James, I love your question, “One might ask: “What is identifiable that evokes the best in human nature whether it be a god or a human being? What is this quality in the Hero; whether mortal or god that makes this timeless symbol so important? And why is this quality also universal? What does it mean to be heroic?” At this moment I am thinking of many of my favorite myths and about the various traits of the heroes in each myth, such as the Greek myth of the 12 Labors of Heracles or Beowulf. Both of them had remarkable strength that was rather miraculous. Sometimes such as in The Lord of the Rings it is an inner spiritual of psychic (psyche) strength or integrity that Frodo has to overcome the powerful spell of the ring that usually brings out people’s inner ugly greed. For his travel companion and helper Sam (Samwise) it is his wisdom in his supportive role, and both have stamina. SInce the hero is always the protagonist, he has something good about him that serves good for the good of all; Gollum, an antagonist, antagonizes the protagonist and is the opposite trouble or evil. The hero transcends when after his departure on his hero’s journey he reaches the desired place to receive the boon to bring back to humankind/his or her people./society, whether freedom (slaying the dragon) or bringing fire from heaven to earth. His journey brings him the view from above the two places, the here and the there, and bridges them in transcendence, is one of my definitions, yet I consider both the traditional definitions of transcendence from Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching and then Jung’s too.
Link to “Hexogram 20: Contemplation/View,” from Wilhelm’s Translation of the I Ching:
As I read this, I think of Beowulf being the guest of the king to save people from Grendel, and then I think of Froto and Sam up on the mountain to throw the ring in the volcano and the evil eye on top of the mountain that gets destroyed when the ring gets thrown in the pit and destroyed. “Full of trust they look up to him:” the hero is one who helps the people and so the come to trust him, even after many power struggles with those who would not believe in the hero’s abilities and try to downplay him or her–the role of a tale’s antagonist(s). I could go on and on looking at the hero from the considerations of this hexogram. One point that really intrigues me about this in accord with transcendance is that the contemplation is done from a tower that gives the hero (or wise man–for one can be a hero whether going though the path of the hero (not hidden) or that of the sage (hidden and working behind the scenes, yet each would have both qualities in the other) a wide view–and “trans” means across and not just up. Before I ever read the I Ching or Jung, I did meditation (Transcendental Meditation for one) and later I encountered the I CHing and took up karate so was into zen and zen meditation, and so initially I thought of transcendence as “up” as in transcending the cares of the day, of stress, of rising above. I was a young teenager at that time (my parents were TM’ers and when I was 14 they took me to meetings and had me initiated and given my mantra, etc.) Then later I found the I Ching and this tower of contemplation as a bridge stretching from one horizon to the next giving not just height but width or breadth. Then a bit later I began reading Jung and his writings on transcendence. I will post a definition (a long one) below.
Anyway, the question of what makes a hero a hero set my mind spinning to a bunch of my favorite heroes and heroines from myth in the classical and non-classical mythologies, to myth in film and in literature. What I found intriguing and fun about trying to answer this question is that is made me examine as many virtues as I could think of. And that is the one thing I think all heroes have in common: virtue. However, in “real” life, and I think this is also somewhere in the I Ching but I cannot think of which hexogram at this moment, “honor exists even among thieves,” so in real life, a thief could have a thief for a hero, so then there goes the virtue–unless you are Robin Hood.
Thank you James for sending my mind on a fun journey this evening through some beloved stories. I do believe the qualities of the hero are still living myths today in the legends we have of great people who have served humanity in one way or another whether politically or medically or virtuous police people (as opposed to the non-virtuous) and firefighters, etc. As for firefighters, we often don’t have a story though without the antagonist arsonist. So what makes for the anti-hero or antagonist? What qualities do they have that make them the people we “love to hate?” Please excuse the strong word “hate”–I am using it on purpose as strictly as the expression with which we are all familiar.