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Humanities- Introduction to Western Civilization

Myths of various cultures have had different but closely related definitions of a hero. In classical myths a hero was believed to be a man who was a son of a god or a mortal and famous for being in possession of extraordinary gifts such as superhuman powers. The ideas and definition of a hero change with cultures and generations because some of the qualities that make someone a hero in a given historic age and culture may not depict one as a hero in another culture in a different era.

In the classical myths heroes were people with larger than life characteristics and qualities while in the modern world they represent an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. Looking at a number of characters like Oedipus, Odyssey, Aeneas, Beowulf and Gilgamesh among others, it is interesting to note that they had similar characteristics that made them heroes and this indicates that different cultures and beliefs hold similar ideas of what is represented by a hero.

In the epic of Beowulf, there are various characteristics that make him a hero and some of which include his strength. This was seen when he was the only one who was able to defeat Grendel. He was also brave as is seen when he and his future leader, Wiglaf are the only ones brave enough to withstand the dragon. Odysseus, who is the character in an epic where he left his home twenty years earlier to fight in the Trojan War shares the qualities of Beowulf. Odysseus was brave and had wisdom which helped him survive through the whole journey to his home in Ithaca.

When the giant is asleep he murders the Cyclops even though two men were eaten by the monster only a few minutes before. Another characteristic shared by the two heroes were their self confidence and believe in self. Beowulf instructed Hrothgar to attend to his dead body if he lost in the battle with Grendel but despite this he seemed so sure of winning the battle. Odysseus is proud and leaves nothing unattended though he often hesitated before acting by using reason to assess any situation. This indicates his confidence and through it he saved himself and his men many times.

On the battlefield at Troy, Aeneas demonstrates bravely and is also described as the best among the Trojans at war and planning. Oedipus was intelligent as seen when he was able to solve the riddle asked by the Sphinx which no traveler had been able to solve. The result of this was the Thebans’ appointment of Oedipus as their King and he was able to lead them with strength and courage. He remained loyal to the Thebes throughout his leadership period and this trait and quality was shared with Beowulf who served people well as a warrior and a leader.

Besides the heroes possessing positive attributes, there were certain similar weaknesses they shared. Odysseus even with all his strength had pride which made his journey to Ithaca take long. His pride and selfishness made him lack respect for others and eventually his weaknesses lead to his downfall. The selfishness and pride of Odysseus is also seen in Beowulf who is portrayed as a mean and cruel character lacking emotions. Oedipus fault and one of his negative attributes that lead to his downfall was his pride.

The similar weaknesses found in the heroes are what lead to the downfall of most of them. Conclusion In most heroes and heroic tales, some attributes of the characters change with different translators having differing versions on the original tales. This may be due to the translators having attributes they like or dislike about the characters involved in the epics. The societies in which the translators grow may also have influence on parts of the tales they emphasize on and the ones they give little attention.

They may give emphasis on parts of the epics which relates to life in their societies meaning they adapt the tales to fit their audiences or their own perceptions of the heroic tales. With time, the original epics change and various versions emerge in different societies and cultures.


Sellar, W. Y. , et al. The Roman Poets of the Augustan Age: Virgil. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1877. Shippy, Tom. A. Beowulf. United Kingdom: Routledge, 1998

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