Do you hold a hero dear? Some ruminations on The Hero

How many times lately have I heard individuals express gratitude for a hero?

I’m sort of glad some contemporary heroes are women, and quite appropriately: the original Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite, whose lover, Leander, lived across the Hellespont from Hero.

Nobody seems to have questioned why he swam back and forth across the strait every night instead of, oh I don’t know, moving to Hero’s side. Maybe he was training for the Olympics as well as being madly in love.

No mention about Leander’s day job. Did he have one?

Whatever. Each night, Leander swam across the strait, guided by a torch on Hero’s side. But during a fierce storm the torch blew out and Leander got disoriented and drowned. His body was washed up on Hero’s shore. It was she who found him. She killed herself.

Not one moment in this mythological tale meets any standard for heroism. Unless you accept what a brilliant ex-boyfriend (of mine, not Hero’s) proposed as the core characteristic of a hero: stupidity.

Somehow, the ancient world turned away from Hero and simply slapped her name on other human creatures who performed mighty acts of putative salvation, betrayal, rotten values and/or horrific murder.

I think the nature of a hero depends upon the nature of the devotée, and upon the emotional and ethical standards that devotée applies to define “hero.”

I’m not really happy about that sentence up there ⇑. Yet it took me some time to work it out and I can’t think of another way of describing heroes other than by including their worshipers. A hero can only exist if another person calls him a hero, for whatever he’s done to rate the honorific.

I paused writing the above to recall if there’s anyone I’ve ever considered a hero, aside from fictional characters. I think not. Whatever awe I felt about a person was co-mingled with a dash of the erotic or a thrill over someone’s genius. Or both, at the same time.

As I consider my hero-less life, it seems connected to the absence of supernatural worship in my immediate family. We were raised without a god, at least not a monotheistic one. Instead of fairy tales, I was given books about Greek and Roman gods. But as anyone who’s read mythology knows, you can’t find a hero among any of those characters. The gods were created by human beings to be like human beings, i.e., studded with every unpleasant imperfection supplemented with absolute power.


Calling people heroes, i.e., elevating them to minor god status with the concomitant shpritz of worship, is therefore problematical: fairly quickly, you have to face the flaws in your hero. And there will be flaws.

Right now, I’m thinking of Liz Cheney. For anyone who tends toward heroes, she’s a great choice. She came out for sanity and intelligence when most around her were evincing the opposite. She sacrificed her career for the good of the American public and that, you’ll say, is heroic.

Yet, as multitudinous pundits and our own memory remind us, her political views, other than her anti-Trump position, are not ours. Liberals can’t worship her as a mini-god, or saint. She is resolutely GOP.

Thing is, Liz Chaney is not a hero. She is much better than a hero. She is a heretic. She challenged and defied a fallacious dogma. This is truly a courageous thing to do. The imperfections she bears as a hero — imperfections which must make hero-worshipers uneasy — don’t put a dent in her admirable status as a heretic.

When I shuffled through my life looking for heroes and finding none, what I did find was  heretics. Heretics I love and admire. And so, without realizing it, I began a collection of heretics. As I got to know each of them beyond the brave act(s) which defined their heresies, I found loads of imperfections: infidelities, madness, creepiness, glamor, neglect of mates and children or chauvinistic suppression of girl children. Greed. Ill-considered decisions which unwittingly put themselves in unnecessary danger: martyrdom. Vainglory.

When you love a heretic, you don’t forgive the flaws; you stomach them, because that act of heresy is such a mighty thing, it towers over the imperfect person so acting.

Heretics put themselves at risk to combat bad laws, false premises, tyrants, suppression of humanity and its free expressions. In doing so, heretics change our lives, our histories, our beliefs, our rationales, our futures.

They are not to be worshiped. They are to be supported by all of us. They are to be thanked.

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