Joseph Campbell's Concept of the Monomyth

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Joseph Campbell’s Concept of the Monomyth

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Joseph Campbell’s analysis of world mythology in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, reveals the concept of the Monomyth, an idea that states that all myths contain a basic, near universal structure. Dave Whomsley further dissected Joseph Campbell’s recipe for stories in his short summary titled The Hero with a Thousand Faces The book by Joseph Campbell, discussed by Dave Whomsley and refined it into three chunks with each holding four more specific steps thus resulting in twelve simple steps.

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The first chunk is called the separation or departure, followed by the trials and victories and ended with the return. Each is chunk is then split into a more defined 4 steps. The story of Gilgamesh fits these 12 steps with a small amount of interesting and subjective deviation. Gilgamesh's story starts with the call to adventure (step 1) when he dreams about the god Anu, the sky god, creating Enkidu. Once they meet, fight and become friends they set out on a journey to kill Humbaba, and evil woodland giant. However Enkidu isn't convinced and tries to persuade Gilgamesh not to go, but he ignores him and eventually convinces Enkidu to come with him. In the story of Gilgamesh the gods create a copy of the main character (Gilgamesh) that is designed to counter him, but instead they become friends. A reader can interpret these characters as being more or less that same person. So when Enkidu refuses the call (step 2), it can be said that they both did and thusly completing the second step. Gilgamesh and Enkidu then set out to kill Humbaba.

After days of travel they finally arrive in the cedar forest, the home of the giant. Upon confronting him Gilgamesh starts to feel a bit worried for Humbaba is much bigger and stronger than he is. But just as those feelings begin affect him, Shamash the sun god begins to speak to him. “Approach Humbaba and have no fear. Just do not let him enter his house.” Shamash then hurled mighty winds upon Humbaba. Eight winds - the great wind, the north wind, the south wind, the whirlwind, the storm wind, the chill wind, the tempestuous wind, and the hot wind - arose against the fierce giant and beat against him from all sides so that he was unable to move in any direction. (Rosenberg, 39) When Shamesh helped them, he pushed them into the next step; Supernatural aid (step 3). Gilgamesh and Enkidu then proceed to kill Humbaba and cut down all the cedar trees to take back to Uruk with them, thusly crossing the first threshold (step 4). When they arrive Enkidu finds out that because he cut down the largest cedar tree, he is doomed to die. He tells Gilgamesh and then proceeds to kick the bucket.

Gilgamesh is torn apart by this, “Gilgamesh’s heart overflowed with grief and loneliness when Enkidu died.” (Rosenberg, 44). An interesting things to note here is that the belly of the whale (step 5) is defined as the possible death of the main character. Although Enkidu is a separate character, he was very close to Gilgamesh as seen by his strong reaction to his friend's passing. After his best friend's death, Gilgamesh has to deal with his tremendous loss. This psychological torment he suffers can be seen as the road trials (step 6). One big way that the story of Gilgamesh differs from the idea of the monomyth is that the meeting with the goddess and the women as the temptress (steps 7 and 8) steps happen in a different order, before step 5. They also happen together. Before enkidu dies the goddess Ishtar “saw Gilgamesh dressed in his Royal clothing, she admired his great beauty and said to him, “Come marry me, Gilgamesh! You will be my husband and I will be your wife (Rosenberg, 40). Gilgamesh full out rejects her and her proposal.

After his best friend's death, Gilgamesh decides that he wants to find the man named Utnapishtim who lived through a flooding that killed everyone but him. He wanted to become immortal. He travels deep into a mountain and finds a boat man named Urshanabi. He is told that he needs to collect something for him before he will take Gilgamesh across the river. The boat man can represent the atonement with the father (step 9). Or this step may be missing altogether. It is very open to interpretation for you can see that the boat man is in authority like his father would be. Upon meeting Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh talks with him and finds out that he can’t ever become immortal. Upon having this apotheosis (step 10) he is told by Utnapishtim to try to stay awake for 7 straight days. This test represents the ultimate boon (step 11). Gilgamesh fails the test and refuses to return (step 12). He is then given a plant to take care of but fails with that aswell. He realizes that he really can’t be immortal and gives up and goes back to Uruk. Steps 11 and 12 are open for interpretation. As seen before, the order of some of the steps are rearranged. The same can be said about this segment of the story. Either step can be switched with the other and still work so that is up to the interpretation of the reader.

At the end of the story, Gilgamesh comes to the realization that he is stuck being mortal and that there is nothing he can do to change that. He comes to terms with this information and becomes a better person, a better king. He then inscribes his newly found life changing knowledge onto stone tablets for all to read and learn what he had. The story of Gilgamesh fits Joseph Campbell’s idea of the Monomyth in many ways with a few difference such as the atonement with the father step happening with someone who represent his father or not happening at all. And also the the meeting with the goddess and the women as the temptress happening at the same time instead of individual steps. As for the rest of the story, it follows the steps perfectly thusly adding more evidence that the Monomyth is uniform among cultures.

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