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The Myth of the Birth of the Hero


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Achilles
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« on: December 29, 2009, 04:55:57 am »

The Myth of the Birth of the Hero
by Otto Rank
[1914]




The Finding of Moses, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema [1904] (Public Domain Image)
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Achilles
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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2009, 04:56:18 am »

Otto Rank, (b. 1884, d. 1939), was a brilliant Austrian psychologist who was part of Sigmund Freud's inner circle. This early monograph by Rank is a groundbreaking application of the psychoanalytic method to comparative mythology. At the turn of the 20th century psychologists were beginning to attempt to unravel the mysteries of the human psyche, particularly through the medium of classical mythology. This would later lead to the insights of Jung, Joseph Campbell and others. But one of the first scholars who explored this convergence was Otto Rank.

One of the most vexing questions of comparative mythology, which will be more than obvious to even casual readers of this site, are the cross-cultural similarities in myths, folklore and legends. For instance, the flood myth, the heroic quest, and particularly birth-tales of the hero, appear around the world, from Africa to South America. When this was written the study of mythology was emerging from a period where attempts to explain this by diffusion or astronomical phenomena had been exhausted. Rank instead attempted to explain these common motifs in terms of what he believed to be psychological universals.
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Achilles
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« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2009, 04:56:28 am »

In this study Rank looks at a a wide variety of Eurasian hero birth narratives, including Greek, Roman, Judeo-Christian, Indian, and Germanic legendary figures. He uses the methodology and vocabulary of classic Freudian psychoanalysis to do so. The middle part of this book, where Rank enumerates some of these tales, will be the most useful for modern readers, as he draws on a wide range of sources, some of them fairly obscure. In the last part he puts these myths 'on the couch' as it were, and ties up his thesis very coherently.

In later years, Rank broke with Freud, who had been somewhat of a father figure to him, ironically fulfilling half of the Oedipus complex about which they parted ways. He moved to Paris in 1926 where he took clients such as Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, who mentions Rank often in her memoirs.

Production notes. This was extracted from the 1959 Vintage reprint of this text in The Myth of the Birth of the Hero and other Writings. Page numbers are from that edition. Editorial footnotes and the additional writings from the 1959 edition were omitted. The rest of the (original) footnotes were renumbered on a page-by-page basis.

--J.B. Hare, October 16th, 2006
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Achilles
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« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2009, 04:56:58 am »

THE MYTH OF THE BIRTH OF THE HERO
A Psychological Interpretation of Mythology
(Translation of Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden: Versuch einer Psychologischen Mythendeutung. Leipzig, Deuticke, 1909)
by Otto Rank
Translated from the German by Drs. F. Robbins and Smith Ely Jelliffe
Nervous and Mental Disease Monograph Series No. 18.
The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Company, New York
[1914]

Scanned, proofed, and formatted at sacred-texts.com, October 2006, by John Bruno Hare. This text is in the public domain in the United States because both the translation and the original were published prior to 1923.
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Achilles
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« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2009, 04:57:32 am »

p. 3
I. Introduction

THE prominent civilized nations--the Babylonians and Egyptians, the Hebrews and Hindus, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, as well as the Teutons and others--all began at an early stage to glorify their national heroes--mythical princes and kings, founders of religions, dynasties, empires, or cities--in a number of poetic tales and legends. The history of the birth and of the early life of these personalities came to be especially invested with fantastic features, which in different nations--even though widely separated by space and entirely independent of each other--present a baffling similarity or, in part, a literal correspondence. Many investigators have long been impressed with this fact, and one of the chief problems of mythological research still consists in the elucidation of the reason for the extensive analogies in the fundamental outlines of mythical tales, which are rendered still more puzzling by the unanimity in certain details and their reappearance in most of the mythical groupings.

The mythological theories, aiming at the explanation of these remarkable phenomena, are, in a general way, as follows: 1

p. 4
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« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2009, 04:57:43 am »

1. The "Idea of the People," propounded by Adolf Bastian. 1 This theory assumes the existence of elemental ideas, so that the unanimity of the myths is a necessary sequence of the uniform disposition of the human mind and the manner of its manifestation, which within certain limits is identical at all times and in all places. This interpretation was urgently advocated by Adolf Bauer as accounting for the wide distribution of the hero myths. 2
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« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2009, 04:57:57 am »

2. The explanation by original community, first applied by Theodor Benfey to the widely distributed parallel forms of folklore and fairy tales 3. Originating in a favorable locality (India), these tales were first accepted by the primarily related (Indo-Germanic) peoples, then continued to grow while retaining the common primary traits, and ultimately radiated over the entire earth. This mode of explanation was first adapted to the wide distribution of the hero myths by Rudolf Schubert. 4
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« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2009, 04:58:06 am »

3. The modern theory of migration, or borrowing, according to which individual myths originate from definite peoples (especially the Babylonians) and are accepted by other peoples through oral tradition (commerce and traffic) or through literary influences. 5
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« Reply #8 on: December 29, 2009, 04:58:22 am »

The modern theory of migration and borrowing can be readily shown to be merely a modification of Benfey's theory, necessitated by newly discovered and irreconcilable material. This profound and extensive research of modern investigations has shown that India, rather than Babylonia, may be regarded as the first home of the myths. Moreover, the tales presumably did not radiate from a single point, but traveled over and across the entire inhabited globe. This brings into prominence the idea of the interdependence of mythological structures, an idea which was generalized by Braun as the basic law of the nature of the human

p. 5
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« Reply #9 on: December 29, 2009, 04:58:34 am »

mind: Nothing new is ever discovered as long as it is possible to copy. 1 The theory of elemental ideas, so strenuously advocated by Bauer over a quarter of a century ago, is unconditionally declined by the most recent investigators (Winckler, 2 Stucken), who maintain the migration theory.

There is really no such sharp contrast between the various theories or their advocates, for the concept of elemental ideas does not interfere with the claims of primary common possession or of migration. Furthermore, the ultimate problem is not whence and how the material reached a
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« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2009, 04:58:47 am »

certain people; the question is: Where did it come from to begin with? All these theories would explain only the variability and distribution of the myths, but not their origin. Even Schubert, the most inveterate opponent of Bauer's view, acknowledges this truth, by stating that all these manifold sagas date back to a single very ancient prototype. But he is unable to tell us anything of the origin of this prototype. Bauer likewise inclines to this mediating view; he points out repeatedly that in spite of the multiple origin of independent tales, it is necessary to concede a most extensive and ramified borrowing, as well as an original community of the concepts in related peoples. 3 The same conciliatory attitude is maintained by Lessmann in a recent publication (1908), in which he rejects the assumption of elemental ideas, but admits that primary
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« Reply #11 on: December 29, 2009, 04:58:59 am »

relationship and borrowing do not exclude each other. 4 As pointed out by Wundt, however, it must be kept in mind that the appropriation of mythological contents always represents at the same time an independent mythological construction; because only that can be retained permanently which corresponds to the borrower's stage of mythological ideation. The faint recollections of preceding narratives would hardly suffice for the refiguration of the same material, without

p. 6
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« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2009, 04:59:21 am »

the persistent presence of the underlying motifs; but precisely for this reason, such motifs may produce new contents that agree in their fundamental themes, even in the absence of similar associations. 1

Leaving aside for the present the inquiry as to the mode of distribution of these myths, the origin of the hero myth in general is now to be investigated, fully anticipating that migration (or borrowing) will prove to be directly and fairly positively demonstrable in a number of the cases. When this is not feasible, other viewpoints will have to be conceded, at least for the present, rather than bar the way to further progress by the somewhat unscientific attitude of Hugo Winckler, who says: When human beings and products, exactly corresponding to each other, are found at remote parts of the earth, we must conclude that they have wandered thither; whether we have knowledge of the how or when makes no difference in the assumption of the fact itself. 2 Even granting the migration of all myths, the origin of the first myth would still have to be explained. 3
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« Reply #13 on: December 29, 2009, 04:59:31 am »

Investigations along these lines will necessarily help to provide a deeper insight into the contents of the tales. Nearly all authors who have hitherto been engaged in the interpretation of the birth myths of heroes find in them a personification of the processes of nature, following the dominant mode of natural mythological interpretation.

p. 7
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« Reply #14 on: December 29, 2009, 04:59:45 am »

The newborn hero is the young sun rising from the waters, first confronted by lowering clouds, but finally triumphing over all obstacles. 1 The taking into consideration of all natural (chiefly atmospheric) phenomena--as was done by the first representatives of this method of myth interpretation 2--and the regarding of the legends, in a more restricted sense, as astral myths (Stucken, Winckler, and others) are approaches not so essentially distinct as the followers of each individual direction believe to be the case. Nor does it seem a basic improvement when the purely solar interpretation, as advocated especially by Frobenius, 3 was no longer accepted and the view was advanced that all myths were originally lunar. Hüsing holds this theory in his discussion of the myth of Cyrus the Great; Siecke also claims this view as the only legitimate, obvious interpretation of the birth myths of the heroes; and it is a concept that is beginning to gain popularity. 4
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