A person normally becomes a hero by performing an extraordinary and praiseworthy deed. Traditional deeds are slaying of monsters and saving people from certain death. A hero normally fulfills the definitions of what is considered good and noble in the originating culture. However, in literature, particularly in tragedy, the hero may also have serious flaws which lead to his downfall, e.g. Hamlet.
Sometimes a real person might achieve enough status to become a hero in people's minds. This is usually complemented by a rapid growth of myths around the person in question, often attributing him or her with powers beyond those of ordinary mortals.
Some social commentators prescribe the need for heroes in times of social upheaval or national self-doubt, seeing a requirement for virtuous role-models, especially for the young. Such myth-making may have worked better in the past: current trends may confuse heroes and their hero-worship with the cult of mere celebrity.
Well-known heroes approach the gods in status in some cultures. The word hero comes from Ancient Greek, where it describes a culture hero who figures in mythology. The Greek heroes were often the mythological characters who were the eponymous founders of Greek cities, states, and territories. These mythological heroes were not always role models or possessed of heroic virtue; many were demigods, the offspring of mortals and the gods. The age when heroes of this sort were active, and where the stories of Greek mythology were set, is frequently known as the "heroic age;" the heroic age ends shortly after the Trojan War is over and the legendary combatants have returned to home or exile.
Famous heroes include: Hercules (ancient Roman Empire), King Arthur (medieval England), Hua Mulan (China), Beowulf (Iron Age Scandinavia), and Stenka Razin (Russian folk hero). The twelve paladins of Charlemagne were important heroes whose stories were important in the development of courtly love and chivalric romance.
- Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy
Hero is also a Greek name, applying to several characters in mythology and fiction.
In William Shakespeares play Much Ado About Nothing Hero is a female character.