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Monday, January 29, 2007

the epic hero as a symbol of national identity


The epic Iliad is replete with the exploits of mythical heroes whose deeds helped mold the Greek worldview and character. Homer’s long narrative poem on the Trojan War in Greece’s neighboring Asia Minor told not only the courage and dexterity of Greek and Trojan warriors but also their nobility and pride. These insights into the way of life, outlook and virtues of the ancient Greeks spoke of the social role heroes play as a symbol of national identity.
The Homeric epic hero manifests three requisites in order to live up to one’s title, regardless of one’s superhuman and other physical qualities. First, one should resolve that warriors must stand together in battle. Whether winning or losing, the army should not appear divided, and each member as a hero must pursue that social alliance. Second, one must be concerned with one’s comrades. Before one thinks of oneself, one thinks more of the welfare of one’s people. Finally, one must avoid extreme brutality. The last requirement is deemed crucial for one to be a real epic hero, for a true one disapproves acts of ruthlessness, denigration and injustice. An epic hero understands that slaying an enemy must be enacted fast and that any mutilation reflects the savageness of the hero and the whole community. A hero, being practically spotless, becomes a national symbol for the society to emulate. This immaculate leader is the very epitome of how members of the society imagine themselves to be.
More than his Greek counterpart Achilles, the Trojan Prince Hector is the embodiment of a true hero of the Iliad. Even as his hometown severely suffers as a consequence of the ongoing war between the Mycenaean Greeks and the citizens of Troy, Hector stands by his men in battles. Hector is fully aware of his accountabilities as his hometown’s great warrior. He understands that despite Troy’s destiny of falling into the hands of the invading Greeks, he will sustain the fight up to the bitter end. He recognizes that women and children abound behind the walls of his city, so he battles it out not only for his personal gain but also for his community’s glory. Likewise, defying his wife Andromache’s plea for him not to leave for the battle, Hector demonstrates the spirit of the Homeric hero with his justification. He said that while his family is his concern, he cannot just hide like a coward and resist fighting. That would give him shame toward facing the Trojans, and that would go against his nature of having trained to be in the frontline, hoping to reap glory.
Also, the hero in Hector shows concern for his people. When Hector runs away from Achilles, he seems to have lost his pride and bravery. However, this defining moment concretizes the true epic hero that he is. Hector is aware that he is outmatched, so he flees in an attempt to attract Achilles into the territory of the Trojan army. He is being rational in that his fall in the hands of the enemy spells the fall of Troy. Instead of foolish pride, Hector chooses logic and runs not because he is a coward but because he cared more of his city, his people and his family. He cannot be dead, for a dead hero cannot help defend his nation.
Finally, Hector did not show mercilessness or unfairness on the battlefield. Even as the idea of death for the opponents is a major concern for a nation at war, Hector articulates to Achilles his wish of being returned to Troy for proper burial in the event that he will emerge in the fight as a cold corpse. This implies that Hector himself will not find in his heart any reason to deny the same condition to Achilles should the latter gets killed. Hector must not demonstrate cruelty or injustice on the battleground because every fighter like himself deserves honor when he wins as well as when he loses.

1 comment:

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