Carlyle's six lectures in 1840, becoming the six chapters in the 1841 book, are:
LECTURE I. THE HERO AS DIVINITY. ODIN. PAGANISM: SCANDINAVIAN MYTHOLOGY.
LECTURE II. THE HERO AS PROPHET. MAHOMET: ISLAM.
LECTURE III. THE HERO AS POET. DANTE: SHAKSPEARE.
LECTURE IV. THE HERO AS PRIEST. LUTHER; REFORMATION: KNOX; PURITANISM. LECTURE V. THE HERO AS MAN OF LETTERS. JOHNSON, ROUSSEAU, BURNS.
LECTURE VI. THE HERO AS KING. CROMWELL, NAPOLEON: MODERN REVOLUTIONISM.
It seems that these titles almost have to be the opposite. Instead of "The Hero as Divinity" it should be "The Divinity as Hero". But no matter. It was Carlyle's lecture series and he could choose the titles.
Still trying to draw from the opening of the book to better determine Carlyle's definition of a hero, we find this in his opening remarks.
...Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world's history, it may justly be considered, were the history of these.This gives us his purpose in the topic of the lectures, but not really a definition. Well, maybe a sort of definition. Heroes are the leaders of men; the modellers, patterns, and creators of what the mass of me do or attain. Um, I don't think so, but that is a topic for the end of my series of essays.
Odin, he says, may or may not have been a man. He was the chief divinity of the Norsemen, competing with Thor and maybe a few others for that title. Carlyle says Odin was an actual man who, through ages of verbal story telling, became revered as a god. Others disagree. I won't go into specific references, but those who have carefully fact checked (to use the modern term) Carlyle's work say no, the evidence that there ever existed a man named Odin who became revered as a god is next to nothing—perhaps spurious, even. Odin most likely never existed. He was the Norse equivalent of Zeus or Apollo; a legend, nothing more.
But Carlyle believed at that time that the religion of a man was of utmost importance in knowing the man. "It is well said, in every sense, that a man's religion is the chief fact with regard to him. A man's, or a nation of men's. ...the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-World; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is." So it is natural that Carlyle would start with the divinity as a hero. After all, in his way of thinking, a man is known by his religion, and the great men order the steps of man, so a god as a hero—perfect sense.
But I could make little sense of this chapter. Carlyle was obviously well read in the Norse myths and legends, and in their paganism. For pages and pages in the book he goes on, representing who knows how long in the lecture, about how paganism was okay, given the intellectual and religious development of mankind at that time. Okay, I can accept that. We developed as a people over centuries, are still developing (or going backwards, depending on your viewpoint, but even backwards is a development of sorts), and can always be better in our thinking and our doing.
Henry Larkin, in his 1886 work Carlyle and the Open Secret of his Life, compares this lecture to Carlyle's mystical work Sartor Resartus, and says:
This first lecture is in many respects the most magnificent of the series; and yet, in the express purpose of it, it is the most inconclusive and disappointing. Nothing can be grander of its kind than the introductory portion; mainly embodying the transcendental ideas of 'Sartor' but with the now added emphasis of his own personal endorsement. No less satisfactory is the light he throws on the old Norse Mythology, still living amongst us in strange, unexpected ways.
The use of language is magnificent. The conveying of useful information is lacking. That's my assessment of the letter, so to some extent I agree with Larkin. Maybe this was another of those times when I was reading in my off-peak hours. Re-reading portions of this I see the rhetoric soaring, and feel that the substance is something I should better grasp, and so should read it again. But I will not, at this time. Maybe in a future time. And if I do, it will be from printed pages, rather than from my e-reader, to see if that makes a difference in my comprehension.