By Sam Thomas
Odysseus' tale of his encounter with the Cyclops, which he recounts to the Phaecians in Book 9 of Homer‘s Odyssey, is one of the most famous stories ever told. It is deeply rooted in the classical literary consciousness and is yet familiar to even those modern readers who have never studied ancient texts. Why does a nearly three-thousand year old piece of epic poetry maintain such an influential presence in modern culture?
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jeung's theory of archetypes asserts that there are certain archetypes which have been present in literary works since the beginning of recorded history. Furthermore, Jeung's theory suggests that these archetypes are evidence of a continued mimesis of cultural memory that precludes even history itself. Jeung believed that fictional characters who possessed strong archetypal traits would resonate with audiences in profound and unconscious ways.
One of the most notable recurring archetypal characters is the Hero. According to literary theorist Joseph Campbell, an archetypal or mythological hero is one who "...sets forth from his commonday hut or castle and is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again – if the powers have remained unfriendly to him – his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being...