Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Hero's Scorn

It's said that no country is as troubled as a country in need of heroes.

But if no country is as troubled as one that is in need of heroes, few countries could be as troubled as those who spurn their heroes when they become unpopular or inconvenient.

The concluding installment of The Spartans presents the tale of Alcibiades, an Athenian hero who, although he led successful military campaigns on Athens' behalf, was banished from the city for being too ostentacious and self-glorifying.

When banished by Athens Alcibiades turned to the Spartans. Enjoying a Spartan heritage of his own -- his family had often served as the representative of Sparta in Athens -- Alcibades was able to earn the trust of the Spartans.

He eventually led the Spartans to intervene in Sicily, at the time under Athenian invasion. The campaign was disastrous for Athens. That, coupled with the fortification of a northern Spartan outpost, eventually led to the fading and failing of Athens' power.

As Lucy Hughes-Hallett points out, the culture of hero worship leads to an elitism in which certain individuals are held up above reproach and, in turn, above their own community.

Alcibiades is effectively betrayed by the city he worked in support of. Henceforth, he works only for his own benefit, and his own glory.

Whether Alcibiades ever worked for the benefit and glorification of Athens is another matter altogether.

If the bonds of loyalty between a hero and those who adulate them are truly so thin, one could make the argument that no society should tempt fate by spurning its heroes.

Then again, an equally strong argument exists for questioning whether such bonds are worth anything in the first place.

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