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“Hero”

 

            When I hear the word hero I think of the brave service men and women abroad or our police and firemen here at home. It never occurred to me where the word hero actually originated from. The word “hero” began in Greek mythology. Hero was a Greek priestess of Aphrodite who was loved by Leander who lived across the channel. They couldn’t be married because Hero had vowed chastity but they longed to be together. Every night Hero would put a light in her tower to guide Leander across the channel but one night during a storm the wind blew out the light and Leander drowned. In the morning his body washed up under Hero’s tower and she threw herself into the channel with grief. (Encarta)

            It is confusing to me how the word hero now means someone with great bravery and agility when it derived from a Greek priestess who committed suicide. I wish I could have found more information about Hero but the mythology books did not describe her in great detail. Some of the research for this paper was difficult. While using the bible I used synonyms because it didn’t contain hero in the concordance. For my internet research I had to use synonyms as well, but didn’t really find anything useful. Most of my high-quality information came from print.

            The Oxford English Dictionary lists five definitions for the word “hero”. First it is “a name given to men of superhuman strength, courage, or ability; favored by the gods; at a later time regarded as intermediate between gods and men, and immortal.” Heroes were thought of as invincible and indestructible. Oxford also defines a hero as “a man distinguished by extraordinary valor and martial achievements; one who does brave or noble deeds; an illustrious warrior.”  The list goes on about great, superior men. This raised a question in my head. Why does the OED single out heroes as men when the word derived from a Greek goddess?  That’s where the word “heroine” comes in. A heroine is a female who is immortal and of superhuman powers; between a woman and a goddess. The suffixes’ of the word probably changed through language.

            In the bible the word “hero” does not exist. I had to use the synonyms champion, idol, and noble to find verses that would fit. The problem is that to idolize someone in biblical context is a sin. Champion and noble had a few verses that fit though. Psalm 19:4-5 reads:                                                                                                                             

Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth

from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

 

The word ‘champion’ is used to describe a superior athlete which is a good translation of hero. In the first Olympic Games many of the athletes were referred to as heroes.

            A hero can also be distinguished as a noble person. For example:

but the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:15)

 

A noble person is one that has a dignified purpose in life and a good heart.

            Mythology uses the word ‘hero’ over and over again starting with the priestess hero. The meaning and context of the word changes over time and as more myths are added. Hero is rarely used as a name and instead used to describe a courageous person, much like we use the word today. In Old Norse mythology there was a place called Valhalla, the hall of slain heroes. The hall was ruled by Odin, the king of gods. Valhalla had 540 doors which could hold 800 heroes each. The roof was made of shields. In many other cultural myths heroes were said to have traveled to a different heaven from humans. They sometimes went to heaven before being killed and were alive when they arrived.

            In modern times we use symbols all around us to remind us of our fallen heroes much like the hall of Valhalla. Just think of places like the Vietnam wall, and Arlington National Cemetery. The eagle is used by many nations to symbolize bravery and heroic actions. In ancient Mexico mothers would wear a crown of eagle feathers when they gave birth. The Aztec and Mexican culture treated the act of childbirth as an act of military heroism. A hero is described by the Latin term virtus which means that they possess valor and nobility. It is the opposite of an ogre.

            Philosophers have discovered a pattern used by authors of old English and American literature. Heroes are abandoned and exposed at birth. They murder either a dragon or some sort of monster. They acquire their status by passing a test or a series of tests, either by strength or by knowledge. They have distinguishing physical features such as tall and handsome. They go to a special heaven when they die, like Valhalla. They do not die a natural death and are sometimes taken to heaven alive. A hero always promises his people that he will return whenever they need him.

            I found this paper to be very difficult to research for. Not every source I looked in listed my exact word so I had to use synonyms and interpret it differently. It was hard to find good information that was also different from all the sources. I kept finding the same myth of hero the priestess but never anything new about her. I was able to use the indexes of the books quite easily and find information in my sources. I was frustrated at the repetition of information and not being able to find my word in every source.

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