Across lands forlorn : the epic journey of the hero, from Homer to Chandler

  • Sergio Sergi

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    All human beings by nature desire knowledge- Aristotle Metaphysics 980.I This thesis examines the characteristics of the hero principally as portrayed in epic, from the oral compositions of antiquity via the printed word of the past to the visual representation of the present. The texts examined are from the Western Canon of epics. Epic is taken to refer to a collection of stories that show a character on a quest which consists of a number of episodic adventures. Thus drama, with its focus on action on stage rather than on the projection of character onto the audience’s imagination, is mostly excluded from this study. It is acknowledged, nevertheless, that drama and epic have much in common in the portrayal of the construct termed ‘hero’. The hero in each of the texts under scrutiny is male, thus female characters and ‘heroines’ are not discussed in any detail unless they are directly connected with the hero and their lives are affected by the hero’s code of behaviour. Also excluded are epics from other cultures except for those mentioned briefly to illustrate the universality of the appeal of the epic and of the hero. Film is discussed briefly and then only as a re-interpretation of existing epic material. Aristotle categorizes epic as an imitation of life and so ‘real life’ heroes are at the periphery of the study but intrude at such times as their lives in turn imitate the ‘art’ of epic composition. This thesis shows that the hero has appealed predominantly to male audiences for almost three millennia. Further, it demonstrates that this construct, the characterization of the hero, in essence, remains unchanged, that the modifications made by time and place are primarily cosmetic. Changes in the social class of audiences and in the method of transmission of the tales are taken into account as they affect the continued response to the hero. The discussion introduces the hero prototype, Achilles, it tracks the evolution of this character from Greece to Imperial Rome, to England and then, after the hero has crossed the Atlantic, it follows his trek from the forests of New England to the streets of Los Angeles where he becomes the archetype of the hero. The choice of heroes and of location is not arbitrary, although it does reflect a personal response to these works. The epics are linked by theme and by characters and the geographic locations reflect the needs of audiences in those places for the emotional comfort provided by the hero during times of change. The subsets of the hero are variations on a theme and not distinctly different representations of the hero construct. These include the popular hero, often referred to as the ‘folk’ hero, the adventurer and the sportsman; some of these heroes are real, others could well be. Finally, the nature of the soldier, real and fictional, is examined to show the connexion with the warrior. Modern soldiers, volunteers who regard themselves as members of the elite brotherhood of the profession of arms, have much in common with the Homeric warrior and so the argument of this thesis comes full circle. The conclusion reaffirms the existence of an unbroken thread that links the hero through time and place, it confirms that this genre of epic and hero is an imitation of the real and it positions this hero-construct into the collective imagination of males.
    Date of Award2006
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorGreg Battye (Supervisor) & Jordan Williams (Supervisor)

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