Joseph Campbell

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Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell (born March 26, 1904 in White Plains , New York , † October 30, 1987 in Honolulu , Hawaii ) was an American professor and publicist in the field of mythology .


Campbell, raised a Roman Catholic as the son of Irish immigrants , was interested in Native American myths from childhood . He studied English , literature and languages at Dartmouth College , Columbia University and the Sorbonne . He was influenced by many authors, above all by Carl Gustav Jung , Heinrich Zimmer , Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer , but also by representatives of fiction such as James Joyce and Thomas Mann , in whose works he visualized the “spirit of myth ” in a contemporary way saw.

Campbell taught at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville for nearly forty years . In 1973 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters .

He became widely known after his death through the television series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth , a six-part series of interviews with the television journalist Bill Moyers . T. at the Skywalker Ranch of the Star Wars creator George Lucas . The series reached an audience of millions immediately after Campbell's death in 1987.

Campbell was married to the American dancer, choreographer and dance teacher Jean Erdman from 1938 until his death .


Campbell wrote his first book, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake , in 1939 in co-authorship with Henry Morton Robinson about James Joyce. Campbell and Robinson attempted their own access to Joyce's work. In 1949, Campbell published The Hero in a Thousand Figures as the sole author . The work deals with the motif of the hero's journey . At first it was only known to a small audience, but over the decades it became more popular.

Campbell's four-volume work The Masks of God ( The Masks of God ), which was published from 1959 to 1968, deals with the mythology around the world, from antiquity to modern times. Where The Hero in a Thousand Forms focuses on the commonality of mythology, the books The Masks of God concentrate on historical and anthropological variations that the monomyth takes up (the "folk ideas"). The four volumes are divided into: Primitive Mythology , Oriental Mythology , Western Mythology and Creative Mythology .


Campbell developed a popular view of mythology, religion, and the symbols they use. He tried to show "universal patterns of experience" in religion and myth that could be demonstrated in all mythologies of this earth. Among other things, he resorted to the depth psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. According to Campbell, the aim of this comparative research into myths is to carefully differentiate between “universal structures of myths” and local characteristics of the same myths. In the lecture series The Middle Is Everywhere between 1981 and 1984 in San Francisco , Campbell analyzed this difference in depth. Elementary thoughts on the structure of human life such as hero's journey , Kundalini or the balance he assumed between sun (male, fire) and moon (female, water) can be found in mythologies all over the world, which originated there independently of each other. They were a vital orientation in the life of every person that people no longer have today. There was a lack of convincing myths with which they could gain meaning and direction in their own lives.

In addition, every mythology has the task of regulating the social coexistence of the tribe, the city, the state and ensuring a harmonious coexistence. These were largely tailored to local peculiarities - especially geographical ones - while outsiders - for example for Egyptian and Greek culture - were viewed as barbarians, pagans or not at all as people in the true sense and treated accordingly. The local restriction would be found in (almost) all mythologies: "The social function of a mythology [...] does not ensure that the mind opens, but rather creates an encapsulation so that the local population finds mutual support and is bound together ..." ( Joseph Campbell )

Campbell's thesis was that this second function of mythology first became the dominant function in Babylonia during the time of the Sargon of Akkad (2356 BC to 2300 BC). The myth of Sargon tells of the fact that Sargon legitimized his claim to the office of king through the love of the goddess Ishtar . Mythology is used here primarily to justify a claim to power. The same pattern would later be found in Moses and similarly in all major monotheistic religions. With the legitimation function of the myth for political rule, however, the universal idea of ​​understanding man himself - qua human being - as a divine being becomes a disruptive factor and is increasingly being suppressed. Religious wars and gods claiming omnipotence were the result, poison for the slow process of human maturity from a dependent creature to a “self-responsible creator of his life”.

According to Campbell, this development reached its unsurpassable climax with the Second World War . Since this catastrophe, the insight slowly but steadily gained acceptance that not this or that region, but the earth, is man's home. A myth of humanity - in which the earth is the home of man - does not yet exist, however. Campbell thought it was essential to create it. However: “The next mythology cannot be predicted any more than the dream of the coming night, because a mythology is not an ideology. It is not designed by the brain, but experienced by the heart. "( Joseph Campbell )


Campbell's ideas influenced u. a. the filmmaker George Lucas in the development of his Star Wars saga, computer game developer Richard Garriott , director George Miller in the design of his multiple protagonist Mad Max , and the singer of the British rock band James , Tim Booth .



  • Robert Ellwood, The politics of Myth. A Study of CG Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell . New York 1999, ISBN 0-7914-4306-X
  • Wendy Doniger : The King and the Corpse and The Rabbi and the Talk-Show Star. Zimmer's Legacy to Mythologists and Indologists . In: Margaret H. Case (ed.): Heinrich Zimmer. Coming into his own . PUP, Princeton 1994. Critically examines Campbell's role in the posthumous edition of Zimmer's works.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Ellwood, 149 f.
  2. Ellwood, 136 f.
  3. ^ Members: Joseph Campbell. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed February 20, 2019 .
  4. The center is everywhere p. 27
  5. The center is everywhere . P. 20
  6. Christian Schmidt and Gunnar Lott: Stay Forever Podcast - Topic: Ultima 7 and Richard Garriot (from approx. 0:45 min.). 2011, accessed November 29, 2016 .
  7. Spence D: Tim Booth 11 Questions. In: IGN. January 19, 2005. Retrieved January 8, 2017 (American English).