The Heroic Complex: the ‘telling world’ of the Hero

war-roomI have been working through a specific vision of the hero. A 3-part structuralist model of heroic narrative that seeks to establish a unified framework. A global system that will help unify the far-flung depictions of the hero and facilitate their comparison for study.

Narratives, both modern and ancient are filled with heroes, in fact if you were to accept an entirely reductionist approach to the hero, you may define them as the protagonist of any story. I am not comfortable with this notion, it is entirely to simple even for myself.

As someone who studies heroic narrative I see that the hero is both a character and an idea. They are manifest in narratives, but their source is informed by deeply embedded cultural codes. This universal heroic narrative structure I have come to define as the “Heroic Complex”.

The Heroic Complex is akin to a form of narrative consciousness. It is not as Nicholson states a perfect place but an ethos that is “an uneasy thing” (2). A ‘telling world’ where heroics are at play. I would suggest that within the Heroic Complex the ideas of heroes and their stories are to be rationalized as Claude Levis Strauss suggests “[as] patterns showing affinity, instead of being considered in succession, [they are] to be treated as one complex pattern and read globally” (6).

As a result of this the hero is transformed into an epistemological figure, that allow its audience and yet even further, its culture to shape, display and validate our moral truths (Rollins 433). We are never finished with this process. The Heroic Complex is a churning gyre of new material and association. It is an ever-evolving metanarrative structure of connected parts that dialogue with one another. This ongoing discourse is subject to fluctuations and is never cemented in place.

Our heroes allow us to move beyond ourselves and engage with narrative on a vicarious level that is transfixed by the heroic ethos. This is the Heroic Complex. This metanarrative realm existing independently of genre – yet simultaneously permitting all genres to intermingle and inform each other. Nothing is excluded here; the Heroic Decision (discussed early) has identified the hero and the Heroic Enterprise has transitioned the hero across this liminal boundary, placing them within the Heroic Complex.

 

Works Cited

Levis-Strauss, Claude. The Structuralism of Myth. The Journal of American Folklore. Vol. 68. No. 270. Nov. 1955. pp. 428-44.

Nicholson, Adam. Why Homer Matters. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.

Rollin, Roger B. Beowulf to Batman: The Epic Hero and Pop Culture. College English. Vol. 31. No. 5. Feb. 1970. pp. 431-449.

 

 

 

20. Apollo (Part 1)

Apollo wearing a laurel or myrtle wreath, a white peplos and a red himation and sandals, seating on a lion-pawed diphros; he holds a kithara in his left hand and pours a libation with his right hand. Facing him, a black bird identified as a pigeon, a jackdaw, a crow (which may allude to his love affair with Coronis) or a raven (a mantic bird). Tondo of an Attic white-ground kylix attributed to the Pistoxenos Painter (or the Berlin Painter, or Onesimos). Diam. 18 cm (7 in.). From a tomb (probably that of a priest) in Delphi. Archaeological Museum of Delphi, Inv. 8140, room XII.
Apollo wearing a laurel or myrtle wreath, a white peplos and a red himation and sandals, seating on a lion-pawed diphros; he holds a kithara in his left hand and pours a libation with his right hand. Facing him, a black bird identified as a pigeon, a jackdaw, a crow (which may allude to his love affair with Coronis) or a raven (a mantic bird). Tondo of an Attic white-ground kylix attributed to the Pistoxenos Painter (or the Berlin Painter, or Onesimos). Diam. 18 cm (7 in.). From a tomb (probably that of a priest) in Delphi. Archaeological Museum of Delphi, Inv. 8140, room XII. (Wikimedia attribution: Fingalo – Own work. Image renamed from Image:07Delphi Apoll01.jpg)

This week we embark on a multi-episode exploration of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. Lines 1-92 lead us up to the birth of this potentially violent god and establish him as a pan-Hellenic deity.

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Source Passages

Homeric Hymn to Apollo 1-92.


Translation Sources

Homeric Hymn to Dionysus. Translated by Susan C. Shelmerdine. Focus Publishing: 1995.


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The Heroic Enterprise

theseus
Theseus and Aethra

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. – Joseph Campbell

In my previous post, I discussed the concept of the Heroic Decision. I wished to identify that moment in heroic narrative when a mundane choice becomes transformed by the thoughts of a hero. The moment of decision that moves them forward into danger and defines their heroic status. This however is not enough. Heroics are not thought experiments, they are deeds and for that we need to consider the Heroic Enterprise.

Let’s take the classical myth of Theseus as an example. When Theseus’ mother Aethra was impregnated by Aegeus of Athens (& Poseidon), he told her that if she was to give birth to a son he was to lift a large boulder, take the items that he had placed beneath it and come to Athens. As myth would have it she did indeed give birth to a son, who after growing into an impressive young man was presented with the challenge of the stone. Now this is quite recognizable as the first of many ‘Heroic Decisions’ on the part of young Theseus, but this first test of strength will demonstrate the transformation of this young man into a hero, it will serve as a template for the Heroic Enterprise. A heroic narrative structure that moves beyond plot.

Once Theseus lifts the great stone and sees the sword and sandals of his father under the rock he understands. He has crossed over the liminal space defined by ‘decision’ and moved into the Heroic Enterprise. In this world between mythology and the spirit of drama strong characters can transform their worlds (Ker 37). The Heroic Enterprise grapples with the chaotic forces of a previous world and seeks to establish order. A pattern evidenced in the Heroic Decision, the difference being that here decision becomes action, thought becomes deed.

The Heroic Enterprise moves beyond plot, it is a narrative structure that places the hero in jeopardy while simultaneously signaling to its audience the heroes unique ability to confront this challenge. This challenge can manifest in many ways, yet for now it is sufficient to say that all is not right in the world. Threats from the monstrous ‘other’ or even those from within the more familiar human community are everywhere. The word ‘enterprise’ comes from the latin prendere, prehendere meaning ‘to take’ and today we define enterprise as an ‘undertaking, or something taken up’ – this works great for Theseus as he lifts the great stone, he ‘takes up’ the sword and sandals, and begins a heroic career of action.

Now there is much more that can be said about the Heroic Enterprise but I wanted to simply provide a brief introduction for this foundational element of heroic narrative. Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a 1000 Faces is too specific and has several elements that call out the Monomyth’s limitation as a unified theory of heroic narrative. It is my hope that by simplifying and modernizing aspects of the Monomyth I can begin to define a heroic narrative framework that includes the feminine, the power of choice, creation, intention, action, sacrifice, life and death. But that’s for next time.

Works Cited

Ker, William Paton. Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature, MacMillan and Company Press, 1908.

 

 

 

The Heroic Decision

(Darrin Sunstrum)

Today, we are seldom confronted with situations that force us to make critical decisions. For most of us our decisions are rather mundane and ordinary. They may seem on the surface to be important or even critical but in the larger scheme of things, are they?

In fact, it has been suggested that we can make so many inconsequential decisions during a regular day that we can even suffer from a condition cited as ‘decision fatigue’ (Bartlett 2015); The after effects of all these decisions is reduced mental clarity and poor judgement. The evidence even suggests that decision fatigue can lead to physical fatigue sapping our strength and vitality.

We are seldom required to make critical decisions that affect ourselves, our families, or our community. Our common work –a- day world is not the hyper potentialized mythic realm where anything is possible and accessible (Frye 18).

We make decisions every day, thousands of them in fact and perhaps that’s part of the issue. For the hero, the decision is a powerful and significant act that separates us from them. This introduces us to the concept of the ‘heroic decision’.

The hero can be tricked into accepting a life-threatening quest (the ‘ill-conceived promise’) of they can willingly choose to ‘step into danger’. They have choices, options and agency. For the hero, there is often no space, no gap between aspiration and ability.

The hero of myth and legend is resourceful in the face of adversity and rarely amechanos (a Greek term that means without resource). The hero’s willingness to ‘rush in where angels fear to tread’ seems foolish (Pope, 1709), yet this simple quality provides a tantalizing insight into their personal philosophy and hence the heroic philosophy of the Greeks themselves.

Haresis (choice) showcases for us how the ancients grappled with the power of intention and decision. Through countless mythical examples, it reveals the hidden mechanisms of the heroic psyche, i.e, the hero’s personal philosophy of decision and action in the face of deterministic cosmos.

Heroic decisions are impactful, they are of consequence and although they can at times be ill-considered, they are still made with all the determinism and vigor we have come to recognize in the great heroes of myth and legend.

If I choose to have cold cereal for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs the world will not end. The entire fabric of society, or even the cosmos itself will not be threatened by my mundane decisions.

Now, the same cannot be said of the hero. Their choices have import; their decisions will have repercussion beyond the immediate and the mundane. Their lives, the lives of their families, their communities and yes, even their cosmos, may in fact be effected by their expression of the heroic decision.

A simple example would be the hero king Pelops. His myth tells us that after some time Pelops, being a young man, decided that it was time to get married. This is rational, expected and culturally significant. It is the sort of decision that we could make, have made, or will one day make – depending on your circumstance. But, what separates us from Pelops is what he does next.

Pelops learns of a beautiful princess by the name of Hippodameia. Her beauty is beyond compare and he believes she would make an excellent bride. Again, all very familiar. Then as would be expected Pelops makes inquiries, or perhaps learns from this very same source about Hippodameia’s father a powerful King named Oinomaos. As I’ve stated this is a typical and expected line of inquiry considering the social cultural context that places marriage as a contract between two men.

Then something changes, and we begin to see what will separate Pelops’ heroic decisions from the mundane decisions of common men. Pelops learns that Hippodameia’s father has killed every suitor that has come seeking his daughter’s hand in marriage. He has learned that 13 other men have tried to win the hand of Hippodameia and they have all failed and died. The heads of the would-be suitors now decorate the gates of Oinomaos’ palace. It’s right at this moment that we may witness the mythogenetic manifestation of the heroic decision.

What is that decision? Pelops will continue to pursue Hippodameia; he will not abandon his desire in the face of this obstacle, in the face of this danger. His heroic decision will have consequences, yet he is not dissuaded.

The hero is at home with adversity; it’s expressed here and even expected. His heroic worldview will not permit him any alternative. For the hero moves forward. The decision is almost automatic and thus the hero moves into a state of jeopardy, the familiar ‘ethos’ of the heroic. His heroic decision has placed him there, it has transformed him and defined his outlook.

A heroic decision is informed by a hero’s concept of (representative or otherwise) justice – known as dike to the ancient Greeks, and when we hear about the great heroic deeds of myth and legend we are witnessing expressions of justice.

Justice underwrites the heroic decision. Pelops’ heroic decision places him in the position to act as an agent of justice. Oinomaos has committed acts of barbarism and his role as a father who will not release his daughter to marriage sets him against the natural order that would place a wife and husband together. The institution of marriage is one of the strongest social practices, one that stands as a cornerstone of civilization. This impediment cannot be allowed to stand.

Pelops decides and thus the cosmos is made right and justice is visited upon the head of the transgressor. It would be easy to get pollyannaish here and moralize justice and the hero, but let’s not – not yet.

We have problematized the hero and moved into an aspect of the heroic psyche that is often overlooked and understudied. This area has often been passed over for more easily recognized dramatic heroic elements such as the quest, the trial, the token and numerous other facets of the heroic psyche. For me I only wish to add another nuance to these powerful and compelling figures. Heroes will continue to fascinate us and reveal truths. Their alterity is only reinforced by their familiarity. A ubiquity that manifests across all narrative fields.

 

Works Cited

Bartlett, Debbie. “Do You Have Decision Fatigue?” Georgia Nursing 75.3 (2015): 1-14. CINAHL. Web. 8 Feb. 2017.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy Of Criticism: Four Essays: Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Pope, Alexander, Emile Audra, and Aubrey L. William. Pastoral Poetry and An Essay on Criticism. London. Methuen Press, 1961.

 

19. Pelops

tantalus

Pelops who? Meet this lesser known Greek hero-king who lends his name to the Peloponnese and is connected to the founding of the Olympic games. Was he really chopped up by his father and served to the gods or is something else going on?

(gif via http://kiszkiloszki.tumblr.com)

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Source Passage

Pindar. Olympian Ode 1.


Translation Sources

Pindar. “Olympian Ode 1.” Greek Lyric: An Anthology in Translation. Trans. Andrew Miller. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996. 126-131.


News & Shout-Outs

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This week’s theme music: “Super Hero” by King Louie’s Missing Monuments from the album “Live at WFMU” (2011). Used under Creative Commons license. Music used under Creative Commons license and available from Free Music Archive.

18. homeric hymn to dionysus

img_6482

In our current episode of MythTake we discuss the ‘arrival’ of Dionysus as depicted in the Homeric Hymn #7. The Hymn describes a young, strong and beautiful god who is abducted by pirates for ransom. Long story short, it doesn’t quite work out for the pirates and yet again we see the after effects of a divine encounter.

In the course of a few lines these men and their vessel are transformed, literally in the case of the crewmen, into dolphins; and figuratively – the helmsman will become the prototypical priest of Dionysus. The Captain– well let’s just say that he too becomes transformed. He is consumed, digested by the god. 

These metamorphoses as a result of a divine epiphany are again quite common in the mythical corpus. Hesiod’s encounter with the Muses on the slopes of Mt. Helicon, The Cretan sailors in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and others. In the presence of divinity humans often find themselves ‘altered’. Their paths through life take a turn, they become something else. Shepherds become poets, sailors become priests, helmsman become baccantes, predators become prey – you get the picture.

As we discussed the passage it became quite evident that there are many mythological elements that this small hymn (of 49 lines) has in common with other sources. These metonymical connections spread out from this hymn (like the ivy covering the ship’s mast) and work their way into Hesiod, Euripides, Ovid, Apollodorus and beyond. [DS]

 

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Source Passage

Homeric Hymn to Dionysus (Hymn 7)

Ovid. Metamorphoses. 3. 845-863.

Apollodorus. Library of Greek Mythology. 3.5.3


Translation Sources

Apollodorus. The Library of Greek Mythology. Translated by Robin Hard. Oxford World’s Classics: 1997.

Homeric Hymn to Dionysus. Translated by Susan C. Shelmerdine. Focus Publishing: 1995.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Translated by Charles Martin. Norton: 2004.


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This week’s theme music: “Super Hero” by King Louie’s Missing Monuments from the album “Live at WFMU” (2011). Used under Creative Commons license. Music used under Creative Commons license and available from Free Music Archive.


17. Heroes at Home: Deianira

This week we meet an unlikely hero, Deianara. Can this fearful, anxious woman, blamed for the death of Heracles, be considered a hero? We think so!

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Source Passages

Sophocles Trachiniae (Women of Trachis) 1-48, 436-469.


Translation Sources

Sophocles. Women of Trachis. Translated by Michael Jameson. Edited by Greene and Lattimore. Chicago, 1957.


Selected Sources

Edwin Carawan. “Deianira’s Guilt.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 40 (130): 2000, 189-237.


Shout Outs & Notes

Literature and History podcast by Doug Metzger

The History of Ancient Greece podcast by Ryan Stitt

The Story Behind podcast by Emily

The Lonely Pallet podcast by Tamar Avishai

The new @HumCommCasters community! Find new humanities podcasts to listen to and network with fellow humanities podcasters.


Join us on Twitter @InnesAlison and @darrinsunstrum or #MythTake.

We’re a part of the #HumanitiesPodcasts podcasting community. Check out the hashtag and follow @HumCommCasters to find many more engaging and knowledgeable podcasts.

We’re on Facebook! Give us a like, let us know what you think, and follow along at MythTake.

Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play so you don’t miss an episode! Find our RSS on Podbean.

This week’s theme music: “Super Hero” by King Louie’s Missing Monuments from the album “Live at WFMU” (2011). Used under Creative Commons license. Music used under Creative Commons license and available from Free Music Archive.