Joseph Campbell – Your Invisible Mentor
Name: Joseph Campbell
Birth Date: March 1904 – October 1987
Job Functions: Essayist, Mythologist, Author and Professor
Fields: Mythology and Education
Known For: The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Mini Biography of Joseph Campbell
A leading exponent of the idea of “myth”’ as an inherent characteristic of humanity, Joseph Campbell was born in New York City in the early twentieth century. His lifelong fascination can be traced back to Campbell’s visits to the local library where he immersed himself in reading Arthurian legends and Native American mythology. Campbell’s visits to the American Museum of Natural History where he encountered Indian religious art and ethnographic literature being collected by anthropologists stirred his imagination and deepened his interest.
Campbell attended Dartmouth College 1921 – 1922 then transferred to Columbia University where he attained his Bachelor of Art and Masters of Art in 1925 and 1927 respectively. For his Master’s degree, Campbell compared the Arthurian legends with Native American myths. In 1927, he traveled to Europe to prepare for his dissertation work. Campbell studied medieval French literature at the University of Paris in 1927 – 1928, and Sanskrit and Indo-European philosophy at the University of Munich in 1928 – 1929.
In Europe, Campbell also discovered modern art, literature (Campbell was intrigued by the fictional heroes of novelists, James Joyce and Thomas Mann) and psychology (Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung). For Campbell, Freud and Jung opened up questions about the “unconscious structure and the quest for a meaningful life.” Jung’s theory of collective archetypes and their role in self-integration impacted Campbell’s thinking. He was also influenced by cultural mythologist Adolpf Bastian’s notion of elementary ideas and ethnologist Leo Frobenius’s idea of culture circle.
Campbell’s experience in Europe changed the focus of his doctoral work and when he returned to New York in 1929, he proposed to Columbia that he study mythical themes in literature, which they resisted. He abandoned his doctoral work. During the Great Depression, Campbell moved to Woodstock, New York. For the next five years, living on the funds he earned as a jazz band musician while in college, Campbell read widely and traveled from Woodstock to Carmel, California and sailed up the Alaskan coast. While in California, Campbell met John Steinbeck (Won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Grapes of Wrath) and biologist Edward Ricketts.
Campbell taught for a year at Canterbury School, New Milford, Connecticut, before joining the faculty of literature at Sarah Lawrence College in 1934, where he stayed for 38 years. He liked the tutorial-seminar system practiced at Sarah Lawrence College because it allowed him to develop his interpretive style in the classroom.
In 1943, Campbell provided commentary on the first volume of the Bollingen Series, Where the Two Came to Their Father: A Navaho War Ceremonial, and with Henry Robinson, Campbell co-authored A Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake (1944), an interpretive James Joyce’s novel. These two works, showed brilliance in his ability to use disparate works of literature to study mythic analysis of themes. While working on A Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake, Campbell heard lectures by the German refugee Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, which deeply moved him.
Campbell began his literary work as editor of the writings of Heinrich Zimmer, after his sudden death in 1943. Campbell dedicated 12 years to turning Zimmer’s lecture notes into four volumes: Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization; The King and the Corpse, Philosophies of India, and The Art of Indian Asia, which were published from 1946 to 1955. Before Zimmer died he had introduced Campbell to editors of the planned Bollingen Series, which resulted in his eventual editing of Jungian Conference’s Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks (1954–68). Campbell was a skilled editor, which allowed him to work on projects such as The Portable Arabian Nights (1952), The Masks of God (1959–68), and The Portable Jung (1971).
Campbell’s first solo work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces was first published in 1949. Campbell drew on Freudian and Jungian psychology to argue that hero myths worldwide use a universal narrative formula to describe rites of passage. In the book, he “examines a number of ‘hero’ tales from around the world in which Campbell discerns the same basic outline. He offers a thesis that myths provide instruction on how we should live, and says that the common themes of mythology throughout the world show these ideas are inherent in human biology. He also launches his search for what he terms the ‘mono-myth,’ the single underlying story all the myths tell.” Still immensely popular today, Campbell was awarded the National Arts and Literature grant because of the success of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The Hero’s Journey/Monomyth as Defined by Dr. Joseph Campbell/Star Wars
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Campbell followed The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) with the four-volume The Masks of God: Complete Four Volume Set (1959–68), which traces the development of ancient mythology and argues for the need of a new worldwide mythology adaptable to the emerging worldwide culture.
He started the six-volume Historical Atlas of World Mythology (Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Vol. I: The Way of the Animal Powers, Part 2: Mythologies of the Great Hunt, Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Vol. II: The Way of the Seeded Earth, Part 3: Mythologies of the Primitive Planters: The Middle and Southern Americas ), of which only two volumes were completed. The editors completed the other volumes and published them posthumously in 1988, the year following Campbell’s death. Campbell also did a series of interviews with Bill Moyers, which was broadcast posthumously over the Public Broadcasting Service as The Power of Myth, and later published as a book with the same name.
His library and papers have been deposited at the Pacifica Institute in Santa Barbara, California. Though several people criticized Campbell for his work, many people have stated that The Hero with a Thousand Faces profoundly impacted their lives. The book inspired George Lucas who made the Star Wars movies.
Joseph Campbell Books
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)The Power of MythPathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal TransformationReflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell CompanionMyths to Live ByThe Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)Primitive Mythology (The Masks of God)The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
Sources of Works Cited/Referenced
Encyclopedia of World Biography
New Catholic Encyclopedia
Encyclopedia of Religion
Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology
Contemporary American Religion