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Confessions of a True Hero Worshipper

Res Publica

July 2004

by Alan Huntington

“Have six months of your life ever been made miserable by love?”

-Stendhal

Have you ever asked yourself that question? The one who is dragged along by love is to some extent helpless. As hero-worshipers are lovers of their heroes, they are victims of this crippling malady. Don Quixote and I share this sickness. Through the reading of books, the Don’s mind had “lost its moisture” and, though his body had grown sedentary, he became so insane as to rise from his reading and try what he found in those fictions on knight-errantry, looking for precedents and striving to follow them to the best of his ability. Searching for precedents in the lives of great men is almost always a fruitless task. However, there is a certain drive to succeed which burns with love in the hearts of some men. This drive burned in Don Quixote’s heart, and it burns in mine. We are always trying to force the best from ourselves. Though we get discouraged, we are never defeated.

I am not saying that I am a great man. Surely I have more in common with the madman knight than the great men I admire. I, like Quixote, am the victim of a poetic turn of mind. The dry speech of the “philosophers” is not quite as inspiring as the poetry of Cervantes.

There are no theoretical arguments for this sort of madness. However, Don Quixote describes the adventure of a certain “Knight of the Lake” to the Canon at the end of his second sally, which includes beautiful descriptions of the most fantastic kind. This is all a poetic argument for believing the tales of knight-errantry. However, it is unreasonable. As Don Quixote holds the fictional character Amadis de Gaul in the highest regard and strives to follow him in all his actions, he ignores the entire world around him. This is the great folly from which he is unfortunately freed in the end.

I can hear all you level-headed people crying, “Wake up, O sleeper!” To what shall we awake? We cannot be the destroyers of our constant desire for greatness and our imitation of great men. I am, like my uncle Don Quixote, magnanimous, proud and ambitious. It is true we have become disillusioned. But what you who are “normal” take for matter-of-fact is to us disillusionment. The man without the fire of love in his heart is the true sleeper, and it is the hope of all true lovers that he will not become comatose.

In the end, Don Quixote realizes that he has been mistaken all his life. “Mercies” have come to him in the form of reason. He realizes the falsehood of what he has been pursuing and renounces it all. Was his life a complete waste? He pursued and loved and accomplished what is exposed to be as many chimeras. He says “I now declare myself an enemy to Amadis de Gaul, and his whole generation; all profane stories of knight-errantry, all romances I detest.” Quixote dies a broken man, in enmity to his hero. He has brought his follies out and exposed them to public view, and those who remember them are few.

Perhaps there is yet hope for those who worship heroes that really existed and that are examples for the wide world of men. A man who has done truly great things inspires in me not only admiration, but the hope that I may be like him. Though greatness “disdains the beaten path,” as Lincoln said, the paths of our beloved heroes show us that it is not impossible for such paths to be made. These great men are not Amadises. Although they are imperfect, they are great. This is cause for hope because perfection is not found in any man.

Then in the heart of the dreamer falls that shadow of death—that those paths are akin to the path Amadis’ sword made through seven giants at a single blow. When a man shoots for the moon and misses that shining goal, his missile comes crashing down to earth. The closer he gets to that distant goal, the more complete is his destruction. So we dreamers are perhaps among those condemned to reach a place lower than the one we started at and to beg forgiveness of our follies. Like Quixote, we may detest our heroes and beg to be forgotten!

Beginning to see the light after being seduced by this illusion does not lend itself to a good death. I thank the Lord for his mercies in allowing me to confess these things. But if I die as Don Quixote did, I hope to keep up my love and its admirable folly till the end. God forbid that such “mercies” should come to me. Most of all, I hope to do the tenth part of the good that my true heroes did. If I die in obscurity, at least I will not have died with a heart full of malice. If I die in folly, at least my folly will have been a pleasant one. If I die without realizing the end of my loves, at least I will have died in love.

Alan Huntington is a junior from Holley, New York, Majoring in Political Science and History.

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