Taking a page from Vladimir Propp's book (who in turn took a page from Claude Levi-Strauss' book) Lord Raglan took a structuralistic look at the hero legends of the cultures of the world in his book The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Dreams. In the book Raglan explains a structural pattern that he believes is common to all hero legends. There are twenty-two points in the structure and they move in a chronological order, from conception, to birth, to life, and then to death. Not all points apply to every hero, that is no hero actually follows all twenty-two points, but most hit ten or more, generally over fifteen. The points are as follows:

  1. Hero's mother is a royal virgin
  2. His father is a king, and
  3. Often a near relative of his mother
  4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual
  5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god
  6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grand father to kill him, but
  7. He is spirited away, and
  8. Reared by foster parents in a far country
  9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
  10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom
  11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast
  12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
  13. And becomes king
  14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
  15. Prescribes laws, but
  16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
  17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
  18. He meets with a mysterious death
  19. Often at the top of a hill
  20. His children, if any do not succeed him
  21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
  22. He has one or more holy sepulchres.
Raglan and others have applied this pattern to a great many legends. A few are included as examples:

  • Heracles - Greek
    • His mother, Alcmene, is (1) a royal virgin,
    • and his father is (2) King Amphitryon,
    • who is (3) her first cousin.
    • He is reputed to be (5) the son of Zeus,
    • who (4) visited Alcmene in the guise of Amphitryon.
    • At his birth (6) Hera tries to kill him.
    • On reaching adulthood he (11) performs feats and fine victories,
    • after which he (10) proceeds to Calydon,
    • where he (12) marries the king's daughter,
    • and (13) becomes ruler.
    • He remains there (14) quietly for some years,
    • after which an accidental manslaughter compels him (17) to flee from the country.
    • He disappears (18) from a funeral pyre
    • (19) on the top of Mt. Oeta.
    • His sons (20) do not succeed him.
    • His body (21) is not found,
    • and (22) he is worshipped in temples.

  • Romulus - Roman
    • His mother, Rhea Silvia, is (1) a royal virgin.
    • His human father is (2) King Amulius,
    • his mother's (3) uncle.
    • He is said to be (5) the son of the god Mars who
    • (4) appears to his mother.
    • The king, Amulius, tries (6) to kill Romulus and his twin Remus,
    • but they (7) are saved and reared by
    • (8) foster parents.
    • We hear (9) nothing of their childhood,
    • but on reaching manhood they (10) return to Alba Longa.
    • Romulus (11) overcomes his wicked uncle, and later his brother,
    • and (13) becomes king of his new city Rome.
    • He rules (14) for many years,
    • making (15) laws;
    • but loses favor (16) with his people.
    • The circumstances (18) of his death are unknown.
    • His body is (21) not found but he has
    • (22) a hero shrine.
    • His children (20) do not succeed him.

  • Jesus - Christian
    • His mother, Mary, is (1) a royal virgin (descendant of King David),
    • and his father is (2) Joseph,
    • who is (3) her close relative.
    • He is reported to be (5) the son of God,
    • who (4) sends his Holy Spirit to Mary.
    • At his birth King Herod (6) tries to kill him,
    • but he and his parents (7) flee to Egypt.
    • We are told (9) almost nothing of his childhood,
    • but on reaching manhood he begins to enter (10) his future kingdom.
    • He teaches successfully (14) for some time,
    • prescribing (15) ways of behavior and belief.
    • His enemies (16) persecute him,
    • and he is executed (18)
    • on top of a hill (19).
    • He defeats the forces of evil (11)
    • and eventually returns (10) to his heavenly kingdom.
    • He has (20) no children to succeed him.
    • His body is (21) not buried,
    • but he has a sepulchre (22) in Jerusalem.

  • Beowulf - Anglo-Saxon
    • His parents are unknown but probably royal (2).
    • As a baby he was set adrift in a boat (6 & 7),
    • laden with armor and weapons.
    • He is adopted by (8) the king and queen of the country to which he drifted.
    • We know (9) nothing of his childhood,
    • but as a man he is banished from the kingdom (17?).
    • While he is in exile, the monster Grendel ravages the kingdom, and when he hears of this,
    • he (10) returns.
    • He (11) slays the monster and his mother,
    • and (12) marries the princess Freeware.
    • He and his wife (13) rule
    • for many years (14),
    • and he (15) makes laws about religious and political life.
    • He dies (18) in a fight with a dragon.
    • His body (21) is placed on a ship and sent to sea,
    • and the people (22) build a monument to his memory.

  • Watu Ganung - Javanese
    • His mother, Sinta, appears (1) to be a princess,
    • and his father is (2) a holy man.
    • Since his mother sees his father only in a dream, the circumstances of his conception are (4) unusual.
    • When quite young, he incurs his mother's wrath,
    • and she (6) gives him a wound on the head.
    • He (7) flees into the wood and does not return.
    • We are told (9) nothing of his childhood,
    • except that he is brought up by a holy man in (8) a far country.
    • On reaching manhood he (10) journeys to a kingdom
    • where (11) he kills the King,
    • and (13) becomes king in his stead.
    • After this he (12) marries his own mother and sister, who do not recognize him.
    • For a long time he (14) reigns uneventfully, and has a large family, but eventually his mother recognizes the scar she gave him when a child, and is overcome with grief.
    • The gods having (16) refused his request for another wife,
    • he (17) invades heaven, but the gods, having learned by a strategm the answer to his riddle and the secret of his invulnerability,
    • put him to death (19) here by
    • (18) separating his arms.
    • His sons do not (20) succeed him,
    • and (21) there is no mention of his burial.

As one can see, the hero pattern is not just found in a single culture, but across the world. Both Otto Rank and Alan Dundes feel that there is a Freudian reason for this, somtheing endemic to the human race.

I originally wrote this under a seperate node, not realising that the information had already been entered here. I have edited it somewhat before reposting, though there is still some remaining information that might seem superfluous. Thanks to LaggedyAnne for teaching me to search thoroughly searching existing nodes.

The Hero was a 1936 book by Major FitzRoy Richard Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan (probably known as 'Dick' to his close friends) where he classifies the life-stories of mythical heroes and historical figures into twenty-two archetypal events.

Lord Raglan's thesis was that heroic figures of mythology had their origins in ritual drama, not historical fact. Indeed, elements of the monomyth are used in some initiation rites today, particularly the pattern of Separation, Transformation and Return.

The higher a particular hero scores, the closer he is to the Ur-archetype of the sacred hero-king of prehistoric religious ritual; a genuine historical hero is unlikely to match many of the mythical characteristics. Thus, Lord Raglan believed that the real people could be distinguished from the complete fabrications, and to a lesser extent that the true elements of the historical figures' biographies could be distinguished from the embellishments (i.e., the parts that match the archetype are less likely to be true.) His method wasn't perfect; for example, he surmised that Lief Ericson, the Viking discoverer of America, had never actually existed.

From various sources, I have compiled the following high score table, where 1 point is awarded for each "match". None are my own calculation. Numbers in brackets show an alternate score provided by a different source; where they exist, I have generally opted to use Raglan's as the main score.

  1. Oedipus scores 21
  2. Theseus scores 20
  3. Moses scores 20 (16)
  4. Dionysus scores 19
  5. Jesus scores 19 (15/18.5)
  6. Romulus scores 18 (19)
  7. Perseus scores 18
  8. Anakin Skywalker scores 18
  9. Krishna scores 17.5
  10. Hercules scores 17 (16)
  11. Llew Llaw Gyffes scores 17
  12. Bellerophon scores 16
  13. Jason scores 15
  14. Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) scores 15
  15. Mwindo scores 14
  16. Robin Hood scores 13
  17. Pelops scores 13
  18. Apollo scores 11
  19. Sigurd scores 11
  20. Alexander the Great scores 7
  21. Luke Skywalker scores 6
  22. Mohammed scores 5 (14)
  23. John Fitzgerald Kennedy scores 4.5

As I said, none of the above are my own calculation. I really don't have the time or knowledge to node an analysis of these stories, especially where there is a lot of dispute (Jesus' score is particularly contested, and Raglan himself avoided looking at him). If anyone else has the time or inclination to analyse the above figures, or others, feel free to node them, and msg me so I can add their scores to the table.






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