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IE Mythology 2, Requirement 6

Explain the monomyth (aka "hero cycle") and show how it applies to a single hero from the IE culture of your choice. (150 words min.)

Steps in the Monomyth

The Monomyth or Hero Cycle was first introduced by Joseph Campbell, and details the archetypal hero's journey through mythologized life, a sort of script to the mythic drama. The theory relies on locating similarities between myths, and is most often applied to all mythological heroes (or, indeed, all myths). Most often divided into 17 steps or stages, the journey of every hero is reduced to the following phases (all page references below belong to Campbell unless otherwise noted):

  • Departure
    1. The Call to Adventure - Sometimes something is revealed, or a messenger arrives, or the hero is summoned. (58)
    2. Refusal of the Call - Something stands between the hero and his destiny or refuses the call due to fear or obligation. (64-65)
    3. Supernatural Aid - Encounter with a protective figure. (69)
    4. The Crossing of the First Threshold - Meeting a guardian that must be passed, and a thrust into a new world (77)
    5. Belly of The Whale - The hero appears to die, entering the womb of the unknown world, to be re-born. (90)
  • Initiation
    1. The Road of Trials - A succession of trials must be faced, usually producing the most stories about the hero. (97)
    2. The Meeting With the Goddess - Mystical meeting/marriage with the queen of the world. (109)
    3. Woman as Temptress - The hero is tempted to abandon the quest. (121)
    4. Atonement with the Father - The hero meets ultimate power, most often a power of life and death. (131)
    5. Apotheosis - A period of rest or enlightenment. (151)
    6. The Ultimate Boon - Achievement of the quest's goal, often indestructible life or a grail-like item. (173)
  • Return
    1. Refusal of the Return - The hero must integrate his boon into the community, and refuses to do so, or doubts his ability to do it. (193)
    2. The Magic Flight - The hero may be supported by his patron and transported back, or the hero may be dogged by demons during a magical pursuit. (197)
    3. Rescue from Without - The world may rescue the hero: society may draw them out, or the world may break the bliss. (207)
    4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold - The hero comes out of the supernatural world, out of the darkness, and back into the "normal" world. (217)
    5. Master of Two Worlds - The hero is granted permission to move from one world into the other. (229)
    6. Freedom to Live - Freedom from fear of death is the last great boon, which results in the freedom to live. (238)

Application to Sigurð the Dragonslayer

Sigurð the Dragonslayer in the Volsungasaga is a quintessential hero of IE myth, and as his mythic story is more-or-less complete, his is an ideal story to review. Here are the 17 steps of the hero's journey and how the events of that saga fit in (all page references below belong to Byock unless otherwise noted):

  • Departure
    1. The Call to Adventure - Regin opens the door for Sigurð, questioning the order of things by asking if he trusts the kings guarding his treasure. (56)
    2. Refusal of the Call - Sigurð does not believe that the kings Hjalprek and Alf, would steal from him. Regin convinces him to test this by sending him to ask for a horse, and then (after he obtains the horse) convinces him to seek the dragon. (56)
    3. Supernatural Aid - Oðin appears and helps Sigurð obtain his horse, a steed descended from Sleipnir. (56)
    4. The Crossing of the First Threshold - Sigurð accepts the challenge of the dragon, and asks Regin to forge the sword for him. (59)
    5. Belly of The Whale - After receiving his new sword, Sigurð seeks contact with his father through vengeance against his father's murderer. (60) He returns home to begin this next quest, the slaying of the dragon, after having avenged his father's death. (62)
  • Initiation
    1. The Road of Trials - Sigurð meets and kills the dragon, (64) eats the serpent's heart, (66) and kills Regin. (66)
    2. The Meeting With the Goddess - Sigurð meets Brynhild and is betrothed to her. (67-71)
    3. Woman as Temptress - Sigurð meets Brynhild in a tower, and a change comes over him and he is no longer merry, but he gives her a ring from the dragon's hoard and he goes back to his men. (74-75)
    4. Atonement with the Father - Sigurð drinks the ale of forgetfulness, and he and Guðrun's brothers swear a pact of brotherhood, "as if thy were brothers of the same parents." (79) Sigurð marries Guðrun, then rides through the flames for his new brother to obtain a bride (Brynhild) for him. (80)
    5. Apotheosis - Content in deception, everyone except Brynhild lives pretty happily for a while.
    6. The Ultimate Boon - Sigurð fulfills all the prophecies, and ends up betrayed.

Here, because of the nature of the saga to leave the realm of the mythical and enter an historical discussion of tribal warfare, (8) we end up with a sort of truncated monomyth, a sort of "monomyth+mythistory" that doesn't necessarily follow the pattern. Still, I'll work to continue it.

  • Return
    1. Refusal of the Return - Sigurð, knowing he has married the wrong woman and that he was tricked, tries to make amends, but is rebuffed by Brynhild (88)
    2. The Magic Flight - Guttorm is given the will to kill Sigurð through potions that turn him "wolf-like." (90)
    3. Rescue from Without - The bliss is broken by the death of Sigurð
    4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold - Sigurð's dying words indicate that he upheld his oaths and that he was a part of the natural order of the world. (90)
    5. Master of Two Worlds - Sigurð is killed (90)
    6. Freedom to Live - Sigurð is dead, but lives on in story, as was originally foretold. (90)


  • Byock, Jessie. The Saga of the Volsungs.
  • Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York, NY: MFJ Books. 1949.
  • Lincoln, Bruce. Death, War, and Sacrifice.
  • MacDonnell, A. A. Vedic Mythology.
  • Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans.
  • Phuvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology.


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