Re-reading the Iliad recently and I was struck with a bit of an epiphany (okay, not a huge one, but enough to feel it worth sharing) and given the current state of affairs with a new president, a new F1 world champion and new Bond film out I thought I'd raise this.
What is it about heroes?
Given the Iliad was written around 800BC, the tale of Gilgamesh way before that, we've always wanted heroes, we always will.
The Iliad is perhaps the GREATEST story of ALL TIME, and concerns a few days at the end of the Trojan War. Now if you haven't read it, but think you know the story, you're wrong. The Iliad DOESN'T include the Tojan Horse, the death of Achilles, or the sacking of the city. It ends with the funeral of Hector, prince of Troy and first son of Priam.
Is Achilles the real hero of the tale? He's beautiful, the best of the best, an iconic figure who's rage drives the story. But...
He has no humanity. He is not us. He has passion, but it is all tumultuous humors, there is little that he FEELS except the urge for violence. Not to put too fine a point on it, he's a psychopath. Charming, appealing and deadly, he's like Hannibal Lector, a beautiful monster. Our eyes are always on him because of what he's capable of, in a way an erupting volcano is amazing to watch, but there's no way you want to get close.
Hector is the true hero of the tale, and that's why it ends with him, "Such was their burial of Hector, breaker of horses'".
I know that there were other tales lost in history, only the Iliad and the Odessey survive (and that raises the question WHY just those two?), so maybe some story lies lost that turns this on its head, but think about Homer and his audience. Think how in some ancient dark night around a campfire a king and his warriors listened to a blind old man recount the story. Did they identify with Achilles, the Greek superman? Did they imagine them in his armour, with his shield and long-shadowed spear? Or did they think of Hector, the man, who visits his baby son and wife, is full of fear and doubt, who finally faced with death, runs, who asks that he be honoured in death, a death he knows now is inevitable as he stands before the godlike son of Peleus?
Shakespeare picked this up in Troilus and Cressidia, we are left in no doubt regarding Hector's greatest.
I like to imagine that the Greek king shifted uncomfortably on his stone throne when he heard Homer. Had he a small son, who cried when he saw his father dressed for war in a horse-tail helm? Did he stand in battle, not imagining himself as Achilles, because no-one can, but as Hector, noble, brave, but a man open to doubt and fear. A man who'll do his duty, but one who loves, feels loss, knows that he is falible, but does it nevertheless.
I think the greatest of heroes are the ones who's humanity shines out. It is their capacity for sacrifice that marks them.