Visions of Pity and Fear:
A Partial Evolution of the Society’s Perception of the Tragic Hero,
and an Evaluation of its Meaning
What is a hero?
The question seems simple enough; you’d think the answer would be
A cursory assessment of world opinion would offer up the solution
in the form of a list, not of attributes, but of people real or imaginary dead and living that would
include the likes of: Jesus Christ, Superman, Osama bin Laden, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Che
Guevara, Charles Manson, Gandhi, John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates, and Dad.
meaning of the word is “protector,” “defender,” or “guardian.”
In this sense, in its earliest form
it referred to martial courage or excellence before its expansion to today’s more general use.
get it from Greek, so unsurprisingly its suspected etymology is thought to have something to do
with the name of the goddess Hera, who was the protector of marriage.
It’s also thought to be a
cognate of the Latin verb
(to preserve whole), as well as the Sanskrit verb
keep vigil over), though for all practical purposes the original Proto-Indo-European root is
But an etymological background and a highly incoherent list of people don’t really
answer the question.
And the question remains unanswered, though several—and this is a gross
understatement, for there have been countless books written on the subject—have tried.
Thomas Carlyle published
On Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History
contends that the major events in the history of the human race were catalyzed by several
“heroes” of political or military power.
Carlyle’s history was biography, and those few who
made their way into the pages of his book were men like Thomas Cromwell and Frederick the
Great, powerful founders and topplers of states, geniuses both good and evil.
At the time of the
work’s inception into popular critical culture, there were few defenders of Carlyle’s position.