Holding out for a Hero

When writing about James Joyce last month, I got to thinking about the word hero. Two things made me think about it: the fact that an early draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was known as Stephen Hero, and how often I referred to Leopold Bloom as the hero of the novel Ulysses.

On the surface, it seems like a fairly straightforward word. You can think of its meaning pretty easily, I’m sure: someone brave, with exceptional abilities. Someone we can look up to. And this has always been the meaning of the word. It comes from the Greek ἥρως (hērōs), meaning protector or defender, and was often specifically used in Ancient Greek myths to refer to heroes of divine ancestry such as Heracles. So, not so different from how we use it today. Except, as I alluded to in the first paragraph, when we use it as a literary term.

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Bloomsday

Today is Bloomsday, which is perhaps not the best-known day of celebration. It’s a celebration of all things James Joyce, and more specifically, his great novel Ulysses (1922). Bloomsday always falls on 16 June, because that’s the day on which the book is set (in 1904). And it’s named Bloomsday in honour of the novel’s hero, Leopold Bloom. And of course his wife Molly Bloom too, who has a very important part to play in the book. Why though, would we have a day of celebration for a single book?

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