Our need for heroes is a timeless phenomenon; from ancient Greece to September 11, we have always looked to great figures for inspiration and leadership. In this riveting and insightful cultural history, Lucy Hughes-Hallett brings to life eight exceptional men from history and myth whose outsized accomplishments made them heroes of their times.
Alcibiades was Athensâs most dazzling citizen but an incorrigible traitor. El Cid was an invincible but self-interested warlord. Albrecht von Wallenstein terrified both enemies and allies in the Thirty Yearsâ War. Despite their flaws, all three were celebrated as superhuman paragons of virility. We see them in contrast to heroes of a different kind: Cato, the stubborn opponent of dictatorship; Sir Francis Drake, who used wit instead of might to defeat the Spanish; and Giuseppe Garibaldi, the gallant revolutionary and international celebrity. Framing these six men are the two paradigmatic Homeric heroes: Achilles, who sacrificed his life for glory, and Odysseus, who lied and cheated and stole, doing anything to survive.
As Hughes-Hallett vividly re-creates these extraordinary lives, she illuminates the attractions and dangers of hero worship. This is a fascinating book about dictatorship and democracy, seduction and mass hysteria, politics and culture, and the eternal tension between the Achillean glorification of death and the Odyssean affirmation of life.
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