The Hero’s Journey

When studying the ancient stories of human literature, ranging from the beginning of civilization in the Fertile Crescent to more recently all around the world, I found a common trait amongst themes and story structure. The “Hero’s Journey” is a common writing trope in fiction pieces which involves a beginning, middle, and end structure that can be best described as a sort of bungee-cord effect: the hero starts out with their usual life, is thrown into chaos and hardships, and, after the climax of the story, is brought back to normality withHeros-Journey the riches of their journey. While this is common throughout much of storytelling, I wanted to focus on three, much older writings that fit into this category, perhaps inspiring the trope itself; Heracles and the Twelve Trials, The Odyssey, and The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Heracles is a very well known character from Greek mythology, having been the subject of many retellings and even a Disney movie spin-off, yet the original tale involves themes that aren’t as child friendly. The story revolves around Heracles, (renamed Hercules by the Romans when they adopted Greek mythology and culture), an immortal, incredibly strong demigod who is influenced to kill his own children by his father, Zeus’, wife, Hera. Heracles then goes on an adventure to partake in twelve dangerous, near impossible trials to gain retribution, most of which involve killing or capturing monstrous beasts. This story fits very well within the theme of the Hero’s Journey, ancient fiction stories, as well as is easily recognizable due to the popularity of the myths behind the character. (Alchin, Linda. “Hercules Mythology.” Tribunes and Triumphs. Siteesen Ltd. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.)
The Odyssey is another well known epic even today, involved in most high schools as part of their curriculum to be read and analyzed, made into many major film adaptations, and also fits within the categories listed above. The story involves Odysseus, a king of Ithaca, who tries to return to his home after battling in a war in Troy (which was revealed in the Iliad, which also contains more motifs of the Hero’s Journey), but he finds himself traveling the seas of the Mediterranean as a result of angering Poseidon. He spends the tale traveling in an effort to get home, meeting dangerous foes on the way, until he returns. This story, while fitting with Heracles under the guise of Greek mythology, also shares similar traits with the epic of Gilgamesh, as both main characters are kings of their land, set to venture on dangerous journeys. (SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Odyssey.” SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.)
The final story I shall be using, arguably the most important due to it being one of the earliest ever recorded and translated, is The Epic of Gilgamesh. The tale is focused on the king of early human civilization, Gilgamesh, and his adventures in protecting his kingdom, fighting evil gods that are quite reminiscent of those in Greek mythology, and trying to gain the key to renewed youth through traveling to the ends of the known Earth, embodying the first mentions of the Hero’s Journey trope that is so prevalent in storytelling today. (Foster, Benjamin. “Gilgamesh.” The Epic of / Invitation to World Literature. Annenberg Foundation. Web. 11 Feb. 2016.)
By examining these three famous stories, I shall explain the rich, yet similar history of ancient literature and how it has influenced how we tell and analyze stories to this day.


One thought on “The Hero’s Journey

  1. This is a great idea. I think you will be able to find a lot of scholarly research about this topic. Make sure, though, that you can find actual texts of each of these stories. The texts that you are citing here are all summaries of the story instead of a retelling itself (especially SparkNotes!). The Odyssey and the Epic of Gilgamesh are both very long works that people spend years analyzing. Search out retellings that will be manageable for you to look closely at the text and draw out its meaning on your own. I hope this helps!


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