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Type: Thesis
Title: Man as hero - hero as citizen: models of heroic thought and action in Homer, Plato and Rousseau.
Author: Stefanson, Dominic
Issue Date: 2004
School/Discipline: School of History and Politics
Abstract: Ever since Homer told the tales of magnificent men and called these men heroes, the siren song of heroic achievement has been impossible to resist. By consistently acting in a manner that is above the capacity of normal human beings, a hero becomes a model of emulation and inspiration for ordinary, lesser mortals. This thesis traces the development of normative models of heroic thought and action in the work of Homer, Plato and Rousseau. It argues that models of heroism have evolved according to changing conceptions of the political institutions that comprise a polis and, in turn, notions of citizenship. Homer establishes the heroic ideal and offers an image of Man as Hero. The Homeric hero is a man of transparent action who is never incapacitated because he acts upon his instincts. Unrestrained by doubt, he soars above humanity and performs deeds that assure him of everlasting fame and glory. The Homeric hero is a warrior-prince who lives in the absence of a polis. He rules his community as a patriarch who places his personal quest for glory above the dictates of the common good. The Homeric hero is consequently limited in his ability to act as a model of emulation for those who live in a polis. In an historical period that gave rise to the polis as a desirable and unavoidable aspect of human life, Plato remodels heroic ideals. Thus Plato's ideals of heroism could survive and prosper alongside political structures and institutions guided by the demands of the common good. The philosophical hero exalted in the Platonic dialogues gains true knowledge, which enables him to excel at all activities he undertakes. The philosopher is impelled to channel his vast superiority into the realm of political leadership. Plato recasts the Hero as Citizen, an elite citizen who rules for the benefit of all. Plato's model of heroism, like Homer's, is premised on an anti-egalitarian, hierarchical conception of human worth. In the Social Contract, Rousseau aims to reconcile modern ideals of human equality with Homeric and Platonic hierarchical notions of heroic excellence. The Social Contract attempts to make all citizens equally heroic by insisting that men can only excel when they all participate equally in political sovereignty. Failing to reconcile heroism and equality, however, Rousseau chooses heroism and reverts firstly to aristocratic political formulas before finally abandoning politics altogether as a positive force for humanity. His work nevertheless inspired both a lasting notion of human equality that shaped the modern political landscape and evoked the romantic modern notion of an isolated individual, as epitomised by Rousseau himself, heroically climbing the peaks of human achievement. Rousseau's model of individual heroism effectively completes the cycle and returns the notion of heroism to where it begun with Homer, Man as Hero. The concept of the heroism, traced through these theorists, shows it to be a changing terrain yet consistent in its allure.
Advisor: Corcoran, Paul
Spencer, Vicki
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.)--School of History and Politics, 2004.
Keywords: Plato influence, Homer influence, heroes, Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 1712-1778 influence
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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