Friday, September 12, 2008

Who is He, or She, the Hero?

Excerpt from Erel Shalit's Enemy, Cripple & Beggar:
Shadows in the Hero's Path

Who is He, or She, the Hero?

The Hero is often portrayed as the golden image of youth, radiant in libidinal vitality and charisma; courageous and rebellious, “young, comely, with glowing locks and fiery crown,” as the sun-hero has been described.17 But he may likewise be the mature leader, guiding the nation through crisis, a Winston Churchill pronouncing he has “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”18 in order to move nations out of their slumber to combat evil, tyranny and madness.

The hero may be the male Prometheus stealing the fire from the gods for the benefit of mankind, but no less, the hero may be female. As Joseph Campbell says, “The hero, therefore, is the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations…”19

In the story of Hero and Leander, the latter is the hero who every night swims from his hometown Abydos across the strait that separates Asia and Europe, to Hero, a maiden in Sestos who serves the goddess of Love. She, no less a hero, is the one who by the light of her torch guides her lover on his journey across the sea.

Lord Byron, who in 1810 at age twenty-two, repeated Leander’s feat, makes us aware of how pain and love belong together. Remembering how finally Leander drowned in the rough sea, and Hero threw herself into the waves, he writes:
The winds are high on Helle’s wave,
As on that night of stormiest water,
When Love, who sent, forgot to save
The young, the beautiful, the brave,
The lonely hope of Sestos’ daughter.
O, when alone along the sky
The turret-torch was blazing high,
Though rising gale and breaking foam,
And shrieking sea-birds warned him home;
And clouds aloft and tides below,
With signs and sounds forbade to go,
He could not see, he would not hear
Or sound or sight foreboding fear.
His eye but saw that light of love,
The only star it hailed above;
His ear but rang with Hero’s song,
‘Ye waves, divide not lovers long.’
That tale is old, but love anew
May nerve young hearts to prove as true.20
Upon her return to Canaan, Ruth the Moabite, widow of Mahlon (‘the sickly’), unites with Boaz, (‘the strong’). From this union the House of David is eventually established, reflecting the hero’s grand return from the shadow into consciousness. Has she not brought with her a blossoming femininity and loyalty, as her name reveals, to the patriarchal but previously barren, sickly and inflated, Land of Canaan?21

And Artemis, roaming freely in the forests and the fields, is she not heroically protecting virgin nature against men’s ravenous forays, remaining chaste of the male projections of pure, naked femininity that she attracts? Even if some of us men may identify with the pain and tragic fate of Actaeon, Artemis (Diana) leaves us speechless, as does Charles Boer’s exceptional translation of the Metamorphoses:
Bath Time As Usual For Diana: & here comes
Cadmus’s grandson! tired, straying, unsteady,
woods unknown; but he finds the grove! fate brings him;
enters cave: splashing fountains, naked nymphs!
they beat their breasts: “Man!” loud outcry
fills entire woods: they surround Diana, covering
her body with theirs
but the tall goddess towers over others
by a neck! seen undressed, Diana’s face
goes scarlet dawn, sky color when
clouds deflect sun; her troops crowd round:
she, sideways, looks back, wishing
she had arrows ready: instead throws water,
soaks virile face, wets his hair, adds
to water-vengeance words promising disaster:
“Now say you saw me undressed!
if you can!”
no more threats: she sprouts old stag
antlers on his wet head, expands neck, points
his ears, lengthens arms & legs, spots on body;
& adds fear: hero flees surprised at his own speed
he sees in water, head antlered & starts to say,
“Oh dear!” but no word comes; groans
only; tears streak cheeks not his own;
his mind alone unchanged22
In the male psyche, Diana may serve as a fascinating and fearsome anima, defying capture, making him plunge deep into his own shadow. She heroically defies the fate spoken by the gods by turning poor Actaeon, brought by fate to find her in the grove, into a stag, then setting his own hounds upon him, tearing him to death.

We may compare her with Dora, eighteen-year-old Ida Bauer, victim of abuse, manipulation and psychoanalytic projection: She fought heroically against the fate of seduction, betrayal and deception imposed upon her by her father’s authority, as well as Freud’s fatherly authority, abandoning the latter after merely three months; leaving him with, as he admits, only a fragment of an analysis.23

The Hero may be the Heroic Healer, the brilliant brain surgeon who with his laser-sharp sword, the scalpel, cuts through human flesh and bone and nerve to determine in the operating theater’s war between life and death. Or, he may be the Wounded Healer, whose cure to heal broken souls is brewed in the pain of his own untreatable wound. Or, the hero may be the Wounding Healer, whose tool is the dirty needle, which Freud put at centre court by means of psychoanalysis’ initial dream, the Dream of Irma’s Injection, with which he introduces the Interpretation of Dreams24—like a Churchill in the battlefield of mind and psyche, promising nothing but dirt, mud, guilt and shame, in the struggle to uncover the autonomous complexes in the shadow, which threaten to undermine free will and psychic balance.

Erel Shalit's Enemy, Cripple, & Beggar: Shadows in the Hero's Path and his previously published book The Complex: Path of Transformation from Archetype to Ego can be purchased at or by phoning Fisher King Press directly at 1-831-238-7799

17 “The Song of the Moth,” CW 5, par. 164.
18 Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940, in his first speech as newly appointed Prime Minister.
19 The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 19.
20 The Works of Lord Byron, Vol. III, The Bride of Abydos, Canto the Second, p. 178.
21 The land of Moab and the Moabites trace their feminine ancestry to the mother of Moab (whose name means ‘from my father’), the daughter of Lot. As a heroic act of renewal, when she believed no men were alive but her father, she lay with him and Moab was born. As Robert Graves writes, “Lot’s daughters are not here reproached for their breach of the incest taboo, since they acted innocently; a midrash even suggests that God aided them” (Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, p. 185). For an extensive analysis of the story, see Yehezkel Kluger, A Psychological Interpretation of Ruth.
22 Ovid’s Metamorphoses, translated by Charles Boer, p. 53.
23 Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria, SE 7, pp. 3-124.
24 The Interpretation of Dreams, SE 4, p. 106ff; Robert Bosnak, “The Dirty
Needle: Images of the Inferior Analyst,” Spring, 44, pp. 105-115.

Copyright © 2008 Erel Shalit - For permission to reprint see Fisher King Press

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