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quotations about heroes and heroism

Hero quote

A hero. You want to be one of those rare human beings who make history, rather than merely watch it flow around them like water around a rock.


We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up ... discovering we have the strength to stare it down.

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, You Learn by Living

The hero sees values beyond what's possible. That's the nature of a hero. It kills him, of course, ultimately. But it makes the whole struggle of humanity worthwhile.


Children demand that their heroes should be fleckless, and easily believe them so: perhaps a first discovery to the contrary is hardly a less revolutionary shock to a passionate child than the threatened downfall of habitual beliefs which makes the world seem to totter for us in maturer life.

GEORGE ELIOT, Daniel Deronda

The fame of heroes owes little to the extent of their conquests and all to the success of the tributes paid to them.

JEAN GENET, Prisoner of Love

The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is, to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed.

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, The Blithedale Romance

There is heroism even in the circles of hell for fellow-sinners who cling to each other in the fiery whirlwind and never recriminate.


Heroism is endurance for one moment more.

GEORGE KENNAN, "The Problems of Suicide," McClure's Magazine, 1908

Unhappy the land that needs heroes.

BERTOLT, BRECHT, Life of Galileo

In our age, self-indulgence and self-destruction, rather than self-sacrifice, are the foundations for new heroic myths.

DEAN KOONTZ, Brother Odd

The hero is not fed on sweets,
Daily his own heart he eats.


I would describe a hero as a person who has no fear of life, who can face life squarely.


Alongside the statement about one man's poison being another man's high, one might as well add that one man's saint can be another man's sore and one man's hero can turn out to be that man's biggest hangup.

KEN KESEY, Sometimes a Great Notion

Not every boy thrown to the wolves becomes a hero.

JOHN BARTH, attributed, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Hero quote

Heroes don't get anything but dead.


There are men who bloom in chaos. You call them heroes or villains, depending on which side wins the war, but until the battle call they are but normal men who long for action, who lust for the opportunity to throw off the routine of their normal lives like a cocoon and come into their own. They sense a destiny larger than themselves, but only when structures collapse around them do these men become warriors.


If there's one thing I can't stand it's a hero without a cause. People like that just make trouble so that they can solve it.

JEANETTE WINTERSON, Written on the Body

Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look.

RONALD REAGAN, First Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 1981

The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.

UMBERTO ECO, "Why Are They Laughing in Those Cages?", Travels in Hyperreality

The blessed work of helping the world forward happily does not wait to be done by perfect men; and I should imagine that neither Luther nor John Bunyan, for example, would have satisfied the modern demand for an ideal hero, who believes nothing but what is true, feels nothing but what is exalted, and does nothing but what is graceful. The real heroes of God's making, are quite different: they have their natural heritage of love and conscience which they drew in with their mother's milk; they know one or two of those deep spiritual truths which are only to be won by long wrestling with their own sins and their own sorrows; they have earned faith and strength so far as they have done genuine work; but the rest is dry barren theory, blank prejudice, vague hearsay. Their insight is blended with mere opinion; their sympathy is perhaps confined in narrow conduits of doctrine, instead of flowing forth with the freedom of a stream that blesses every weed in its course; obstinacy or self-assertion will often interfuse itself with their grandest impulses; and their very deeds of self-sacrifice are sometimes only the rebound of a passionate egoism.

GEORGE ELIOT, Janet's Repentance

Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.


The pulp hero, though he may be a renegade, is a guy who doesn't feel. Anything. Ever. And for the adolescent male — pummeled by emotions left and right, whether arising from sexuality or resulting from his necessary encounters with authority — this hero is a blessing, a relief and a release. The world he lives in, where feelings are totally under control, looks to the adolescent boy like heaven! This hero's lack of feeling — like Star Trek's Spock — is what allows him to be a genius, or allows him to shoot the bad guys and/or aliens, without a quiver to his lip.

SAMUEL R. DELANY, Nerve interview, Jun. 14, 2001

In the heat of battle, heroes emerge, sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.


This is always the problem with building heroes. To keep them pure, we must build them stupid. The world is built on compromise and uncertainty, and such a place is too complex for heroes to flourish.


Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes, — they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
By one man's plain truth to manhood and to God's supreme design.


Fate does not invite ugly boring people to save the world; and if you do try to save the world (without being beautiful, strong, clever, or wise), you will soon die pointlessly and how much adventure is there in that?


Our heroes are simple: they are brave, they tell the truth, they are good swordsmen and they are never in the long run really defeated. That is why no later books satisfy us like those which were read to us in childhood—for those promised a world of great simplicity of which we knew the rules, but the later books are complicated and contradictory with experience; they are formed out of our own disappointing memories.

GRAHAM GREENE, The Ministry of Fear

Ultimately a hero is a man who would argue with the gods, and so awakens devils to contest his vision.

NORMAN MAILER, preface, The Presidential Papers

To have no heroes is to have no aspiration, to live on the momentum of the past, to be thrown back upon routine, sensuality, and the narrow self.

CHARLES HORTON COOLEY, Human Nature and the Social Order

'Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves.

JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL, "The Present Crisis"

To be a hero, you have to learn to be a deviant, because you're always going against the conformity of the group. Heroes are ordinary people whose social actions are extraordinary. Who act.

PHILIP ZIMBARDO, TED talk, Sep. 2008

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Read Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on Heroism


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