The hero – Joseph Campbell


Back in the 80s, Bill Moyers did a series of interviews with Joseph Campbell on his work in mythology and the cycle of ‘the Hero’. I see why it was so popular at the time!

Beginning with reference to Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Moyers asks: “Why are there so many stories of ‘the hero’, or of heroes, in mythology?”

Campbell: “Well, because that’s what’s worth writing about. I mean, even in popular novel writing, you see, these… the main character is a hero or a heroine: that is to say, someone who has found or achieved or done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience. A hero properly is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself, or other than himself.”

Moyers: “So in all of these cultures, whatever the costume the hero might be wearing, what is the deed?”

Campbell: “Well, there are two types of deed. One is the physical deed: the hero who has performed a war act or a physical act of heroism – saving a life, that’s a hero act – giving himself, sacrificing himself, to another. And the other kind is the spiritual hero who has learned or found a mode of experiencing the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then come back and communicated it. It’s a cycle – it’s a going and a return – that the hero cycle represents.”

… [they discuss childhood and drafting into the army (accompanied by images of America’s Vietnam war)]

Moyers: “So does the hero have a moral objective?”

Campbell: “The moral objective is that of saving a people, or saving a person, or saving an idea. He is sacrificing himself for something – that’s the morality of it. Now you, from another position, might say that something was something that should not have been realised, you know. That’s a judgement from another side, but it doesn’t destroy the heroism of what was done; absolutely not.”

NB Campbell also describes Otto Rank’s book, The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, as a ‘wonderful book’.

Ref: The power of myth [DVD videorecording] / Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers ; a production of Apostrophe S Productions, Inc., in association with Alvin H. Perlmutter, Inc. [and] Public Affairs Television, Inc. ; presented by WNET, New York, WTTW, Chicago ; executive producers, Joan Konner, Alvin H. Permutter ; series producer, Catherine Tatge. Silver Spring, MD : Athena, [2010].
[NB: CONTENTS: Disc 1. episode 1. The hero’s adventure ; episode 2. The message of the myth ; episode 3. The first storytellers — Disc 2. episode 4. Sacrifice and bliss ; episode 5. Love and the goddess ; episode 6. Masks of eternity.]


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