Lesson: Impact of the Middle Ages

The Epic Hero

Conquest and overall struggle during the Middle Ages became woven into themes in literature of the time, which often portrayed a winner or someone who overcame adversity to learn a lesson or make great change in society. In the first semester, you read pieces of Beowulf and discussed some of the common literary themes of the time period. One of the concepts that grew out of this literature was the idea of the epic hero.

Most epic heroes are:

  • capable of deeds of great strength and courage, although in some stories the hero can be a villain.
  • born into royalty; typically, commoners do not become an epic hero.
  • great warriors, usually facing a battle or personal struggle.
  • humble, not bragging about his accomplishments or seeking an award for bravery.
  • nationally recognized in his home country as an honorable person.
  • great travelers; the further the distances the greater the hero’s actions.
  • helped by a supernatural force or battled by a supernatural enemy, making their actions heroic.

The epic hero created a way for people to see social justice and to live through an experience of overcoming their challenges. Well-known examples of epic heroes are many of the superhero series stars. While it's a given that these superheroes are capable of deeds of great strength and courage, are great travelers, and are nationally recognized, other characteristics of epic hero status may not be as obvious:

Superman Batman Spider-Man Iron Man
born into royalty (or a version thereof) Superman was born on the planet Krypton to parents who sent him to Earth in a spaceship before their home planet was destroyed. Although he wasn't born in what we typically consider royalty, he was born an alien with special powers. He arrived on Earth with his abilities, although he discovered them years later during his childhood. Bruce Wayne, born into a wealthy American family, transformed into Batman, a superhero who fought crime and battled enemies in Gotham City, after witnessing the murder of his parents. Spider-Man is the alias of Peter Parker, an orphan raised by his aunt and uncle in New York after the death of his parents in a plane crash. While not considered royalty, the aunt and uncle were considered heroes for taking young Peter in during his great time of need. Tony Stark was born into a wealthy family and pursued his dream of scientific invention.
great warriors Superman was advised by his parents to use his special powers for the benefit of humanity. He spent his life fighting crime as a vigilante. Batman came onto the scene as a warrior who killed or seriously injured criminals, but developed into a character with a strong moral code and a desire for fairness and justice. Spider-Man fought foes such as Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, and Venom, always coming out on top and making the world a better place. Iron Man initially battles his kidnappers, then branches out in his endeavors to protect the world.
humble Superman remained humble throughout his life. He worked for the good of humankind and set the standard for superheroes. Batman uses his powers to seek justice, and often works alongside allies Superman and Wonder Woman. Spider-Man faced his battles with the attitude that "with great power there must also come great responsibility," a lesson he learned from his uncle. Iron Man keeps his identity a secret and maintains a relatively normal life, never seeking fame or fortune because of his alter ego.
helped by a supernatural force or battled by a supernatural enemy Superman's powers came from his lineage, directly connected to life on his home planet, Krypton. While Batman doesn't have supernatural powers, he relies on his intellect and fighting skills to battle others, who are sometimes supernatural enemies. Spider-Man gained his powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He suddenly had superhuman strength and powers, the ability to cling to surfaces, and a "spider sense," allowing him to sense danger when others could not. He also developed wrist-mounted "web shooters" to create spider webs with special designs to assist him in his battles. What makes Iron Man somewhat supernatural is the nearly unimaginable scientific genius that goes into the mechanized suits Tony Stark builds to wear as he fights his battles.