Specialty - Myths and heroes
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What makes a hero?

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According to Joseph Campbell, a hero is a person who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. A hero is also often depicted as the person embodying a certain myth, whether it be fictional (belonging to Greek mythology, for example) or real. A hero can take many shapes or forms, ranging from the Little Engine That Could all the way to Superman. Hence, the hero defines the notion of “myth” depending on its particular characteristics. As Campbell has expressed in his work The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a hero typically embarks on a journey occurring in a cycle consisting of three specific phases: departure (where the hero leaves to embark on his adventure), initiation (where he is subjected to a series of challenges to prove his worth), and return (where he may bask in his success with the others whom his actions have benefitted). This model, a summary of what makes a hero a hero, applies on many different levels and almost redefines the term “hero” as it is commonly interpreted by society. 

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Heroes: a popular misconception?

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This article, originally written by Kira Archibald in 2006 for her local high school newspaper, tells the tale of a local soldier who had just been injured. This, Kurt Power, does indeed resemble what we might define as a hero. He is a man who was brave enough to fight for what he thought was right and rose above and beyond to fulfill his duty to his country. However, this article does show that the definition of a hero nowadays is much harder to define. Some may say that going to other countries and committing armed acts of violence is anything but heroic. The way Powers speaks of his actions, we must wonder: has he faced any true challenges - mental and physical - the way a true hero does? Has he done anything that truly helped another the way heroes are often, if not always, depicted doing? Furthermore, the way the article is written does not help the reader make a trustworthy informed decision: the many mistakes riddling the text are enough to make an English teacher faint. 

The notion of what a hero constitutes is much harder to define than previously and poses the ultimate question regarding the notion "Myths and heroes": what is a hero?

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Beowulf: An old perception of a hero

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The movie Beowulf, based off of the ancient tale of Nordic vikings and dragons, leaves no doubt as to what a hero is (or should be). Beowulf, a brave and skilled fighter, is one of the most traditional examples of a hero. He is a strong and brave man who uses his courage for the benefit of others. He slays evil demonic creatures others have repeatedly failed to tame. He puts the well-being of entire kingdoms on his shoulders and yet never fails to disappoint them. He is, by all means, the stereotypical "perfect hero". 

His extreme bravery is shown through the quote "When it comes to fighting, I count myself as dangerous any day as Grendel. So it won't be a cutting edge ill wield to mow him down, easily as I might. He has no idea of the arts of war, of shield and sword-play, although he does possess a wild strength. No weapons, therefore, for either this night: unarmed he shall face me if face me he dares. And may the Divine Lord in His wisdom grant the glory of victory to whichever side He sees fit.” (677-688)

 This passage demonstrates Beowulf’s heroism because it shows how willing and eager he is to fight and defeat Grendel, the monster who has been terrorizing the inhabitants of Heorot for all of twelve years. He asserts himself to be “as dangerous” as Grendel, although it has been proved time and time again that the troll possesses the strength and skill of thirty men. Beowulf’s courage is also shown through his confidence when he asserts that Grendel has “no idea of the arts of war” and that the evil being would “face him if he dares” which implies that Grendel should be afraid of their upcoming battle instead of him.

Although this representation of the hero is basically perfect in terms of what it takes to be considered as one, the heroes represented in more recent times are never so one-dimensional and usually possess characteristics that aren't so redeemable. Does that make them any truer or better heroes? 

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