The Heroic Age

From a “Classical” standpoint, the “Heroic Age” is that period of mythological time poised between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.  It is the age of the great heroes, of Perseus, Herakles, Jason, Bellerophon, and the Trojan War.  The Heroic Age is the inspiration for many of the great tales of Greek myth.  Brave, valorous men lived at this time.  They did fell deeds of great renown.  They travelled the world, did battle with monsters, saved maidens from certain death.  Their deeds of might and glory in skill of arms, speed of wit, and strength of body live on in the consciousness of Western Society to this very day.  Historically, if any of this really came close to happening, it was the Mycenaean Age of c. 1600 – 1100 BC.  At the end of this Age there was a “Dark Age” until the invention of letters and the re-emergence of Greek culture with Homer.

When the Romans adopted Greek mythotheology as their own, they took on this Heroic Age as well.  Yet for them, it really began at the end of Troy, with Aeneas.  And this Heroic Age continued from Aeneas through the Alban kings to Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.  These men were also men of renown, men of fell deeds, etc.  They were the heroes of Rome, as were their descendants who lived in the Regal Period (c. 750-509 BC) and to a certain degree, the Early Republic (men like Brutus and Mucius Scaevola jump to mind).  They are the men of local legend, men whose memories lived on in the minds of their descendants for centuries to come.

When we turn to other societies, we see that they, too, have their Heroic Age.  The Germanic peoples — Scandinavians, Anglo-Saxons, Germans — turn to the waning days of Rome and the rise of the Germanic kings, to the Volsungs and Niflungs, to men such as Sigmund, Sigurd (Sigfried), and Gunnar whose enemies are not only the dragon Fafnir but also Atli — Attila the Hun, d. AD 453.  These are also the days of Beowulf, the Geatish prince who fought Grendel in Denmark, as well as of Hengest and Horsa, the legendary leaders of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain.

Coinciding or shortly after the Germanic Heroic Age is the British Heroic Age — the Age of Arthur, when the Celtic peoples of Britain, long-deserted by Rome, rose together under the headship of Arthur and drove out the Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon.  An excessive amount of literature has been composed celebrating the deeds of King Arthur and his associates, the legendary “Knights of the Round Table.”  If Arthur was real, his dates could have been c. AD 465-542.

What is our Heroic Age?  Who are the men of whom we shall sing songs?  We certainly have few enough about whom we already do — the best we get are World War II movies.  May we find heroes in these twilit days of Western Society, men and women of renown and fell deeds of great valour worth singing about.

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