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  In Greek myth, a hero was the offspring of one mortal parent and one immortal—an example is Herakles, son of Zeus and the mortal queen Alkmena. Because of their half-human, half-divine nature heroes had difficulty adapting to the demands of mortal life, and their personality disorders—not to mention their divine attributes—often caused trouble in the mortal world. (For instance, Herakles periodically went mad and at one stage murdered his own children; Helen\'s superhuman beauty was a direct cause of the Trojan War.) Such problems, and the more-than-mortal appeal of heroes generally, led to heroes playing the main roles in most myth-based stories and hence to the word being applied to the protagonist of a piece of fiction generally. The Romans, making over Greek myth for their own purposes, sometimes allegorized the hero\'s conflicts in what we would think of as psychological terms: Aeneas\'s dilemmas in Virgil\'s Aeneid, for example, are caused not so much by the struggle between divine and mortal sides to the same nature as by (for instance) the conflict between love and duty.

In later fiction of the simpler kind (for example folk tales), heroes lost the dual mortal/immortal identity, but kept their ability to move between the human and superhuman worlds. Favourite types of hero-stories are those involving quests and those involving ‘making something of oneself’ (usually moving from rags to riches as a result of application, cunning, superhuman intervention or all three at once). In more complex fiction, the Roman model is often followed and the hero is the figure in whose character and actions some moral, ethical or other dilemma is worked out. In ‘formation novels’ (see Bildungsroman) the hero often stands for a whole society, and his or her development dramatizes larger political, social or psychological concerns.

Some pieces of fiction centre on an antihero: someone whose qualities are the last we would expect from a person in such circumstances. A favourite kind of antihero is the bland, characterless individual in whom the venalities and follies of a whole society are mirrored. Notable examples of this type include, Švejk in Jaroslav Hašek\'s The Good Soldier Švejk, Zeno in Italo Svevo\'s The Confessions of Zeno, Franz Kafka\'s anonymous heroes, even Marcel in Proust\'s Remembrance of Things Past. Other anti-heroes are more assertive and take an anarchic, satirical view of the society in which they live. This is often the case with the ‘heroes’ of comedies, from the outrageous old men of Aristophanes to Yossarian in Joseph Heller\'s Catch-22 or Kingsley Amis\' Lucky Jim. Writers in the 20th century have taken an especial delight in subverting our expectations of what heroes in literature and drama are ‘supposed’ to be—proof, if nothing else, that the stereotype still has life. KMcL



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