to start my presentation about the notion Myths and Heroes, I will, first,
define those two notions. Myth comes from the Greek mythos (mûthos)
which is "a story or set of stories having a significant truth or
meaning for a particular culture, religion, society or a group of
people" (wiktionary). Myths are popular beliefs or traditions
which often relate phenomenons or situations to heroes, gods or magic.
Hence (= thus) we these common words are
rooted in the history of early societies and often are related to each other.
If myths and heroes are present in many societies, they probably have different
specificities depending on the cultures they are anchored in. By analysing those notions "myth and hero", we will try to answer the following question: if every
society has its own heroes and myths but what are their purpose? Do they
represent society's values and concerns?
I. THE FOUNDING MYTHS
The Arthurian Legends has had a very important
impact on the Anglo-saxon culture. Those legends were first described by
Geoffroy de Monmouth and Chrétien de Troyes and then English writers and
poets adapted them in order to glorify the identity of their nation and to
illustrate the value of an era.
- Sir Thomas Malory: (1415-1471): Le
- Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892): Idylls of the King is a
victorian adaptation of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round
2) Founding myths in the USA
- The Pilgrim
Father, Thanksgiving, The Shining Upon a Hill
- The Founding Fathers, The Constitution
- The Myth of the Frontier: Manifest Destiny
3) Founding Myths in South Africa
- The Great Trek: The Empty Land is
a book written by Louis Lamour which regards the Boer Wars - which opposed
the Transvaal Boer (the descendant of the Dutch immigrants who colonised South
Africa) and the British Army. This book has been used to justify the Apartheid.
- The reconciliation around the figure of
"the father" Mandela after the Springboks' victory during the
Rugby world cup in 1995. Clint Eastwood depicted this story in his movie
II. HEROES AS A COHESIVE
of a collective and an individual identity, the society creates its own heroes.
As models to follow, they embody the values and concerns of an era.
1) The American Dream
James Truslow Adams in 1931
gave a definition of the American Dream:
"Life should be better and richer and
fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or
achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth".
The American dream is rooted in the Declaration
of Independence: "all men are created equal" with the right to Life,
Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".
2) The Rags-to-Riches Myths
Definition: rags-to-riches refers to
any situation in which a person rises from poverty to wealth or from obscurity
to fame. This is a common archetype in the American literature and popular
Songs “Rags to Riches” by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (1953)
Horatio Alger Jr (1832 – 1899) is an American writer who is famous
for his rags-to-riches narrative
The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald
- The Gilded Age is an era from 1870s to 1900 when the American
economy was growing fast but suffered from inequality and poverty. Many people
became rich but at the same time, a vast majority stayed poor. Mark Twain depicted this era in his
book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.
- The Rags-to-Riches myth is still vivid in
today’s society. Rappers, actors or businessmen like Jay-Z, Robert Downey
Jr or Steve Jobs are examples of people starting from scratch and who worked
hard to access the fame and the wealth.
3) The Myth of the cowboy
- The Cowboy Era (from 1866 to 1886) was
a period when the cities on the East Coast were deprived of resources whereas
Texas possessed over 6 million cattle roaming wild.
- The word ‘cowboy’ is a direct translation of the Spanish vaquero (= cow). Equivalents were used at this time like cowhand, buckaroo, cowpoke, cowpuncher but cowboy was the most
common in the West, especially in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
III. SUBVERSIVE HEROES
are models for people and they sometimes choose to get rid of the social and
moral codes that the society in which they were born put in place. In other
words, heroes might blur the line between good and evil.
1) The Rebel Heroes in the
American and English Cultures
- Robin Hood is a very figure popular in
the Anglo-saxon mythology, it even became an archetype of the hero taking money
from the Rich in order to help poor people.
- Rob Roy (1671 – 1734) was a Scottish outlaw, who later became a folk
hero fighting agains the English monarchy. That is why he was nicknamed “The
Scottish Robin Hood”.