Achilles had Briseis. Hector wed Andromache. Paris stole Helen. The Trojan War is a tragic epic of beauty and the brave. Dryden versified it: “Happy, happy, happy pair! None but the brave deserve the fair.” Genghis Khan, “very mighty ruler”, was also a very mighty progenitor. His hordes depopulated much of the world from the Black Sea to the Pacific, but his wives, concubines and children repopulated it. Lancelot and Guinevere, Dido and Aeneas, Samson and Delilah, Tristan and Iseult, Nelson and Emma, El Cid and Sophia Loren — in fiction, film and history it is a topos (a stock literary cliché) that brave men get the best girls.
Literary fiction runs on the story of heroes getting their just rewards, and its converse. In Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, the protagonist, Newland Archer, fails to get the girl because of a lack of courage of his convictions. Western horse epics, one of the great modern art forms, end either with the hero riding off into the sunset alone, or, more traditionally, falling into the arms of his lady.
And, of course, the story seems counterintuitive. The brave man falls in the front line, while the coward avoids (evades?) Service, stays at home and marries his lover. It seems melancholy common sense that the paths of glory lead but to an early grave and that prudence leads to a long and philoprogenitive life, far from the front line. So, two-and-a-half cheers for the scientists for demonstrating genetic foundations to the legend. However, those who are not genetically brave need not totally despair. Odysseus (Ulysses) was not brave like Achilles, nor a brute like Ajax, not a bully like Agamemnon. He was clever and quick, the man of many tricks. But he too had irresistible sex appeal, to the goddess Calypso, to the witch Circe, to all the girls, and to his long-suffering wife, Penelope. Cheer up the not-so-brave. There is hope for you too.
Or in the words of Joe Jackson:
Pretty women out walkin' with gorillas down my street
From my window I'm starin' while my coffee goes cold