Myth of the Hero

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The concept of the hero is consubstantial with that of myth : they evolved together through the ages. Myths relate the exploits of a man, most frequently the son of a god and a mortal, or of a goddess and a mortal, endowed with extraordinary value and destined to carry out glorious exploits, especially an act of protection or rescue. From a psychoanalytic perspective, the heroic myth has its roots in the fantasy of the family romance. It expresses and sustains the identification of the ego with an idealized imago, especially during adolescence. It is an essential aspect of training for groups and institutions.

It is difficult to assign a date to the origin of myth. Several authors consider the epic of Gilgamesh to be one of its first expressions. The structure of the myth of the hero has gradually been deduced from the analysis of classical works (Assyrian epic poems, biblical tales, Greek and Latin mythologies), and it can be confirmed in the chansons de geste and epic theater, as well as the modern novel. In spite of the diversity of forms, in the end it remains anthropologically invariant.

Several disciplines have contributed to determining the structure, content, and functions of the myth of the hero: literary criticism, the history of religion, mythology, and with the important work of Otto Rank (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, 1909/2004), psychoanalysis. Rank emphasized the family romance as the organizational schema for the myth of the hero and heroic identification. The structure common to representations of the myth establishes the characteristic elements of the development of the hero:

  • conception from illustrious parents, either divine or representatives of the divinity; amazing deeds, oracles, miracles, or prophecies that generally threaten the father prior to the birth of the infant;
  • the birth of the hero: the threatening prophecies justify the abandonment and exposure of the child hero at the time of birth in a hostile universe once the secret of his origin has been established;
  • obscurity: the hero leads a secret life and will have to undergo an apparent death, from which he will be saved before having to confront terrible challenges;
  • the ordeal and epiphany of the hero: critical confrontations (the monstrous) force the hero to confront persecution and depressive anxieties and transform him into a recognizable hero;
  • the recognition of his triumph, of his glory, and brilliance (solarity): his apotheosis as an immortal alters him. He can then be used as a model for imitation by mere mortals.

RenÉ KaËs

See also: Birth; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego ; Heroic identification; Heroic self; Moses and Monotheism ; Myth of the Birth of the Hero, The ; Parricide; Psychology of the Unconscious, The ; Reversal into the opposite.


Albouy, Pierre. (1969). Mythes et Mythologies dans la littérature française. Paris: Armand Colin.

Baudouin, Charles. (1952). Suggestion and autosuggestion, a psychological and pedagogical study based upon the investigations made by the New Nancy School. Eden and Cedar Paul, Trans. London: G. Allen & Unwin.

Dumézil, Georges. (1968). Mythe etÉpopée, I. Paris: Gallimard.

Rank, Otto. (2004). The myth of the birth of the hero: A psychological interpretation of mythology (Gregory C. Richter and E. James Lieberman, Trans.) Baltimore, M.: Johns Hopkins University Press. (Originally work published 1909)

Sellier, Philippe. (1970). Le Mythe du héros. Paris: Bordas.