Compare a Greek hero or heroine with a contemporary hero or heroine in a book or film Do both heroes 2023
Compare a Greek hero or heroine with a contemporary hero or heroine in a book or film. Do both heroes fit the pattern of the hero’s journey as outlined by Campbell?
Does your life fit this pattern in any way? How are you on the hero’s journey by being a student? Cite your sources in MLA format.
Course Reading Below:
Myth and Heroism
Heroic Pattern in Myths
Myths tell not only about gods but also about great heroes. Several authors who have compared these characters have noticed an amazing similarity in their biographies. In 1936, Lord Raglan (Fitzroy Richard Somerset, 1885–1964) published an influential book The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama, in which he investigated the common pattern in the life stories of heroes, such as Moses, Oedipus, Heracles, and King Arthur. He showed that the underlying scheme of heroic biographies is not based on historical facts but on mythical models and the basic rituals of life¬ cycle, connected with birth, initiation and death. Lord Raglan belonged to the school that postulates the interconnection of myths and rituals. Some authors claimed that myths have developed as reflections of rituals; others see them as parallel phenomena that depend upon each other ..
The universalistic idea about the common core of heroic myths was further developed by Joseph Campbell (1904–1987), one of the greatest popularizers of mythologies. His famous book Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) is based on the idea of one archetypal, underlying pattern of heroic monomyth that he finds in cultures worldwide. Campbell relied upon the Jungian ideas of collective unconscious and universal archetypes.
Questions to Think About
- How many stories do you know that involve the magical birth of the hero? Or where a hero defeats a dangerous beast? Can you think of any other building blocks that are used in myriad myths?
Myth and the Individual
Myths often address broader themes such as the journeys individuals undertake in their lives. These journeys may be spiritual quests or quests for knowledge. Myths also tell of heroes and giants, and these may contribute to a sense of individual and national identity. There are also myths addressing the relationship between self and cosmos.
The Quest for Knowledge
Myths are narratives about primordial times that explain why the world and society are ordered as they are. They do not teach practical skills, i.e., how to cope in everyday reality, but their role in creating meaning and setting goals in life is essential. Myths and their associated rituals are often considered sacred and can offer humans a supernatural experience—the mystical encounter with numen. Numen, the Latin word for “divinity,” is the mysterious supernatural element that is experienced in religions. German theologian Rudolf Otto (1869–1937) believed that the experience of the holy, the core of all religions, has both frightening and fascinating—demonic and divine—aspects.
Myths may encourage humans to focus on higher values and inspire them to set out on spiritual quests in search of knowledge and the meaning of life. Mythical biographies have grown up around some saints and founders of religions. These myths function as models for believers, who then try to follow those who have shown the path to liberation. As Lauri Honko (1984, 50) notes, “A religious person may in the course of his experience identify himself with a mythical figure.”
The Life of the Buddha
One such cycle of myths tells the life story of Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. Historical facts and mythical episodes are blended in Buddhist sources, and we may never learn the complete historical truth about him. His fascinating biography has inspired many believers throughout several millennia. Siddhartha, born a prince, enjoyed a sheltered, royal life until he went through some dramatic existential experiences. Unaware of the existence of old age, disease, and death, this knowledge came as a shock to him.
Becoming aware of human suffering, he left his wife and son and his luxurious life in the palace and joined wandering mendicants to seek liberation from suffering. Although he learned yoga and meditation and practiced severe asceticism for several years, he got no closer to truth. Instead, he found himself worn out and close to death. Disappointed, he gave up these extreme practices.
Once, meditating under a bodhi tree, he reached an understanding of the secrets of life, death, and rebirth. He realized that to escape the endless cycle of rebirth and suffering, one must eradicate passion and ignorance. He developed his own philosophical and religious doctrine, started to preach, and founded a new congregation of believers. Because he had attained a complete understanding of truth, his followers called him Buddha (Sanskrit for “the awakened one”). He died at an advanced age, after a long life of teaching, disputing with his adversaries, and leading his sangha, or community.
This is a short and realistic version of his life story, which is usually enriched by mythical episodes and even expanded to include his previous lives. A jātaka (“birth ¬story”) is a Buddhist genre that discusses the previous lives of its founder. These stories derive from folktales and other genres of folklore and teach moral lessons by focusing on the selfless deeds and compassionate life of the later Buddha.
Siddhartha did not care about the great Hindu gods, thinking that they cannot help humans reach truth and liberation. However, one god had a special interest in Siddhārtha and became his great adversary. This god, Māra (Sanskrit for “death, killer”) has a special status in the Buddhist worldview because he personifies death and rules all mortals, includingdevas, asuras, humans, animals, and demonic creatures.
When Siddhartha pondered under the tree and got close to the ultimate truth, Māra, with his army of demons, approached him, trying to spoil his aspirations and end his deep meditation. This grand attack involved creating fearful delusions, such as weapons falling from the sky, an earthquake, and complete darkness around Siddhārtha. Māra failed, because the man remained in deep concentration. Then Māra sent his three beautiful daughters, representing aspects of sexuality, to seduce Siddhārtha, but this attempt failed too. Mara fled, and Siddhārtha reached the mystical experience of truth. He was the first man to defeat Māra and escape the power of death. He also modeled for others the way to liberate oneself from the cycle of rebirths.
Heroic deeds, such as the Buddha’s spiritual achievement, are expounded in many myths. It is typical that the myth about Buddha emphasizes compassion and collective liberation. Although the Buddha could have kept his knowledge to himself, he decided to start teaching and became a guiding light in the world of suffering. We shall now move to other heroic myths that established examples for human beings.
Questions to Think About
- In modern times, some biographical and autobiographical narratives have taken over the function of myths in establishing models for spiritual quests. Can you give examples of such biographies?
- Think about the theory of the heroic pattern in myths. Can you note similarities between heroic myths and modern life stories? How would you explain such possible similarities
Northern European Cosmogony
We hope these short passages from the Rig Veda convince you that ancient myths are neither primitive nor dogmatic. Understanding their poetic form and often obscure content requires thorough analysis.
Many peoples worldwide have believed that giants and heroes with superhuman powers once lived on Earth. The Greek poet Hesiod wrote in his poem Works and Days about five generations of people who have dwelled on Earth.
First was the golden race and afterwards came generations of silver and bronze. Next, before our iron age of sorrows and suffering started, came the generation of heroes: But when earth had covered this generation also, Zeus the son of Cronos made yet another, the fourth, upon the fruitful earth, which was nobler and more righteous, a god¬like race of hero¬men who are called demi¬gods, the race before our own, throughout the boundless earth. (Hesiod, 156–169b)
Giants in European Mythology
According to the Bible, some angels, or sons of God, descended from heaven, went to the daughters of men and had children with them. The Bible says that in those days there were giants on the Earth—”the heroes of old, men of renown” (Gen. 4: 4). Because the Scriptures confirmed this belief, medieval people firmly believed in their existence.
Moreover, the remains or fossils of extinct species were interpreted as material proof to support these myths. Thus, an area in France, where huge Tertiary elephant skeletons were found, was known as the Field of Giants. In the fourteenth century, when a colossal skeleton was found in a cave in Sicily, the Italian writer and humanist Boccaccio wrote about the discovery of the body of a Cyclops, a mythological giant with a single eye in the middle of his forehead (Mayor 2000, 376).
Folklore about giants is often associated with natural objects and landmarks. Giants of Estonian folklore hurl boulders, usually to destroy churches, manors, wolves, or each other. They are constantly on the move, walking through lakes and the sea and carrying huge stones to build bridges or mounds. Sometimes they defend people and fight against enemies who invade the country. Estonian giants press their hand¬ and footprints in the stones and leave all kinds of traces of their activities: they heap up hills and sleep in these “beds,” they plough the earth to make it infertile, and eventually die to be buried in huge mounds. These mythical narratives explain the formation of a landscape: boulders and heaps of stones, islands, hills, valleys, barren areas, and the like.
In the eighteenth century, European Romantic writers, such as Herder, discovered folklore and attributed great value to it as an expression of the soul of the people. In the nineteenth century, extensive folklore collecting started in many European countries. It was also the time when ideas about nation building spread and inspired many writers to base their work on their people’s oral traditions. Old myths about heroes found a new use in national epics such as the Finnish-Kalevala (first version 1835; expanded version 1849), Latvian Lacplesis (1888), and Estonian Kalevipoeg (1857–1861). Let us have a brief look at the latter work as an example of a heroic epic based on myths.
The Estonian epic Kalevipoeg was composed by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803– 1882), an Estonian writer and physician and one of the founders of Estonian national literature. He recast folkloric prose narratives into verse form. Like many other heroic epics, Kalevipoeg is a biographical narrative. It describes the life and adventures of Kalevipoeg, who becomes a king of his country, builds a town, cultivates the land, journeys to find the end of the world, visits hell, and fights with the Devil and with enemies of his country. A tragic hero, he is haunted by guilt for committing two serious crimes—seducing a maiden, who drowns herself in disgrace, and a murder committed because of heavy drinking.
Kalevipoeg’s sword is stolen by one of his demonic adversaries, and therefore he curses the sword. At the end of the epic, after a great battle with the German knights who invade his kingdom, Kalevipoeg wanders in the wilderness and walks through the river, which hides his sword. The sword cuts off his legs, and Kalevipoeg dies. The gods send him to the underworld so that he can still serve humankind by guarding the gates of Hell and preventing the chained devil from escaping. The last lines of the epic give hope that one day Kalevipoeg will return to bring happiness to his children and to build Estonia’s life anew.
This epic was the most cherished work of nineteenth¬-century Estonian literature. Old myths about Kalevipoeg were revived by the leaders of the national movement, who gave new functions to them. The epic became the core text and program for nation building, which reached its ultimate aim in 1918, when Estonia was declared an independent democratic country.
Different cultures have their own heroes of myth, fiction, and history, such as James Fennimore Cooper’s Natty Bumpo, Jesse James, Abraham Lincoln, and others in America. Heroic myths are not just stories about the remote past but have an essential role to play in the politics, history, and life of a society. Sometimes they have a future orientation as they support the formation of a national identity and strengthen it in difficult times.
Again we can see that the individual and society are intertwined in myths. The great fights, trials, and hardships that mythical heroes encounter provide guidance and establish models for individuals in the turmoil and chaos of real life. Kalevipoeg and some other mythical heroes are far from faultless. They make serious mistakes and suffer because of them. Their superhuman powers and the grand scale of their activities brings them closer to gods, but other traits, such as their fallibility and mortality, associates them with humans.
Questions to Think About
- What other epics are you familiar with? Can you name some heroes in epics and myths and describe their heroic deeds? Can you think of mythical heroes who have had a role to play in forming the identity of some social groups, such as nations, religions, and so on?
Hesiod. “Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica.” Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #8. 1995. http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Hesiod/ (Accessed 22 June 2005).
Honko, Lauri. 1984. The Problem of Defining Myth. In Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth, edited by Alan Dundes. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.
Mayor, Adrienne. 2000. Fossils. In Medieval Folklore. An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs,vol. I, edited by Carl Lindahl, John McNamara, and John Lindow. Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford: ABC-Clio.