You are who you associate with. This is the reasoning behind my “20 men exercise” – namely that you should choose 20 men from history that you admire and read their writings or biographies about them so that you can get a deeper sense of who they were, why they mattered, how they made the decisions that they made, and their thought processes, so that you too, can begin to think and act in a similar way. It really does work.
But most people operate in stories. History and biography aren’t as accessible to the general public, particularly the very young. Above all, people look for entertainment and escapism from the often harsh realities or intense boredom of every day life. Do you remember first thinking aspirational thoughts when you were a kid from hearing about someone historical or by wanting to be some character you liked in a movie or TV show?
This isn’t unusual. From time immemorial, fables and stories have been used to teach children, and they contribute greatly to a man’s character and aspirations far beyond childhood. As Quintus Curtius wrote some time ago, man is nothing without his myths.
Now in the age of politically correct “education,” the impact of culture on the mind, especially among boys growing up and trying to discover their masculinity, which is being suppressed at any cost, matters much more.
I remember that when growing up, my sense of the man I wanted to be was heavily influenced by some of the characters I encountered (in many ways it still is), and although I knew that fiction is fiction, the point of it was to be aspirational, to impart a higher ideal, to aim for greatness instead of settling for mediocrity.
We should want our characters to be beautiful and strong.
As today’s characters are growing more and more bound by political correctness and a settle-for-less “realism,” I thought I would share some characters that can impart wisdom as to the various masculine virtues. By reading, playing, or watching these characters’ stories, you can reinforce your vision and be inspired to do more, to be greater.
I first encountered Odysseus at the age of 14 in an English class. It’s probably no coincidence that his story is often considered part of the legacy of “dead white males” and thus removable from classrooms, because Odysseus is a monumentally aspirational character for masculine men, which is why I’m compelled to return to his story year after year.
Odysseus is the most complete of the Homeric heroes. Like his comrade Achilles, he is deeply motivated by making his name immortal, so he instinctively wants to do more, to aim higher, go farther, be braver. Yet unlike Achilles, Odysseus isn’t impulsive. He is able to delay satisfaction and can see 10 moves ahead on the board. Odysseus is one of the few characters even on this list who is able to seemingly bring together the contradictory masculine virtues – strength and bravery, persistence and endurance, patience, mastery of emotions and the laws of power, duty, vision, and the sheer will to leave a legacy, all into one person. His personification of these virtues allows him to be excellent with women in all aspects (including knowing their dangers), ferociously brave on the battlefield, and a cunning master of human psychology.
Because of these talents, Odysseus is one of the few heroes of the Trojan War that can achieve kleos without sacrificing his life. Unlike his comrade Achilles, he doesn’t need to choose between the two. He gets to have both, says Stanley Lombardo in his excellent introduction to The Odyssey.
If and when I ever have a son, Odysseus will be one of the first characters whose story I tell to him.
2. Heero Yuy
Originating in Sunrise’s 1995 Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Heero Yuy may seem an odd choice for this list, but as a character there were two undeniable aspects to him – his masculine center and his tenacious ferocity on the battlefield.
While no Odysseus, Heero is a cunning strategic thinker, and he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. Yet, one of his most revealing moments was when he said to a comrade: “the only way to live a good life is to act on your emotions.” While this sounds rather more feminine than masculine, those who follow the persuasion filter on the world know that we all make decisions primarily emotionally. Failure to know this means you won’t be a complete man.
While Heero may have acted on his emotions in his grand strategy and in pursuit of his beliefs, he was great at keeping them suppressed during moments of action. His ability to keep calm under pressure was remarkable even to his extrodinary comrades. This is seen in the fact that Heero was one of only two characters to master the Zero System, an incredibly dangerous combat program that still delivers significant advantages to the user, namely, precognition. It was one of only many times Heero Yuy fought through impossible odds without hesitation or restraint.
Through it all, Heero never lost sight of his vision, not letting anything take him off his frame. This was shown very early on, when Relena Darlian (a remarkable character in her own right), the most popular girl in the school, invited him to her party. Instead of fawning over her like everyone else, Heero did this.
And it made her obsessed with him until the end.
3. Hercules (The Legendary Journeys)
I encountered this version of Hercules, played by Kevin Sorbo, when I was still a little kid. It is possible that my views on the character may have been different if I’d encountered him later. I may have classified him as “generic superhero” and I usually don’t like those. Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules at first appears to be cut from that cloth.
But a deeper look reveals some nuances. Hercules wanders around the land righting wrongs, but he also suffers many anguishes, none more so than losing his family when the main Hercules: The Legendary Journeys series begins. Though he seeks revenge against Hera for killing his wife and children, he’s able to temper his rage and endure, not letting it consume his best attributes. If there’s one thing Hercules possessed, it was emotional control.
But he was far from robotic. Hercules was a man of great integrity, dignity, and independence. He may not have had the icy frame control of a Heero Yuy, but Hercules never let anyone or anything tie him down or deviate him from his chosen path. He was an independent man with great conviction, which gave him a focus and mindset that was hard to match. And while he didn’t want to fight if he didn’t have to, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was an action-adventure show, so he knew how to fight. In fact, he was the best warrior in the land. Everyone saw him as a rock of stability for the entire world, and he won kleos without the rapacious self-aggrandizing behavior of an Achilles or Agamemnon.
Not exactly canon to the Greek myth, but this version of Hercules is arguably a more aspirational character, especially to young boys just discovering what being masculine means. Hercules is needed now more than ever.
4. Rocky Balboa
The Rocky series is one of the greatest film franchises of all time for a reason. Rocky Balboa was every man. He isn’t lost in myth, like Odysseus, doesn’t stretch credulity like Heero Yuy, or stay seated on a pedestal like Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules. Rocky is the classic rags to riches story (and then back to rags, but I hope you’ll forgive me for trying to pretend Rocky V doesn’t exist as much as possible). Yet, it isn’t the growth of Rocky’s worldly wealth that makes him such a great character, but rather how he got there. In Rocky III, it was clearly shown that all his accrued wealth since becoming the World Heavyweight Champion had sapped him of his masculine drive and corrupted him. It was in an effort to divest himself of that corruption, almost as if in a monkish mode of deliberate self-denial, that brought him his title back.
All of that however, was long after Rocky’s rise. Starting as a nobody embroiled with the wrong crowd, Rocky Balboa was the beneficiary of an act of self-promotion disguised as charity, when the World Heavyweight Champion, Apollo Creed, gave him a title shot in 1976 for America’s bicentennial. Every expectation was that the champion would destroy this random jabroni in a couple of rounds at the most. Instead, Rocky made the most of his stroke of luck, developing a system to go with his grit. He trained hard and eventually went the distance with the champion, winning fame.
In Rocky II, he gave up on boxing for a while, declining Apollo’s offer of a rematch (so that Apollo could save his own face), but took him up on it after his everyday job went south.
Rocky II was the greatest display of Rocky’s masculine virtues as a character. He truly became the champion of everyone around him (hence the brilliance of the training sequences) and was laser-focused on defeating Apollo Creed and becoming Heavyweight Champion of the World. This was to such an extent that Apollo said that Rocky had “the eye of the tiger.” Going back to Rocky III, he implored Rocky to “get that look back.”
If there was one way to describe masculinity in total, I think that look would be it. “The eye of the tiger.” It’s the basis from which everything else springs, and all characters on this list have it, at least when they’re doing their greatest deeds. The next character didn’t have it to start with, but war forced him to acquire it, and like a tiger, he roared.
5. Hector Turenne
You’ve never heard of him?
Probably not. He’s a main character of my upcoming epic, The Red War.
At the start of the story, he’s just a confused 18-year-old navigating his world, not quite child, not quite adult. He’s awkward with girls. He lacks a good degree of confidence. He has no higher aspirations.
By the end, he’s a seasoned combatant and commander of soldiers, an experienced and noted cocksman, filled with unbridled self-confidence, and was a key part in a great struggle that changed the future of the human race.
But these winnings didn’t come without a price. They demanded all of Hector’s energies. One key trope throughout the stories and customs of the world is that a boy must separate himself from his mother in order to become a man. Hector’s mother was forcibly taken from him by the chaos and violence early on, forcing him to go through that transformation. His mother was far from the only person close to him that the Red War ultimately claimed. His personal losses were steady and sustained through the conflict.
Hector also faced his personal katabasis – that descent through hell through which masculinity is earned – with grit, determination, and the eye of the tiger that refused to be blinded, even after sustaining horrendous wounds.
But Hector survived it all, and he was devoted to his comrades in arms, and to the cause for which he sacrificed so much, even if he’s somewhat jaded by the entire affair.
Hector loses a lot personally, but he’s a survivor, and through the war, found his masculinity, indisputably earning the title of “man.” In creating the character of Hector, I let myself be guided by the myths, guided by Homer, guided by the great masculine virtues I came across in history and fiction, and stood upon those solid foundations to create something new that I hope you’ll find magnificent.
The first installment of The Red War is slated for a spring 2017 release. There you’ll find Hector’s life upended, and follow him as he must quickly learn to control his fear.
In the meantime, you can check out Stumped to learn from that contemporary masculine case study, Donald Trump.