The Hero’s Journey in Oedipus Rex The Departure Home / Beginnings

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The Hero’s Journey in Oedipus Rex

The Departure

Home / Beginnings

The Call to Adventure

Oedipus overhears rumors of birth

Freedom to Live

Refusal of the Call

Oedipus does not believe, wants oracle to confirm

Master of Two Worlds

Recognizes double identity

Supernatural Assistance

Oracle at Delphi offers prophecy

Crossing of the Return Threshold

Oedipus banishes self from city

Crossing the First Threshold

Oedipus defeats sphinx and entersThebes

The Belly of the Whale life in Thebes

Rescue from Without

The Quest

The Magic Flight

Refusal of the Return

Refuses to leave before addressing city and daughters

The Road of Trials

Oedipus addresses city’s suffering

The Meeting with the Goddess

Oedipus’ exchange with Tieresias

Encounter with Temptations

Oedipus blames Tieresias and Creon

Atonement with the Father

Messenger delivers news of Oedipus’ death – Herdsman confirms Laius was father


Oedipus blinds self,

Accepts truth

The Ultimate Boon

Oedipus gains the true knowledge of his birth

The Return

Introducing the Hero’s Journey
According the Bedford/St. Martin’s Glossary of Literary Terms, a symbols is a person, object, image, word, or event that evokes a range of additional meaning beyond and usually more abstract than its literal significance. (Examples: Images of spring represent the theme of rebirth; the color red represents passion-or sometimes death, Harper Lee’s mockingbird represents innocence).
Psychologist Carl Jung first proposed that certain symbols occur universally and express the basic human experiences shared by everyone, regardless of when or where they live (Bedford / St. Martin). Jung proposed that these archetypes are somehow embedded in humankind’s “collective unconscious” and that the same ideas, traditions, and stories can be found across cultures in the past and the present.
Creation stories are a good example of the way these timeless symbols, or archetypes, can be shared across cultures. Most creation stories contain the images of a transition from light to dark, an animal that saves or destroys humans, a human made from elements of earth. From the creation stories of early Native Americans to those of ancient Chinese cultures to those of the first Mayans, these common symbols are always present.
Archetypes are traditionally divided into two categories: characters and situations. Examples of character archetypes in many stories include the epic hero (think Odysseus), the wise mentor, the damsel in distress, the social outcast, etc. The most common situational archetype is the cycle of the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey outlines the steps a hero must take to overcome evil (or other challenges) and reach an all important goal. This journey can be interpreted on a literal level (as an actual physical journey with real dangers) or on a symbolic level (as a person’s psychological journey through individual, and often subconscious, transformation).

The Stages of the Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell, an American professor of mythology, further expanded the scope of archetypes. In his seminal work The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In this text Campbell explores the theory that important myths from around the world which have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure, which Campbell calls the hero’s journey (or the monomyth.) We usually divide the Journey into three main stages of seventeen steps, but you must remember that the journey is a single process and an individual adventure towards growth and transformation. As such, the sequence of elements and the duration of the experiences will vary from one person / character to another.

Departure (from the known)

The Call

Refusal of the Call

Supernatural Assistance

The First Threshold (with guardians, helpers, and mentor)

The Belly of the Whale

The Quest [Initiation through Transformation]

The Challenges / Road of Trials

The Meeting with the Goddess

Encounters with Temptations

The Atonement with the Father

The Apotheosis

The Ultimate Boon

The Return (to the known world)

The Refusal of the Return

The Magic Flight

Rescue From Without

Crossing the Return Threshold

Master of Two Worlds

Freedom to Live
Remember that the journey is a process of separation, transformation, and return. Each stage must be completed successfully if we are to become Heroic. To turn back is to reject our innate need to grow.

The Departure

    1. The Call to Adventure
      The call to adventure is the point in a person's life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.

    2. Refusal of the Call
      Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.

    3. Supernatural Aid
      Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.

    4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
      This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.

    5. The Belly of the Whale
      The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero's known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person's lowest point, but it is actually the point when the person is between or transitioning between worlds and selves. The separation has been made, or is being made, or being fully recognized between the old world and old self and the potential for a new world/self. The experiences that will shape the new world and self will begin shortly, or may be beginning with this experience which is often symbolized by something dark, unknown and frightening. By entering this stage, the person shows their willingness to undergo a metamorphosis, to die to him or herself.

The Quest - Initiation to Transformation

    1. The Road of Trials
      The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.

    2. The Meeting with the Goddess
      The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. It is also known as the "hieros gamos", or sacred marriage, the union of opposites, and may take place entirely within the person. In other words, the person begins to see him or herself in a non-dualistic way. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely. Although this step may symbolize an actual meeting with a goddess figure, unconditional love and /or self unification does not have to be represented by a woman.

    3. Encounters with Temptations
      At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. This step may also represent the revulsion that the usually male hero may feel about his own fleshy/earthy nature, and the subsequent attachment or projection of that revulsion to women. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.

    4. Atonement with the Father
      In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving in to this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power. For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be "killed" so that the new self can come into being. Sometime this killing is literal, and the earthly journey for that character is either over or moves into a different realm.

    5. Apotheosis
      To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. This is a god-like state; the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.

    6. The Ultimate Boon
      The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.

The Return

    1. Refusal of the Return
      So why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?

    2. The Magic Flight
      Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.

    3. Rescue from Without
      Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience. Or perhaps the person doesn't realize that it is time to return, that they can return, or that others need their boon.

    4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
      The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is usually extremely difficult.

    5. Master of the Two Worlds
      In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.

    6. Freedom to Live
      Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.

The Journey is a Map

While the story of the Journey first manifested itself in the ancient myths and legends, it is still around us today. It is the basis for almost all of the books and plays we read. We see it in television programs such as (believe it or not) in "The Simpsons." Even the movies we enjoy -- Forrest, Gump, Groundhog Day, Labyrinth, Field of Dreams, Matrix, The Lion King -- are fictional depiction's of the Hero's Journey.

The Journey gives you a means for understanding and benefiting from these fictional adventures. Even if the characters aren't real, the journeys they take and challenges they face are reflections of the real journeys and challenges we all face in life. As you watch them move through their quests, you can learn from their experiences.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the Journey is the pattern that we follow in our own lives as we face challenges and move from child to teenager, from teenager to adult, from adult to old age, and from old age into death.

The adventures we face will be challenging and exciting. They can open the doors to knowledge and understanding. If we understand the Journey pattern, we will be better able to face difficulties and use our experiences to become stronger and more capable. Understanding the pattern can help us achieve wisdom, growth, and independence, and taking our Journeys helps us become the people we want to be.

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