The Evolution of the Hero

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Most of us have our own rough defnition of heroism — we think we know a hero when we see one. But pinning down those attributes is a challenge; your hero may not look much like mine. So it 's worth asking: Are there certain immutable characteristics that have defined heroism across the ages? The men and women on the following pages are individuals of extraordinary distinction, but how do they stack up against the legends of the past? Although there are some timeless, universal qualities known as heroic, throughout history the idea of the hero has fluctuated and evolved to suit the ethos of the times.

The modern concept of the hero would not have been possible without the Renaissance. Previously, the Middle Ages had not looked favorably
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Even history, it was thought, could provide little insight into heroism. The Edinburgh philosopher David Hume, writing in 1748, summed up the rigid formalism of the day: "It is universally acknowledged that there is a great uniformity among the actions of men, in all nations and ages, and that human nature remains still the same, in its principles and operations."

Inevitably, the impersonal equality of the Enlightenment produced a reaction: Romanticism. Beginning in the late 1790s with the writings of Schiller, Schlegel and Novalis, the early German Romantics criticized the elevation of reason above sentiment. Instead, through art, literature, music and love they celebrated the inner emotions and creative development of the human spirit. Schlegel declared genius "the natural condition of mankind" and believed it "characteristic of humanity that it must rise above humanity."

The Romantics believed in man 's natural goodness and the call of individuals to develop their personality to the full. If the Renaissance tradition had emphasized military glory and outward achievement, the German Romantics emphasized the uniqueness of each intimate experience. The heroes of the day were not warriors but poets, dreamers, philosophers and rebels. Lord Byron (1788-1824) managed to embody it all: author, lover and proto-revolutionary. His early death only augmented his heroic status and made him an iconic precursor of Che Guevara or Kurt Cobain. British culture became
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