Tags

, , , , , , ,

The monomyth or what some call the hero’s journey is a pattern of storytelling that, according to some scholars, resides within narratives from around the globe. The pattern itself consists of three distinct sections. These sections are separation, initiation, and return with each one having their own steps and position within the overall concept. The basic premise of the monomyth is as follows, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”(Campbell 28). In Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces he lays out each of the seventeen steps which comprise the entire journey a hero may embark upon. Campbell uses myths from various times and cultures to illustrate his points and show how the narrative integrate the monomyth. It should be noted, however, that despite seventeen individual steps to the monomyth each narrative may omit any one of the steps and the order may vary depending upon the story itself. In gaining a better grasp of the concept proposed by Campbell, it is necessary to learn about other myths from around the world in conjunction with the likes of the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aeneid.

As a concept, the monomyth finds itself rooted in psychology and anthropology. Joseph Campbell mentions Freud and other psychologists within his book as references to his idea. It should be noted that perhaps one of biggest apparent influences on the creation of the monomyth comes from Carl Jung and his ideas involving the human psyche and archetypal characters which reside within a specific part of the psyche. As Mark Byrne writes, “In a like manner the classical Jungians invoked the hero as the tutelary figure of psychological development at the same time as they took on the mammoth task of turning Jung’s often spontaneous insights and turgid writings into a coherent psychological system”(13). These archetypes along with the need to transform into an adult or mature person lies at the heart of human struggle and the hero’s journey. The one thing that remains the same for both hero and individual alike is the idea of the separation, initiation, and return. They may have different names attached to them but their content stays relatively unchanged. Each model for a narrative pattern involving a hero figure acts as both competitor and kin to Campbell’s monomyth, yet, they each tell the same basic story.

In order to appreciate the complexity as well as the simplicity of how the hero’s journey works, the brief description Joseph Campbell gives within his book must be expanded upon slightly. At the onset of the monomyth the hero begins his journey in the typical world and receives a “call” to move beyond what he knows into the world of the unknown and to embrace his destiny. The hero can either heed the call of his own volition or be forced into meeting his destiny. In the next phase of the trek, the hero encounters a number of different challenges and obstacles he must overcome. The most significant point of this part of the journey comes with the meeting between the hero and the father figure or person with power over the figure. At this stage, the journey reaches one of most significant points as the hero has met with this confrontation and enters the next stage of initiation. Once the hero conquerors the challenges of initiation he receives a “boon” and the ability to return to the world from whence he came. During the return journey back to his home the hero often faces more challenges and if he once again overcomes these obstacles, he is free to return to his life with the knowledge he has gained and a new appreciation for living.

Seventeen Steps

Seventeen Steps

Separation

  1. The Call to Adventure

  2. Refusal of the Call

  3. Supernatural Aid

  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

  5. The Belly of the Whale

Initiation

  1. The Road of Trials

  2. The Meeting With the Goddess

  3. Woman as Temptress

  4. Atonement of the Father

  5. Apotheosis

  6. The Ultimate Boon

Return

  1. Refusal of the Return

  2. The Magic Flight

  3. Rescue from Without

  4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold

  5. Master of Two Worlds

  6. Freedom to Live

As mentioned previously, a narrative might not run the table and contain each of these seventeen distinct checkpoints. Each story may contain a single moment from the monomyth or a handful of these moments to drive the overall narration. When examining the story through the monomythic lens, it is important to understand that each narrative was not created with the hero’s journey in mind nor was it used as a template. Although it should be noted that some modern epics use the monomyth as a template from which a story builds from and upon. This is a testament to the enduring nature of the three stages and the universal humanity contained within them. It is because of this fundamental tie to humanity that the three stages can find themselves repeated for any one character just as a person goes through each stage multiple times throughout their life.

The Trojan War Tradition: The Odyssey

Perhaps the most notable hero whose journey can be seen within the folds of the monomyth comes to us from Homer and his subject, Odysseus. In the Odyssey, Odysseus’ journey after the Trojan War could in fact be his second hero’s journey or his first. If we look back on the Trojan War tradition, Odysseus receives his call to join the Greek armies as they prepare to sail to Troy. He then refuses the call but inevitably joins the other kings who took the oath of Tyndareus and begins his journey to the land of Troy where he, like the other Greek heroes and in particular Achilles, go through their own parts of the monomyth. However, in the Odyssey itself Odysseus stands along with his son, Telemachus, as individuals going through the hero’s journey. Telemachus moves from youth into adulthood and Odysseus moves from war back into the normal world which has become his unknown world after spending ten years at war and what soon will be 10 years traveling back to Ithaca. Out of all the various scenes within the Odyssey one scene stands as what could be viewed as the true beginning of Odysseus’ journey.

Book five of the Odyssey begins with Athena pushing for Odysseus’ resumption of his journey home after spending many years of Ogygia and Hermes is sent to speak with Calypso in order to bring this about. When Calypso finds Odysseus to give him the option of continuing his journey, she finds him sitting on the beach in what can be seen as the barrier between his known world and the unknown. From there he decides to leave the island and Erling Holtsmark remarks that, “He like every man, is the sole agent of his own spiritual rebirth, of his growth to emotional maturity; numinous agents can do no more than point the way”(207). From this point on Odysseus enters the initiation stage of his new journey. While chronologically the fantastic events involving the Polyphemus, the Sirens, Circe, and the turbulent sea occur before the departure from Calypso’s island revisiting them while on Scheria becomes a new emotional initiation. After the long narrative of Books 9-12, Odysseus is given a number of gifts” by the Phaeacians which are loaded on the ship that will take him, sleeping, back to Ithaca, where he must endure many more trials before he is ultimately restored to wholeness as an integrated human being in the real world”(Holtsmark 210).

The Trojan War Tradition:The Iliad

Although it might not seem like it, the Iliad does contain the hero’s journey and its parts. While all the heroes experience their own monomythic snapshots, Achilles’ journey is much more intricate and follows the ideas of separation, initiation, and return much more closely. Following Achilles’ life before the advent of the Trojan War, much like Odysseus, there is a separation aspect to the beginning of his journey along with a supernatural birth. The Trojan War tradition dating going back to when Achilles was brought into the fold begins with Thetis disguising Achilles as a girl to avoid what would would be his “call to adventure.” Within the Iliad itself the separation part of Achilles’ journey might begin with book one and his call for an assembly that results in the disagreement between Agamemnon and himself. Bruce Louden expands upon this notion when he speaks about Achilles’ motives, “He reasons that, since he has no personal quarrel with the Trojans, he and the others are here to honor the Atreidai(1.158-59(, but if Agamemnon now disrupts the system of exchange on which that honor rests, he will go home (1.169-80)”(116).Therefore, it might suggest that Achilles is moving from a world in which he knows, where honor is paramount, into a world that lacks this reverence for honor that he has known his entire life. He then refuses to participate and as we later see, other characters assume the role of Achilles and move through his initiation in his stead.

Patroclus stands as perhaps the best substitute for Achilles during the initiation phase of the journey in particular because of his donning Achilles’ armor, leading the Greeks into battle, and fighting Hektor. However, Diomedes also assumes the mantle of Achilles while he broods within his tent. Not just in the fighting but later during the assembly in book nine. Louden notes that, “As in books 5-6, Diomedes is here a thematic parallel of Akhilleus, a stand-in for the best of the Akhaians, until the embassy visits with Akhilleus himself”(217). From here we see Patroclus engage the world as Achilles’ replacement which ends up leading to a symbolic “apotheosis” stage in which the hero dies and is reborn. The boon he inevitably returns with is the idea that fighting and living mean more than just stuff and life he clung to at the beginning of the epic.

It is my sincere hope, that the information and ideas expressed within this post will provide future Trojan War enthusiasts with a solid foothold into exploring the monomyth and how it relates to the heroes within the epics, tragedies, and stories of the past. The hero’s journey is one that we can all relate to no matter who we are or where we come from and that is what ties us to one another. Separation, initiation, and return play a fundamental part in each of our lives and because of this we can see ourselves within the epics of Homer and in stories throughout history. While we might not all be Aeneas, Odysseus, or Achilles the paths we walk shape who we are and the pattern provided by Campbell and other scholars lets us know that we are not alone. We journey through life and the heroes walk beside us.

Byrne, Mark Levon. “Heroes and Jungians”. The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Winter 2000), pp. 13-37

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1972.

Holtsmark, Erling B. “Spiritual Rebirth of the Hero: “Odyssey” 5″. The Classical Journal, Vol. 61, No. 5 (Feb., 1966), pp. 206-210

Louden, Bruce. The Iliad : Structure, Myth, and Meaning. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.