Author Archives: swtrinchet

Medea, Achilles, and Job


I’m having trouble examining Medea as a hero in a Campbell sense because in the era of Euripides, my mind keeps turning to Hero in the Tragic sense, the kind based on Aristotle’s Poetics. As a Tragic hero, she does not make sense (just as many of Euripides’s protagonists break Aristotle’s rules for Tragedy), she neither is a great man acting worse than low men, she does have a fatal flaw but she never realizes it and this makes it so the audience does not go through a moment of katharsis.

The Hero’s Journey also does not apply to Medea. Almost none of the steps happen to her. In fact, a lot of the steps are reversed. The mentor character actually discourages her instead of supporting her. Her supernatural aid doesn’t approve of her actions, to name a couple. I truly hate that this is the case, but she falls in line with the assertion that “women do not have journeys” they are already spiritually set, they care more about mothering. Medea, does not follow the definition of women – she doesn’t care about mothering – and she has no self-awareness in any spiritual sense. It’s almost as though she’s caught in limbo. She isn’t a woman and she isn’t a man. She can’t be comfortable not going on a journey and her hero’s journey is a twisted, backwards one.

Achilles does go on a Hero’s journey. I personally believe that if both people existed in the real world, they would both be despicable people. But from a literary standpoint, Achilles does go through a truncated hero’s journey. He skips a few steps, but his manslaughter through negligence of his fellow soldiers is almost justified by his pursuit of Honor. (I’m tempted to make this symmetrical and try to apply Aristotle, but that concept of Tragedy relies on having a live audience, so it would be too much of a stretch.)

Achilles is a Hero and Medea is not, as far as the Hero’s Journey is concerned. As far as my personal opinion on it, neither did anything heroic.


Job is satisfied with God’s assertion of divine power because first of all, proof of God’s existence is enough to confirm Job’s view that he should accept what is given to him by God. Secondly, his belief that God’s reasoning is beyond what he can and should understand as human is reaffirmed by the whirlwind not dealing with his question at all. The point of the story seems to be that once he learns not to ask questions, he has learned his lesson.

I don’t find the end of the dialogue satisfactory at all. All God seems to be doing is being cruel and all he seems to be teaching is willful ignorance. I have no problem with organized religion or personal faith, it seems like both would be comforting. I personally am not satisfied with being told to accept things without question. I’m sure there are things beyond what we can as humans understand, but I don’t hold with the idea that there are things beyond what we should understand.

The Imbalances of War

1.     Hector’s relationship with his fellow Trojan’s seems to be the Greek model of the selfless soldier. His men respect him, he has a family that the people also speak highly of, and he fights for his country even in the face of sure death. This is not necessarily the Greek ideal of a man, though. I wonder if Achilles’s relationship with his fellow Achaeans, though less amiable than Hector with his Trojans, is closer to ideal. Hector strives for Victory but very little for Honor. Achilles, on the other hand, is willing to sacrifice Victory for the sake of Honor and his relationship with the Achaeans is one of a more intense rivalry than even perhaps his rivalry with Hector. This brings me to the main similarity between the two heroes. They are both described as the strongest and well-respected among their respective groups of soldiers. In some ways it makes perfect sense that they would end up fighting one on one.

2.     After leaving the battlefield, Achilles is confronted by Priam, Hector’s father. Priam entreats Achilles to think of his own father and friends. During this scene, Achilles is probably reminded of his friend Patroclus, whose death was the catalyst for his berserk episode. Having already secured a significant Victory, Achilles’s lust for Honor seems to be cooling off. Perhaps this is an example of Tim O’brien’s view on war. “At its core, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life.” Achilles, after spending a long time staying out of battle, sacrificing Victory in pursuit of Honor, is suddenly thrust into battle, his friend dies, he slays the most important enemy he possibly could have and grossly defiled his body. How could he not feel closer to the human side of war after experiencing the opposing extreme, the completely animal, base side? He is so close to death that when Priam calls him to examine his closeness to life, he realizes that human kindness is within his reach as well. The significance of his following act is great – it shows an interest in the story for something beyond Victory and Honor. It shows a reverence for the human values of empathy and respect.

3.     The Warrior Code and the Familial Code are not mutually exclusive – in theory. The ideal situation would be a man that pursues Victory and Honor effectively enough to return home and care for his offspring and spouse. Hector and Achilles are both supposedly searching for that ideal, yet in the face of the realities of war, the two codes are much more difficult to reconcile. In some ways, each characters inability to balance the two codes is a major part of their own downfalls.

Achilles has been unable to make much progress towards having a family to honor with the Familial Code and seems to be a little bit unhinged because of it. His rampant lack of empathy for other soldiers contributes to his tunnel-vision of Honor. He needs a family to care about and offspring to fight for to help him balance his thirst for Victory and Honor; he needs to care as much about returning victorious and alive as he does about returning rich and well-respected. But he does not for a significant part of the story.

Hector, on the other hand, is fueled but also distracted by his dogmatic adherence to the Familial Code. His family calling to him, witnessing his climactic battle with Achilles and subsequent death, had to have been a distraction. I believe that the epic is showing that caring only about his family and not having an equal drive to gain Honor and Victory for his own and their well-being was part of his downfall. The codes are not mutually exclusive but rather two sides of a scale that when unbalanced, brings down the mightiest of men.

An Epic Friendship

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?

I’m not sure Gilgamesh exists in a social or economic “wasteland” before Enkidu arrives. He may be in a psychological wasteland because he has no close friends or equals to interact with – this is supported by the gods creating Enkidu to help solve the city’s problems. His wrestling with Enkidu outside of his wedding seems to be a call to adventure for Gilgamesh. He then, in turn, literally calls Enkidu to adventure by inviting him to come on a trek to the Cedar forests with him. Enkidu has been called earlier, though. His trek to Uruk to confront Gilgamesh is prompted by a passerby telling Enkidu of the King’s treatment of his new bride. That journey, though, is a bit of a prologue or false start. I interpret Gilgamesh’s literal call to action as the beginning of the more complex journey for both of them.

In tablet 3 the elders give Gilgamesh advice and he also goes to his mother, Ninsun. This is supernatural aid in two forms, especially for Enkidu when Ninsun blesses him. Ishtar is clearly the Temptress in Gilgamesh’s journey. It’s during this tablet that I start to doubt that Enkidu fulfills enough of the hero’s journey to count as going on one of his own. He definitely goes through some of the stages, especially the call to action, the supernatural aid, guardians, challenges, and temptations. His journey is cut short when he dies. I’m not sure there is a clear enough atonement and transformation.

Gilgamesh, on the other hand, fulfills almost every step, particularly returning to the known after he fails at keeping the Plant of Everlasting Life and returns to Uruk.

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?

The need for mystery is especially clear in all of the semi-prescient dreams that Enkidu and Gilgamesh have. They do not know what their adventure will bring them and that is part of the appeal, but they also are afraid of the unknown. That fear makes their journey all the more impressive.

The need for an idea of the world in which people belong is less clear. This is a world where humans belong as helpers and devices. They are the shepherds and the prostitutes that aid the god-like beings on their adventure. So much of the story is spent on gods and supernatural beings that this picture is one of humans being vulnerable to the gods’ whims, including Enkidu and Gilgamesh’s whims.

The need for an understanding of our society in which each person belongs is also not clear, but it’s definitely there and alive. The characters in this epic know their places and yet can transform themselves. Enkidu, particularly, morphs from inanimate material to animal, to god-like human, then back to inanimate. He moves through social strata fluidly, while the people who helped him move out of his animal stage, the shepherd and the prostitute, seem content to help him and stay where they are.

The need for a picture of our own psychology that helps with the transitions of a human life is the clearest and most fascinatingly explored in this work. While Gilgamesh begins his story a fully grown adult (though not one that acts like one), we get to watch Enkidu go through a representation of gestation (creation by the gods), then birth. Enkidu is an animal-like adult, uncivilized and unable to use reason. He’s basically a child. He grows into a true adult by learning to eat properly and by sleeping with a harlot. His eventual transition into death is a hard thing to read. He seems to represent a kind of death that most humans fear – an inexorable and transparent figurative march towards a death that we do not want. Gilgamesh is then reborn as an animal, just as Enkidu began. He then matures, for the first time in the entire work, into a full adult with all the maturity of a person that can accept defeat.

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?

I ended up beginning to address this question in the previous answer, so I’ll continue here. Gilgamesh begins the story as a physical adult but emotional child. His relationship with Enkidu and failure to rectify his friend’s death is his transition into adulthood. He gained maturity and fame, which is a worthy replacement for eternal youth.

Looper’s Journey

1. When asked about a Hero’s Journey as applied to film, I’m stuck on Looper (directed by Rian Johnson, 2012). There are certainly films that follow the Journey much more closely and fulfill some of the stages in the right order, but what I find fascinating about Looper is that it doesn’t do that. It instead twists the thread around with the plot device of time travel.

The main character Joe, lives in a world filled with the same jobs over and over and though his buddy is excited by every club they go to and every drug they take, many shots are devoted to Joe reacting to his surroundings in a bored way. This is a twist on the mundane origin of the hero – it’s not mundane to his coworkers, but Joe is so jaded that that is how he perceives it.

His call to action is his older self being sent back in time – Young Joe’s job is to kill his older self. In this movie, his refusal of the call lasts a literal lifetime. He kills Old Joe and goes on to live a life caught in the same job that he viewed as mundane in the beginning. The movie follows him as he ages, marries, then watches his wife murdered. He then goes back in time as Old Joe and becomes his own call to action once more. This time, his call is a little more elaborate and aggressive and Young Joe refuses a few more times, but finally agrees to help Old Joe prevent their wife’s death.

I find it interesting that so much of the Hero’s Journey is based on rebirth, but Looper is more about continual re-death, where mobsters kill their older selves and then are killed by their younger selves in a perpetual loop. Old Joe is supernatural aid, which I find fascinating, because Young Joe’s aid is himself with more years of experience. But wait! the twist is that after Young and Old Joe cross the Threshold together, Old Joe turns into an obstacle and begins to work against Young Joe.

Young Joe meets his Goddess and Temptress in Sara, the mother of the man who will kill his future wife (though he doesn’t yet know that). He must then unite with her to fight his older self, his Father figure, mentor, and enemy. I’m not sure if Old Joe transitioned into being an enemy and was no longer a father, or if he became both at once. I don’t believe the latter option works well within the Campbell thread of the journey, but I feel like it is the case and works well in the world of Looper.

After Young Joe finds out that Sara’s child will become a murderer, he has the chance to leave, to turn himself in and return to his mundane mobster life. He refuses. Old Joe finally hunts them down and Young Joe never gets the chance to be rescued from without. Sara attempts to sacrifice herself for her son. Young Joe realizes that if he allows Old Joe to kill Sara, the loop will be complete and her son will become a murderer because of Old Joe’s attempts to prevent him from living to kill his wife. Young Joe in an act that shows both his mastery of two worlds and his freedom to live (or die) kills himself and breaks the loop. Old Joe disappears before he can kill Sara.

The device of time travel weaves some of the threads of the Hero’s Journey back on itself, but all but a few of the key moments are still there (if occasionally in the wrong order). I particularly like the extended call to action and the freedom to live being flipped into the freedom to die, which is well within the re-death theme that fills the movie. Sara’s son becomes the first rebirth, as he is reborn through Young Joe’s sacrifice as a non-murderer.

2. Cinema can meet all four human needs listed. The need for mystery and the need for a picture of the universe in which human beings belong seems to be fulfilled frequently by science fiction and fantasy movies. The mystery of space or otherworldly locations, as explored by humans, reinforces humans as belonging to their own part of the universe by comparison. The need for a picture of our society in which each person belongs and the need for a picture of our own psychology that helps with the transitions of a human life is probably most often fulfilled by comedies and tragedies in the style of dramas. As people transition to a new stage of life and are forced to search for their place in a society, drama happens.

I don’t see any reason why film can’t fulfill these needs, although I’m not going to argue that it does it better. Cinema has its downsides, as does all other media, but I strongly believe that nearly all art-forms that have the capacity to tell a story can fulfill the four human needs listed.

Late to the Party: an Introduction


My name is Sierra. I registered this week on account of a long and boring series of events involving work and plays. I’m happy to be here, though, because now instead of a math class, I get to take an English class! And here I thought I’d have to go another semester without getting to do that.

I’m jazzed about taking this particular course because after taking English 111 and 213, I branched off into film studies English classes, and even though I adored learning about Hitchcock and Lang, I felt like I was lacking context. I want to go back to the things that have brought us to this century and study those. Some of my favorite Lang films were based on ancient literary works. Our professor had to explain the source material to us, even though those sources were very influential. At the time I felt embarrassed to not be already well versed in them.

In this class I hope to explore the foundations of the literature I consume now. I especially want to discover new traditions and writers that I would like to explore more. I’m trying to find as many jumping-off points for myself as far as my world literature education as I can. I’m also interested in reading the supplemental works and looking at some literature that I’ve already consumed through a new lens.

Thank you, Jennifer Popa for you understanding. I’m excited to be a part of this class.