Poll Position: From Myth to Life

Our Poll Position this week once again concerns bringing history to life:


Mythological characters were super-heroes before the medium of comics made it big. Which is right now causing twelve dozen history professors to gun up their Outrage Machines, but hey, I'm a simple guy. Still, you've got larger than life people, performing feats far outside the reach of normal people, and transforming their societies.

Which got me thinking, what heroes from out of time would, when brought to the present day, still be heroic? What impact would they have on our modern world? So let's take them from the top.

  • Achilles: I wanted to include Achilles because let's face it, he's a petulant whiner, and as such could really relate to life in these United States, at least on the internet. And if ever a place existed where you'd need invulnerable skin (particularly if it's flame-resistant), the internet is that place. Along with Hercules, Achilles is the closes Superman analog on the list, possessed of incredible strength, speed, fighting skill, physical beauty, and near invulnerability. If anyone could fill the physical role of a super-hero, Achilles is that man. But. As I said, emotionally he was anything but heroic, petulant and self-indulgent. What would that kind of a personality do when plunked down in the middle of modern America, with no ties of honor or hearty companions to pledge himself to?
  • Arjuna: If you're not familiar with Hindu mythology, Arjuna was an avatar of the gods, gifted with great fighting skill and incredible accuracy with a bow. Think Green Arrow only, you know, a god stand-in (and not just in his own mind). Arjuna would be a good choice if you're looking for a non-Western hero to step forward. Plus he was a man of great spirit, thoughtful and sensitive, willing to do his duty but ever mindful of the costs others would bear. Of all the names on this list, I think he'd have the intellectual and spiritual strength to deal with a wrenching time shift and our modern culture.
  • Hercules: I like to think of Hercules as a mixture of Conan and Aquaman from the new Batman "Brave and Bold" animated series, a take-no-prisoners type who thinks with his fists. And he thinks loudly. I feel like his physical approach to most problems would be frustrated when faced with modern Labors like global warming, or hunger, or poverty, or earthquakes ... if we get invaded by a nine-headed half dragon, half donkey, though, he's top of the list.
  • King Arthur: I'd like to see Prince Charles try to tell King Arthur that the throne of England is already filled. Ears vs. Excalibur in the Showdown of the New Century! Arthur was, obviously, a powerful leader and great king, but ultimately I don't know if he could come to accept a world where everyone had an equal vote, and not just the men sitting around his round table with swords and armor. Plus guns would put a serious crimp in his style.
  • King Leonidas: I just wanted to say I ... AM ... SPARTA!! That is all.
  • Merlin: The only purely mystical name on the list, Merlin probably walked the crooked byways of time and wouldn't have any trouble dealing with modern society. He's used to being the power behind the throne, and would likely deal with technology as just a different kind of magic. Like Arjuna, he has the mental flexibility to come to our era and still make a difference, and it's possible his almost Machiavellian realism would be right at home in the politics of today.
  • Odysseus: Smart, tricky, sly, brave, clever, and physically fit, I figure the over-under on Odysseus running the world once he got here at about ten years. Dude was a stone-cold gangster before gangsters ever existed.
  • Paul Bunyan: I only have him on the list for his buddy, Babe the Big Blue Ox, because ox ribs are delicious.
  • Robin Hood: If ever we needed someone to steal from the rich and give to the poor, we need him now.

I think the biggest challenge here, assuming your goal is to bring forward someone who would still be a hero to us, is in matching the mental flexibility necessary to deal with our culture and the physical gifts that would be most applicable. For instance, I don't think just "Being Huge" like Paul Bunyan is going to be a very big plus in helping lead us boldly forward.

So the three names that jump out at me are Merlin, Arjuna, and Odysseus. Of those, I think Merlin and Odysseus would be most likely to be amoral power-mongers, out for an agenda that would be their own and not necessarily to the benefit of the world at large. Arjuna, on the other hand, I think has the greatness of heart to be a true hero, standing up for the defenseless and the downtrodden, while having the power to back it up.

Who would you pick, and why?