Today we look at an “H” word. I had lots of choices, but I chose not to use the first word I thought of, as I have pounded you all over the head quite frequently with my favorite brick bat – hermeneutic. So breathe a sigh of relief and consider this word – a completely new word for me, and one that will be a challenge to use in everyday conversation:
A heroon – ἡρῷον (plural heroa – ἡρῷα), also called heroum, was a shrine dedicated to an ancient Greek or Roman hero and was used for the commemoration or worship of the hero. It was often erected over his supposed tomb or cenotaph.
The Romans and the Greeks practiced an extensive and widespread cult of heroes. Heroes played a central role in the life of a city, giving it a shared focus for its identity. The cult typically centered around the heroon in which the hero’s bones were usually believed to be contained. In a sense, the hero was considered to still be alive; he was offered meals and was imagined to be sharing feasts. His allegiance was seen as vitally important to the continued well-being of the city. This led to struggles between Greek cities for control of heroic remains.
Upon further research I found that the bones of the hero were generally not in the heroon. The heroon was built in honor of the hero, and signified the presence of the hero in the psyche of the city, and was intended to bring favor to the city by the spirit of the hero.
The photo above is of a heroon in Paestum, Italy, near the city of Salerno in the western part of the country, on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. For some building foundations, there are still different interpretations for their original function. The current interpretation is manifold, because the use of the buildings often mutated with the changes from Greek to Lucanian and finally to Roman inhabitants. The roof, seen in the photo above, belongs to an underground sanctuary, which is enclosed by an additional wall. From its form, it can be either a grave or a heroon, as it was customary at that time – in honor of the founder of the city. In fact, this building is from the 6th century B.C. It is ironic in a way that we have no idea today which hero is honored by this particular heroon. So much for fame. . .
While heroa are generally though of as ancient, archaeological structures, it dawned on me that they really aren’t all that rare today. I mean, we have all sorts of shrines built to honor our heroes and heroines. The bones might not be located there – the person might not even be dead, but surely each and every Hard Rock Cafe is a type of heroon. And what is Graceland but one giant heroon? I can think of a several more examples of modern-day heroa, but rather than me tell you – why don’t you tell me? Any of you know of a heroon, or perhaps visited one?
So there you have your word for the week. It is enough. . .
(Words and definitions for my “Wednesday’s Word and Picture” posts are most often found at the following highly-recommended site: Phrontistery )