They have moved beyond the sacred gate and struck out,
for us and themselves into the world beyond the plough,
beyond the hound’s bodies and broken spears.
The Evenstar rises and sets in a mythic world of their own design,
for us they have moved beyond the days of our feeble hopes
and into the twilight, to leave behind fame, glory, wrath and ruin.
What say you?
What golden notions have stirred you heroes heart?
For sword and sandals have been placed in your safe keeping,
A father’s gift that pulls you forward,
To a destiny now hidden from all our eyes.
From where did you come and into what bright future will you travel?
Like flowers we turn our eyes to whatever bright sun is offered.
We raise our hands into the Olympian mists with prayer.
What cool distant evening will find you awash and beached
amongst the Isles of the Fair?
What then, will you return to us?
The heroes journey reaches out and weaves
a Thassian fabric as old as storied time,
to shape the very world beyond words and lips,
into ears beyond hearing.
As they strike out, we strike out with them,
for us they have ranged out beyond the guarded gate
and our grasp, to wander and wonder forever
into the dreams of mere men.
Sleepless pathfinders whose trackless course will never be forgotten,
by the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.
The hero beyond the silver fire,
the hero beyond ourselves.
I 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.
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.
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.
Ker, William Paton. Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature, MacMillan and Company Press, 1908.