In the elder time, there were no heroes, for men did not possess true selves. They built great empires and civilizations — but they did so collectively, in answer to their man-nature, as bees build hives in answer to their bee-nature. Each farmer was very like all the others, and each maiden was very like all the others, and each king was very like all the others. If a man was different from his fellows, the difference would be ignored, for it could have no lasting consequence. If a man created something new, it would be taken up by all the rest, and then the manner of its creation would be forgotten.
It came to pass that one man grew dissatisfied with this state of affairs. He was a storyteller by profession, and the stories that he wished to tell had no place in a world of anonymous men.
This man traveled to a distant city, where he might cloak himself in a foreigner’s mystery. There he found a strong and handsome youth, who sat by the gates looking dreamy and distant-looking. He approached this youth, and he said, “Would you like to live forever?”
And the youth said, “I would like that.”
The man continued, “Would you like to look upon your life from afar, and see that you are different from all those who surround you, and better than they?”
And the youth said, “I would like that very much indeed.”
The man smiled, and said, “Then here is what you must do.”
“Go forth and perform some great and terrible deed, unlike anything that your fellows have done. Better yet, perform several. Make of your days a wondrous story that no one will be able to forget. This is an aspect of the art of heroism, and it is called ACHIEVEMENT.”
“But it is not enough! There is more. You must also cultivate every distinctive thing within your own nature. If you have unusual desires, or unusual talents, you must strengthen them and show them to the world. If your mind is filled with strange thoughts, if you are guided by strange ideals, then contemplate them deeply and speak of them often. Do not talk like others. Do not dress like others. Do not act like others. Create symbols to represent you; hold to them tightly; paint them upon the world in bold strokes. Make it impossible to ignore that you are yourself, and not someone else. This is another aspect of the art of heroism, and it is called IDENTITY.”
“These are the fundamentals. Do this, and you will live forever, and you will forever see yourself for who you are.”
The youth did as he had been instructed, and he did it well. Within a few short years, he was known in his city, and in many other cities besides. He was the First Hero, the Dragon-Slayer, with endless cruel love in his heart and savage poetry upon his lips. His was the first name worth the remembering.
There were many who found that the First Hero had a strange hold upon their hearts. They dreaded his wrathful might, and yet they longed for him to stand before them and lead them and save them. They envied and hated him for being greater than they, and yet they were never so happy as when they recalled the tales of his greatness.
The storyteller, whose arts were subtle, taught these people the ways of the hero-cult. They left sacrifices at the Dragon-Slayer’s monument. They made of him an exemplar to guide their own deeds. They prayed that he might intervene for them against the hardships of the world. They made the telling of his stories into sacred ceremony. Thus did the First Hero truly become something more than mortal, for there is a dire power in such rite; thus did heroism truly enter the world for the first time.
When all this was done, the storyteller set forth once more, to find someone else who might be made into a hero.
The very first few heroes were the storyteller’s work. But men are clever, and quick to adapt what they see. Soon enough, there were quite a few self-created heroes filling the world with the glory of their deeds. And for every one of them there was a hero-cult.
That earliest generation of heroes was strange, and anti-social, and frightening. In those days, the men and women drawn to heroism were the ones who were the most natively different from their fellows — the ones who were most at odds with the world, and who had the most reason to hate it. Few of them had much personal sympathy for the mass of humanity, or even for their faithful cultists. They were stirred by peculiar emotions. They lived by peculiar philosophies, which they often preached, and which made uncomfortable demands. They were always feared, and often admired, but seldom loved.
They were known, collectively, by a name. That name has been lost to the abysses of history. Now we refer to them as the PRIMORDIAL HEROES, or the TITANS, for they were older and mightier than any others of their kind.
As he grew old, the storyteller built a hero-cult for himself. He had brought heroism into the realms of man, carrying it forth from his own private vision, which was as great and terrible a deed as any other; and he had done much to shape himself as a true individual, with many symbols to define him. Thus did he become the last of the TITANS, much-respected amongst them, for he had shown them the path to their grandeur.
Under his leadership, the TITANS formed something like a court or a community amongst themselves. They were independent-minded, for the most part, and the conflicts between them were many. But they sometimes desired companionship, or guidance, or alliance, and often they found it easier to understand and admire one another than to deal with ordinary mortals.
The great and wise amongst mankind — the kings and queens, the generals and ministers, the elders and magistrates — looked out upon their realms, which had become playgrounds for the TITANS, and they said to one another, “This will not do!”
“These heroes are the mightiest powers in the world, and they can do as they please, but they are no fit masters! They have no respect for order, or righteousness, or any legitimate authority. They do not maintain decent customs. They do not seek to defend civilization, nor to nurture it. They do not have the best interest of the people at heart. They care only for their selfish whims.”
“We must overthrow them, or at least find a strength to match their own, lest they cast our kingdoms into ruin.”
For years upon years, they fought against the TITANS. They fought with armies and with navies, with science and with sorcery, with diplomacy and with economics. Always they failed. No mortal art could conquer the TITANS, who in their supernal glory had transcended mortality.
At last they conferred once more with one another, and they said, “If mortals cannot contend with heroes, then we must claim the power of heroism for our own purposes.”
So they called up a cadre of sages, whom they anointed as priests, and sent them forth to find the persons most worthy of exaltation.
The priests found noble, honorable warriors who fought for their families and their cities and their countries. They found wise scholars and clever craftsmen whose brilliance allowed civilization to progress. They found men and women of surpassing virtue, who inspired others to excellence. They even found good-hearted rogues and tricksters whose cunning might bedevil the TITANS, and who might serve as inspiration for all those who found themselves on the fringes of society.
For all of these remarkable people, they constructed myths and symbols, and they built up hero-cults. Thus was born the second generation of heroes, the champions of civilization, the ones who became GODS.
The rest is well-known.
There was a brief period when the kings and queens and all the rest thought that they could control their heroes, but soon enough they learned that this was not so. Supernal powers do not answer to petty mortal ambition. The GODS had been well-chosen, and they stayed true to their mission, but they trusted in themselves far more than they trusted in human authorities. Before long they were the rulers of mankind, whom potentates dared not defy.
There was a war against the TITANS. It was long and hard and bloody.
In the end, of course, the GODS won. They were, individually, weaker — what tame, useful, state-sponsored cult could have the mythic power of an ancient hero following his own mad star? — but there were more of them, and they worked together better than the TITANS ever could. They cast their primordial foes down into a prison realm, and settled down to safeguard humanity.
The TITANS still dwell within that place, in their own weird society. It is said that their humiliated hatred is vaster than the sky, and that were they ever to be released into the world, doom and desolation would follow. Men and women are taught to dread their names. There are few who dare to seek them out, in their captivity, and even fewer who find them.
But, even now, mankind remembers that the imprisoned TITANS rule over the Isles of the Blest. And the GODS, who have seen much truth, know how well that prison earned its name.