Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey Series: #1: The Hero
by Leigh Holland
Based on information from “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler and “The Ancient Greek Hero In 24 Hours” by Professor Gregory Nagy.
When following a Mythic Plot structure, there are 8 basic archetypes indispensable to the storyteller. These are:
In this series, we’re going to talk a little bit about each one. In today’s installment, we’re discussing the Hero.
Our earliest concept of the Hero comes from Greek epics such as The Iliad. In The Iliad, Achilles- the son of a goddess, yet not entirely ‘perfect’ due to his weakness in his tendon- is the “hero”. A prophecy tells Achilles that he can choose one of two fates: to sail home, survive, live long and prosper, have a family, grow old, and die in his warm bed yet forgotten down the centuries; or he can die here in Troy, but his name will live forever. He will have an eternal “kleos”, or glory, but only if he is willing to give up his life in battle. He chooses to be forever remembered in epic entertainment. Millennia later, Brad Pitt plays him in the movie Troy. He chooses to die at Troy but be remembered for as long as men have tongues to tell tales.
In fact, “hero” is a Greek word. The English word ‘hour’ comes from the Greek word “hora” meaning “season”. The goddess of the seasons and timing of events is Hera, whose name is related to this root word. Indeed, the greatest of the Greek heroes is Herakles, his name meaning “The glory of Hera”. What does Hera have to do with heroes? Timing. It is the timing, this critical convergence of events, the moment of the sacrifice of the hero, that immortalizes them as our ‘heroes’. Indeed, if Hera hadn’t placed complications and dangerous challenges in Herakles’ life, how could he have ever grown into the famous hero of legend?
Heroes are the ego, the self searching for identity, being tested to know where ‘the self’ stands. This is why heroes must be relatable. We must bond with the hero early on. We have to care about the hero, because the hero is part of us. We want the hero to be the sort of person who can share in our struggles and understand us, so it reasons we would be willing to share their journey with them, and through it, learn something about ourselves and who we are in the process. Every hero must have his achilles’ heel, his kryptonite. The Hero may be what’s best in us, but he or she must still be flawed and at times, vulnerable, because we are, too.
A hero is someone who is willing to sacrifice himself or risk sacrificing himself. Heroes face death, either literally or symbolically, along the mythic journey. If the hero doesn’t meet the moment of his death, he must encounter it symbolically in the form of an adventure where the stakes are high. Sometimes the hero experiences a loss, such as a friend or lover, along the way. Only through trials can the hero know who he is and can we discover more about who we are.
But the hero doesn’t have to strictly follow a self-sacrificing personality prototype. Our hero can be willing, or not. He can be tragic, crying out at the gods instead of working for them. He can be part of a larger group of heroes or a loner who takes on allies only reluctantly. She can refuse to change, becoming more resolute in her ways and beliefs, but change those around her. And of course, he can be a guy with some redeemable traits who does morally questionable things.
As the Hera to your Herakles, what challenges will you place in his way? Every story needs its hero. Who will your hero be?