Pretty much the question. I'm doing an essay right now on the social constructions of heroes, yet I don't really know how to go about this. My basic outline (so far) is this:

  • Introduction to what a hero is; what makes the classical model different from the modern day?

  • Some examples of both; perhaps use Greek/Roman examples and compare them to modern era examples?

  • Argue that the classical model still exists for the most part in the modern era (classical heroes are mainly military heroes); figures such as Napoleon still have a huge reputation for leading armies to victory.

  • Exceptions to this rule are mainly due to evolving social values and technology, leading to new types of heroes such as the heroine becoming an archetype, as well as 'niche' heroes such as heroes of exploration (E.G. Yuri Gagarin?)

Any thoughts would be appreciated, I'm really stumped on this and looking for any suggestions/quotes/sources! Thank you all in advance :)

  • I understand that...unfortunately my tutor isn't the best at writing questions, and its honestly one of the most ambiguous questions I've read in all my time. Any ideas on how to approach this? May 16, 2017 at 12:41
  • Yes. Heroes journey by Campbell, plus Bly. You are on the right track with Roman gravitas, Renaissance culture and modern public relations.
    – Mark C. Wallace
    May 16, 2017 at 12:59
  • It will likely be helpful to look at the origin of the term "hero", used since at least Hesiod, and related to Hera, Queen of Olympus.
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 14, 2017 at 17:58
  • It would be helpful if you could define the "classical model" of a hero. The only way to reconcile characters like Achilles, Hector, Ajax and Polyxena is the value of honor > life. (Traditional warrior cultures tend to be honor/shame based, without the prohibition against suicide, which is one distinction between the traditional and modern conception of the hero...) It's a good question, and I will be circling back to a formal answer.
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 14, 2017 at 18:10
  • The social values argument is flawed, per Antigone and the gals of the Lysistrata. Even exploration is covered in the ancient canon, per figures like Jason and the Argonauts, who venture into the unknown at risk of their lives.
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 14, 2017 at 18:15

2 Answers 2


Well depending on the definition of classical hero, the answer may change. For the sake of this answer I'll consider them to be the protagonists of the Greek tragedies (Hercules, Odysseus, Hector, et.al.) or even some modern day heroes (Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, etc, spring to mind). Then you may be looking for what Joseph Campbell called the Monomyth.

In Campbell's opinion most stories of such nature followed a similar pattern, which he called the "Heroes Journey", this according to him was a trend that was observed in multiple works of fiction which was not restricted to the ancient era (nor to a particular region), and could be applied with minute changes to practically any age and hero. The cycle (simplified) is as follows -

Courtesy TedEd Image Courtesy TedEd

This pattern is actually found in a large number of fictitious works, and a number of parallels can actually be drawn with real life heroes as well. For instance using the example of Yuri Gagarin (as you mentioned).The Soviet Cosmonaut program was first announced (Call to Adventure). He was first selected for the Soviet cosmonaut program (Departure). This was then followed by an extremely rigorous mental and physical regimen which was designed to help the selected group (called the Sochi Six) survive the rigors of space flight a number of the candidates were then eliminated (Trials). He was finally selected as the man who'd be aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1 (Approach). The spacecraft then took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrone, the G-force experienced on take-off is extremely high, the pilot is often unable to move, staying conscious at such high levels is also a task in itself (Crisis). Being the first man in space is definitely a reward, isn't it? (Treasure). Return to the Earth (Return and Resolution). And finally the re-establishment of Status quo.

TedEd has a wonderful video on the same, which can be found here- https://ed.ted.com/lessons/what-makes-a-hero-matthew-winkler#watch

For a more detailed analysis you should read the book - "The Hero With a Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell.

Hope this helps :)


Some brief thoughts, (answer may be evolving,) but I think the idea that "there is nothing new under the sun" sort of holds.

The Anti-Hero

One innovation we think of as modern is that of the anti-hero, but this template could be said to go back to Prometheus and Loki, both protagonists who resort to trickery, and face dire punishment, to attain their goals. Odysseus can also be seen in this light, in that he presents a distinct contrast to figures like Achilles, big Ajax, Diomedes and so on. (Odysseus, for instance, is not as well regarded by the Greek dramatists because of his trickery--unlike Achilles, known for martial prowess and self-sacrifice, Odysseus is know for his wily scheming. Ajax's suicide at the dishonor of being deprived of fallen Achilles' armor is a direct result of Odysseus conniving. And yet, Odysseus is as famous as Achilles, and much loved as a character.) Oedipus can also be regarded as an anti-hero: killed his father, married his mother, blinded himself.

If we extend this to Euripidean heroines, we can include figures like Medea and Hecuba.

The Logical Hero

One innovation that could be regarded as modern is the Lawyer. While most television programs and films still focus on "gun heroes", the modern version of the martial hero, legal, political and courtroom dramas abound. These are heroes who use their intellect, as opposed to their physical prowess. But we can find a template in heroines such as Antigone. The importance of that Sophoclean drama cannot be overstated, as it forms a basis for the modern understanding of the distinction between the law and justice, and demonstrates the willingness of the hero to face mortal consequences in persisting in what is right.

It would not be going to far to say that the heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey are pale flames compared to Antigone in this regard. For another referent, one can look at Polyxena's shaming of the victorious Achaeans with her courage and heroism. So the seeds for undermining the stature of martial heroes is planted in 5th Century Athens.

The Victim Hero

This is another template that can be seen as modern, with novels like All Quiet On The Western Front, Gulag Archipelago, and films such as Boys Don't Cry. But even this extends back to Ancient Greece with Iphigenia, Polyxena and Hippolytus. These heroes, themselves blameless, expose the corruption of society.

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