May 2, 2012

Aristeia

An aristeia is an element of storytelling which originates from classical works such as the Iliad. It is a scene in which a specific hero dominates the action, showing their prowess and typically defeating every enemy in their path.

I first learned the term while in school and as soon as I heard the description, the first thing that came to mind was Luke Skywalker in the Death Star trench. When he hears Obi Wan's voice, turns off his targetting computer, and the music changes to Luke's theme, that's the moment when the audience knows that Luke is going to win. Not when Han returns to stop Vader from killing him. Not when he fires. Luke's triumph is secure from the moment he pushes that button.

Likewise, once a hero starts their aristeia, the audience knows in their heart that the battle will be won, it's just a matter of finding out how.

Here are some examples of aristeia in recent movies:

  • Thor: The first battle with the frost giants, also later when Thor battles the Destroyer.
  • Batman Begins: Pretty much everything from the moment Bruce Wayne suits up as Batman to save Gotham at the end.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Po's fight with Tai Lung.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: The scene where Will and Elizabeth are married by Barbosa while all three fight off Davy Jones' men.
Of course, not all moments of aristeia result in final victory. Showing the hero at their finest moment, only to cut them down or have them fail in the end can have a powerful effect. The expectation of victory countered with inevitable defeat. Most tragedies feature a moment like this near their climax.

The aristeia has been my favourite moment of a story even since before I knew the term existed. It's the emotional payoff the audience gets for seeing the hero struggle. After everything that's been done to them, everything they've had to overcome, this is the moment when they get to shine. Not every story will necessarily feature one, and not every airsteia will happen during the story's climax. I don't think every story even benefits from having one, but for those that do, nothing quite matches the thrill of seeing the hero at their finest.

Do you have any other examples of airsteia? What are some of your favourites?
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Speaking of heroes, don't forget you have until Friday to send me suggestions for my Hero's Journey Challenge!

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