Posts tagged ‘Theseus’

3 February, 2011

The Belly of the Whale

Six years ago (woah, that feels weird) I was writing a senior thesis for AP English Literature about Campbell and the Hero.

Every hero follows the same journey, according to Campbell. There are several pit-stops in the journey. Today, as I was doing someone else’s laundry and watching a rom-com, I started thinking about the Belly of the Whale– it’s the lowest point in the cyclical hero’s journey.

The Belly is the darkest place– its where all hope seems lost. It’s name, of course, comes from the Biblical Jonah, who was swallowed not by a whale but by a giant fish (being a pseudo-classicist means I get to occasionally be fussy and split hairs like that.) What makes this agonizing literary midnight interesting, however, is the fact that the hero can’t climb out alone. He needs assistance to get out of the disastrous mess he’s in. Theseus is dead until Ariadne gives him the string to help him navigate the labyrinth; Jason is dead until Medea gives him the tools and the magic he needs to get the fleece; Psyche is dead until everything from Cupid down to the lowest ant gives that dumb butterfly the assistance she needs.

I often wonder if there’s any parallel in real life. If mythology is a functional understanding of the world, surely its mimetic qualities are myriad. Sure, strip away the minotaurs and the Argo, but underneath, a lot of things hold true– team work, jealousy, interdependence, complicated family dynamics, angry mothers, chutzpah, fearlessness, and most importantly, the ability to take that hand up when you need it.

Maybe that’s what mythology’s most important lesson is– you can’t do this shit alone, and that’s okay. To any of you hanging out down here in the dark with me, it’s okay to accept help– if thousands of stories and, if the shared wisdom of the human race is any indication, you’ll need it in order to move onto what comes next.