A hero is not just the title of an action-packed kung-fu flick with subtitles. A hero these days has many meanings; depending on the time and reason that person is called a hero.
According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition becomes very broad. It starts as being “a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability” and becomes “a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities.” The last definition listed is probably the most modern of the many, being “an object of extreme admiration and devotion.” These definitions are in the same order as listed in the dictionary, but also seem to be chronologically listed as well, because overtime the meaning of the word hero adjust it’s self to the people using it. Thus, the definition of a hero changes parallel to the evolution of society, religion, and politics, in order to placate the desires of the people involved.
If we look back, over a thousand years ago before Christianity became the omnipotent religion of the West, we hear of stories of heroes being passed down orally from generation to generation. In “Beowulf” we have this invincible brute tearing the limbs off of hideous friend Grendel, all in the name of fame and glory. A few hundred years later, when “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” was jotted down, we still have people being dismembered, but our character traits have changed a little. Sir Gawain is not the courageous behemoth that Beowulf was in his days; he now has “human qualities,” such as cowardice and dishonesty. Fortunately enough, most likely because the author was most likely a Christian, Gawain confessed his sins, repented and made everything all better. Back in Beowulf’s time, the cool thing to do was ravage and pillage, destroy everything in sight so you can get a cool title in front of your name. This might have still been the case during Gawain’s time, but now the new trend is to repent the numerous sins you committed so you can go to heaven when you kick the bucket. So here we see firsthand the evolution of the hero, over just a few hundred years, based on changes in social behavior, and apparently the role of religion in people’s lives.
Religion plays a major role in the development of the hero. As a matter of fact, religion relies heavily upon heroes, and is actually based on the need for a hero in everyday life. When a whole society or...