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Page last updated at 08:14 GMT, Thursday, 15 March 2012

What makes a hero?

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How has the face of heroism changed?

On March 16 1912, Captain Lawrence Oates uttered the immortal words "I am just going outside and may be some time", so this Friday he will have been gone 100 years.

Oates was one of the four remaining members of Captain Robert Scott's team and is widely considered to be a proper hero for his self-sacrifice.

But Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge, said the Greeks would have been "completely amazed at this style of dutiful, self-effacingness".

The classical Greek hero, she said would have been more like Scott while "a quiet devotion to duty" is more like Roman interpretation of heroism.

Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, said that soldiers in Afghanistan display "simple courage" of sacrificing yourself for your mates.

"Tortured, complicated courage of people like Scott is a bit of a nuisance", he said.

But Professor Beard said this kind of self-sacrificial heroism was a "dangerous" British invention.

She explained that the Greeks knew heroism was about "making you think harder about what you" do rather than going "blindly into the snow".

But Charles Moore said the point of being a hero in the Oates sense is of an "ordinary person doing an extraordinary thing".


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