The Odyssey as a Hero Journey.
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Langston Kahn 1/13/03 The Odyssey as a Hero Journey "All of us have similar experiences. We share in the life journey of growth, development, and transformation. We live the same stories...the trappings might be different, the twists and turns that create suspense might be different from culture to culture, the particular characters may take different forms, but underneath it all, it's the same story, drawn from the same experiences"(Linda Seger, Creating Myth, 1). All people face trials and tribulations throughout their life. Thus, what defines one from one's fellow human beings is not the trials themselves, but how one overcomes the challenges along the journey, as well as the psychological and physical lessons one learns from the actions engaged. Heroes, as depicted in literature, often face the same trials the common man must face, and learn the same lessons, but their actions, reactions, and events are magnified to mythic proportions. Thus, the common man and the mythic hero both follow what Joseph Campbell calls "The Hero's Journey," which is used as a tool to describe the framework for many of the most famous myths of all time. While the story of the Journey first manifested itself in the ancient myths and legends, it is still relevant to contemporary society, the basis for almost all of the books and plays we read.
This lesson is a difficult one for Odysseus to learn; he suffers Polyphemus's angry response twice before he understands the need for humility. Perhaps the most famous of his trials, the encounter with the Sirens, is one Odysseus cannot survive without help from his shipmates. Physically restrained, he sails by the sirens who entice him with their songs. He cannot resist them of his own free will. Only with the help of his men can he pass by the Sirens without being drawn in. This incident represents Odysseus' drive to follow every path of conquest laid before him. He realizes that he must keep his final goal always in his mind, and cannot stray from his intended path if he wishes to survive it. He understands further that this singular drive comes not just from his will alone, but also from all who join him. Throughout his journey, Odysseus does not endure every trial himself. However, the final Cattle of the Sun trial is one that only he may survive. This trial represents the "forbidden fruit" that one must resist. Stranded, Odysseus warns: "Friends, we've food and drink aplenty aboard the ship-- / keep your hands off all these herd or we will pay the price! / The cattle, the sleek flocks, belong to an awesome master, Helios" (Book 12, 213).
of using his newfound knowledge to destroy evil and serve as a mature husband, father, son, king; he successfully completes his journey, and as "the hero of...myth achieves a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph. He brings back from his adventure the means for regeneration of his society as a whole" (Campbell, 37-38). He achieves his goals and is greater for it. By using the framework of the Hero Journey, we can see Odysseus's trials not merely as physical difficulties, but also as metaphors for his psychological limitations that he must overcome and conquer. By surviving these trials Odysseus not only proves his physical prowess, but learns the psychological lessons of survival. Using these lessons he can climb above the rest, a more mature and capable man, able to use all of his abilities together to lift himself and those around him closer to greatness. Thus is Odysseus truly a hero, as are all those who would strive for greatness in themselves and peace and justice for their homeland and family. "The cosmogonic cycle is now to be carried forward not by the gods, who have become invisible, but by the heroes, more or less human in character, through whom the world destiny is realized. The archetypal heroes become less and less fabulous, until at last, in the final stages of the various local traditions, legend opens into the common daylight of recorded time"(Joseph Campbell).
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