Both the ancient Greeks and Romans deified great heroes and political leaders.
As we look at our contemporary obsessions with rock stars, actors, politicians, and other celebrities, I think it is safe to say that not much has changed. I think it is important, however, to understand that not much has changed: those who decry the worship of modern celebrities as a phenomenon of a decadent society are ignoring centuries of human devotion to those who have achieved greatness (however it is defined).
So I was very happy to read this article on Patheos by Sunweaver:
Their stories are told and retold, rebooted and then rebooted again. Our Homer is not any of the prose authors raised upon pedestals by many an English teacher, but the quirky white-haired Stan Lee. Our clever Odysseus, once clad in bronze armor, now bears the name Tony Stark and if he has a house in Ithaca, it’s in New York. The Hulk is our Ajax. Achilles is now… Cyclops? And then there is James Tiberius Kirk, another Odysseus, perhaps, a hero with his wayward crew on a journey to seek out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before! My heroes are many and their deeds are greater than any mortal man could accomplish. Flawed in their characters, they persevere through hardship after hardship, plunging into the darkest parts of the humanity and emerging again, greater than before. My heroes’ stories are played out in that descendant of the old Greek theater, the widescreen digital Dolby sound movie screen and the 52″ beauty in my living room, now in Blu Ray– better than technicolor. What more could a girl want than a bottle of wine and science fiction on the screen? Hail, Dionysos! Glory be to the Heroes! Jim Kirk is dead. Long live (and prosper) Jim Kirk!
We humans seem to love stories of great people and great feats. Of overcoming great hardship. Stories that illustrate virtue and folly. Stories are how we learn, how we pass on our culture. And the myths of our culture are not just the old tales of gods and strong men, but of valiant Jedi, intrepid Starfleet officers, the diplomat warriors of the last Babylon station, the outlaws fleeting the Alliance. They are also the nostalgic tales of kids from the 1970’s, of soldiers from modern wars, and even of physicists struggling with social awkwardness. And they are the tales of glory and tragedy from the superhuman heroes of comic books and the trials and travails of princess-rescuing video game characters.
Our culture is a rich one, though we tell the same tales and honor the same virtues.