We Don't Need a Hero

May 10, 2017
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Have you ever watched The Game of Thrones? If you haven’t, this might be a big spoiler. Nevertheless, you are probably familiar with the fact that many characters come and go as if they have never even existed. But, there is one particular sweetheart that everyone misses. Robb Stark, the young wolf, left his home and marched into battle to retrieve his father’s honor. Odysseus, on the other hand, went on a journey to return to his home after a long war only to find out he had only a handful of people that missed him - if not against him. This poor man, Odysseus, certainly went through a number of hardships. Still, does he fit the criteria of a hero only because he suffered a lot? Some of the many important traits that heroes carry are emotional struggles, morality, and philanthropism. Odysseus and Robb Stark are heroic figures of distant time periods. Although they bear some similarities, Odysseus being a bit distant to the modern form of hero is inevitable. Because Odysseus is not humane and not a philanthropist, he doesn’t meet the current day’s expectation of how a hero should be.
The first and foremost trait that a hero should have is any form of emotional struggle or the ability to feel. A character without emotional capabilities is seldom represented as a hero because such character unavoidably seems cold-hearted, passionless, and empty. Then, the audience cannot develop empathy towards him/her.


Thus, a tale that tells a hero’s story is likely to reveal the hero’s emotional fluctuations as well as weaknesses and conflicts, which makes it easier for the audience to relate themselves and form a humanly bond with the hero. Consequently, the hero is loved and praised. It is quite ironic and surprising that the depiction of vulnerability can make thousands of diverse people commune with a fictional character who is usually expected to be strong and invincible. In case of The Game of Thrones, many viewers had built emotional bonds with Robb Stark throughout the first 3 seasons until he died; and what made it possible was the explicit portrayal of Robb’s inner struggles. His first appearance was rather mundane when everything seemed peaceful, but as the story deepened, Robb’s emotional suffering intensified accordingly. The most impressive depiction of his internal state would be his expression of sorrow when he hears about his father’s death. He swings his sword aimlessly at a tree while crying, which is clearly an emotion-driven behavior that the viewers can understand and sympathize with. The Odyssey shows that this method of audience-to-character communication through feelings is not only of modern storytelling. Instead, it is actually traditional. When Odysseus returned to Ithaca and removed his disguise as a beggar to reveal himself to his son, he “kissed his son and the tears streamed down his cheeks and wet the ground, though before he’d always reined his emotions back (Homer, 16.215 ~216).” This incident discloses the emotional parts of Odysseus, letting the audience feel compassion and allowing them to make links to their own feelings. At the same time, the phrase indicates that Odysseus had been hiding his feelings. Such explanation clarifies the lack of description concerning Odysseus’s sensibility in previous books. Thus, Odysseus meets one standard of a hero that one should have emotional capacity.

The next feature that should be valued as a heroic characteristic is morality. Morality is the conformity to the rules of right conduct. A moral person or character chooses not to do anything that is unvirtuous or unethical even under pressure - at least tries one’s best to do so, feeling guilty when he/she can’t. This should be considered heroic because a hero would not be any different from a villain if he/she tries to achieve a goal without ethical constraints. Odysseus and Robb Stark takes different paths concerning this matter. Since Odysseus is a character that was formed in Homeric times, he holds the ethical values of his era. In Book 1 of The Odyssey, he exploits Cicones as an extension of the war. He slaughters men, takes their property, and “as for the wives and plunder, … shared it round … (Homer, 9. 46~48),” which can be interpreted as enslavement. All of his actions are unacceptable in terms of present – day’s concept of morality. On the other hand, Robb Stark is a modern character developed in the 21st century. Although The Game of Thrones is based on the Middle Ages, Robb seems to have the decency of an ordinary person nowadays. He proves himself an upright person in season 2, episode 4, when Roose Bolton insists Robb to skin his prisoners of war so that they could gain information. Robb disapproves Bolton’s proposal because it is something that Ned Stark had banned for its cruelty. Thus, Robb gives up something valuable since the method of acquiring it is against humanity. In contrast of such actions of Robb Stark, Odysseus’s doings are hardly heroic but inhumane. Odysseus is not a hero concerning ethical problems because he doesn’t meet the moral standards of our time.

Another characteristic that a hero should contain is philanthropism. Philanthropism is having affection to mankind and supporting the benefits of humanity. Nevertheless, a hero still has to defeat his/her enemies. However, the purpose and motivation should be the well-being of people; otherwise, the story could be less inspiring. Which one would have a more dramatic, touching plot; a hero that tries to save everyone and hopes for the good of all, or a character that only tries to redeem himself/herself? In a monomyth, the hero is a reflection of the common people that face trials and conquer them. And by recycling the theme, heroes become guidelines for people in attempt of overcoming their complications. So, a hero encouraging individuals to be philanthropistic in pursuing their objectives is not only desirable but also effective. The first two seasons of The Game of Thrones illustrates such aspects of a monomyth. Although Robb Stark being in pursuit of his father’s rescue could seem like a personal issue, Ned Stark is the Warden of the North, whose reputation affects the whole Northern area. Thus, Robb starts a war for his people. Furthermore, he wishes he could put an end to the war with minimum casualties so that peace could be restored. He also treats his prisoners with humanly respect such as providing medical care. In contrast, Odysseus is far from being benevolent. In Book 22 of The Odyssey, he slaughters everyone who had been trying to court his wife, without exception or mercy. Additionally, his adventures throughout the story is much more focused on his private matter rather than the good of the whole. That sometimes makes him neglect and cause damage to others. In Book 12 of The Odyssey, Odysseus makes commands to his men while leaving out an important information only because he thought that “for fear the men would panic, desert their oars and huddle down and stow themselves away (Homer, 12. 242~243).” As a result of Odysseus making “no mention of Scylla (Homer, 12. 242),” his men made sacrifices that cost their lives. Such examples indicate that Odysseus lacks affection towards people and puts his desires on top priority. Therefore, he does not correspond to the modern definition of a hero.

Odysseus goes through a rough series of events, just as any hero does. Also, Odysseus is described as an emotionally capable character that the audience can relate to. However, Odysseus is not humane nor philanthropistic in making his way to his ultimate destination, his home. His actions are not something that the audience can emulate or be inspired from; it’s quite the opposite. Since Odysseus has only one of the traits of a hero while his ideas and morality do not match that of a modern hero, Odysseus is not a hero.

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