Heroes, be characters made up in a story, either

Heroes, they can be real people or
they can be characters made up in a story, either way, they tend to be people
we look up to or admire. With every hero comes a unique set of qualities that separates
them from everyday civilians. Most of the time it is immense strength, bravery
and selflessness that help define a hero. As non-heroes, it is important to take
notice if these qualities have changed over the course of time or if they have
remained the same. 

            When
thinking about heroes one may think of Batman, Spiderman, Thor, maybe even
Ironman but undoubtedly Superman comes to mind. Superman to date is one of the
most recognizable heroes created, he has been an enduring presence in pop
culture for over 70 years.

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 He is humanity’s example of the “perfect hero”
even though he is imaginary. Superman has many qualities that set him apart
from the average civilian. He has incredible strength, which is displayed multiple
times throughout the comic series. For instance, Superman frequently caught
things like planes, cargo ships and cranes that were thrown his way. These each
had to weigh multiple tons and not easily caught like a ball, but for Superman
it was no big deal. Another quality that sets him apart is his selflessness and
courage. He is willing to fight for and defend random strangers against any
villain that may appear. He knows his limits and he pushes them to make sure
that the ones around him remain safe. He stands by a set of values, truth, justice
and the American way. He has his morals in check and he doesn’t wary from them
for anything. He is also very humble. As he is protecting his city, he wears
his cape and suit and isn’t afraid to show off, but at the end of the day he
wants to be as normal as possible and not be “famous”. In order to achieve this,
he created the identity of Clark Kent, an everyday news reporter. He didn’t
want the extra attention that Superman gave him, he wanted to live a normal American
lifestyle. Superman has very little noticeable flaws, both physically and
personality wise and is the ideal modern-day hero.

            Moving
in the middle times we have the story of Beowulf, a story that was written down
in about 1000AD but had been told for centuries before is about a warrior,
named Beowulf, who had come to help Hrothgar, king of the Danes, who’s kingdom
is being harassed by a monster named Grendel. Beowulf used his incredible
strength and bravery to slay Grendel, hanging his arm up in Hrothgar’s main
hall as a trophy.  He will then later
slay Grendel’s mother in her underwater later, who was seeking revenge for her
sons murder. Tales of Beowulf’s conquers spread and fame brought upon him, thus
he returns home to his king with treasures. Later, Beowulf becomes king of the
Geats and for fifty years rules peacefully. 
A dragon poses a threat to Beowulf’s kingdom, so he and one of his men
set off to defeat it. Beowulf succeeds in slaying the dragon but ends up being
slain himself in the process.

For this time period the Anglo-Saxons, who are the ones who developed the poem, had
many values that they cherished. They valued the qualities that made one look
powerful such as strength, humbleness and selflessness. Beowulf exhibits all of
these which is why he was considered a hero of his society. Beowulf’s strength
was demonstrated when he fought Grendel. During combat the Geats try to come to
Beowulf’s assistance but they find that their swords are ineffective because
Grendel is protected from being harmed by weapons by a magic spell. He must be
killed by hand. Beowulf was the strongest warrior there and was not fazed by
the fact Grendel had to be killed by hand, “The monster’s whole body was
in pain, a tremendous wound appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split and the
bone-lapping burst; Beowulf was granted the glory of winning. Grendel was
driven under the fen-banks, fatally hurt…” (Heaney
814-819). In the epic battle against a monster who could not be killed, Beowulf
ripped of Grendel’s arm, which for Grendel was a deadly injury causing his
demise. Beowulf was more than strong enough to kill Grendel with his bare
hands, which proved to be difficult to the average man.

Besides strength, the Anglo-Saxon’s valued humbleness. In his youth Beowulf wouldn’t necessarily be
considered humble, he often bragged about his accomplishments and made sure
everyone knew he was the best of the best. But as he got older, he became much humbler.
When the queen offered her crown to Beowulf instead of her son, he politely
declined and insisted that the crown go to her son instead, its rightful place.
Even though he declined the crown, he promised her that he would watch over her
son as ruler and guide him where he may need it, “Hygd offered him throne and
authority as lord of the ring-hoard…yet there was no way the weakened nation
could get Beowulf to give in and agree…But he did provide support for the
prince, honored and minded him until he matured as ruler of Geatland” (Heaney
2369-79). Beowulf was humble because he could have taken the crown for himself
but instead he passed and let the prince become king even though no one thought
he would be able to protect the kingdom, and in the long run Beowulf becomes
king when the prince is slain. Besides strength and humbleness, Beowulf
exhibits the quality of selflessness, something that was valued deeply during
his time. It is shown when Beowulf leaves his own country to go and defend the
Danes who were being attacked by Grendel, and later by Grendel’s mother. Beowulf
travelled great distances to come and defend this country. He didn’t have to
but was willing to go out of his way and put himself at risk for people who had
done nothing for him. Beowulf had put his life in danger twice to defend a
territory that wasn’t his. He could have ignored their crisis and went on with
his life but instead he was willing to fight.

Hercules was considered a hero during the times of Greek mythology. He
was the illegitimate child of Zeus and a mortal woman making him a demigod. As
an infant, Hercules was proven to have great strength, which followed him
through adulthood, making it his most renowned characteristic. By the time he
had grown up, Hercules had proved himself to be an accurate shot with bow and
arrow, a champion wrestler, and a warrior with superhuman strength. In spite of that, he
also was a brutal character who murdered his family and many others over his
lifetime. He hadn’t proven himself as a hero until he went to repent his sins
by serving a series of twelve difficult tasks requiring great strength and
courage. These tasks were so outrageous and difficult that any other individual
who attempted them would not have been able to complete them and perish. From
that moment on Hercules became a repentant warrior and continued his heroism by
teaming up with the Argonauts. In this elite group Hercules helped conquer Troy
and was critical for helping the gods defeat the Titans in a battle to control
Mount Olympus. 

During the
twelve nearly impossible trials, known as the Twelve Labors of Hercules,
Hercules established himself as a hero of his time. The trials were two test
his strength and courage, two important qualities that defined a hero. His
first trial, given to him by Apollo, sent him to a village that was being
terrorized by a lion. Hercules strangled the lion and wore the pelt as a cloak
for the rest of his days. The second trial, he traveled to the city of Lerna,
located at the entrance to the underworld. Here he slayed the nine-headed
hydra, a poisonous snake-like creature. His last trial was to kidnap Cerberus,
a three-headed guard dog that guards the gates to the underworld and belonged
to Hades. He managed to wrestle the dog to the ground making him successful but
leaving Cerberus unharmed. The other trials he endured were very similar in the
abilities he needed to use, but trials one, two and twelve are the most known. Throughout
these trials, he more than proved himself worthy to be considered a hero that
when his mortal half died he became a full god and remained on Mount Olympus
with his father, which made him the only half mortal to become a god. 

Superman,
Beowulf and Hercules, all three are considered heroes of their time periods,
but have the requirements of hero changed over time or remained the same? Starting
with the oldest hero, Hercules, he was brave, strong and confident. Though
Hercules wasn’t the stereotypical hero. He was a strong man with a bad temper
who murdered his family and others throughout his life. However, once
his anger passed, he was the most critical judge of his own actions. He was too
strong for anyone to force punishment on him but the fact that he willingly endured
those challenging tasks it demonstrates a fundamental sense of justice. During
his punishments he showed patience, fortitude and endurance that were as heroic
as his strength, bravery and confidence.

Moving into
Beowulf’s time period, the characteristics seem to stay the same, with the
exception of one, but the execution is different. Beowulf was also strong and
brave and he too killed, but where they differ is Beowulf killed for battle not
because he was angry, “…he was formidable in battle, yet behaved with honor and
took no advantage; never cut down a comrade who was drunk, kept his temper and,
warrior that he was, watched and controlled his God-sent strength and his
outstanding natural powers” (Heaney 2178-83). Beowulf and Hercules are also
similar in the fact that they both fought for a purpose and in that purpose,
they faced monsters and creatures. Hercules fought the hydra and Cerberus and
Beowulf fought Grendel and his mother.  Beowulf
and Hercules are two heroes where their similarities outweigh their
differences, making the jump between time periods and the defining qualities of
hero much smaller.

Our modern-day hero, Superman, compares
differently to the past two heroes discussed. While Superman does have the
qualities discussed before, strength, courage and selflessness/humbleness,
which correspond with Hercules and Beowulf, he also has some other qualities
that set him far apart from the other two. First, Superman is the only hero
discussed that doesn’t come from Earth, but another planet. What
is interesting about this is that he is, while some people don’t recognize it,
an immigrant. He is fighting for people that he’s not even a part of. This
relates back to the story of Beowulf and how he traveled great distances to
fight for the Danes. Superman is also the only one with unhuman capabilities.
He can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, has x-ray vision and much more, which
neither Beowulf or Hercules had. In relation to his fighting, Superman fought human
criminals and villains. When fighting, he made sure not to kill, he would lock
his antagonists away in hopes of rehabilitating them into better individuals. 

Superman, Beowulf
and Hercules are proof that the qualities of a hero haven’t changed much
throughout time, but the way those qualities are portrayed is what has changed.
They all are strong and courageous men but Hercules was a murderous half-god
who changed his ways through life, Beowulf was a mighty warrior who was given a
great gift and Superman is a dependable supernatural being. All three of them
have impacted society in some way. As heroes, they are role models to people
from every location at any point in time. When times get rough we look to those
who are greater than us, whether they be real or fictional. They are an
inspiration to do good and a distraction from the evil around us. They provide
hope for humanity.  Even though the
qualities of heroes have not changed much through time, the heroes are an
important part in any culture and are interpreted differently across the globe. 

 

Works
Cited

1.    
Miller, Shari Parsons. “Hercules
(Classical Mythology).” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2014. EBSCOhost,
search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=94895770&authtype=sso&custid=s9004892&site=eds-live.

2.     Heaney,
Seamus, translator. Beowulf.
W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

3.     History.com
Staff. “Hercules.” History.com,
A&E Television Networks, 2011, www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/hercules.

4.     “Give me a short summary
of the epic poem Beowulf?” eNotes, 19 Nov. 2011,
https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/give-me-short-summary-this-epic-poem-295725.
Accessed 18 Dec. 2017.

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