Somewhere I Have Never Traveled: The Hero's Journey

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled: The Hero's Journey

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled: The Hero's Journey

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled: The Hero's Journey


The ancient hero's quest for glory offers metaphors for our own struggles to reach personal integrity and wholeness. In this compelling book, Van Nortwick traces the heroic journeys in three seminal works of ancient epic poetry, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer's Iliad, and Virgil's Aeneid. In particular, he focuses on the relationship of the hero to one or more second selves, or alter egos, showing how the poems address central truths about the cost of heroic self-assertion: that the pursuit of glory can lead to alienation from one's own deepest self, and that spiritual wholeness can only be achieved by confronting what appears, at first, to be the very negation of that self. With his unique combination of literary, psychological, and spiritual insights, Van Nortwick demonstrates the relevance of ancient literature to enduring human problems and to contemporary issues. Somewhere I Have never Travelled will interest anyone who wishes to explore the roots of human behavior and the relationship between life and art.


It comes over me that I had then a strange alter ego deep down somewhere inside me, as the full-blown flower is in the small tight bud, and I just took the course, I just transferred him to the climate, that blighted him once and for ever.

Henry James, "The Jolly Corner"

Everyone, late or soon, turns his or her own "jolly corner," as James calls it, coming face-to-face with an undiscovered blossom, a self as yet unrealized. The encounter may be pleasant, but more likely it will be bewildering at best and possibly terrifying. Rather than confront such a specter, most of us will find a way to "transfer it to the climate," make it go away, by projecting it onto someone or something else. This act of objectifying parts of ourselves, of putting a little distance between the person we know and a new version, might not be such a bad thing, since it could afford a perspective not available within our subjectivity. The rub is that of course we would have to acknowledge these other parts as our own in order to learn anything about ourselves, and we project them so as not to have to acknowledge them. In imaginative literature (itself one of our most engaging forms of projection, but that is for another book) we are happily allowed to suspend these intractable realities for a time -- if someone else is doing the projecting, we may yet learn something about ourselves. So it is that in ancient epic poetry, a literature centrally focused on the evolution of the self, we sometimes find the tendency to embody parts of the hero in another character, often the faithful companion. By so doing, the author creates the opportunity to dramatize objectively what is in real life an inner, subjective process, to explore, for him or herself and for us, the moral, psychological, and spiritual dynamics of growing up.

Any model we may choose for understanding this mysterious inner journey will begin with the premise that self-knowledge is primary to the task . . .

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