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Gilgamesh and Campbell's Hero's Journey
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In "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", Joseph Campbell defined the thirteen common elements of the hero's journey as:
- Mysterious, unusual or miraculous circumstances of birth.
- A sequestered or hidden childhood attended by surrogate parents.
- A hidden or concealed identity known to only a few, sometimes onlyto one person.
- Education with a very old and very wise teacher.
- The call to adventure or to a quest for identity and the realization thatthe hero or heroine has special duties or responsibilities in this world.
- Revelation of the nature of the hero or heroine's true identity andbirthright and their special responsibilities.
- The discovery of personal virtues and strengths and usually at leastone great weakness.
- The discovery and development of special powers which are uniqueto the hero or heroine. These are often gifts from the gods or otherpowerful beings who the hero or heroine has assisted, and such giftsusually compensate for the weakness.
- An arduous physical or psychological journey fraught with trials,testing and temptation.
- Ultimately the hero or heroine must rely on his or her own strength,wits and resources to emerge victorious.
- The journey ascends to a high spiritual plane and returns or descendsinto darkness and returns
- The journey leads to an incandescent transformation or to selfrealization.
- Something of great importance or lasting value is discovered orcreated.
- The hero or heroine conquers death or the fear of mortality and oftenascends to become immortal.
- How does Lord of the Rings adhere to Campell’s articulation of the heroic journey?
- Dreams are recurrent in Gilgamesh and vitally important. They serve as a vehicle of communication between the gods and mortals. What narrative function do they serve? That is, why is it useful to know what is going to happen before it does?
- Gilgamesh depends on the advice of his mother, Ninsun, “one of the wise gods.” Consider other heroes who have similarly close relationship with (sometimes divine) mothers: what does this imply about the kinds of strength a man needs to be able to summon in his times of need?
- Gilgamesh has the earliest version of the flood story that appears later in the Old Testament of the Bible (Genesis 6-9). Discuss how each version has a very different emphasis and draws a very different moral.
- Compare and Contrast Frodo and Sam to Gilgamesh and Enkindu.
About this Document
Handout on the thirteen universal elements of a hero along with five essay questions, suitable for either testing or group work.