Author Archives: bdfleagle

Yahweh’s Book And Allah’s Koran

1. How do Islamic perceptions of Heaven and Hell differ from those of Christianity and Judaism?

"Oh, Jerusalem!"  A city of three religions.  Photo public domain.

“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!   But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19: 41.   A city of three religions. Photo public domain.

Heaven and Hell in the Islamic Koran appear similar in description to the Bible on the surface.   They are the destinies of souls of similar ilk, however, in looking a bit deeper, they are ideologically very different.   The Koran speaks of “flowing streams” in eternal gardens, with the righteous, having attained heaven through good works, clothed in fine robes and garments, sitting about on cushions and eating lots of figs and grapes.   Heaven in the Bible is a specific size, measured in cubits, paved in gold, with mansions, prepared for Christ’s people.   Hell, like in the Bible, is a place of fire, involving very deep pits.   Rather uncomfortable.   Significantly of course, is the mention of differing degrees in the Hebrew and Islamic versions.   In “55. The Merciful”, the Koran even lists some of the specific terrors waiting there for the unbelievers and throughout its pages there are consistent warnings that express god’s punishments are severe.   Christianity on the other hand, says little, mentioning only a “Lake of Fire” reserved for Satan and his angels.   Damnation in the Christian theology is eternity alone, in torment away from Yahweh.   The key point here is that everyone agrees, we are eternal beings and when the Day of Judgement, or the Last Day comes, we will all get our due.   In Allah’s eternity, the workers of good deeds shall receive rewards.   In Christ’s eternity, those who believed upon Him, and excepted His mercy will receive rewards, which they will cast at His feet in adoration, dwelling with Him and worshiping Him forever.   Both picture an eternal rest, yet its purpose is different.   With Allah, there are rewards to be enjoyed for good works, pretty straight forward.   With Yahweh, good works are simply not enough, compared to His pure light.   The sole purpose of eternity is to be in His presence, which glorifies Him and is so gratifying to those saved, it cannot be fathomed yet.   Christ described it as a banquet, where those invited made excuses, choosing not to come, so “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” were brought in (Luke 14:15-24).   Please count me among the poor and lame, as I would like to attend the banquet.

2. Although Jesus was a Jew, the religious institutions created in his name proved difficult for Jews to embrace but attractive to Greeks. What elements in the Nativity and the Passion narratives seems particularly and culturally familiar to a pagan audience?

The Nativity and the Passion are not accepted by Judaism, which is ironic, for both events do fulfill their own prophetic writings (Isaiah 52 – 53) just to point in the right direction.   Christ’s lowly birth, as it historically took place was a match to the predictions of the coming Messiah’s birth (1 Sam. & Malachi 5).   Christ’s death, although not   what the Jews expected of their Messiah, also matches prophesy, especially in the noted chapters in Isaiah.   There is little in this that matches pagan experience or would be attractive to Greeks, except that they were accustomed to the idea of many Gods, the God’s having “sons” and the idea of a God-like man.   Christ’s virgin birth may have actually been more palatable to Greeks than to Jews when one considers that heroes like Achilles were said to be born of Sea Nymphs and the like.   A virgin birth to an otherwise “proper” girl, might appear very acceptable.   Christ’s birth right to Israel’s kingship would not have been a particular point with Greeks, except that there is a “Hero’s” story there, especially with the resurrection and returning to bring a treasure (the Gospel) to all men.   While Christ’s character of humble, silent, lamb to the slaughter is not very pagan, but something new altogether.

3. Jesus claims the redeemed sinner is more precious to God than the righteous person who never sinned. This implies a conception of God unlike that found in the Old Testament or in The Iliad. How does this emphasis on human repentance and divine mercy change human relations to God? What different aspects of the divine/human relationships were emphasized in Gilgamesh, or The Iliad?

Mel Gibson's, "The Passion of Christ" is horribly gory, but its portrayal of what the man named Jesus suffered is nonethless, historically accurate.  What kind of God submits himself to such a thing?  A very different one.

Mel Gibson’s, “The Passion of Christ” is horribly gory, but its portrayal of what the man named Jesus suffered is nonetheless, historically accurate. The scourging that Pilate ordered was intended to be brutal and humiliating, enough to kill even without crucifixion.   What kind of God submits himself to such a thing? A very different one.

Among the world’s religions, there is no other where the Creator of All Heaven and Earth, takes it upon himself to take the form of his creation, live among his creation,   allow his creation to destroy him, then having removed the barriers to communion, invited that same creation to share Eternity with Him.   There is no parallel anywhere in humanity’s record.   The essential difference here is not that a redeemed sinner is more precious than one who has never sinned, for according to the Bible, there is no one without sin (Romans 3:9-11), but that our debt has been paid and we must only receive this gift of salvation bought for us by this sacrificial act of the God-man.   Humanity’s blood price paid.   What kind of god submits himself to such a thing?   A very different one and one I wish to know.   Every other God vs. Man arrangement in the human experience requires some form of good work, divine path, or exalted, righteous or monkish lifestyle that is all but unattainable.

"We want Barabbas!"  by Eric Edwards.  A God who let himself be sacrificed by that which He created, so that that which He created might have eternal life.  No that's a bit different.

“We want Barabbas!” by Eric Edwards. A God who let himself be sacrificed by that which He created, so that that which He created might have eternal life. Now that’s a bit different.   Hard to make this stuff up.

Followers of Christ are not required to do anything like that according to the Gospel.   The standard set by the “Ten Commandments” or the “Covenant”, are impossible to keep.   Christ illustrates this as he mentions that even having ill thoughts is enough to cart you off to hell.   Better to gouge out your eye and chop your arm off!   The harder men strive and work at the works, the farther away they become.     Like the “hypocrites” mentioned in “The Sermon on the Mount” (Norton, 892). Christ brings a new covenant, initiated by his sacrifice and resurrection.   They must simply believe.   It is a gift, and a gift is not earned.   This is the definition of “divine mercy” and is perhaps the stumbling block for those who strive to be righteous.     For how can a man, covered in sin, be more precious than one who has devoted himself to good works and righteous living?

In my opinion, the god’s in the Illiad and in Gilgamesh are so lacking in greatness and majesty, I hesitate to confer on them such an exalted title. There is no comparison to the description of the   Hebrew God in either the Old or the New Testament.   Yahweh’s own name is far more majestic than any name I’ve ever heard.   Just think, “I AM” (Meaning no beginning and no ending, always having existed).   I think its fascinating that in the Greek language, Christ’s words in the Garden “I am he” indicate the same reference to deity.   In the next sentence, those who came to arrest him are knocked over, “they drew back and fell to the ground”   (John 18:5-6).   The several god’s mentioned in relation to the flood story in Gilgamesh are weak in comparison.   They strive against each other.     They are not troubled by man’s evil, but by his “noise”.   This is similar to the irrational irritations that the Greek gods suffer from.   Squabbling with each other, tempting and tricking mortals, competing with each other to push their hero to victory.   They appear petty and small.   Yahweh’s not willing to share his glory with anyone.   He enters into no petty quarrels and suffers no foolish behavior.   His domain is his alone, he shares it with no other god.   Further, unlike the god’s striving to “humanize” Enkidu through sex with a harlot. Such things cannot be in the presence of the God of Abraham.   Were I a disinterested party, I think “I AM” would get my vote.





Euripides Madea and The Book of Job

1. Madea is a woman, but Euripides has presented her as a figure previously thought of as exclusively male–a hero. Analyze her character in the play with that of Achilles, and conclude with a judgement on whether or not you think Medea is a hero and why.

I remember this poster from the library years ago, I wondered what the story was.  No that I know, I think it portrays Madea's character very effectively.  Alluring, dangerous, cunning and tragic.  Photo in public domain.

I remember this poster from the library years ago, I wondered what the story was. No that I know, I think it portrays Madea’s character very effectively. Alluring, dangerous, cunning and tragic. Photo in public domain.

Euripedes has indeed shown Madea as the tragic hero in his play, although the character is not on the “Hero’s Journey” exactly and the term should perhaps be applied rather lightly.   She is the main character, she is the dominant personality in the story and the rise of intensity in the story builds to the climax around her actions.   However, as for being imbued with traditionally “male” qualities, I disagree.     I think Madea is very much a woman in thought and action.   I don’t consider anything about her behavior to be overly man-like, but the opposite.   Women can be very skilled, very independent and very resolute.   Maybe these are attributes normally accorded to males in Greek tradition, but I think that is assuming to much about something written so long ago.   Her actions, like Achilles in Homer, are initiated out of a deep sense of injured pride and honor.   A women like Madea does not strike me as the type that is likely to find herself defenseless and homeless for long.   She is too cunning and self-reliant for such fears to hold her back for long.   No, her motivation is injured pride and in that, she is more like Achilles than in any other way.   Like the Greek warrior, Madea has a horrid temper which carries her farther perhaps than rational thinking would allow for.   In lines 105 – 115, she gives voice to her injury, and the nurse, listening, expresses a knowledge of her mistresses’ character flaw, “In that cloud of her cries that is rising with a passion increasing.   Oh, what will she do, proud-hearted and not to be checked on her course, a soul bitten into with wrong?”   And like the famous warrior, Madea’s rage is taken out on members of her own close circle.   Achilles called to Zeus to strike the “Greeks” (an inclusive group that he belonged to), and Madea expresses hate of her own children, revealing a mind that perceives not only husband but anything involving the husband as the target of her anger.   She cries, “Ah, I have suffered what should be wept for bitterly.   I hate you , children of a hateful mother.   I curse you and your father.   Let the whole house crash.” (114)   The nurse continues to outline the fairly psychotic anger Madea gives herself over to, “…Great people’s tempers are seldom checked, dangerous they shift from mood to mood.   How much better …”   (120).   Madea also shows herself like Achilles in that her chosen method of triumph over her enemies goes beyond mere defeat, but having vanquished with poison, she chooses a poison that is particularly violent and its method of application so vicious that others are sure to fall with the primary intended victim.   She goes overboard.   Her children’s sacrifice, are a last act of vicious hatred, murdered to “rub it in” to Jason’s pitiful character.

Although there are certainly a few hallmarks of the Hero’s Journey such as the “Call to Adventure” and the wizened mentor, guardian (the witchcraft and sorcery available to Madea), she is not bringing anything to her family or society for its betterment and she is not in the end, a re-born victor, but simply a further degradation of an already horribly flawed character.   Euripides may have used her as a tragic heroine, but Madea fails to qualify for “hero” status.

2. Job (in chapter 31) makes the claim that his life has been virtuous and devoted to the worship of God, and so he does not deserve the calamities that have fallen on him. He asks God for an answer, but the voice from the whirlwind does not deal with his question at all. Why does Job accept God’s assertion of divine power (42) and not press for an answer to his question? Why is he satisfied with what he is given? Do you find the end of the dialogue satisfactory?

In reading Job, one tends to get lost in the arguments, then when you finally reach the end and find Yahweh’s reaction to Job, it is so clear what He is saying, it seems almost overly harsh and clearly whirlwind like.   I have a mental image of the four men hunched over the fire pit and the blast of God’s voice is like a sudden gust of wind (but more intense), flipping over the kettle and their beards are flapping up in their faces from the blast.

"Job, how long are you going to go on like this?"  Nothing quite like the help of understanding friends!  Photo pinched off the Internet.

“Job, how long are you going to go on like this?” Nothing quite like the help of understanding friends! Photo pinched off the Internet.

Job’s mistake is not being unrighteous, nor is it that he deserved the affliction he has received or the suffering he has had to bear for his losses.   Yahweh never actually takes him to task over his questioning.   Job has actually clearly staked his claim in Yahweh’s camp, several times throughout the book, stating the rightness of God’s character and sovereignty in all of creation as its author.   Job’s request to God, as the one who “numbers all my steps”, is to know his wrongs so that he may account for them.   He longs to know what he has done.   For in his debate with his three friends, he not only maintains his innocence, but defies the idea that just because someone is suffering does not mean they have done something to deserve it.   This leads him to say   “If my step has left the path, if my heart has obeyed my eye, if anyone’s goods have stuck to my palms, may I sow for another to eat;   may my offspring be uprooted…” (Job 31)   He continues on in this vein.   His real mistake is not his question of not what have I done wrong, but in implying that there must be some mistake,..This implication is made through too much assumption about what is seen.   “I know how your mind works…” (10)   Yahweh’s reply is, “Who dares speak darkly words with no sense?”(38)

I like Yahweh’s next comment, …”Where were you when I founded the earth?”   (I love that!), and “Speak, if you have any wisdom:   Who set its measurements, if you know, laid out the building lot, stretching the plumb line?” (38)   Clearly Job has tapped into deeper water then anticipated.   Yahweh helps him see this in two basic thought lines;   “Can you explain the Universe?”   and “Do you understand right and wrong as much as you think you do?”.   In both cases, Job is pretty much gobsmacked.   He very humbly accepts that he is way out of his depth and although Yahweh does not directly answer Job’s question, Job gets an answer, so he shuts up.   Yahweh is saying that even though Job has made observations about God, he doesn’t understand what he doesn’t see.   There is much more going on than Job is privy to and this has led him to imply that God has used poor judgement.   This is clearly the only thing that God chooses to bring Job to account for.   “Would you really annul my judgement, make me out to be guilty, and put yourself in the right?” (40).   Now, if I were to have such an encounter with the Creator of all things, I think I would shut up as well.   I’m impressed that Job has the courage to even mutter a reply.   I don’t think I could do that.   It strikes me that it would take an insanely arrogant individual to speak out against a god that has made himself physically apparent in such a way.   Achilles and heroes like him were apparently imbued with such arrogance, but they were also dealing with gods that did not have the same credentials.   I think this encounter with God is satisfactory to Job because it is more than he ever expected.   God has told him that if you are going to take the Creator of All Things to court, you should know what you’re talking about.   Job gets it.

God calls himself 'Yah'.  The word means "I AM".  I think that is a fitting name for the god portrayed in Job.

God calls himself ‘Yah’. The word means “I AM”. I think that is a fitting name for the god portrayed in Job.   It implies that there is far more to this god than man can ever know.

The dialogue ends very well to my mind, as the reader has endured man’s endless assumptions and diatribes about how things work or should be, and how God is and isn’t.   God sets the record of man’s grasp of the situation straight, then it finishes with Job saying, “I knew You, but only by rumor, my eye has beheld You today,.   I retract.   I even take comfort for dust and ashes”.   Job’s answer corresponds with what he has been told by Yahweh.   We are reading and analyzing this excerpt as literature.   However, I think that regardless of what one believes, if indeed such as Yahweh exists, what other reaction could you have?


Homer’s Illiad

1.  What are the differences and similarities between Achilles’ relationship with his fellow Achaeans and Hector’s relationship with his fellow Trojans?  Outline not only how these two warriors relate to those around them but to each other.

Hector is the leader of the Trojan Army.  A prince of Troy, he is the natural leader.  Troy’s finest warrior, he at times acts with rash behavior, typical of one who has no equal within his experience or close by.  The Trojan Army makes huge strides in gaining the upper hand due to the absence of Achilles and it is Hector’s leadership that takes them there.  His fellow warriors respect him, yet when he show’s flaws, they are more than willing to question his judgement or rebuke his occasional demonstration of cowardice.   Obviously a man of great character, his fellow Trojan’s do not fear him as an irrational leader, tending towards rage, so they feel free to offer comment, meaning no harm.  Hector, at the same time, can be rash, and shows this when he tells his friend, Polydamas that he isn’t inclined to allow his leadership to be usurped.  He is presesent among the army, they have been victorious, therefore they should not hide from the enemy.

In sharp contrast to Hector, is Achilles.  Achilles is the leader of the Myrmidons, his elite company of warriors.  Other Greek warriors practically worship Achilles and like a football team that needs its star quarterback to be successful on the football grid, the Achaeans or Greeks, miss their mark constantly without Achilles present.  Several times, the Greek leadership refer to the justified offense Achilles feels, understand his pride is in his way and is effecting them all, but like typical men who respect each other’s qualities and specifically, a right to protect one’s honor, they are unwilling to push Achilles too far.   His status among them gives him room to rage and act out without anyone interfering.  Perhaps they fear his rebuke, but also, they know him and how much of a fighter he is.  Just before Book XVI, Diomedes says, “He’ll fight later alright.  When he is ready, or a god tells him to.”  Agamemnon, the Greek Commander, literally resents Achilles place among the Greeks.

Demonstrating his lack of self-control or more likely, giving rein to his wrath, which will cost him, Achilles drags the body of Hector toward the ships.  Image public domain.

Demonstrating his lack of self-control or more likely, giving rein to his wrath, which will cost him, Achilles drags the body of Hector toward the ships. Image public domain.

These contrasting attributes show themselves again as Hector is attacked outside the walls of Troy, where he waited for the fateful encounter with Achilles.  Hector is ready to negotiate the terms of victory, Achilles is not, he can only see red at this point.  In the resultant fight, Hector’s body is mutilated, in spite of a dying plea that for his father’s sake, that it be honored in burial.  Hector has owned up to his faults, is willing to pay the dues for it.  Achilles, having lost Patroclus, knowing its a result of his own behavior, desires only to make Hector pay for it.  This makes Achilles look like the lesser man, even though his strength and cunning is greater than Hector’s, Hector’s character and integrity demand greater honor than Achilles is willing to accord him.  In Achilles eyes, Hector is nothing.

2.  What is it that brings Achilles back to balance after his berserk episode, and what significance can this transformation have, what does it communicate?

War is brutality in its purest form.  It is murder unleashed, without payment.  Yet the Iliad demonstrates that there is actually a payment to be made.   It is interesting to me here, that Homer uses the loss of Patroclus to trigger this maniac behavior in Achilles.  We believe that we go to war to serve our country.  And that is what we do.  A fireman serves the public.  But in both instances, what it comes down to in the end is the bond between warriors, those who suffer together.  Losing a member of the team, of the company of warriors, is often more difficult to deal with than the idea of losing ones own life.  The loss of a loved, brother warrior.  This is regardless of any failure on Patroclus’ part in the death.  He disobeyed orders of the leader of the Myrmidons, he let his own prowess get ahead of him, maybe he wanted to be like Achilles.  Here, as in the previous question, we see that Achilles, in spite of knowing his own part played in his grief, gives vent to it and Hector’s honor is trampled.  But really it is Achilles honor that suffers most.  His action is the berserk behavior of one effected by combat fatigue, today a well-known factor of war, but for many centuries, as aspect of war unknown to those who had not seen combat.  Although one could also argue that what is being displayed is simply rage at the enemy.   Both are recognized on the historic battlefield.  When the Sioux women punctured Custer’s ears with sewing awls made of bone, was it berserk behavior, or were they expressing hate, rage, or perhaps telling him he should have listened better?

Modern war has shown us that this "berserker" behavior exists.  Prior to World War I, its common presence was not well understood.

Modern war has shown us that this “berserker” behavior exists. Prior to World War I, its common presence was not well understood.

The modern wars as well as the wars of the old world were full of such moments.  What cools Achilles rage?  Time, spent rage leaves one exhausted and less likely to continue in brutality, but also Homer brings the god’s into action to use Hector’s father’s plea soften Achilles’ rage.  Priam, perhaps reminding Achilles much of his own father, demonstrates devotion to his son’s honor,  bravery in facing his son’s killer, and honorable behavior in the enemy’s camp.  He manages to get Achilles to think of how his own father would feel in the same situation, which Achilles knows is not far away.  This causes Achilles to feel strongly about releasing Hector’s body.  He also feels toward Priam as he might his own  elderly father, ensuring that Priam is safe, receives food and drink and a place to sleep, with Hector’s body secured.


3.  Book 22.  This scene speaks to the inner-tug these warriors feel between two distinct codes of behavior: 1. The Warrior Code and 2.  The Familial Code.  The first code is dependant upon Honor and  Victory:  the second on responsibility for offspring and spouse.  Are these two codes mutually exclusive?  Why or why not?

This question deserves the best answer I can give it.  It strikes so close to home.  I have been a warrior, wedded to the Code and I surrendered that position in order to abide by the Familial Code.  As a young man I longed for both and found them very incompatible.  When away overseas, which was much of the time, I longed to be back with my love in my arms, making a home and creating a family.  Yet, once away from the Warrior Code, it ate at me.  I found life without purpose, my occupations didn’t interest me, they seemed to lack any reward that I respected.   Money was not a factor.  I had wanted a wife and a home.  Once I had those things I longed to be a warrior again.  It was not the only factor in the failure of my marriage, but I’m convinced it played a role.  Without the Warrior Code to live up to, I felt unfulfilled and felt I had surrendered my identity.  Then came the fire service.

The Warrior Code is alive and well in the world as is the Familial Code. Balancing the two takes focused effort and daily  dedication to both, especially the family.  Photo public domain.

The Warrior Code is alive and well in the world as is the Familial Code. Balancing the two takes focused effort and daily dedication to both, especially the family. Photo public domain.

It took time and maturity, but my second marriage has survived the fire service, whose own Warrior Code is much like the military’s.  Driven warriors and driven firemen differ in mission, but not in intensity or desire for excellence. For a time, I think there was little difference in my approach to the Warrior Code present in the fire service.  I pursued it full force.  So many firefighters I know are that way.  Its runs in the blood, this drive to do the best you can, loving every minute of it, the reward being the thrill of the moment, the feeling of danger, the intense emotions, the respect of your peers, the intense realism of the service to the public.  Balancing the two codes takes a focused effort, coupled with dedication, daily demonstrated to both, especially the family.   Somewhere along the way, I realized I had two grown daughters and I could not remember much about being a Dad.  My wife, patient, loving, but willing to speak out, did so.  With the young twins, I had a second chance.  I realized that if I did not take her warning, the littlest ones would grow to adulthood without me, and we would all lose.  So I forced myself to change.  It was that or lose my role in the family. It hasn’t been easy.  All the extra things I did as a fireman, had to be paired back.  I had to say “no” to things that had brought me so far in my career.  I had to let someone else, get the Honor and Victory.  My reward has been great this time.

Hector balanced both, although in the end, it cost his family everything.  What choice did he have?  He either fought or his family suffered.  Failure meant they would lose him and their own lives.  He had no real option.  He didn’t ask for the war.  However, the Warrior Code is pulling at Hector as well.  Having lost honor and victory due to his fairly foolish decision to keep the Trojan warriors camping exposed, he now is faced with having to earn his honor back.  This shortens his life, his families security, and Troy’s fate is clinched.  Achilles chooses the Warrior Code intentionally, for honor and glory’s sake, knowing it is going to cost him his life.  To him the Familial Code has less grip than it did on Hector.  He also had the use of many war trophies as concubines, perhaps making the pull of family less intense.  In today’s world, some who follow the Warrior Code, do very poorly at balancing it with the Familial Code.  Those who put the Familial Code first, all the time, are not the best of warriors.  Those who long to be both, struggle more than the other two.  Always caught in between.  They tend to be deeply loved by their peers for their efforts among the warriors, and deeply loved by their family at home.  Constantly torn.   I am willing to be torn.






The Epic of Gilgamesh

1. Can you identify any of the stages of the Hero’s Journey in the story of Gilgamesh? You may begin by asking yourself: What is Gilgamesh’s Call to Adventure; or what is Enkidu’s?

A Mesopotamian bust, purported to be the image of Gilgamesh.  Photo public domain.

A Mesopotamian bust, purported to be the image of Gilgamesh. Photo public domain.

It seemed to me that the story of Gilgamesh took some time to develop the “Call to Adventure”.   The call really appears when Gilgamesh has already been grappling with Enkidu, who is responding to his own call.   Gilgamesh’s sense of self-greatness, draws him to combat the monster, Humbaba.   But he is not seeking to fight Humbaba so much as he is seeking to cut down a great Cedar tree, which the text notes, “Felling evergreens on distant mountains was a well known demonstration of kingly power in early Mesopotamia.” (Norton, 24).   This is the “Call to Adventure” that leads to fighting Humbaba, that leads to the door being made, which leads to Ishtar’s advances, which leads to Enkidu’s death and so on.   There are several other hallmarks of the Hero’s Journey stages.   The “wild cow” or Ninsun, represents the mentor, Shamash too, a mentor and a supernatural influence.   Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven, Ishtar, Enkidu’s death are all thresholds to cross, with the aid of these mentors. His “Abyss” is the moment of Enkidu’s death.   His transformation has occurred as he deals with the disappointment that is found in the moment he loses his chance at eternal life.   Leaving Utanapishtim, he is a different person, no longer so God-like, more like a common man, seeing his own frailties, his own destiny with death.

2. Do you believe any of the Four Functions of Mythology, as outlined in ‘Mythological Themes in Creative Literature and Art’, are alive and active in the story of Gilgamesh? Why or why not?

I do believe that the Four Functions are describing or perhaps defining, actual conditions within human existence and the “Myth” is a reflection of that common thread which makes our societies and civilizations “human”.   Campbell’s article, I believe is confusing and unnecessarily burdened by assumption.   I don’t find that things should be so complicated.   When the Four Functions are broken down into simple statements and their definitions, there is a clearer picture of what Campbell is defining.   It would seem that when a civilization creates a myth, even over centuries, with different authors, there is still a formula at work which runs true to similar stories in other societies.   This would indicate that when human beings tell tales, they do have needs they are trying to meet.   Answering the greatest questions of life, finding our place in society, defining our societies structure and giving voice to our greatest struggles in living out a lifetime, are some of our most important questions in human existence.   One might ask why we grapple with it so, if we are just animals?   Why do we want these questions answered?

3. What judgement would you make concerning the success or failure of Gilgamesh’s journey? For instance, he failed to return with the Plant of Everlasting Life, but what did he gain instead? Is it a worthy replacement for eternal youth?

Gilgamesh is an interesting study.   There are people in this world who have no sense of their own limitations, their own frailty.   At least, not until they meet their match and in a moment of clarity, they see their mortality before them.   Among soldiers, firefighters and police officers, or even among the most aggressive athletes there is this common trait.   Gilgamesh is such a man.   He finds no serious barriers to his will, no challenge that sets him back, until he faces Humbaba, and that too is overcome.   But when Enkidu dies in his bed, that unsettles him.   He is faced with losing life.

“Enkidu, my friend whom I loved, is turned into clay!   Shall I too not lie down like him, and never get up forever and ever?” (68)

So his goal to find eternal life is defeated, by his own human limitations.   Pursuit of Eternal youth has merely left him wiser and his time spent chasing the wind.   “I have done a good deed for a reptile.”   (81)   This is a gift in itself, providing clarity, appreciation perhaps of what lies ahead and the wisdom gained.


Hero’s Journey in the Movies

1. What movies can you recall–besides The Matrix, which was mentioned in the lecture notes–that follow the thread of The Hero’s Journey? When you cite your film, or films, be sure to judge whether or not you believe the general formula was appropriated well or poorly; and, moreover, describe a few scenes that match some of the stages of the journey, such as done in the video in the lecture notes.

The Hero’s Journey in Film

The Hero’s Journey, as laid out in the lecture, is easily recognizable as a familiar theme in popular story and in cinema.   There are several that jump to mind initially, such as Star Wars with Luke facing the now infamous adventure of overcoming the empire, guided by Obi Wan and then there is Tolkien’s Bilbo struggling against Sauron’s evil, with Gandalf as a guide. There are other films, however that, while not necessarily myth or fantasy, endeavor to tell their tales through the same tested formula.   In the film, “Ben Hur”, based on the novel by Lew Wallace, the hero goes through great trials as he follows the recognizable “thread” in the Hero’s Journey.

In the "Belly of the Whale".  Ben Hur, having saved his oppressor's life, tranitions from slave to adopted son, a restored Roman citizen.  But this is only another threshold to cross, since he despises the Romans.  Photo public domain.

In the “Belly of the Whale”. Ben Hur, having saved his oppressor’s life, transitions from slave to adopted son, a restored Roman citizen. But this is only another threshold to cross, since he despises the Romans. Photo public domain.

Judah Ben Hur’s life is turned upside down when his family is betrayed by his long time Roman friend for his refusal to bow to Roman domination, a stance he chooses to take, a clear “call to adventure”.   Losing his family, his love and forced into slavery, Judah embarks on an adventure he does not choose, but which exposes him to several thresholds and the “Belly of the Whale”, a true “road of trials”.   A particular fit, is the sinking of the galley he is enslaved on.   Saving the life of the Roman takes him from slave to citizen and adopted son.

Judah Ben Hur receives his first contact with his supernatural help.  He receives water from the Christ, not knowing who he is at that moment.  Photo public domain.

Judah Ben Hur receives his first contact with his supernatural help. He receives water from the Christ, not knowing who he is at that moment. Photo public domain.

Alternately receiving guidance and aid from his Roman benefactor, whom he saved from death, and from the Supernatural in the implied intervention of God and God’s Son, the Christ, Ben Hur passes through slavery to being restored to Roman blessing.   A clear moment of “Atonement” he completely rejects for the return to his family and an “Atonement” with Christ which he finds miraculously at the end.   While not following the thread in its intended mythical detail, most of the key elements are present.   Even the Gift is not left out of the story as Ben Hur’s mother and sister are healed through Ben Hur’s return and willingness to take them to see the Christ, something they were incapable of on their own.   They are healed and in response so is Ben Hur.   The hero gets the girl in the end.

Another excellent match in a based in truth tale versus the myth genre, is the historical movie, “Glory”, the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and the white officer who died leading them.   Among the first colored regiments in the American Civil War to win the respect of their fellow soldiers, the 54th Mass. suffered 40% casualties in the fight at Battery Wagner, on the Confederate Coast.   An unlikely setting for a “Hero’s Journey”, the story nonetheless is told, relatively close to the hero thread.   As an initiate to Civil War combat, young Robert Shaw is wounded in his soul by his horrifying battle experience, which in turn exposes him to the opportunity to serve his community as its representative, serving as Massachusetts first Colored regiment’s commanding officer.

Robert G. Shaw, the reluctant hero in "Glory".  Faced with promotion to an unpopular position, he cannot resist its pull as a chance to accomplish something truly meaningful with his life.  Photo in public domain.

Robert G. Shaw, the reluctant hero in “Glory”. Faced with promotion to an unpopular position, he cannot resist its pull as a chance to accomplish something truly meaningful with his life. Photo in public domain.

A position fraught with social weight and enormous difficulties which the hero, Robert Shaw truly does not wish to accept, but cannot resist either.   The call to adventure, to be the one to lead free African American men into the fight for their own freedom is too much for him to resist.   Assisted and hindered by the truest of friends, hated by other officers, threatened with death if captured by the enemy, Shaw earns the grudging respect, then love of his African-American troops.   At first they are not privvy to the trials and thresholds he must cross in order to serve them; they mistrust the “rich white boy colonel”.   He must at times teach them roughly, for he fears what will become of them if he doesn’t.   He knows their reputation as a community of freed men is at stake.   They must do well in combat.   An unlikely mentor, the former grave digger and slave played by Morgan Freeman gives him the key to his   men’s hearts and he begins to win.

An unlikely mentor.  The former grave digger, played by Morgan Freeman.  Photo from,d.cGU&psig=AFQjCNG55pUUzS7AubOejh_CrlXrMSTa7g&ust=1410670853389397

An unlikely mentor. The former grave digger, played by Morgan Freeman.

While the issues for Robert like, “atonement” and “supernatural” intervention have small places in this true story, the features of the hero’s journey that are present are very strong.   Even his metaphorical “rebirth” is present, as he emerges from his trials, a more assertive, intent driven man, bent on seeing to it that his regiment is given a chance to prove its worth and confident in their qualities.

As in the story of “Ben Hur”, Shaw’s “gift” brought back through his journey is the triumphant ending in this hero’s adventure.   Through Shaw’s willing sacrifice, setting the example for the men of his regiment to follow, his regiment suffers great loss, but achieves forever, the first chapter of the fighting reputation of the Black American Soldier.   A massive, culture changing gift.   In the lead up to the final battle scene, the 54th takes the place of honor, the front line, and as they move into position, the white soldiers, tired from four long years of fighting, cheer them on, “Give ’em hell, 54th!!” A moment of acceptance. For me, the most telling moment in the movie, is when Shaw receives the ultimate warrior honor, intended as a sneer by the enemy as he is buried with his own soldiers, the former slaves.

Shaw and Trip.  Trip is the runaway slave-turned soldier who hates his white colonel, but comes to respect him and dies at his side.

Shaw and Trip. Trip is the runaway slave-turned soldier who hates his white colonel, but comes to respect him and dies at his side.

To a prejudice society, this was disgrace, but to Shaw’s father, it was the place of honor, signifying what his son had achieved.   Using artistic license, director Freddie Fields includes a touch of the “atonement”, as the most difficult soldier to win to Shaw’s cause dies at his side, wrapped in the flag he had refused to carry and comes to rest in the grave upon the breast of   “rich white boy”, colonel who invited him to fight for freedom.   Bear in mind, this movie was made at a time when some in the film industry were intentionally searching for role models and important stories in African-American history.   This is part of the American myth, showing young African American’s their place in our country’s history, their forefathers part in its shaping, not just being shaped by it.

2. Do you believe current cinema either meets or fails to meet the human needs expressed in the four functions of mythology? Those needs would be: the need for mystery; the need for a picture of the universe in which human beings belong; the need for a picture of our society in which each person belongs; the need for a picture of our own psychology that helps with the transitions of a human life, from childhood to adulthood, from adulthood to death. Can movies meet any of these needs? Why or why not?

Movies – Fulfilling the Role of Myths

The film industry probably did not start out to fulfill the role of taking on the mantel of the myth tellers in our society, but that is the burden they have come to bear.   As our society has moved from one of book readers and casual movie-goers to a large portion of the population raised in front of the television, the film industry has become the de facto storyteller of our oral history, as well as our baby sitter and morality meter.   Not to get off topic, there are many issues with the moral quality in film today, but there is no doubt that the norms in society are given birth to the masses through film.   Drastic changes to our cultural norms, as well as the intensity of violent behaviors and exposure to traumatic events are created before our eyes from an early age.   This has permeated our society.   Is it meeting the needs of our cultural myth’s, the functions myths perform?   They do, in all four categories.   The two films previously mentioned both endeavor to serve these functions.   Both address mystery, either in death or in healing.   Both show the viewer how members of society find themselves within the cosmos, either creating a place for themselves or having there place forced upon them.   Both heros must defy social norms and pay prices for doing so, which serves to inform the viewer that this is how things were, and how far our society has come.   And finally, both stories show the process of death, either through violence or through a change in life’s security as time passes.   These visual myths cross barriers that families are often not comfortable approaching.   They expose us to the mysteries and take us to places unimagined before.   The create pressure for social change and in particular, remembering the film, “Dad”, with Jack Lemon, they help us cope with the changes in life, even as we go from adult to elderly and finally death.   They serve these functions, and although film is a very powerful force in our society, the myth functions are not exclusively the realm of the film industry.   What an incredible responsibility to society.


Hey, glad to meet you!

Hey, glad to make your acquaintance. My name is Ben, Ben Fleagle and I am a junior here at UAF. My associate’s degree done back in 2008 after a twenty year effort, I took a break for a few years to catch up with my family and career. Now I am setting about getting the rest wrapped up and am majoring in History for my BA. I am an avid consumer of history.   Juggling this pursuit along with raising my younger children, the job and paycheck is certainly a challenge, but as I am very familiar with the life of younger college students, I know that their burden is no less heavy. I started taking college classes while in the U.S. Marines. The Marines made going to school cheap, and then gave you very little time to actually do it. So it was a great deal of time before I completed my two-year. I have been a firefighter for going on twenty-two years. I started out in Orange County Fire in California, and after marrying a wonderful woman, we decided to pursue my degree in a small college town, away from the California craziness. A decision we have never regretted. In 2001, just after 9/11, I was hired into University Fire, here at UAF. It has been a great job and an honor to train, teach and lead such fine young men and women!

My two youngest, twins.

My two youngest, twins.

My older daughters are busy living lives of their own, one is down in America, a trained horse wrangler and show rider. That is her passion, but she also has to make a living. The eldest has had a fine career here at UAF, and is completing her degree too, she is passionate about working with the young folks and will be going down that road soon. My son and I just returned from a successful waterfowl hunt and my littlest angel and I might sneak in a camper trip before the snow flies. She is a little artist.

I’m taking this particular class because its a requirement of sorts. Wrapping up the core is a chore, however, it can also be a significant learning experience. I suffered a great deal in Philosophy last semester, that class made my head hurt.   Managing to walk away alive and with a new understanding of the difference between describing and explaining was a feat. Two very different things.     So I expect I will learn things in this class as well. You should embrace learning, even if you do not want to embrace the topic. I love history, but am not enamored with “classics” as they are often very long winded.   However, flipping through the text, I think much of it will be interesting and I am not one to shy away from a good read. A little cool wind, a good cup o’ Joe and you can get far in life.   We study many different core subjects, not so much for the topic itself, but with the discipline they bring us. That being said, my hope is to walk a way with a good grade, a better understanding of the world that was and just maybe, I will have contributed a small something. But as I said, it will not be easy, I will be on duty often, not able to read or write until the firehouse is quiet and the calls stop ringing in. Last semester I was up late reading a required book on my bunk, when within minutes we were working a fire down in the city, doing what we are paid to do, at -40 below. So I will need to rely heavily on spell check, as the brain begins to fog.   I leave this with a favorite quote I first saw in a good Irish pub.   I’ve carried it with me ever since;

“May you have the hindsight to know where you have been, the foresight to know where you are going and the insight to know when you are going to far.”

See you in class,