Archetypal Heroes Essay

The hero is not dead, but merely taken on a different form to suit the changing world. As society develops with the invariable updating of technology and varying of society’s values a hero needs to be constantly updating and changing its attitudes and values to stay relevant in modern day society. Through the close analysis of two texts, namely the 1998 Walt Disney film “Mulan” and the ancient text “The Epic of Gilgamesh” we can see how the hero is very much alive today but has radically changed forms to suit the present day.

Through changes in society’s view on women and the perfect expectations put on heroes in the past we can see many changes in heroes so that they conform to modern day society. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” is an epic poem from Babylonia and is among the earliest known literary works. Gilgamesh, The main character of the story is a great king and encompasses all the attributes of an archetypal hero. Joseph Campbell in the hero with a thousand faces states that “The greatest tale of the elixir quest… is that of Gilgamesh”. But the goals of Gilgamesh’s heroic journey are different of those in modern day society.

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Gilgamesh Searches for Glory and immortality which are seen to be almost impossible rewards for modern day Heroes. For example in the 2008 movie “I am legend” The main character played by Will Smith does not end the film with immortality and glory but quite the opposite. The character ends up giving up his own life for the sake of human kind. The character still encompasses all the values of an archetypal hero. This shows the changes in a modern hero. The themes that Gilgamesh covers throughout the story such Love as the motivating and The Gods are Dangerous force show the datedness of the text.

The drive that Gilgamesh has to complete his missions is based on the love of his best friend Enkidu. He undergoes the quest of immortality because he of his love for Enkidu, when he sees him die he cannot bear to experience such pain and suffering again and therefore believes that he must gain immortality. Even though Love as a motivating force is still a key element in many heroes journeys the way it is presented in Gilgamesh is very much dated compared to modern day Society. In a modern text the love story is almost always between a man and a woman.

The motivating force of a lover is hardly ever a friend or sibling but a partner of the opposite sex. The love is also not presented by strong companionship and loyalty but driven by sex scenes and great lust towards the opposite sex. For Example in “The Matrix” the relationship between Neo and Trinity is presented as predominantly physical with very little dialogue between the two characters. The theme: Gods are dangerous is not a relevant text in a modern hero text. This is because most of the population of the world is currently atheist, unlike in 2500 B.

C (when Gilgamesh was predicted to be written) so people do not want to believe that the hero has only gotten through the journey with the help of the gods or some sort of spirit. The theme of a ‘greater being’ is not often used in a heroes story and the hero has to rely on his earthly relationships to get undertake their journey. “Mulan” is an example of a modern day hero and the changes difference between Mulan and Gilgamesh are astounding. Mulan is a clear example of the changing hero in order to fit with modern day society. Mulan is an animation loosely based on the Chinese poem entitled “The Ballad of Mulan”.

It describes the transformation of a young girl who secretly takes her ailing father’s place to perform military duty against the white Huns, simultaneously counteracting China’s rich patriarchal hierarchies of the time. Mulan differs from the conventional archetypal hero in many ways. Mulan is a woman which is extremely uncommon to see for a hero. Back in the era of Gilgamesh women were seen as second class citizens to society and this was shown in the text as woman were only used as the temptress or the lover and never the hero e. g. the temptress used to lure Enkidu at the beginning of the text.

These views on woman have been around since the beginning of time and have only began to develop and change in the last few decades. We see this patriarchal society in many different ancient texts and even in the bible i. e. the story of Adam and Eve where Eve is said to be made from Adams rib and is also the temptress that influences Adam to take the bite of the forbidden fruit. Now the change in society’s ways is clear just from Mulan being a woman, the hero has changed to suit modern day society as woman become equal in society to men it no longer matters the sex of the hero.

Mulan does not have the conventional physical attributes of a hero. She is not large strong and muscular but small and petit but this does not stop her from saving China from the Huns. This introduces the theme brains over Braun. Also uncommon to a heroes attributes is Mulan’s clumsiness and her lack of coordination she is not particularly talented at fighting and does not have huge amounts of strength. What Mulan does have however is a huge amount of courage, determination and brains which is what gets her across the line in the end.

When the emperor of China meets Mulan he says “you stole your fathers armour, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonoured the Chinese army and destroyed my palace! And you have saved us all” This shows Mulan’s lack of physical attributes but her immense intellectual superiority. This helps show the theme Brains beat Braun. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and “Mulan” are distinct examples of heroic texts and both differ greatly from each other, showing how the hero has changed as time goes on.

The Physical attributes of Gilgamesh and Mulan are contrasted greatly. Gilgamesh is Tall strong, handsome and is half God. Mulan on the other hand is small petit and lacks in physical strength, She is not particularly beautiful and is comes from a middle class family she does not have any power in society. Both however are clear examples of heroes and in today’s culture we can see how, through the example of Mulan, physical strength is not all that matters.

Areas such as intellect, Courage and determination are valued more greatly. We can see this in many ways in today’s society, in how we pick our leaders i. e. Kevin Rudd or in the friends that we choose. Gilgamesh was big strong and handsome because that was the way a hero was to be perceived at the time. People wanted their hero to have great physical strength and have God-like attributes. At the time of Gilgamesh Mulan would not become a hero. This shows that heroes are a product of their time.

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