I often hear something like this: “The only people who achieve great things are the ones who take risks and reach for the impossible.” Is that true? Is that what it means to be a hero? Society seems to convince us that we all must be a hero and shoot for the moon. But what if we aim for that moon and miss, are we failures? And another definition of a hero is someone who lives their dream despite all odds. But the pitfall of a dream is that our imagination is limited. What if there is something greater than our dream? What if we dream to be an actor, but what if we could change the world as a philanthropist?
So, what exactly is a hero?
A simply definition of a hero is the main character in an adventure. We can examine the tale of Jason and the Argonauts as example of what it means to be hero; however, it seems the ancient definition of a hero is quite different. Like most ancient Greek epic poems, the story of Jason and the Argonauts comes to a tragic ending. Although Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece is a success, when he returns he is unable to claim his rightful throne. A series of poor decisions and catastrophes befall Jason. Finally, while mourning his loses underneath the aging Argo, he is struck dead by a rotting timber.
It is quite unlike our modern stories, where the hero always succeeds and lives happily ever after, at least until the sequel. Furthermore, it is easy to question whether Jason was a hero because his adventures are motivated for very selfish reasons. Unlike the other Argonauts, Jason never assists anyone unless he has something to gain, and he had frequent helpless, depressive moods and the characteristics of a modern-day bully. Rarely did Jason even have the wit or prowess to achieve a task without divine intervention. Citation
So, if Jason is not a hero, then what is? Jason’s wife, Medea, may have been the true hero in the story. She was the most developed character in the Argonautica with emotions from joy to sorrow, and clear motivations to aid others while facing deathly peril to herself. Medea rescues Jason many times with her great skills as both a witch and a mediator. Without her aid Jason would never have won the Golden Fleece. So, perhaps, Medea is the true hero of our story; however, her story also ends unhappily.
Definition of a hero
We will define a hero as someone that always strives for the greater good. Although we prefer the hero to have a happy ending, we acknowledge that the greatest heroes are the ones that prioritize the greater good over their own life. The hero is not someone without fear. In fact, the most memorable heroes are those that face the challenges despite their fear — that’s the definition of bravery. And one does not need to succeed to be a labeled a hero, but merely be true of heart and true of deed.
What a hero is not: A hero does not achieve great things using selfish motivations. Nor is a hero foolish or lucky, despite what good they may achieve. Nor does a hero achieve their goal by accident or misfortune. For example, if a warrior is injured on the battlefield, we can’t say that person is a hero without knowing the backstory and motivation of that person.
Unfortunately or fortunately, the gods of ancient myth don’t intervene to give our lives great purpose and meaning — that is left to us to explore — that is what makes life bitter-sweet. Therefore, in my opinion a hero is both confused and afraid, but the hero is willing to test their dreams. And if they succeed to live their dreams, they stand as an example to the world of what is possible, and no matter what the dream is, even if it is to sweep the streets, the world is a better place.