Who is a hero? In contemporary times, usage of the term has become somewhat of a cliché. Over the years, the term “hero” has become representative of a wide variety of individuals, each possessing differing traits. Some of the answers put forth by my colleagues (during our in-class discussion on heroism) as to whom they consider heroes pointed to celebrities, athletes, teachers and family members. Although the occupations differed, each of their heroes bore qualities that my classmates perceived as extraordinary, whether morally or physically. Nonetheless, Webster’s defines “hero” as “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.” Thus, it is worth considering that individuals become heroes relative to the situation with which they’re faced.
Using the above definition of hero and heroism, this essay attempts to assess three famous heroic characters portrayed in arguably the three greatest literary epics known to humankind, Achilles of Ancient Greece, Sundiata Keita of Ancient Mali and Rama of Ayodhya in what is today Modern India. With references to Stanley Lombardo’s translation of Homer’s Iliad, D.T. Niane’s Sundiata and R.K. Narayan’s translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana, this essay seeks to compare and contrast the attributes of these heroes, the morals associated with their heroism and their reasons for engaging in battle.
The Greek army’s greatest warrior during the Trojan War, Achilles was born of the goddess Thetis and the mortal Peleus. (Murnaghan, 1997, p.xxv)“Strong, swift and godlike” as Lombardo translating Homer puts it (1997, p.5), his presence on the battlefield reverberated fear through his enemies. Being a general in the Achaean army, his original rationale as to engagement in the Trojan War was aligned with that of the entire Greek army and their allies; i.e.; recovery of the beautiful Helen from Paris’ grasp. However, his pride was threatened by his accomplice Agamemnon whom he referred to as a “greedy glory-hound.” (Lombardo, 1997, p. 5). Agamemnon’s seizure of Achilles war prize sparked an indiscernible rage in the latter, thus prompting his withdrawal from battle for an indefinite period. The ensuing events which culminated in his ultimate return to arms, cemented his status as hero of the Trojan War. Morally, his mutinous behavior conjures mixed reaction; however his gallant decision of choosing death over dishonor further assures his intrepidity. (Lombardo, 1997, p.392)
Faced with adversity even from the periods predating his birth, the son of monarch Maghan Kon Fatta and the hunchbacked Sogolon Kedjou grew up to become “great amongst kings and peerless amongst men.” (Niane, 2006, p.2). Like Achilles, Sundiata was a talented warrior and fate played an important role in establishing his heroic status; however, his path to...