HEROES OF MYTH: MAN DIVIDED AGAINST HIMSELF
The adventures of the Greek heroes typically follow a traditional pattern. The
hero is often born in an unusual fashion, faces great danger early in life, and
possesses great powers. On reaching adulthood, seeking to test his own
powers, he embarks on a quest or series of quests during which he will learn
about himself, his society, and his universe.
The hero often has two fathers, a “good” divine one and a “bad” human one who
variusly threatens the hero.
Freudian theorists see in this situation the
projection of the hero’s (young male’s) hostility toward his father and desire
for his mother.
The hero’s trip to the Underworld has been interpreted as a descent into the
“womb” of the Earth-goddess, connecting the masculine ego of the hero with
the feminine principle, the unconscious, or the realm of the instincts. Rejoining the animus with
the anima, the psyche can be made whole.
The hero figure is isolated by his own uniqueness in striving toward excess and
immortality. Gilgamesh also personifies this trait. This isolation extends to
relationships with women, since domestic contentment can distract the hero
from his task.
The hero is a phenomenon of a fallen world and has a redemptive function. By
his half-divine nature, his glorious deeds, and his relentless pursuit of
immortality, the hero uplifts humanity from its dismal condition and reminds
us of our godlike potential.
In his role as protector of society, the hero is also a divided being. Paradoxically,
the hero’s great warrior skills, his potential for violence, and his often rash
nature themselves become destructive and dangerous.
Most heroes are deified and enjoy veneration in cult. Example: Oedipus
experiences apotheosis (transformation into a god) and will be a blessing spirit
for the land.
The pattern of the heroic career includes miraculous conception/birth, threat to
the hero in infancy and later, journeys and tasks, a return to society with a new
Perseus, one of the earliest Greek heroes, shares some characteristics with later
heroes, but an important difference is that he maintains mutually supportive
relationships with women. He may be a product of the time when goddess-
worship was still widespread.
10. Perseus’s special conception/birth: Danae was impregnated by Zeus, who
assumed the form of a golden shower. Threat: Acrisius put Danae and Perseus
into a chest and set them adrift on the sea. Quest: to protect Danae, Perseus
seeks the head of the Gorgon, Medusa. Athene and the Graiae (who represent
an aspect of the Great Goddess) help him with magic weapons.
11. Perseus uses his shield as a mirror when he attacks Medusa. He kills her.