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A hero ( old high German helido ) is a person who accomplishes a heroic deed, i.e. a special, extraordinary achievement. These can be real or fictional people, characters from history , but also from legends or sagas . His heroic abilities can be of a physical nature (strength, speed, endurance, etc.) or of a spiritual nature (courage, willingness to sacrifice, struggle for ideals, virtue or willingness to work for fellow men ).

The Zedler lexicon from the middle of the 18th century defined: “Hero, Latin hero , is one who is gifted by nature with a handsome figure and exceptional physical strength, who achieves fame through brave deeds, and who rises above the common class of men . "

The hero as a hero

The figure of the hero is first encountered in the ancient hero . This is announced by parentage or sign . On the other hand (for example in the Icelandic sagas ) the coming hero can be a useless young man who just lies behind the stove. In any case, he becomes a “hero” through his first extraordinary (“heroic”) act, for example when he kills an enemy, a monster or a giant , carries out a blood revenge or saves people (preferably virgins ) from distress. A hero usually fits the definition of what is considered excellent in their culture . That luck (“ salvation ”) regularly stands by his side is not necessary, in the Norse epic even unusual.

Well-known heroes in some cultures approached the status of gods . Many were demigods, descendants of mortals and gods. The word hero comes from the ancient Greek " ἥρως " and describes the cultural hero of mythology . The Greek heroes ( ἥρωες ) were often the characters who were considered the mythical founders of the Greek cities, states and countries. These mythical heroes were not always impeccable role models. The age in which heroes of this kind worked and where the stories of Greek mythology took place is also called the " Heroic Age ". This era ended shortly after the Trojan War , when almost all of the legendary fighters fell or perished on their way home.

It is not uncommon for historical persons to achieve so much reputation that they are called heroes, cf. Folk hero, national hero . This phenomenon was and is often accompanied by a rapid growth of myths about the person; she is often ascribed special powers.

End of heroism?

Sarcophagus with the motif "Hero's death", part of the Soviet memorial in Treptower Park, Berlin

In times of war and emergency, the propaganda often heroizes soldiers and fallen soldiers in order to strengthen morale and perseverance. The term “hero” can become obsolete as a cultural model if heroic characteristics have to reckon with negative reception and / or if the term is used inflationarily or is watered down. In the final phase of World War II, for example, “hero's death” was often received as a euphemism (or a cynical term ) - for example, when relatives knew that their fallen loved one had gone to war not out of conviction but out of compulsion.

After the war, the word “hero” was hardly used in West Germany . It was often used in the GDR ; z. B. were (based on the Soviet model) working people who had clearly exceeded company target production values, awarded the order of hero of work and presented as role models . Politicians could be honored as heroes of the GDR . In the Federal Republic of Germany and in the Republic of Austria , the word was hardly used for a long time after the lost Second World War. Children who were enthusiastic about the heroic ( Hitler Youth , military education ) had become the “ skeptical generation ” of the post-war period . The 68 movement advocated pacifist goals. It condemned the Vietnam War and specifically the war crimes committed there .

In the United States are at war fallen soldiers often ease as a "hero" ( English hero called); The same applies to fire fighters who died in action. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 , dead firefighters and police officers were often referred to as heroes .

Scientific treatment


In times of social upheaval (cf. barbarism ) or national crises, sociologists foresee a strong need for heroes, whom real or fake heroes can help or not. Whether or not a remedy is successful does not necessarily depend on the “authenticity” of a hero, but also on the nature of the problems.

Heroes then form a specific role model (sometimes a cliché ), especially for young people . Today she trained to become a celebrity cult under the influence of the mass media or the press . Under certain historical circumstances this is specifically promoted by governments or the military, for example.

From the rejection of heroism, national self-sacrifice, the development of "authority through authorship" ( Bazon Brock ) etc., the sociologist Dirk Baecker or the Germanist Peter von Matt developed the term "postheroic".

Religious studies

In an Indo-European comparison, the religious scholar Georges Dumézil pointed out that many structurally comparable legends of the gods from India to Europe could go back to common prehistoric hero legends. The religious philosopher Hermann Usener turns the tables in his book " Gods Names " by making the following postulate: "... that all heroes, whose historicity is not verifiable or probable, were originally gods."

Literary studies

In literary studies , a hero is - with a different word meaning - in literary works generally and neutrally the main character of a story or a stage play, regardless of his abilities or his moral status. One then speaks of the hero or protagonist of a play or novel (if he appears in the title, he is the "title hero"). He can then also be weak or angry ( antihero ) or commit serious mistakes that lead to his fall (especially in tragedy , see for example Hamlet ). This also applies to Jacob the liar , who lies to save his companions hope and life.

The medieval concept of the hero's journey (cf. the epic about Duke Ernst ) has held up and can be found today, for example in the books of the mythologist Joseph Campbell . In the comic literature, the exaggerated figure of the superhero survives .

In the art of acting , the youthful hero and the difficult hero belong to the character roles .

Sports science

It takes exceptional athletic performance to become a hero in sport, but only through skillful management can an athlete become a brand through consistently consistent performance . In her analysis of the heroes in sport during the Weimar period, Swantje Scharenberg showed the extraordinary achievements that heroic potential had for the respective time. But she speaks of heroes in sport and not of sports heroes . For Garry Whannel, however, from an Anglo-American perspective, the media sports star and hero always has to be a man, since in the present, when physical dominance is no longer required professionally, male hegemony is preserved. They all affirm that there are times when heroes are more socially desirable than others (end of heroism?). In hardly any other area of ​​society is the fall from hero to anti-hero as deep and fast as in sport, since athletes are stronger than B. Politicians are stylized as youth idols ( Lance Armstrong , Oscar Pistorius , Jan Ullrich etc.).

Well-known heroes

The following list contains a selection of well-known characters who are or were often referred to as heroes. The list contains fictional characters, real people and names whose authenticity is controversial (see also legendary figure ).

Surname time place position Reason of notoriety
Gilgamesh 3rd mill. Chr. Mesopotamia Sumerian king Epic of Gilgamesh
Nimrod Mesopotamia king
Samson Palestine Judge
David Palestine king killed the giant Goliath
Heracles Greece Demigod Latin "Hercules"
Odysseus Trojan war King of Ithaca Odyssey & Iliad
Achilles Trojan war General of the Greeks
Hector Trojan war General of Troy
Paris Trojan war Prince of Troy kidnapped Helena
Penthesilea Trojan war Queen of the Amazons fought on the side of Troy
Aeneas Trojan War , Italy Trojan prince legendary founder of Rome
Romulus and Remus 753 BC Chr. Italy legendary founders of Rome, twins
Theseus Greece fabulous king of Athens kill the minotaur
Perseus Greece Demigod killed the Medusa
Jason Greece Prince of Iolkos Argonauts legend , stole the Golden Fleece

In the 20th century, numerous soldiers and revolutionary leaders were referred to as heroes. There was often a personality cult around the latter (from the people and / or staged). Examples e.g. B.

They and their deeds were well known through Wehrmacht reports and Nazi propaganda (e.g. newsreels ); they were very respected. They attended schools and lectured at events; their public appearances were often accompanied by honors. Many of the knight's cross holders were high officers (e.g. Erwin Rommel , known as the "desert fox").

  • Audie Murphy (1925–1971), the most decorated US soldier of World War II

See also


Web links

Commons : Heroes  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Held  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Hero  Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. Hero, Lat. Hero. In: Johann Heinrich Zedler : Large complete universal lexicon of all sciences and arts . Volume 12, Leipzig 1735, column 1214 f.
  2. Dirk Baecker: Postheroic Management: A Vademecum . Merve Verlag, Berlin 1994, ISBN 978-3-88396-117-0 .
  3. Julia Mährlein: The sports star in Germany: The development of the top athlete from hero to brand. Sierke, Göttingen, 2009, ISBN 978-3-86844-130-7 .
  4. Swantje Scharenberg : The construction of public sport and its heroes in the daily press of the Weimar Republic . Schöningh, Paderborn, 2012, ISBN 978-3-506-77117-9 .
  5. ^ Garry Whannel (2001): Media Sport Stars: Masculinities and Moralities. London: Routledge, ISBN 0-203-99626-7 .
  6. Arnd Krüger & Swantje Scharenberg (eds.): Times for heroes - times for celebrities in sport . LIT, Münster, 2014, ISBN 978-3-643-12498-2 .
  7. ^ Stanley H. Teitelbaum: Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols . Lincoln, Nebr .: University of Nebraska Press, 2005, ISBN 0-8032-4445-2 .