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FAVOURED BY THE GODS - STEVE IRWIN AS HERO
News Source: Spheres Magazine (11th April 2007)
by Joanne Lock
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All of us were touched in one way or another by the recent tragic death of Steve Irwin, Australia's beloved Crocodile Hunter and founder of Wildlife Warriors Worldwide. What a great loss to his family and to the wider conservation cause!

As so many cried, laid flowers and declared that Steve Irwin was their personal hero, I thought about the meaning of that word. In classical Greek thought, a hero wasn't what we have come to think of today when we think about heroes, i.e. somebody who does something brave and selfless at great risk, purely to help someone else. No, the mythological Greek hero wasn't always selfless, warm and fuzzy, nor was he (and it usually was a 'he' in those times) universally loved. The dictionary defines the classical hero as: 'In mythology and legend, a man or woman, often of divine ancestry, who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for his or her bold exploits, and favoured by the gods.'

Well, Steve Irwin certainly seems to have fit that mould - this down-to-earth, full-of-life golden man who went one-on-one with crocodiles, cobras, hippos and other apex predators to reveal their unique beauty and inherent value to the rest of us. There is certainly no doubting his courage or that he was ‘favoured by the gods' in his encounters with wildlife. That's why it was particularly shocking that Steve's life ended as the result of an animal attack. It just didn't seem right that this man, who had dedicated his life to saving animals, should be taken suddenly by something he loved so much. Not only that, but a random sting-ray attack - fancy such a man being felled by the barb of a gentle sea creature! The irony seemed almost ridiculous.

But there was something eerily familiar about this tragedy to me. When I heard how it had happened, I was reminded of another great hero of legendary bravery and survival skills. Odysseus, arguably the most famous of the Greek heroes, also survived encounters with all manner of deadly monsters, great storms, the wrath of men and of gods. And Odysseus too was felled in the end by a spear to the heart - a spear tipped with a stingray's barb. His killer was his beloved son, Telemachus, who didn't recognise his own father until it was too late.

I hope some might take comfort in knowing that Irwin's tragic death echoes that other great classical tragedy in many ways. Steve died in a rare and particular way. It was an accidental and ironic loss on the surface, but on a deeper level, the Crocodile Hunter was granted a departure from this Earth reserved for only the most 'unstoppable' of heroes.

Tennyson wrote a poem about Odysseus (or Ulysses as he is known in Latin). I think it is also a fitting tribute to Steve Irwin and the kind of life he lived and enjoyed to the fullest:

"I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move..."

Our thoughts and wishes are with Terri Irwin and her children in this difficult time.

If you would like to help continue Steve and Terri's work with Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, or sponsor one of the animals at Australia Zoo, visit www.wildlifewarriors.org.au or www.australiazoo.com.au


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