Myths and legends are an important part of the legacy of the past, and it is critical to be able to analyze them to gain a better understanding of the cultural heritage of a particular person. This paper provides an analysis of two heroic figures from the mythology/religion of two peoples: Perseus of the Ancient Greek mythology, and Moses from the Abrahamic religions. For this analysis, the model of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, according to which a general pattern of a hero’s journey holds true across different peoples and cultures, is adopted (Cruz and Kellam 170-173). The two stories are discussed in order to find out whether the 17 steps of the monomyth model can be applied to them.
Perseus is one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology, known for his numerous deeds and victories over various monsters such as the Medusa, the Cetus, as well as several tyrannical kings. It is possible to analyze the story of Perseus using the 17 steps of Campbell’s “monomyth” (Cruz and Kellam 170-175).
Step 1: The Call to Adventure
When Perseus became mature, his mother, Danae, was suited by Polydectes. Perseus attempted to defend his mother, so Polydectes decided to send Perseus away. He invited Perseus to a banquet to which Perseus had to bring a gift. Perseus could not do so, but promised to find whatever Polydectes wanted; Polydectes asked that Perseus would bring the head of Medusa, the mortal Gorgon (“Perseus”).
Step 2: The Refusal
Perseus did not refuse the task given by Polydectes because he had to keep his promise. However, it was clear for the hero that the demand of Polydectes was inadequate (“Perseus”).
Step 3: The Divine Aid
Perseus obtained the assistance of Athena, who instructed him to find the Hesperides, the sisters of Gorgon. Hesperides provided Perseus with a sack for containing Gorgon’s head. Also, Zeus supplied him with an adamantine sword and a helm, whereas Athena offered him a polished shield (“Perseus”).
Step 4: The First Threshold
Perseus kills the Medusa and takes her head. He escapes her immortal sisters using the helm provided by Zeus (“Perseus”).
Steps 5-6: The Belly of the Whale; The Road of Trials
Perseus then visits the king of Mauretania, Atlas, who proves to be rather inhospitable; because of this, Perseus uses Medusa’s head to turn the king to stone (“Perseus”).
Steps 7-8: Meeting with a Goddess; The Female Temptress
Perseus was tempted by Andromeda, whose beauty was boasted by her mother, Cassiopeia, which led to the wrath of Poseidon. As a result, Perseus had to rescue Andromeda, saving her from a sea monster Cetus. Later, due to a quarrel during the wedding of Perseus and Andromeda, the hero turned to stone Phineus, who was previously promised Andromeda as a wife (“Perseus”).
Step 9: Atonement with the Father
Perseus returned home to Seriphos to his mother and found out that she was harassed by Polydectes. Perseus killed Polydectes, turning him to stone using the head of Medusa. He made his brother Dictys the king of Seriphos (“Perseus”).
Step 10: Apotheosis
In different versions of the myth, Acrisius was killed by Perseus, who threw a quoit/discus or showed Acrisius the Medsa’s head to prove that he was not lying about his adventures, which turned Acrisius into stone (“Perseus”).
The act of making Megapenthes the king of Argos, and becoming the governor of Tiryns, might be considered the “ultimate boon” of the story of Perseus because this is probably the ultimate achievement of the hero. It is probably also the step 15, Crossing the Return Threshold, because the hero utilizes the wisdom which he gained during his journeys in order to rule his lands (“Perseus”). It should be noted that in other sources, Perseus stayed in Argos and founded several towns such as Mycenae and Mideia, as well as produced several children with the help of Andromeda (“Perseus”).
Probably it might be considered that the steps 16 and 17, Master of Two Worlds and Freedom to Live, respectively, because Perseus achieves the balance between the world of mortals and the spiritual world, living in harmony with both, and because he now has the freedom to live and rule wisely according to his obtained experience.
On the whole, it might be possible to state that the steps 12-14 (Refusal of the Return, Magi Flight, Recue from Without) are not present in the story of Perseus in a clear, obvious manner. The mainline of events stops when Perseus kills Acrisius (accidentally during the game of sport, or intentionally, when Perseus shows the head of Medusa to Acrisius). Nevertheless, the story does follow the general sequence of 17 steps suggested by Campbell (Cruz and Kellam 171-175).
Moses, a prophet in the Abrahamic religions, is a legendary (rather than historical) individual who, with the assistance of the Biblical God, led the Israelites from the lands of Egypt, where these people were enslaved by the Egyptians. Campbell mentions that Moses can be considered a “tribal hero” who contributed his “boon” to a “single folk” (30). Therefore, it is possible to consider the story of Moses in order to assess whether it fits Campbell’s template of 17 steps of his monomyth. The story of Moses is described in Exodus, one of the books of the Biblical Old Testament (or one of the books of the Torah, if the perspective of Judaism is adopted).
Steps 1: The Call to Adventure
Moses was born in a Jewish family living in Egypt in the times when the Egyptian pharaoh ordered all Jewish sons to be killed in order to avoid rebellions. However, he was set adrift on the Nile and later adopted by the pharaoh’s daughter (New King James Version, Exodus, 2.1-10). When Moses grew up, he started protecting Jewish people and eventually killed an Egyptian overseer torturing an Israelite. As a result, Moses was forced to escape to Midian; there, he found a woman named Zipporah, and married her.
Steps 2-3: The Refusal; The Divine Aid
Later, he encountered God in the form of a burning bush. God told him that he had to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites into the lands which were promised to Abraham – Canaan. On the whole, although Moses was hesitant to accept the task, God stated that he would help Moses; it might be possible to state that there was no clear “refusal” on the part of Moses.
Steps 4-5: The First Threshold; The Belly of the Whale
The part of the story where Moses visits the pharaoh and asks him to let the Israelites go can probably be considered the first threshold that was overcome by Moses in his pursuit of freeing the Jewish people. After that, God started smiting Egyptians with the ten plagues to make the pharaoh eventually free the people of Abraham. Eventually, Moses faces the Egyptian pharaoh, and the pharaoh lets Israelites go; Moses starts leading them out of Egypt.
Steps 6, 9: The Road of Trials; Atonement
However, the pharaoh reconsidered his decision to let the Israelites go free, and started pursuing them with an army; however, God created a pillar of flame to stop that army, whereas Moses, with God’s help, divided the sea and led his people to its other side (Exodus 14.21-22); the pharaoh’s army, which pursued Moses and his people, was destroyed when the Israelites crossed to the other bank, and the water returned. Thus, the pharaoh and his army were eliminated.
Steps 11, 16: Ultimate Boon; Master of Two Worlds
Although the desert into which Israelites were led was an inhospitable place, God supplied them with water and manna in order to satisfy their need for food and water. Later, God asks if the Israelites agree to be his people, and when they agree, he produces the Ten Commandments for them, as well as the Covenant code, which they must follow.
Nevertheless, while Moses was conversing with God on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, Aaron of the Israelites made a golden calf for the people to worship; this cause the wrath of God, who made threats to destroy the whole people; however, Moses pleaded for the people and persuaded God not to murder everyone. Upon his return from the mountain, Moses smashed the stone tablets with commandments in anger, and ordered the Levites to wipe out only the unfaithful.
After that, Moses was commanded by God to create new tablets; Moses wrote down the Ten Commandments and delivered them to the people. He also delivered the will of God to them, stating that they must keep the Sabbath and create the Tabernacle; once the latter was constructed, God dwelt in it, telling the Israelites where to travel. Moses served as the prophet and the delivered of the will of God to his people.
On the whole, it is easy to see that the story of Moses does follow the general pattern described by Campbell (23); the three steps of separation (Moses was separated from his people when he escaped to Midian), initiation (he met God in the form of bush, and was given his tasks), and return (he returned to Egypt to lead Israelites from it) do occur. Generally speaking, the pattern described by the 17 steps of Campbell “monomyth” was also followed, although not all the steps were present. More specifically, steps 7, 8, 10, 12-15, and 17 are probably missing from the sequence: Moses does not meet with goddesses, there are no significant females in this story, and the hero does not return anywhere (although he did return to Egypt after his encounter with God).
All in all, it can be seen that the general pattern proposed by Campbell in his book does apply to the two heroes who were considered in this paper. Both Perseus and Moses were forced to engage in adventure at some point, obtained divine assistance, had to overcome a number of barriers and complete several trails on their path.
Finally, they obtained an ultimate “boon” in different forms, and were able to use the wisdom obtained during their adventures in order to live in harmony with both the material and the spiritual world, also leading their people with the help of that wisdom. Therefore, in spite of the fact that there are important differences in the two stories (for instance, there are no significant female characters in the story of Moses, there are no goddesses, and so on), the general model appears to hold true.
Campbell, Joseph. The hero with a thousand faces. 3rd ed., New World Library, 2008.
Cruz, Joshua, and Nadia Kellam. “Restructuring Structural Narrative Analysis Using Campbell’s Monomyth to Understand Participant Narratives.” Narrative Inquiry, vol. 27, no. 1, 2017, pp. 169-186.
“Perseus.” Theoi, n.d. Web.