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This article is about the type of character. For other meanings, see Hero (disambiguation).
Distinguish heroine, "female hero," from heroin, the drug.

In mythology and folklore, a hero (male) or heroine (female) is an eminent character who quintessentially embodies key traits valued by its originating culture. The hero commonly possesses superhuman capabilities or idealized character traits which enable him or her to perform extraordinary, beneficial deeds (i.e., a "heroic deed") for which he or she is famous (compare villain).



A person normally becomes a hero by performing an extraordinary and praiseworthy deed. Traditional deeds are slaying of monsters and saving people from certain death. A hero normally fulfills the definitions of what is considered good and noble in the originating culture. However, in literature, particularly in tragedy, the hero may also have serious flaws which lead to a downfall, e.g. Hamlet.

Sometimes a real person might achieve enough status to become a hero in people's minds. This is usually complemented by a rapid growth of myths around the person in question, often attributing to him or her powers beyond those of ordinary people.

Some social commentators prescribe the need for heroes in times of social upheaval or national self-doubt, seeing a requirement for virtuous role models, especially for the young. Such myth-making may have worked better in the past: current trends may confuse heroes and their hero-worship with the cult of mere celebrity.

Well-known heroes approach the gods in status in some cultures. The word hero comes from ancient Greek, where it describes a culture hero who figures in mythology. The Greek heroes were often the mythological characters who were the eponymous founders of Greek cities, states, and territories. These mythological heroes were not always role models or possessed of heroic virtue; many were demigods, the offspring of mortals and the gods. The age when heroes of this sort were active, and where the stories of Greek mythology were set, is frequently known as the "heroic age"; the heroic age ends shortly after the Trojan War is over and the legendary combatants have returned to home or exile.

The classic hero often came with what Lord Raglan (a descendant of the FitzRoy Somerset, Lord Raglan) termed a "potted biography" made up of some two dozen common traditions that ignored the line between historical fact and mythology. For example, the circumstances of the hero's conception are unusual; an attempt is made by a powerful male at his birth to kill him; he is spirited away; reared by foster-parents in a far country. Routinely the hero meets with a mysterious death, often at the top of a hill; his body is not buried; he leaves no successors; he has one or more holy sepulchres.

Most European indigenous religions feature heroes in some form. Germanic, Hellene and Roman heroes, along with their attributes and forms of worship have been largely absorbed by the Orthodox and Catholic denominations of Christianity, forming the basis of modern day Saint worship.

In opera and musical theatre, the hero/heroine is often played by a tenor/soprano (more vulnerable characters are played by lyric voices while stronger characters are portrayed by spinto or dramatic voices.)

In modern movies, the hero is often simply an ordinary person treated unfairly by society who prevails in the end.

A book of recent fame, dealing with the telling of heroic stories, is called The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

See also

Look up hero on Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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