decorative initial 'I'n On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, a manifesto on Great Men, religion, art, writing and kingship, Thomas Carlyle presents his ideas on the influence of the Hero on history and culture — indeed, the world. In this work, art, literature and religion become closely linked: Dante and Shakespeare are "canonized" (117), the wondrous hero is defined at once as "Poet, Prophet, God" (63) and also as a "savior." As a person who creates the history and culture of the world, the Hero is to be cherished and revered, in this way becoming a Christ-like figure, or at least semi-divine. Great men are as gods, creators of history and culture as God created the world. In this work, Carlyle privileges specific men and works of literature as "great" ones: the Bible, Dante and Shakespeare are on his list of heroic people or works of literature to be revered. Great Heroes, like great religions, have true and lasting impact on the world. In this work, Carlyle blurs the lines between religion and art, creating the sense that truly great writing, and truly great writers, are holy figures all-knowing and wise as God. Exalting the figure of the artist/writer and endowing him with a responsibility to illuminate and guide the world with his keen wisdom, insight and understanding of the "deep" in the world, the writer and Great Men bear responsibilities similar to those of God.

In all epochs of the world's history, we shall find the Great Man to have been the indispensable saviour of his epoch;--the lightening, without which the fuel would never have burnt. The History of the world, I said already, was the biography of Great Men. [18]

Shakespeare and Dante are Saints of Poetry: really, if we will think of it, canonized, so that it is impiety to meddle with them. The unguided instinct of the world, working across all these perverse impediments, has arrived as such a result. Dante and Shakespeare are a peculiar Two. They dwell apart, in a kind of royal solitude; none equal, none second to them: in the general feeling of the world, a certain transcendentalism, a glory of complete perfection, invests these two.


1. What is the relationship with art and religion in On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History?

2. In what sense is the poet a prophet, and what implications does this have for Christianity, a religion that Carlyle privileges?

3. How does Carlyle privilege the figure of the writer? Is the writer/poet so highly regarded in modern times?

4. What is it about Dante that makes him a "Great Man" as defined in "The Hero as Divinity"?

5. What is "deepness" as defined by Carlyle, and what is its importance? How is the idea of "deepness" related to religion?

6. What is it about Christianity that makes it a characteristically "deep" religion, where as Islam is not?


Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.

Last modified 20 April 2004