Mythology Essay Sample
Heroes are those who are called to action by some circumstance, be it dramatic or not, that calls them into service to fulfill a quest, a task, or some other rite of passage that will harden them and serve as initiation into legend. Each and every hero throughout mythology’s many different tales has undergone a rite of passage, a series of tests that shape them to become the people they were meant to be, cementing their names into history in a manner that is reserved for the heroic. It is this quality that allows such tales to endure the test of time and the scrutiny given by the public, the mere fact that so many wish to either experience or view the life of a hero setting the stage for such an individual to emerge.
In his anthology, The World of Myth, author David Leeming presents depictions that “speak of the most fundamental human experience” (Leeming, 1991). People love a hero that they can see, a person that has come from virtually nothing and has fought their way forward in order to achieve their current status. The two heroes that have been selected for this essay, Hercules, the Greek demigod from mythology, and Neo from The Matrix, are comparable to several rites of passage that Leeming describes and are quite close to the typical archetype of the reluctant hero.
Rites of Passage
In regards to Hercules, there are many tales that tell of the half-human, half-god but only a few that can easily compare and contrast with Neo. Hercules, born from capricious beings that demanded fealty yet gave little more than troubles to their worshipers, was a troubled man who did not fit into either world completely. As a result of this he was an outcast and seen to wander the world in an effort to find his place. This is the withdrawal aspect in which the hero desires to find time to meditate and reflect upon their life and what direction it might take. In this manner they find calmness within their being what was otherwise lacking before. Oftentimes this is followed by the trial, or quest stage, during which the hero will discover a task that is yet to be done or a cause to follow or champion. In the case of Hercules it is the defining tasks that give birth to his legend and cement his name in mythology.
Following this is the death/scapegoat rite, in which the hero becomes the example to follow, the reason why people begin to harbor hope that things might actually get better. At this point the hero is ready to lay their life down selflessly for others in the hopes that they will be doing something worthwhile and morally sound. For Hercules, there are the 12 labors that he must complete to atone for the shame of killing his family, a sacrifice that is not altogether a typical part of the hero archetype but defines this hero nonetheless.
His own withdrawal is the denial that anything other than world he knows is real. The trial stage comes when he begins his training, and when he discovers that he is supposedly not “the one” that prophecy spoke of, but instead just another person. That changes quickly throughout the first movie of the series as he eventually discovers his purpose and his true abilities, and culminates finally in the third installment of the film when he enters the death/scapegoat rite, in which he gives himself over completely to his fate, sacrificing himself for the good of all.
In the trial/quest stage, Hercules is adamant about atoning for the death of his family, which thanks to a bout of madness came at his hands. He invests himself fully into the 12 labors that would be the end of any other man, taking them on one by one without hesitation. There is no shying away from these tasks on Hercules’ part as he wishes to make things right and so throws himself headlong into each task. Neo takes a great deal more convincing, as his own preconceptions about the world he knew are shattered as he is introduced slowly to his new destiny.
Both heroes are products of a world that needs them. Between the two Neo is the more reluctant hero, while Hercules is the one that seeks to do the right thing. Regarding their trials, Hercules’ is the desire to atone for a wrongdoing that was his fault, while Neo’s is the simple act of believing who he is and what he can do.
In looking at the death/scapegoat rite it is important to note that both men give of themselves fully when the idea of what must be done is fully adopted. While it can be argued that in the first film of The Matrix trilogy that Neo selflessly faces down Agent Smith to save the others, his true sacrifice does not come until the third film, Matrix Revolutions, that he performs the greatest sacrifice in order to save his people. Hercules does much the same when he confronts each challenge and by doing so thwarts the intentions of the goddess that seeks his demise. Unlike Neo however his death comes in a most ignominious fashion as he is poisoned and lain atop a bier to be cremated at the time of his death.
The time period and the circumstances are the main differences between these two heroes, though both men exemplify the archetype of the hero in their acts of sacrifice. In this manner they lead by example and show the true ideal that so many people wish to live by, though in their sacrifice they are forced to give everything.
Overall a hero is one who desires peace but typically is not allowed such a luxury, as they are the shining examples of humanity and its imaginative quest for greatness. Hercules and Neo are both exemplary figures that come from storied backgrounds and are seen to personify what it means to sacrifice and put others before oneself. This is among the rites of the hero, and a key part of the mythos that surrounds such stories and their central figures. Both Hercules and Neo are not the overall typical archetype, but still embody the title of hero in their own ways
Leeming, David Adams. The World of Myth: An Anthology. USA: Oxford University Press,