Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Indo-European Mythology Part 9

Understanding the monomyth (aka "Hero Cycle") and an example of how it applies to a single hero from an IE culture.




                The term monomyth refers to term coined by Joseph Campbell back in 1949 in his book of essays called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He accredited that numerous myths from various times and regions all shared a fundamental structures which could be broken down in to three main stages with each stage having sub stages. This was a subject we covered a great deal in my Comparative Mythologies course in college. The following is a listing of those main and sub categories:

1)       Separation – about the separation of the hero from known world. Symbolic transition of infant from mother
1.1 call to adventure
1.2 refusal of the call
1.3 supernatural aid
1.4 threshold crossing
1.5 belly of the whale
2)       Initiation – initiated into heroic status by trials and/or rites. Forging so ‘true metal’ of character is emerges
2.1 road of trials
2.2 meeting with the goddess
2.3 woman as temptress
2.4 ultimate boon
3)       Return – cleansed and changed hero returns triumph. Perhaps through further trials
3.1 refusal of the return
3.2 magic flight
3.3. crossing return threshold
3.4 master of two worlds
3.5 freedom to live

These stages can be seen in one of my favorite mythology stories of Orpheus and Eurydice. I always thought there was something so beautiful about how he risked his own life and soul to save his love.

Separation – Orpheus was the half mortal child of the Mousai, Kalliope. She gave to him the give of music which he was well known for. He was said to have no rival except for the gods themselves. Orpheus and Eurydice are living in Thrace when they met. They are married and still in her wedding dress Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies.

Refusal of the Call-perhaps this can be seen in Orpheus’ warning about in sorrow trying to decide if he can actually make the trip into the Underworld.

Call to Adventure –grieving, Orpheus decides to descent into the Underworld to retrieve his beloved wife from the land of Hades.

Supernatural Aid-in some telling’s there are this story, Orpheus’ grief was so great and his songs so sorrowful that some of the gods took pity upon him and gave aid to him so that he could find his way into the Underworld.

Threshold crossing-Orpheus crosses over into the Underworld in an opening at Aornum in Thesprotis.  Once at the river Acheron Orpheus must charm Charon to take him across the river so he could enter into the world of the death.

Belly of the Whale-This can be seen as the actual Underworld itself when Orpheus crosses over the river Acheron because at this point he has committed to journey and cannot back out easily.

Initiation-The crossing of the river Acheron can be seen as part of the initiation in which Orpheus must go through because this is something that all those entering into the Underworld must do.

Road of Trials-Orpheus has to face both Cerberus and the three judges of the Dead. This is most difficult for the living do not pass through these parts of the Underworld. Through the use of his music, Orpheus is able to gain passage beyond these obstacles and in the process temporarily relieves the suspense the tortures of the damned.

Meeting the Goddess-Orpheus finally finds himself before Hades and Persephone. It is here that he pleads with the rulers of the Underworld to release his beloved wife. Orpheus plays just sweet sorrowful music that Hades is moved to agree to release Eurydice as Orpheus and Persephone request, but with one exception, Eurydice is summoned from the Elysium fields and given over to Orpheus but he was not to look upon her until he was returned to the mortal world. If he did, she would be lost to him forever.

Woman as Temptress-So Orpheus left the home of the King and Queen of the end, taking the path that would lead him home. His beloved Eurydice following behind him. He so longed to look at her, one simple glace.

Ultimate Boon-This is the return of Eurydice. He had won her from the realm of the dead, a feat no other had done before.

Return-This can be seen as the journey back to the land of the living itself for it was so hard for Orpheus to not look back to ensure that his love Eurydice was behind him.

Refusal to Return-But in the end, as they approached the end to the darkness, the desire to see his beloved became too great. Orpheus turned back for a simple glance behind him but she had not cleared the cavern. He reached for to grasp her, to pull her into the light.

Magic Flight-the journey back to the land of the living by this path presented to him by Hades is his ‘magic flight’ home with his love.

Crossing Return Threshold-Though he was through the passage, Eurydice was not. Eurydice’s light faded and she dissolved back into the darkness. She was pulled back to the land of the dead within the blink of his eye.

Master of Two Worlds-Orpheus tried to return to the Underworld but the gods refused to allow it. He had had his chance and returned. He was the only living person to enter the realm of the Underworld to retrieve the soul of a loved one and return, though he failed only because he did not wait long enough to look up on his beloved Eurydice.

Freedom to Live-Though Orpheus failed in the end he did escape the Underworld with his own life intact. He lives out the remainder of his life in the company of nature, playing his music to the land and rivers until he is murdered by a band of Maenads.
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