Classical Mythology, Day 8

In this class we continue a tour through cosmic history and land in our next stage, the race of ‘heroes’. As we will talk about in class, the word hero when used in the study of myth means several different things apart from the modern connotation. It points to a specific generation of people after the birth of the gods but before the Iron age of Humans (as charted by Hesiod in the Theogony); it can mean the offspring of mortals and gods (also called the hemitheoi, or demigods); in early Greek poetry it can mean people in the most flourishing part of their lives; and, finally, in reception or analysis of myth it can mean a figure who follows a particular narrative pattern (which has been called “the heroic pattern” or the “monomyth”). The pattern has been called a “mythotype” by Otto Rank and Lord Raglan; this pattern has also been seen as a reflex of the “family drama” by Sigmund Freud and then as made up of ‘archetypes’ (see Carl Jung). Most famously in 20th century America, the pattern was popularized by Joseph Campbell through his version of the monomyth (or “the hero’s journey”).

This class will start a prolonged interrogation of this pattern and the way we understand it and use it. we will start by seeing how Dionysus and Herakles establish unrepeatable patterns by achieving apotheosis (becoming a god) through great sufferings and rebirth through the destruction of their physical bodies and the severing of ties to the life cycle. In particular, we will consider an important theme often overlooked in the presentation of heroic narratives: namely, that heroes are dangerous for their communities. In addition, we will explore what kinds of people are allowed to follow this pattern and what roles are left for women, children, and the differently-abled to play. 


Ancient Authors Discussed

Homer, Archaic Age

Ovid, Roman Imperial Period

Apollodorus, Roman Imperial Period?


Some Suggested Course Texts

Apollodorus, Library of Myth 2.4.7-2.8

Apollodorus, Library of Myth 3.4.3-3.5.5

Homeric Hymn to Herakles

Ovid on Herakles


Links to Blogposts

Problems with Heroes?

Etymologies for Herakles


Modern Authors Mentioned

Otto Rank/Lord Raglan

Sigmund Freud

Carl Jung

Joseph Campbell


Other Articles for Additional Reading

E.T.E. Barker and J. P. Christensen. “Even Herakles had to Die.” Trends in Classics: Homer and the Theban Tradition 6.2 (2014) pp. 249-277.

Erwin Cook. ”  “Active” and “Passive” Heroics in the Odyssey“. Classical World, 93(2), 149-167. doi: 10.2307/4352390

Pharos: Herakles Invoked to Oppose Gender Equality.

Craig Chalquist. “Why I seldom Teach the hero’s Journey Any More.”Huffington Post, Dec, 6 2017.

Sarah Nicholson. 2011. “The Problem of Woman as Hero in the Work of Joseph Campbell.” Feminist Theology 19.2. Also try here.

H.A. Shapiro. 1983. “Heros Theos: the Death and Apotheosis of Herakles.” CW 77:7–19.


Similar Myths

Gilgamesh Poems


Krishna and Hercules

Student Links




Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Hercules, Piero della Francesca

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