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The hero’s story starts with a change in their ordinary life. Joseph Campbell, an American professor had said: “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us” in his observation and study of stories around the world, he came to a conclusion in his book, “the Hero with a thousand faces”, that stories are just variations of the same theme: the mono myth; the hero’s journey.
Before books, television, and the printed press, people pass on interesting events orally – storytelling – an exciting and intimate experience shared between the storyteller and the audience.
The Odyssey, possibly a collection of oral poems, documented and became one of the oldest written epics. The story began with the return of Odysseus – our hero – from the Trojan War. During his journey home, he is met with many challenges and then their resolution. A complete fit to the mould of the mono myth.
It is clear that Homer took inspiration from the Trojan War, Greek mythology and religion, and shaped his protagonists as masculine, intelligent and courageous war heroes.
From the point of view of a contemporary man, the purpose of Homer’s epics only seemed to serve as entertainment. Since a poet is neither a historian nor a journalist. However, in Ancient Greece, they may function as both. Homer’s tales are possibly an elaborated, and overdramatized narrative of historical events. He merely recounted a familiar story to his audience, who already assumed it to be true.
Fast forward about 24 hundred years lands us at the 16th century. Even after so many years, the audience’s love for heroic tales haven’t changed at all. Shakespeare’s second historical tetralogy ended with the play Henry V. Though is not a direct manifestation of the Odyssey. For King Henry’s journey, trial and then his victory have no correlations with Odysseus’ voyage. Yet, it is difficult to deny the similarities between their themes.
Just like Joseph Campbell’s hero, King Henry faced impossible odds, and only arrived gloriously victorious after pure strength, determination, and a healthy dosage of hyper-masculinity. Words like honour, courage and valiant are repeated many times to highlight the righteous characteristics of our hero.
And in parallel to the Odyssey, Shakespeare based his characters and settings to historical events. Henry V is heavily inspired by the Hundred Year War, and remained loyal to its story with the exception of exaggerations for dramatic effects.
Four hundred years later, the audience’s craving for heroic tales still have not been quenched. Roland Emmerich’s film “Independence Day” is the evidence. Accompanying the fast paced evolution of technology and space exploration came the ever growing genre of science fiction. Independence day is based on a war, but a fictional one, and the main protagonist is a young, muscular, military man facing an army of aliens.
All three stories can be summarised by Carol Thomas in a single sentence, “The greatest theme is a city doomed and forsaken by its gods and under attack by alien forces.” Quite literally in “Independence day”
Perhaps the most important thing about heroic texts and their manifestations are not what influenced its creation but how it impacts the world afterwards. The odyssey became the most well-known ancient Greek text, and by extension, Homer himself became a legendary poet.
In the book of “Homer and his influence” John Scott had even boldly stated that, “what the Greeks might have been, if there had been no homer, we cannot guess, but what they were at their best was largely because of him.”
Like Homer, Shakespeare is also elevated for his compositions. The play Henry V had a significant impact on matters of war, courage and motivation.
Winston Churchill had described the historical battle of Agincourt as “the most heroic of all the land battles England has ever fought.” And was extremely inspired by Shakespeare’s adaptation.
King Henry’s speech in act 4 scene 3 had inspired many. During world war II, it was broadcasted during a radio programme. And during the war, the ministry requested a film remake of the play for propaganda potency. The director Laurence Olivier had said “Looking back, don’t think we could have won the war without ‘Once more unto the breach…’ somewhere in our soldiers’ hearts.”
The worship of heroes and valour also extends to the film “Independence Day”. Likewise to King Henry, the president of this film rallied his people and gave a memorable motivational speech.
The defeat and crunch of the enemies is not cruel, for it is necessary. This is the ruthlessness of the good king.
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