I have been pondering the definition of the word “hero” as of late. It is a very powerful that conjures feeling of aspiration and power. In modern culture Super Heroes have taken center stage with their that one person can stand up and save the world if only they try. We often hear of police, soldiers, and firefighter being called heroes, since in their jobs they save us. The hero is someone that does good no matter what, refuses to kill on principle alone, tries to make peaces and never hurts anyone intentionally.
This definition of hero always bothers me. See, I love mythology and I spent much of my youth reading into ancient Greek myth. We often look at Heracles as the quintessential hero. He is strong and dominating. Able to take on any task with his legendary strength. His feats are fascinating with the 12 tasks inspiring the imagination, such as slaying the Hydra, or capturing Cerberus. We are so captivated by him when we learn that he is doing the 12 tasks to make up for slaughtering his own family it can be disconcerting.
In fact the ancient Greek definition of what it is to be a hero seems much opposed to what the same concept means today. In the modern sense a hero is one who is supremely moral. They are the avatar of what it is to be a good person. The Grecian hero, however, holds its emphasis on the greatness of the hero. The hero may not always act in a moral manner, but completes tasks that are well beyond the purview of the regular person.
Go Nagai, the manga artist behind the series known as Devilman, had a fascination with the Grecian idea of the hero. In Devilman the main character starts off as weak and cowardly, but with a soft heart. At the behest of his friend Ryo he take the demon Amon into himself, but because of his purity he is able control the demon rather than the other way. After his transformation he becomes a very different person. He is dark, selfish, and aggressive. He becomes more violent, and sexually active. He becomes a hybrid between a devil and a man, or hybrid between a good man and an evil one.
Killing is evil. This is something agreed upon throughout cultures, but it’s often agreed that there as certain situation when it is excusable. Killing to protect yourself or a loved one is someone only the most staunch pacifist can rail against. We all like to believe that we are all capable of killing someone if it meant saving a life, but the Go Nagai hero tells a different story. It is the story of a good person having to reach inside and tame the most evil aspects of themselves so that they may access that evil to do what needs to be done.
The Go Nagai hero, who reaches deep into the darkest parts of himself so that he may use his evil aspect to gain the power to do great deeds, is the definition of hero closest to that of reality. While he may be defiant of society’s rules, and even terrify those that follow them, he can hardly be disparaged his greatness.