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The Myth of the Birth of the Hero


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Achilles
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« Reply #120 on: December 29, 2009, 05:42:29 am »

Retaining from the original tendency of, the romance the fact that Pharaoh's daughter drew the child from the water, i.e., gave it birth, the outcome is the familiar theme (grandfather type) of the king whose daughter is to bear a son, but who, on being warned by the ill-omened interpretation of a dream, resolves to kill his forthcoming grandson. The handmaiden of his daughter (who in the biblical story draws the box from the water at the behest of the princess) is charged by the king with the exposure of the newborn child in a box, in the waters of the river Nile, that it may perish (the exposure motif, from the viewpoint of the highborn parents, here appearing in its original disastrous significance). The box with the child is then found by lowly people, and the poor woman raises the child (as his wet nurse); when he is grown up, he is recognized by the princess as her son. Just as in the prototype, the fantasy concludes with the recognition by the highborn parents.

If the Moses legend were placed before us in this more original form, as we have reconstructed it from the existing material, 1 the sum of this interpretation-mechanism would be approximately what is told in the myth as it is actually transmitted--namely, that his true mother was not a princess, but the poor woman who was introduced as his nurse, her husband being his father.

This interpretation is offered as the tradition, in the reconverted myth; and the fact that this tracing of the progressive mutation furnishes the familiar type of hero myth, is the proof of the correctness of our interpretation.

It has thus been our good fortune to show the full accuracy of our interpretative technique through the material itself, and it is now time to demonstrate the tenability of the general viewpoint upon which this entire technique is

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« Reply #121 on: December 29, 2009, 05:42:45 am »

founded. Hitherto, the results of our interpretation have created the appearance that the entire myth formation started from the hero himself, that is, from the youthful hero. At the start we took this attitude in analogizing the hero of the myth with the ego of the child. Now we find ourselves confronted with the obligation to harmonize these assumptions and conclusions with the other conceptions of myth formation, which they seem to contradict directly.

The myths are certainly not constructed by the hero, least of all by the child hero, but they have long been known to be the product of a people of adults. The impetus is evidently supplied by the popular amazement at the apparition of the hero, whose extraordinary life history the people can only imagine as ushered in by a wonderful infancy. This extraordinary childhood of the hero, however, is constructed by the individual myth-makers--to whom the indefinite idea of the folk-mind must be ultimately traced--from the consciousness of their own infancy. In investing the hero with their own infantile history, they identify themselves with him, as it were, claiming to have been similar heroes in their own personality. The true hero of the romance is, therefore, the ego, which finds itself in the hero, by reverting to the time when the ego was itself a hero, through its first heroic act, i.e., the revolt against the father. The ego can only find its own heroism in the days of infancy, and it is therefore obliged to invest the hero with its own revolt, crediting him with the features which made the ego a hero. This object is achieved with infantile motives and materials, in reverting to the infantile romance and transferring it to the hero. Myths are, therefore, created by adults, by means of retrograde childhood fantasies, 1 the hero being credited with the myth-maker's personal infantile history. Meanwhile, the tendency of this entire process is the excuse of the individual units

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« Reply #122 on: December 29, 2009, 05:42:57 am »

of the people for their own infantile revolt against the father.

Besides the excuse of the hero for his rebellion, the myth therefore contains also the excuse of the individual for his revolt against the father. This revolt has burdened him since his childhood, as he has failed to become a hero. He is now enabled to excuse himself by emphasizing that the father has given him grounds for his hostility. The affectionate feeling for the father is also manifested in the same fiction, as has been shown above. These myths have therefore sprung from two opposite motives, both of which are subordinate to the motive of vindication of the individual through the hero: on the one hand the motive of affection and gratitude toward the parents; and on the other hand, the motive of the revolt against the father. It is not stated outright in these myths, however, that the conflict with the father arises from the sexual rivalry for the mother, but is apparently suggested that this conflict dates back primarily to the concealment of the sexual processes (at childbirth), which in this way became an enigma for the child. This enigma finds its temporary and symbolical solution in the infantile sexual theory of the basket and the water. 1

The profound participation of the incest motif in myth formation is discussed in the author's special investigation of the Lohengrin saga, which belongs to the myth of the birth of the hero. The cyclic character of the Lohengrin saga is referred by him to the fantasy of being one's own son, as revealed by Freud. 2 This accounts for the identity of father and son, in certain myths, and for the repetition of their careers; it explains the fact that the hero is sometimes not exposed until he has reached maturity, and also the intimate connection between birth and death in the exposure motif. 3 Jung, who regards the typical fate of the hero as the portrayal of the human libido and its typical

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« Reply #123 on: December 29, 2009, 05:43:10 am »

vicissitudes, has made this theme the pivot of his interpretation, as the fantasy of being born again, to which the incest motif is subordinated. Not only the birth of the hero, which takes place under peculiar symbolic circumstances, but also the motif of the two mothers of the hero, are explained by Jung through the birth of the hero taking place under the mysterious ceremonials of a rebirth from the mother consort. 1

Having thus outlined the contents of the birth myth of the hero it still remains for us to point out certain complications within the birth myth itself, which have been explained on the basis of its paranoid character, as "splits" of the personality of the royal father and persecutor. In some myths, however, and especially in the fairy tales that belong to this group, 2 the multiplication of mythical personages--and with them, of course, the multiplication of motifs, or even of entire stories--are carried so far that sometimes the original features are altogether overgrown by these addenda. The multiplication is so variegated and; so exuberantly developed that the mechanism of the analysis no longer does it justice. Moreover, the new personalities here do not show the same independence, as it were, as the new personalities created by splitting, but they rather present the characteristics of a copy, a duplicate, or a "double," which is the proper mythological term. An apparently very complicated example, namely, Herodotus’ version of the Cyrus saga, illustrates that there doubles are not inserted purely for ornamentation, or to give a semblance of historical veracity, but that they are insolubly connected with myth formation and its tendency. Also, in the Cyrus legend, as in the other myths, a confrontation

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« Reply #124 on: December 29, 2009, 05:43:40 am »

occurs. The royal grandfather, Astyages, and his daughter, with her husband, are confronted by the cattle herder and his wife. A checkered gathering of other personalities which move around them, are readily grouped at sight: Between the highborn parent-couple and their child stand the administrator Harpagos with his wife and his son, and the noble Artembares with his legitimate offspring. Our trained sense for the peculiarities of myth structure recognizes at once the doubles of the parents in the intermediate parent-couples and all the participants are seen to be identical personalities of the parents and their child; this interpretation being suggested by certain features of the myth itself. Harpagos receives the child from the king, to expose it; he therefore acts precisely like the royal father and remains true to his fictitious paternal part in his reluctance to kill the child himself--because it is related to him--but he delivers it instead to the herder Mithradates, who is thus again identified with Harpagos. The noble Artembares, whose son Cyrus causes to be whipped, is also identified with Harpagos; for when Artembares with his whipped boy stands before the king, to demand retribution, Harpagos at once is likewise seen standing before the king, to defend himself, and he also is obliged to present his son to the king. Thus Artembares himself plays an episodal part as the hero's father, and this is fully confirmed by the Ctesian version, which tells us that the nobleman who adopted the herder's son, Cyrus, as his own son, was named Artembares.

Even more distinct than the identity of the different fathers is that of their children, which of course serves to confirm the identity of the fathers. In the first place, and this would seem to be conclusive, the children are all of the same age--not only the son of the princess, and the child of the herder, who are born at the same time; but Herodotus specially emphasizes that Cyrus played the game of "Kings" (in which he caused the son of Artembares to be whipped) with boys of the same age as Cyrus. He also points out, perhaps intentionally, that the son of Harpagos, destined to become the playmate of Cyrus, whom the king had recognized, was likewise apparently of the same age as

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« Reply #125 on: December 29, 2009, 05:44:22 am »

 Cyrus. Furthermore, the remains of this boy are placed before his father, Harpagos, in a basket; it was also a basket in which the newborn Cyrus was to have been exposed, and this actually happened to his substitute, the herder's son, whose identity with Cyrus is obvious and tangible in the version of Justin given on page 36. In this report, Cyrus is actually exchanged with the living child of the herders; but this paradoxical parental feeling is reconciled by the consciousness that in reality nothing at all has been altered by this exchange. It appears more intelligible, of course, that the herder's wife should wish to raise the living child of the king, instead of her own stillborn boy, as in the Herodotus version (page 30); but here the identity of the boys is again evident, for just as the herder's son suffered death instead of Cyrus in the past, twelve years later the son of Harpagos (also in a basket) is killed directly for Cyrus, whom Harpagos had allowed to live. 1

The impression is thereby conveyed that all the multiplications of Cyrus, after having been created for a certain purpose, are again removed, as disturbing elements, once this purpose has been fulfilled. This purpose is undoubtedly the exalting tendency that is inherent in the family romance. The hero, in the various duplications of himself and his parents, ascends the social scale from the herder Mithradates, by way of the noble Artembares (who is high in the king's favor), and of the first administrator, Harpagos (who is personally related to the king)--until he has himself become a prince; so his career is shown in the Ctesian version, where Cyrus advances from the herder's son to the king's administrator. 2 In this way, he constantly

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« Reply #126 on: December 29, 2009, 05:44:38 am »

complicated mythological structures--as for example in Kaikhosrav, Feridun, and others--are easily recognized when envisaged from this angle.

The duplication of the fathers (or the grandfathers) by a brother may be continued in the next generation, and concern the hero himself, thus leading to the brother myths, which can only be hinted at in connection with the present theme. The prototypes of the boy (who in the Cyrus saga vanish into thin air after they have served their purpose, the exaltation of the hero's descent), if they were to assume a vitality of their own, would come to confront the hero as competitors with equal rights, namely, as his brothers. The original sequence is probably better preserved through the interpretation of the hero's strange doubles as shadowy brothers who, like the twin brother, must die for the hero's sake. Not only the father (who is in the way of the maturing son) is removed, but also the interfering competitor (the brother), in a naïve realization of the childish fantasies, for the simple reason that the hero does not want a family.

The complications of the hero legends with other myth cycles include (besides the myth of the hostile brothers, which has already been disposed of) also the actual incest myth, such as forms the nucleus of the Oedipus saga. The mother, and her relation to the hero, appear relegated to the background in the myth of the birth of the hero. But there is another conspicuous motif: the lowly mother is so often represented by an animal. This motif of the helpful animals 1 belongs in part to a series of foreign elements, the explanation of which would far exceed the scope of this essay. 2

The animal motif may be fitted into the sequence of

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« Reply #127 on: December 29, 2009, 05:45:00 am »

our interpretation, on the basis of the following reflections. Much as the projection onto the father justifies the hostile attitude on the part of the son, so the lowering of the mother into an animal is likewise meant to vindicate the ingratitude of the son who denies her. As the persecuting king is detached from the father, so the exclusive rôle of wet nurse assigned to the mother--in this substitution by an animal--goes back to the separation of the mother into the parts of the child-bearer and the suckler. This cleavage is again subservient to the exalting tendency, in so far as the childbearing part is reserved for the highborn mother, whereas the lowly woman, who cannot be eradicated from the early history, must content herself with the function of nurse. Animals are especially appropriate substitutes, because the sexual processes are here plainly evident also to the child, while the concealment of these processes is presumably the root of the childish revolt against the parents. The exposure in the box and in the water asexualizes the birth process, as it were, in a childlike fashion; the children are fished out of the water by the stork, who takes them to the parents in a basket. 1 The animal fable improves upon this idea, by emphasizing the similarity between human birth and animal birth.

This introduction of the motif may possibly be interpreted from the parodistic point of view if we assume that the child accepts the story of the stork from his parents, feigning ignorance, but adding superciliously: If an animal

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« Reply #128 on: December 29, 2009, 05:45:18 am »

has brought me, it may also have nursed me. 1

When all is said and done, however, and when the cleavage is followed back, the separation of the childbearer from the suckler--which really endeavors to remove the bodily mother entirely, by means of her substitution through an animal or a strange nurse--does not express anything beyond the fact: The woman who has suckled me is my mother. This statement is found directly symbolized in the Moses legend, the retrogressive character of which we have already studied; for precisely the woman who is his own mother is chosen to be his nurse (similarly also in the myth of Hercules, and the Egyptian-Phoenician Osiris-Adonis myth--where Osiris, encased in a chest, floats down the river and is finally found under the name Adonis, by Isis, who is installed by Queen Astarte as the nurse of her own son). 2

Only a brief reference can here be made to other motifs which seem to be more loosely related to the entire myth. Such themes include that of playing the fool, which is suggested in animal fables as the universal childish attitude toward grownups. They include, furthermore, the physical defects of certain heroes (Zal, Oedipus, Hephaestus), which are meant perhaps to serve for the vindication of individual imperfections, in such a way that the reproaches of the father for possible defects or shortcomings are incorporated into the myth, with the appropriate accentuation--the hero being endowed with the same weakness which burdens the self-respect of the individual.

This explanation of the psychological significance of the myth of the birth of the hero would not be complete without emphasizing its relations to certain mental diseases. Even readers without psychiatric training--or these perhaps more than any others--must have been struck with

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« Reply #129 on: December 29, 2009, 05:45:34 am »

these relations. As a matter of fact, the hero myths are equivalent in many essential features to the delusional ideas of certain psychotic individuals who suffer from delusions of persecution and grandeur--the so-called paranoiacs. Their system of delusions is constructed very much like the hero myth, and therefore indicates the same psychogenic themes as the neurotic family romance, which is analyzable, whereas the system of delusions is inaccessible even for psychoanalytical approaches. For example, the paranoiac is apt to claim that the people whose name he bears are not his real parents, but that he is actually the son of a princely personage; he was to be removed for some mysterious reason, and was therefore surrendered to his "parents" as a foster child. His enemies, however, wish to maintain the fiction that he is of lowly descent, in order to suppress his legitimate claims to the crown or to enormous riches. 1 Cases of this kind often occupy alienists or tribunals. 2

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This intimate relationship between the hero myth and the delusional structure of paranoiacs has already been definitely established through the characterization of the myth as a paranoid structure, which is here confirmed by its contents. The remarkable fact that paranoiacs will frankly reveal their entire romance has ceased to be puzzling, since the profound investigations of Freud have shown that the contents of hysterical fantasies, which can often be made conscious through analysis, are identical up to the minutest details with the complaints of persecuted paranoiacs; moreover, the identical contents are also encountered as a reality in the arrangements of perverts for the gratification of their desires. 1

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« Reply #130 on: December 29, 2009, 05:45:49 am »

The egotistical character of the entire system is distinctly revealed by the paranoiac, for whom the exaltation of the parents, as brought about by him, is merely the means for his own exaltation. As a rule the pivot for his entire system is simply the culmination of the family romance, in the apodictic statement: I am the emperor (or god). Reasoning in the symbolism of dreams and myths--which is also the symbolism of all fancies, including the "morbid" power of imagination--all he accomplishes thereby is to put himself in the place of the father, just as the hero terminates his revolt against the father. This can be done in both instances, because the conflict with the father--which dates back to the concealment of the sexual processes, as suggested by the latest discoveries--is nullified at the instant when the grown boy himself becomes a father. The persistence with which the paranoiac puts himself in the father's place, i.e., becomes a father himself, appears like an illustration to the common answers of little boys to a scolding or a putting off of their inquisitive curiosity: You just wait until I am a papa myself, and I'll know all about it!

Besides the paranoiac, his equally asocial counterpart must also be emphasized. In the expression of the identical

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fantasy contents, the hysterical individual, who has suppressed them, is offset by the pervert, who realizes them; and just so the diseased and passive paranoiac--who needs his delusion for the correction of the actuality, which to him is intolerable--is offset by the active criminal, who endeavors to change the actuality according to his mind. In this special sense, this type is represented by the anarchist. The hero himself, as shown by his detachment from the parents, begins his career in opposition to the older generation; he is at once a rebel, a renovator, and a revolutionary. However, every revolutionary is originally a disobedient son, a rebel against the father. 1 (Compare the suggestion of Freud, in connection with the interpretation of a "revolutionary dream.") 2
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« Reply #131 on: December 29, 2009, 05:45:59 am »

But whereas the paranoiac, in conformity with his passive character, has to suffer persecutions and wrongs which ultimately proceed from the father--and which he endeavors to escape by putting himself in the place of the father or the emperor--the anarchist complies more faithfully with the heroic character, by promptly himself becoming the persecutor of kings, and finally killing the king, precisely like the hero. The remarkable similarity between the career of certain anarchistic criminals and the family romance of hero and child has been elsewhere illustrated by the author, through special instances. 3 The truly heroic element then consists only in the real justice or even necessity of the act, which is therefore generally endorsed and admired; 4 while the morbid trait, also in criminal

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cases, is the pathologic transference of the hatred from the father to the real king, or several kings, when more general and still more distorted.

As the hero is commended for the same deed, without asking for its psychic motivation, so the anarchist might claim indulgence from the severest penalties, for the reason that he has killed an entirely different person from the one he really intended to destroy, in spite of an apparently excellent (perhaps political) motivation of his act. 1

For the present let us stop at the narrow boundary line where the contents of innocent infantile imaginings, suppressed and unconscious neurotic fantasies, poetical myth structures, and certain forms of mental disease and crime lie close together, although far apart as to their causes and dynamic forces. We resist the temptation to follow one of these divergent paths that lead to altogether different realms, but which are as yet unblazed trails in the wilderness.

 
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« Reply #132 on: December 29, 2009, 05:46:16 am »

Footnotes

65:1 The possibility of further specification of separate items of this outline will be seen from the compilation given by Lessmann at the conclusion of his "Die Kyrossage in Europe" (loc. cit.).

66:1 See also Wundt, who interprets the hero psychologically as a projection of human desires and aspirations (op. cit., p. 48).

69:1 Compare Freud: "Hysterical Fancies, and their Relation to Bisexuality," with references to the literature on this subject. This contribution is contained in the second series of Sammlung kleiner Schriften zur Neurosenlehre (Vienna and Leipzig, 1909).

71:1 For the idealizing of the parents by the children, compare Maeder's comments (Jahrbuch für Psychoanalyse, I (1909), p. 152, and Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse, I, p. 51) on Varendonk's essay, "Les idéals d’enfant."

71:2 Interpretation of Dreams.

73:1 Compare the "birth dreams" in Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, also the examples quoted by the author in Die Lohengrin Saga (Vienna, 1911), pp. 27 ff.
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« Reply #133 on: December 29, 2009, 05:46:29 am »

73:2 In fairy tales, which are adapted to infantile ideation, and especially to the infantile sexual theories (compare Freud in the December, 1908, number of Sexuelle Probleme), the birth of man is frequently represented as a lifting of the child from a well or a lake (Thimme, op. cit. p. 157). The story of "Dame Holle's Pond" (Grimm: Deutsche Sagen, Vol. I, p. 7) relates that the newborn children come from her well, whence she brings them forth. The same interpretation is apparently expressed in certain national rites; for example, when a Celt had reason to doubt his paternity, be placed the newborn child on a large shield and put it adrift in the nearest river. If the waves carried it ashore, it was considered as legitimate, but if the child drowned, this was proof of the contrary, and the mother was also put to death (see Franz Helbing: History of Feminine Infidelity). Additional ethnological material from folklore has been compiled by the author in Die Lohengrin Saga, pp. 20 ff.

73:3 The "box" in certain myths is represented by the cave, which also distinctly symbolizes the womb; aside from statements in Abraham, Ion, and others, a noteworthy case is that of Zeus, who is born in a cave on Mount Ida and nourished by the goat Amalthea, his mother concealing him for fear of her husband, the Titan Cronus. According to Homer's Iliad (XVIII, 396 ff.), Hephaestus is also cast into the water by his mother, on account of his lameness, and remains hidden for nine years in a cave surrounded by water. By exchanging the reversal, the birth (the fall into the water) is here plainly represented as the termination of the nine months of the intra-uterine life. More common than the cave birth is the exposure in a box, which is likewise told in the Babylonian Marduk-Tammuz myth, as well as in the Egyptian-Phoenician Osiris-Adonis myth (compare Winckler: Die Weltanschauung des alten Orients, Ex Oriente Lux, Vol. I., p. 43; and Jeremias, Die Babylonisches . . . , p. 41). Bacchus, according to Pausanius (III, 24), is also removed from the persecution of the king through exposure in a chest on the Nile, and is saved at the age of three months by a king's daughter, which is remarkably suggestive of the Moses legend A similar story is told of Tennes, the son of Cycnus (Siecke: "Hermes . . ." loc. cit., p. 48) and of many others.
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« Reply #134 on: December 29, 2009, 05:46:41 am »

The occurrence of the same symbolic representation among the aborigines p. 74 is illustrated by the following examples: Stucken (op. cit.) relates the New Zealand tale of the Polynesian Fire (and Seed) Robber, Mani-tiki-tiki, who is exposed directly after his birth, his mother throwing him into the sea, wrapped in an apron (chest, box). A similar story is reported by Frobenius (op. cit., p. 379) from the Betsimisaraka of Madagascar, where the child is exposed on the water, is found and raised by a rich, childless woman, but finally resolves to discover his actual parents. According to a report of Bab (Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1906, p. 281), the wife of the Raja Besurjay was presented with a child floating on a bubble of water-foam (from Singapore).

74:1 Compare Freud: Interpretation of Dreams.

74:2 Abraham (op. cit. pp. 22-3) contains the analysis of a very similar although more complicated birth dream, corresponding to the actual conditions: the dreamer, a young pregnant woman awaiting her delivery, not without fear, dreamed of the birth of her son, and the water appeared directly as the amniotic fluid.

74:3 This fantasy of an enormous water is extremely suggestive of the large and widespread group of the flood myths, which actually seem to be no more than the universal expression of the exposure myth. The hero is here represented by humanity at large. The wrathful father is the god; the destruction and the rescue of humanity follow each other in immediate succession. In this parallelization, it is of interest to note that the ark, or pitched house, in which Noah floats upon the water is designated in the Old Testament by the same word (tebah) as the receptacle in which the infant Moses is exposed (Jeremias: The Old Testament . . ., p. 250). For the motif of the great flood, compare Jeremias, p. 226, and Lessmann, at the close of his treatise, "Die Kyrossage .," loc. cit., where the flood is described as a possible digression of the exposure in the water. A transition instance is illustrated by the flood saga told by Bader, in his Baden folk legends: When the Sunken Valley was inundated once upon a time by a cloudburst, a little boy was seen floating upon the waters in a cradle, and was miraculously saved by a cat (Gustav Friedrich, op. cit., p. 265).
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