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In mythology and folklore, the word hero (from the Ancient Greek ἥρως) or heroine (From the Ancient Greek ἡρωίνη) usually fulfills the definitions of what is considered good and noble in the originating culture. Typically the willingness to sacrifice the self for the greater good is seen as the most important defining characteristic of a hero. However, in literature (particularly in tragedy) the hero may also have serious flaws which lead to their downfall, e.g. Hamlet. Such heroes are often called tragic heroes.

Sometimes, a person might achieve a high enough status to become courageous in people's minds. This often leads to a rapid growth of myths around the person(s) in question, often attributing him or her with extraordinary powers.

Some social commentators describe the need for heroes in times of social upheaval or national self-doubt, seeing a requirement for virtuous role models, especially for the young. Such myth-making may have worked better in the past: Current trends may confuse heroes and their hero.