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From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48:
Heroism \Her"o*ism\ (?; 277), n. [F. h['e]ro["i]sme.] The qualities characteristic of a hero, as courage, bravery, fortitude, unselfishness, etc.; the display of such qualities. [1913 Webster] Heroism is the self-devotion of genius manifesting itself in action. --Hare. Syn: Heroism, Courage, Fortitude, Bravery, Valor, Intrepidity, Gallantry. Usage: Courage is generic, denoting fearlessness or defiance of danger; fortitude is passive courage, the habit of bearing up nobly under trials, danger, and sufferings; bravery is courage displayed in daring acts; valor is courage in battle or other conflicts with living opponents; intrepidity is firm courage, which shrinks not amid the most appalling dangers; gallantry is adventurous courage, dashing into the thickest of the fight. Heroism may call into exercise all these modifications of courage. It is a contempt of danger, not from ignorance or inconsiderate levity, but from a noble devotion to some great cause, and a just confidence of being able to meet danger in the spirit of such a cause. Cf. Courage. [1913 Webster]