought before Troy and Thebes; in view of their supposed divine origin, he calls them demi-gods (µLO€ot). This name is also given them in an interpolated passage in the Iliad (xii. 23), which is quite at variance with the general Homeric idea of the heroes, who are no more than men, even if of divine origin and of superior strength and prowess. But neither in Homer nor in Hesiod is there any trace of the idea that the heroes after death had any power for good or evil over the lives of those who survived them; and consequently, no cult. Nevertheless, traces of an earlier ancestor worship appear, e.g. in funeral games in honour of Patroclus and other heroes, while the Hesiodic account of the five ages of man is a reminiscence of the belief in the continued existence of souls in a higher life. This pre-historic worship and belief, for a time obscured, were subsequently revived. According to Porphyry (De abstinentia, iv. 22), Draco ordered the inhabitants of Attica to honour the gods and heroes of their country "in accordance with the usage of their fathers " with offerings of first fruits and sacrificial cakes every year, thereby clearly pointing to a custom of high antiquity. Solon also ordered that the tombs of the heroes should be treated with the greatest respect, and Cleisthenes sought to create a pan-Athenian enthusiasm by calling his new tribes after Attic heroes and setting up their statues in the Agora. Heroic honours were at first bestowed upon the founders of a colony or city, and the ancestors of families; if their name was not known, one was adopted from legend. In many cases these heroes were purely fictitious; such were the supposed ancestors of the noble and priestly families of Attica and elsewhere (Butadae at Athens, Branchidae at Miletus Ceryces at Eleusis), of the eponymi of the tribes and demes. Again, side by side with gods of superior rank, certain heroes were worshipped as protecting spirits of the country or state; such were the Aeacidae amongst the Aeginetans, Ajax son of Oileus amongst the Epizephyrian Locrians and Hector at Thebes. Neglect of the worship of these heroes was held to be responsible for pestilence, bad crops and other misfortunes, while, on the other hand, if duly honoured, their influence was equally beneficent. This belief was supported by the Delphic oracle, which was largely instrumental in promoting hero-worship and keeping alive its due observance. Special importance was attached to the grave of the hero and to his bodily remains, with which the spirit of the departed was inseparably connected. The grave was regarded as his place of abode, from which he could only be absent for a brief period; hence his bones were fetched from abroad (e.g. Cimon brought those of Theseus from Scyros), or if they could not be procured, at least a cenotaph was erected in his honour. Their relics also were carefully preserved: the house of Cadmus at Thebes, the hut of Orestes at Tegea, the stone on which Telamon had sat at Salamis (in Cyprus). Special shrines (ijpcia) were also erected in their honour, usually over their graves. In these shrines a complete set of armour was kept, in accordance with the idea that the hero was essentially a warrior, who on occasion came forth from his grave and fought at the head of his countrymen, putting the enemy to flight as during his lifetime. Like the gods, the cult heroes were supposed to exercise an influence on human affairs, though not to the same extent, their sphere of action being confined to their own localities. Amongst the earliest known historical examples of the elevation of the dead to the rank of heroes are Timesius the founder of Abdera, Miltiades, son of Cypselus, Harmodius and Aristogiton and Brasidas, the victor of Amphipolis, who ousted the local Athenian hero Hagnon. In course of time admission to the rank of a hero became far more common, and was even accorded to the living, such as Lysimachus in Samothrace and the tyrant Nicias of Cos. Antiochus of Commagene instituted an order of priests to celebrate the anniversary of his birth and coronation in a special sanctuary, and the kings of Pergamum claimed divine honours for themselves and their wives during their lifetime. The birthday of Eumenes was regularly kept, and every month sacrifice was offered to him and games held in his honour. In addition to persons of high rank, poets, legendary and others (Linus, Orpheus, Homer, Aeschylus and Sophocles), legislators and physicians (Lycurgus, Hippocrates), the patrons of various trades or handicrafts (artists, cooks, bakers, potters), the heads of philosophical schools (Plato, Democritus, Epicurus) received the honours of a cult. At Teos incense was offered before the statue of a flute-player during his lifetime. In some countries the honour became so general that every man after death was described as a hero in his epitaph - in Thessaly even slaves.

The cult of the heroes exhibits points of resemblance with that of the chthonian divinities and of the dead, but differs from that of the ordinary gods, a further indication that they were not " depotentiated " gods. Thus, sacrifice was offered to them at night or in the evening; not on a high, but on a low altar (Eo, surrounded by a trench to receive the blood of the victim, which was supposed to make its way through the ground to the occupant of the grave; the victims were black male animals, whose heads were turned downwards, not upwards; their blood was allowed to trickle on the ground to appease the departed (aiµarcovpLa); the body was entirely consumed by fire and no mortal was allowed to eat of it; the technical expression for the sacrifice was not °ba y but Eva-y1. -ECV (less commonly EvrEµvEtv). The chthonian aspect of the hero is further shown by his attribute the snake, and in many cases he appears under that form himself. On special occasions a sacrificial meal of cooked food was set out for the heroes, of which they were solemnly invited to partake. The fullest description of such a festival is the account given by Plutarch (Aristides, 21) of the festival celebrated by the Plataeans in honour of their countrymen who had fallen at the battle of Plataea. On the 16th of the month Maimacterion, a long procession, headed by a trumpeter playing a warlike air, set out for the graves; wagons decked with myrtle and garlands of flowers followed, young men (who must be of free birth) carried jars of wine, milk, oil and perfumes; next came the black bull destined for the sacrifice, the rear being brought up by the archon, who wore the purple robe of the general, a naked sword in one hand, in the other an urn. When he came near the tombs, he drew some water with which he washed the gravestones, afterwards anointing them with perfume; he then sacrificed the bull on the altar calling upon Zeus Chthonios and Hermes Psychopompos, and inviting them in company with the heroes to the festival of blood. Finally, he poured a libation of wine with the words: " I drink to those who died for the freedom of the Hellenes." See especially E. Rohde, Psyche (1905) and in Rheinisches Museum, li. (1895), 28; P. Stengel, Die griechischen Kultusaltertumer (Munich, 1898), p. 124; G. F. Schomann, Griechische Altertumer, ii. (1897), 159; J. Wassner, De heroum aped Graecos cultu (Kiel, 1883); article by F. Deneken in Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie, in which a large amount of material is accumulated; J. A. Hild, Etude sur les demons (1881) and article in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquites. Teutonic Legend. Many of the chief characteristics of the ancient Greek heroes are reproduced in those of the Teutonic North, the parallel being in some cases very striking; Siegfried, for instance, like Achilles, is vulnerable only in one spot, and Wayland Smith, like Hephaestus, is lame. Superhuman qualities and powers, too, are commonly ascribed to both, an important difference, however, being that whatever worship may have been paid to the Teutonic heroes never crystallized into a cult. This applies equally to those who have a recognized historical origin and to those who are regarded as purely mythical. Of the latter the number has tended to diminish in the light of modern scholarship. The fashion during the 19th century set strongly in the other direction, and the " degraded gods " theory was applied not only to such conspicuous heroes as Siegfried, Dietrich and Beowulf, but to a host of minor characters, such as the good marquis Rudeger of the Nibelungenlied and our own Robin Hood (both identified with Woden Hruodperaht). The reaction from one extreme has, indeed, tended to lead to another, until not only the heroes, but the very gods themselves, are being traced to very human, not to say commonplace, origins. Thus M. Henri de Tourville, in his Histoire de la formation particulariste (1903), basing his argument on the Ynglinga Saga, interpreted in the light of " Social Science," reveals Odin, " the traveller," as a great " caravan-leader " and warrior, who, driven f rem Asgard - a trading city on the borders of the steppes east of the Don - by " the blows that Pompey aimed at Mithridates," brought to the north the arts and industries of the East. The argument is developed with convincing ingenuity, but it may be doubted whether it has permanently " rescued Odin from the misty dreamland of mythology and restored him to history." It is now, however, admitted that, whatever influence the one may have from time to time exercised on the other, Teutonic myth and Teutonic heroic legend were developed on independent lines. The Teutonic heroes are, in the main, historical personages, never gods; though, like the Greek heroes, they are sometimes endowed with semi-divine attributes or interpreted as symbolical representations of natural forces.

The origin of Teutonic heroic saga, which may be regarded as including that of the Germans, Goths, Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians, is to be looked for in the period of the so-called migration of nations (A.D. 350-650). It consequently rests upon a distinct basis of fact, the saga (in the older and wider sense of any story said or sung) being indeed the oldest form of historical tradition; though this of course does not exclude the probability of the accretion of mythical elements round persons and episodes from the very first. As to the origin of the heroic sagas as we now have them, Tacitus tells us that the deeds of Arminius were still celebrated in song a hundred years after his death (Annals, ii. 88) and in the Germania he speaks of " old songs " as the only kind of " annals " which the ancient Germans possessed; but, whatever relics of the old songs may be embedded in the Teutonic sagas, they have left no recognizable mark on the heroic poetry of the German peoples. The attempt to identify Arminius with Siegfried is now generally abandoned. Teutonic heroic saga, properly so-called, consists of the traditions connected with the migration period, the earliest traces of which are found in the works of historical writers such as Ammianus Marcellinus and Cassiodorus. According to Jordanes (the epitomator of Cassiodorus's History of the Goths) at the funeral of Attila his vassals, as they rode round the corpse, sang of his glorious deeds. The next step in the development of epic narrative was the single lay of an episodic character, sung by a single individual, who was frequently a member of a distinguished family, not merely a professional minstrel. Then, as different stories grew up round the person of a particular hero, they formed a connected cycle of legend, the centre of which was the person of the hero (e.g. Dietrich of Bern). The most important figures of these cycles are the following.

(1) Beowulf, king of the Geatas (Jutland), whose story in its present form was probably brought from the continent by the Angles. It is an amalgamation of the myth tof Beowa, the slayer of the water-demon and the dragon, with the historical legend of Beowulf, nephew and successor of Hygelac (Chochilaicus), king of the Geatas, who was defeated and slain (c. 520) while ravaging the Frisian coast. The water-demon Grendel and the dragon (probably), by whom Beowulf is mortally wounded, have been supposed to represent the powers of autumn and darkness, the floods which at certain seasons overflow the low-lying countries on the coast of the North Sea and sweep away all human habitations; Beowulf is the hero of spring and light who, after overcoming the spirit of the raging waters, finally succumbs to the dragon of approaching winter. Others regard him as a wind-hero, who disperses the pestilential vapours of the fens. Beowulf is also a culture-hero. His father SceafScyld (i.e. Scyld Scefing," the protector with the sheaf ") lands on the Anglian or Scandinavian coast when a child, in a rudderless ship, asleep on a sheaf of grain, symbolical of the means whereby his kingdom shall become great; the son indicates the blessings of a fixed habitation, secured against the attacks of the sea. (2) Hildebrand, the hero of the oldest German epic. A loyal supporter of Theodoric, he follows his master, when threatened by Odoacer, to the court of Attila. After thirty years' absence, he returns to his home in Italy; his son Hadubrand, believing his father to be dead, suspects treachery and refuses to accept presents offered by the father in token of good-will. A fight takes place, in which the son is slain by the father. In a later version, recognition and reconciliation take place. Well-known parallels are Odysseus and Telegonis, Rustem and Sohrab. (3) Ermanaric, the king of the East Goths, who according to Ammianus Marcellinus slew himself (c. 375) in terror at the invasion of the Huns. With him is connected the old German Dioscuri myth of the Harlungen. (4)Dietrich of Bern (Verona), the legendary name of Theodoric the Great. Contrary to historical tradition, Italy is supposed to have been his ancestral inheritance, of which he has been deprived by Odoacer, or by Ermanaric, who in his altered character of a typical tyrant appears as his uncle and contemporary. He takes refuge in Hungary with Etzel (Attila), by whose aid he finally recovers his kingdom. In the later middle ages he is represented as fighting with giants, dragons and dwarfs, and finally disappears on a black horse. Some attempts have been made to identify him as a kind of Donar or god of thunder. (5) Siegfried (M.H. Ger. Sivrit), the hero of the Niebelungenlied, the Sigurd of the related northern sagas, is usually regarded as a purely mythical figure, a hero of light who is ultimately overcome by the powers of darkness, the mist-people (Niebelungen). He is, however, closely associated with historical characters and events, e.g. with the Burgundian king Gundahari (Gunther, Gunnar) and the overthrow of his house and nation by the Huns; the scholars have exercised considerable ingenuity in attempting to identify him with various historical figures. Theodor Abeling (Das Nibelungenlied, Leipzig, 1907) traces the Nibelung sagas to three groups of Burgundian legends, each based on fact: the Frankish-Burgundian tradition of the murder of Segeric, son of the Burgundian king Sigimund, who was slain by his father at the instigation of his stepmother; the Frankish-Burgundian story, as told by Gregory of Tours (iii. 11), of the defeat of the Burgundian kings Sigimund and Godomar, and the captivity and murder of Sigimund, by the sons of Clovis, at the instigation of their mother Chrothildis, in revenge for the murder of her father Chilperich and of her mother, by Godomar; the RhenishBurgundian story of the ruin of Gundahari's kingdom by Attila's Huns. Herr Abeling identifies Siegfried (Sigurd) with Segeric, while - according to him - the heroine of the Nibelung sagas, Kriemhild (Gudrun), represents a conf.usion of two historical persons: Chrothildis, the wife of Clovis, and Ildico (Hilde), the wife of Attila. (See also the articles Kriemhild, Nibelun Genlied) .

(6)Hugdietrich, Wolfdietrich and Ortnit, whose legend, like that of Siegfried, is of Frankish origin. It is preserved in four versions, the best of which is the oldest, and has an historical foundation. Hugdietrich is the " Frankish Dietrich " (= Hugo Theodoric), king of Austrasia (d. 534), who like his son and successor Theodebert, was illegitimate; both had to fight for their inheritance with relatives. The transference of the scene to Constantinople is a reminiscence of the events of the Crusades and Theodebert's projected campaign against that city. The version in which Hugdietrich gains access to his future wife by disguising himself as a woman has also a foundation in fact. As the myth of the Harlungen is connected with Ermanaric, so another Dioscuri myth (of the Hartungen) is combined with the Ortnit-Wolfdietrich legend. The Hartungen are probably identical with the divine youths (mentioned in Tacitus as worshipped by the Vandal Naharvali or Nahanarvali), from whom the Vandal royal family, the Asdingi, claimed descent. Asdingi ("Ao-T yyoi) would be represented in Gothic by Hazdiggos, " men with women's hair " (cf. muliebri ornate in Tacitus), and in middle high German by Hartungen. (7)Rother, king of Lombardy. Desiring to wed the daughter of Constantine, king of Constantinople, he sends twelve envoys to ask her in marriage. They are arrested and thrown into prison by the king. Rother, who appears under the name of Dietrich, sets out with an army, liberates the envoys and carries off the princess. One version places the scene in the land of the Huns. The character of Constantine in many respects resembles that of Alexius Comnenus; the slaying of a tame lion by one of the gigantic followers of Rother is founded on an incident which actually took place at the court of Alexius during the crusade of i ioi under duke Well of Bavaria, when King Rother was composed about 1160 by a Rhenish minstrel. Rother may be the Lombard king Rothari (636-650), transferred to the period of the Crusades. (8)Walther of Aquitaine, chiefly known from the Latin poem Waltharius, written by Ekkehard of St Gall at the beginning of the 10th century, and fragments of an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon Epic Waldere. Walther is not an historical figure, although the legend undoubtedly represents typical occurrences of the migration period, such as the detention and flight of hostages of noble family from the court of the Huns, and the rescue of captive maidens by abduction. (9)Wieland (Volundr), Wayland the Smith, the only Teutonic hero (his original home was lower Saxony) who firmly established himself in England. There is absolutely no historical background for his legend. He is a firespirit, who is pressed into man's service, and typifies the advance from the stone age to a higher stage of civilization (working in metals). As the lame smith he reminds us of Hephaestus, and in his flight with wings of Daedalus escaping from Minos. (10) HOgni (Hagen) and Hedin (Hetel), whose personalities are overshadowed by the heroines Hilde and Gudrun (Kudrun, Kutrun). In one version occurs the incident of the never-ending battle between the forces of Hagen and Hedin. Every night Hilde revives the fallen, and " so will it continue till the twilight of the gods." The battle represents the eternal conflict between light and darkness, the alternation of day and night. Hilde here figures as a typical Valkyr delighting in battle and bloodshed, who frustrates a reconciliation. Hedin had sent a necklace as a peace-offering to Hagen, but Hilde persuades her father that it is only a ruse. This necklace occurs in the story of the goddess Freya (Frigg), who is said to have caused the battle to conciliate the wrath of Odin at her infidelity, the price paid by her for the possession of the necklace Brisnigamen; again, the light god Heimdal is said to have fought with Loki for the necklace (the sun) stolen by the latter. Hence the battle has been explained as the necklace myth in epic form. The historical background is the raids of the Teutonic maritime tribes on the coasts of England and Ireland. Famous heroes who are specially connected with England are Alfred the Great, Richard Cceur-de-Lion, King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Guy of Warwick, Sir Bevis of Hampton (or Southampton), Robin Hood and his companions.

Celtic Heroes. The Celtic heroic saga in the British islands may be divided into the two principal groups of Gaelic (Irish) and Brython (Welsh), the first, excluding the purely mythological, into the Ultonian (connected with Ulster) and the Ossianic. The Ultonianis grouped round the names of King Conchobar and the heroCuchulainn, " the Irish Achilles," the defender of Ulster against all Ireland, regarded by some as a solar hero. The second cycle contains the epics of Finn (Fionn, Fingal) mac Cumhail, and his son Oisin (Ossian), the bard and warrior, chiefly known from the supposed Ossianic poems of Macpherson. (See Celt, sec. Celtic Literature.) Of Brython origin is the cycle of King Arthur (Artus), the adopted national hero of the mixed nationalities of whom the " English " people was composed. Here he appears as a chiefly mythical personality, who slays monsters, such as the giant of St Michel, the boar Troit, the demon cat, and goes down to the underworld. The original Welsh legend was spread by British refugees in Brittany, and was thus celebrated by both English and French Celts. From a literary point of view, however, it is chiefly French and forms " the matter of Brittany. " Arthur, the leader (comes Britanniae, dux bellorum) of the Siluri or Dumnonii against the Saxons, flourished at the beginning of the 6th century. He is first spoken of in Nennius's History of the Britons (9th century), and at greater length in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (12th century), at the end of which the French Breton cycle attained its fullest development in the poems of Chretien de Troyes and others.

Speaking generally, the Celtic heroes are differentiated from the Teutonic by the extreme exaggeration of their superhuman, or rather extra-human, qualities. Teutonic legend does not lightly exaggerate, and what to us seems incredible in it may be easily conceived as credible to those by whom and for whom the tales were told; that Sigmund and his son Sinfiotli turned themselves into wolves would be but a sign of exceptional powers to those who believed in werewolves; Fafnir assuming the form of a serpent would be no more incredible to the barbarous Teuton than the similar transformation of Proteus to the Greek. But in the characterization of their heroes the Celtic imagination runs riot, and the quality of their persons and their acts becomes exaggerated beyond the bounds of any conceivable probability. Take, for instance, the description of some of Arthur's knights in the Welsh tale of Kilhwch and Olwen (in the Mabinogion). Along with Kai and Bedwyr (Bedivere), Peredur (Perceval), Gwalchmai (Gawain), and many others, we have such figures as Sgilti Yscandroed, whose way through the wood lay along the tops of the trees, and whose tread was so light that no blade of grass bent beneath his weight; Sol, who could stand all day upon one leg; Sugyn the son of Sugnedydd, who was "broad-chested" to such a degree that he could suck up the sea on which were three hundred ships and leave nothing but dry land; Gweyyl, the son of Gwestad, who when he was sad would let one of his lips drop beneath his waist and turn up the other like a cap over his head; and Uchtry Varyf Draws, who spread his red untrimmed beard over the eight-and-forty rafters of Arthur's hall. Such figures as these make no human impression, and criticism has busied itself in tracing them to one or other of the shadowy divinities of the Celtic pantheon. However this may be, remnants of their primitive superhuman qualities cling to the Celtic heroes long after they have been transfigured, under the influence of Christianity and chivalry, into the heroes of the medieval Arthurian romance, types - for the most part - of the knightly virtues as these were conceived by the middle ages; while shadowy memories of early myths live on, strangely disguised, in certain of the episodes repeated uncritically by the medieval poets. So Merlin preserves his diabolic origin; Arthur his mystic coming and his mystic passing; while Gawain, and after him Lancelot, journey across the river, as the Irish hero Bran had done before them to the island of fair women - the Celtic vision of the realm of death.

The chief heroes of the medieval Arthurian romances are the following. Arthur himself, who tends however to become completely overshadowed by his knights, who make his court the starting-point of their adventures. Merlin (Myrddin), the famous wizard, bard and warrior, perhaps an historical figure, first introduced by Geoffrey of Monmouth, originally called Ambrose from the British leader Ambrosius Aurelianus, under whom he is said to have first served. Perceval (Parzival, Parsifal), the Welsh Peredur, " the seeker of the basin," the most intimately connected with the quest of the Grail (q.v.). Tristan (Tristram), the ideal lover of the middle ages, whose name is inseparably associated with that of Iseult. Lancelot, son of Ban king of Brittany, a creation of chivalrous romance, who only appears in Arthurian literature under French influence, known chiefly from his amour with Guinevere, perhaps in imitation of the story of Tristan and Iseult. Gawain (Welwain, Welsh Gwalchmai), Arthur's nephew, who in medieval romance remains the type of knightly courage and chivalry, until his character is degraded in order to exalt that of Lancelot. Among less important, but still conspicuous, figures may be mentioned Kay (the Kai of the Mabinogion), Arthur's foster-brother and sensechal, the type of the bluff and boastful warrior, and Bedivere (Bedwyr), the type of brave knight and faithful retainer, who alone is with Arthur at his passing, and afterwards becomes " a hermit and a holy man." (See Arthur, Merlin, Perceval, Tristan, Lancelot, Gawain.) Heroes of Romance. Another series of heroes, forming the central figures of stories variously derived but developed in Europe by the Latin-speaking peoples, may be conveniently grouped under the heading of " romance." Of these the most important are Alexander of Macedon and Charlemagne, while alongside of them Priam and other heroes of the Trojan war appear during the middle ages in strangely altered guise. Of all heroes of romance Alexander has been the most widely celebrated. His name, in the form of Iskander, is familiar in legend and story all over the East to this day; to the West he was introduced through a Latin translation of the original Greek romance (by the pseudo-Callisthenes) to which the innumerable Oriental versions are likewise traceable (see Alexander Iii., King Of Macedon; sec. The Romance of Alexander). More important in the West, however, was the cycle of legends gathering round the figure of Charlemagne, forming what was known as " the matter of France." The romances of this cycle, of Germanic (Frankish) origin and developed probably in the north of France by the French (probably in the north of France) contain reminiscences of the heroes of the Merovingian period, and in their later development were influenced by the Arthurian cycle. Just as Arthur was eclipsed by his companions, so Charlemagne's vassal nobles, except in the Chanson de Roland, are exalted at the expense of the emperor, probably the result of the changed relations between the later emperors and their barons. The character of Charlemagne himself undergoes a change; in the Chanson de Roland he is a venerable figure, mild and dignified, while later he appears as a cruel and typical tyrant (as is also the case with Ermanaric). The basis of his legend is mainly historical, although the story of his journey to Constantinople and the East is mythical, and incidents have been transferred from the reign of Charles Martel to his. Charlemagne is chiefly venerated as the champion of Christianity against the heathen and the Saracens. (See Charlemagne, ad fin. " The Charlemagne Legends.") The most famous heroes who are associated with him are Roland, praefect of the marches of Brittany, the Orlando of Ariosto, slain at Roncevaux (Roncevalles) in the Pyrenees, and his friend and rival Oliver (Olivier); Ogier the Dane, the Holger Danske of Hans Andersen, and Huon of Bordeaux, probably both introduced from the Arthurian cycle; Renaud (Rinaldo) of Montauban, one of the four sons of Aymon, to whom the wonderful horse Bayard was presented by Charlemagne; the traitor Doon of Mayence; Ganelon, responsible for the treachery that led to the death of Roland; Archbishop Turpin, a typical specimen of muscular Christianity; William Fierabras, William au court nez, William of Toulouse, and William of Orange (all probably identical), and Vivien, the nephew of the latter and the hero of Aliscans. The late Charlemagne romances originated the legends, in English form, of Sowdone of Babylone, Sir Otnel, Sir Fieumbras and Huon of Bordeaux (in which Oberon, the king of the fairies, the son of Julius Caesar and Morgan the Fay, was first made known to England).

The chief remains of the Spanish heroic epic are some poems on the Cid, on the seven Infantes of Lara, and on Fernán Gonzalez, count of Castile. The legend of Charlemagne as told in the CrOnica general of Alfonso X. created the desire for a national hero distinguished for his exploits against the Moors, and Roland was thus supplanted by Bernardo del Carpio. Another famous hero and centre of a 14th-century cycle of romance was Amadis of Gaul; its earliest form is Spanish, although the Portuguese have claimed it as a translation from their own language. There is no trace of a French original.

Slavonic Heroes

The Slavonic heroic saga of Russia centres round Vladimir of Kiev (980-1015), the first Christian ruler of that country, whose personality is eclipsed by that of Ilya (Elias) of Mourom, the son of a peasant, who was said to have saved the empire from the Tatars at the urgent request of his emperor. It is not known whether he was an historical personage; many of the achievements attributed to him border on the miraculous. A much-discussed work is the Tale of Igor, the oldest of the Russian medieval epics. Igor was the leader of a raid against the heathen Polovtsi in 1185; at first successful, he was afterwards defeated and taken prisoner, but finally managed to escape. Although the Finns are not Sla y s, on topographical grounds mention may here be made of Wainamoinen, the great magician and hero of the Finnish epic Kalevala (" land of heroes "). The popular hero of the Servians and Bulgarians is Marko Kralyevich, son of Vukashin, characterized by Goethe as a counterpart of the Greek Heracles and the Persian Rustem. For the Persian, Indian, &c., heroes see the articles on the literature and religions of the various countries.


- On the subject generally, see J. G. T. Grasse, Die grossen Sagenkreise des Mittelalters (Dresden, 1842), forming part of his Lehrbuch einer Literargeschichte der beriihmtesten Volker des Mittelalters; W. P. Ker, Epic and Romance (2nd ed., 1908). Teutonic. - B. Symons, " Germanische Heldensage " in H. Paul's Grundris der germanischen Philologie, iii. (Strassburg, 1900), 2nd revised edition, separately printed (ib., 1905); W. Grimm, Die deutsche Heldensage (1829, 3rd ed., 1889), still one of the most important works; W. Miller, Mythologie der deutschen Heldensage (Heilbronn, 1886) and supplement, Zur Mythologic der griechischen and deutschen Heldensage (ib., 1889); O. L. Jiriczek, Deutsche Ileldensagen, i. (Strassburg, 1898) and Die deutsche Heldensage (3rd revised edition, Leipzig, 1906); Chantepie de la Saussaye, The Religion of the Teutons (Eng. tr., Boston, U.S.A., 1902); J. G. Robertson, History of German Literature (1902). See also HELDENBUCIi.

Celtic. - M. H. d'Arbois de Jubainville, Cours de literature celtique (12 vols., 1883-1902), one vol. trans. into English by R. I. Best, The Irish Mythological Cycle and Celtic Mythology (1903); L. Petit de Julleville, Hist. de la langue et de la litt. francaise, i. Moyen age (1896); C. Squire, The Mythology of the British Isles: an Introduction to Celtic Myth and Romance (1905); J. Rhys, Celtic Britain (3rd ed., 1904). Slavonic. - A. N. Rambaud, La Russie epique (1876); W. Wollner, Untersuchungen fiber die Volksepik der Grossrussen (1879); W. R. Morfill, Slavonic Literature (1883).

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Simple English

Simple English Wiktionary has the word meaning for:

A hero (from the Greek word ἣρως) Greek mythology was a half-god or otherwise powerful human. They were also worshipped in hero cults.

courageous; they have heroism. They help in saving people or a society from bad people, villains, or any natural disasters. A hero can also be someone who is helpful, polite, or helping people who need it.

Sometimes, the protagonist (or main character) of a story is called the "hero" of the work (a book/film/etc.).

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