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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Socrates Meets a Hero

Do you have any heroes?

Yes, I suppose I have two or three.

If you could choose one, who would it be?

Now, that’s a very good question, but I have one of my own: how does one choose one hero above another?

Do you think it might be helpful to first know what a hero is? What is hero? Is a hero someone admired, looked up to? If so, what makes him so attractive? Is he superhuman, or simply extraordinary?

What would you say makes a hero?

First, wouldn’t we be best served to remember where we get our word, “hero?” I remember Hero of Alexandria . . .

The one who lived about 70 AD?

Yes, he’s the one. And there is Hero “the Younger,” who was a land surveyor who lived some 400 years before him . . .

And these are the progenitors of our name?

No. We should remember in this case Hero, the son of Priam, King of Troy or perhaps Hero, the priestess of Aphrodite. The former would probably be our patriarch as it pertains to a person.

But what does the word mean?

So good of you to ask: the word means “protector,” or “defender.” Now that we have this understanding, we can appreciate the person as a mythological or legendary figure.

Does this mean they do not exist, but are imaginative?

How did you come to that conclusion? Certainly we may think of Heracles or Perseus, who exist only in story; but, what would one do with Samson or David—real people noted for strength, to be sure, but also for other abilities. A hero, then, could be a person of high quality, morality or spirituality. He or she may be remembered for what they have accomplished such a doctor, or one who is courageous. But do you imagine that is the end of it?

What do you mean?

Could there still be another aspect of “hero” that we have not considered, such as the principle figure of a story? The protagonist?

I see what you mean. The hero is not one that we so much look up to, admire as a model figure, but one who is the central character of a story.

And do you imagine this means he must accomplish something great, or that everything must turn out all right in the end?

Perhaps not.

And why not?

Because he is understood to be the individual that makes the story what it is.

And is that the end of it? Could there still be yet another hero?

What do you mean?

You said that the character is understood. Who is it that is doing the understanding, the interpreting of a story?

The reader.

And could this imply then that the reader is the hero of the story?

Of course! I'm beginning to see . . .

What do you make, then, of someone like Thomas Carlyle, who both lectured and wrote on “Heroes and Hero Worship?”

The Victorian? He tried to identify the ideal leader by considering different qualities and types found in other persons.

Such as? Whom did he consider as heros for his hero?

Carlyle considered Odin, Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon, The Bard, Dante, Samuel Johnson, Rousseu, Robert Burns, John Knox, Martin Luther and Mohammed.

And what heroic qualities did he entertain?

The heroic qualities of Divinity, Prophet, Poet, Priest, Man of Letters and Monarchy.

Do you agree with his assessment, that one hero could be found my amassing many into one?

I have not considered it that deeply.

Can you imagine the results, if he were successful?

Perhaps he could build an ideal heroic leader, but that leader would be highly improbable.

And why is that?

Because he would be more a monster and less a real person, considering that his starting point for divinity is myth (and by that I mean, locally imaginative).

So do you have a list of heroes?

Yes . . .”

And out of that list, who is one that rises to the top for you at this moment? . . .

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