The Myth of the Modern Hero

Changing Perceptions of Heroism

By Jane L. Bownas

The idea of the hero originates in myths from the distant past and has been applied to many different concepts in different societies, cultures and historical time periods. As a mythical signifier, the meaning of the word 'hero' changes according to the intentions of the user. This study examines some of the ways in which heroic myths have been created, either to ~justify the actions of those in power or to produce an imaginary ideal to which the majority can aspire. The warrior heroes of Greek legend fighting for individual glory and honour have little in common with the soldiers fighting in the wars of the twentieth century, resulting in the creation of a new hero myth, that of the patriotic, dutiful, and obedient soldier. As a result of wars and the emergence of new states, there is a need for new myths depicting heroes who fight and, if necessary, die in order to defend their nation. Heroic myths are important for those seeking power and this study considers the extent to which Germanic myths played a part in the emergence of Hitler as a 'heroic' leader. In recent times the idea of the hero with which people most readily identify is the 'extreme altruist'-someone who is ready to risk their own life to save the life of another person. All humans possess the potential to act in ways which might be considered to be heroic, even when this involves living an ordinary life with courage and endurance. The possible origins of and reasons for such behaviour are examined. [Subject: Mythology, Sociology, History]

Not Yet Published
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781845199029