Jump to content

Bacon and the Hero Archetype

Guest Ryan Murtha

Recommended Posts

Guest Ryan Murtha

(Caveat- a long post, the material will be ready as a PDF soon, hopefully.)

I'm working on an article about features of the "monomyth" or hero archetype, popularized in the work of writers like Joseph Campbell, in the biography of Bacon. It's turning out to be really interesting, so I'm posting some of the material here, really curious to hear what people think. It's not a subject I'm very familiar with, I've read a fair amount of Jung and Campbell, etc. but that was long ago, so as usual I'm in over my head, if anyone has suggestions they are appreciated. 

The premise is that Bacon knew enough about mythology to form a conception of the hero archetype, and personally identify with it, at some point after learning of his true parents. This would at least partly explain some of his statements that seem to reflect grandiosity or even megalomania, such as the passages in Valerius Terminus where he identifies his nature with truth itself, and even explicitly claims kinship with the gods. Heroic figures born to virgin princesses include Apollo, Dionysus, Heracles, Oedipus, Romulus, and Perseus; Pallas Athena, Shaker of the Spear herself, was the only virgin on Mount Olympus.

I was alerted to this archetype possibility just last year, reading Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism, which quotes Otto Rank's Myth of the Birth of the Hero at length:

The prominent civilized nations—the Babylonians and Egyptians, the Hebrews and Hindus, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, as well as the Teutons and others—all began at an early stage to glorify their national heroes—mythical princes and kings, founders of religions, dynasties, empires, or cities—in a number of poetic tales and legends. The history of the birth and of the early life of these personalities came to be especially invested with fantastic features, which in different nations—even though widely separated by space and entirely independent of each other—present a baffling similarity or, in part, a literal correspondence.

Rank mentions the story of Hamlet as an example:

The fable of Shakespeare’s Hamlet also permits of a similar interpretation, according to Freud… mythological investigators bring the Hamlet legend from entirely different viewpoints into the correlation of the circle of myths. (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero and Other Essays, p. 9 footnote)

Another essay by the same author, Art and Artist (found in the same volume quoted just above, p. 236-7), conjectures (without noting Hamlet was printed very soon after Elizabeth died): 

about Shakespeare, it seems to me not improbable that the inspired poet portrayed himself in the Danish prince, so that he might with impunity utter high treason . . . the participation of Hamlet in his entrapping play might be explained from the fact that powerful opponents of Elizabeth did really use the poet as a means to attack her and stir her conscience. In this case, we should have a reflection, in Hamlet’s editing of the “play,” of the part important friends of the poet actually had in his work.

Rank says "we know so little of his [Shakespeare's] actual life and even doubt his authorship. Shakespeare’s work and the biographical material that has been gathered about the Stratford butcher’s son have just as much psychological connection as have the Homeric poems and our scanty information about the blind Ionian singer." 


Lord Raglan’s Hero Archetype

The 22-point hero outline in Lord Raglan’s The Hero: A Study of Tradition, Myth, and Drama (1936), contains a number of parallels in Bacon’s life:

—Bacon briefly became king, as temporary regent of England during James I’s jubilee visit to Scotland in 1617.

—He prescribed laws as Solicitor General, Attorney General, and Lord Chancellor. Bacon has a substantial body of legal writings; he wrote the charters for the Virginia Colony and the death sentence of Sir Walter Raleigh. He also tried to establish a law governing science, with statements such as “Evermore it must be remembered, that the least part of knowledge is subject to the use for which God hath granted it, which is the benefit and relief of the state and society of man.” 

—He was quite literally “driven from throne and city” as a result of his impeachment in 1621.

—The story of his death seems contrived, and many believe it was faked; in any case it qualifies as mysterious.

—Bacon’s death purportedly occurred at the Earl of Arundel’s estate in Highgate, on what may be? a hill overlooking London (dying on top of a hill being another item on Raglan’s list). Can someone confirm this? I looked at a topographical map of London and this seems to be the case.) 

—He had no children to survive him.

Raglan insisted on the ahistorical nature of the stories, attributing their common features to rituals present in all or most civilizations:

there is no justification for believing that any of these heroes were real persons, or that any of the stories of their exploits had any historical foundation . . . although several of the incidents are such as have happened to many historical heroes, yet I have not found an undoubtedly historical hero to whom more than six points can be awarded, or perhaps seven in the case of Alexander the Great. 

Raglan does not mention Bacon, who scores anywhere from seven to perhaps ten or eleven points, depending on whether his parents were Elizabeth and Dudley. One of the best books I've found on the heroic archetype, Erich Neumann's The Origins and History of Consciousness (1949), has a number of passages relevant to Bacon's biography:

The hero myth is never concerned with the private history of an individual, but always with some prototypal and transpersonal event of collective significance . . . Although they appear as inner events, the victory and transformation of the hero are valid for all mankind; they are held up for our contemplation, to be lived out in our own lives, or at least re-experienced by us.

the hero myth is never concerned with the private history of an individual, but always with some prototypal and transpersonal event of collective significance. … Although they appear as inner events, the victory and transformation of the hero are valid for all mankind; they are held up for our contemplation, to be lived out in our own lives, or at least re-experienced by us. While modern historiography, with its personalistic bias, is inclined to represent the collective events in the life of nations and mankind as being dependent upon the personalistic whims of monarchs and leaders, the myth reflects the transpersonal reality behind the singular events in the life of the hero.

And this passage below is really interesting; reading Moses and Monotheism, I wondered if the hero myth is God's autobiography, so to speak, in the sense of reflecting the story of the implementation of monotheistic religion, first in Egypt by the pharaoh Akhenaten (royal birth), then by Moses and his followers (adoption by those of a lesser station) (emphasis added):

the hero, as bringer of the new, is the instrument of a new manifestation of the father-god. In him the patriarchal gods struggle against the Great Mother, the invaders’ gods against the indigenous gods, Jehovah against the gods of the heathen. Basically it is a struggle between two god images or sets of gods, the old father-god defending himself against the new son-god, and the old polytheistic system resisting usurpation by the new monotheism, as is exemplified by the archetypal wars of the gods.

Of course, Bacon has his own book of allegorical interpretations of Greek mythology, Wisdom of the Ancients, which opens with a preface outlining his reasons for seeking deeper meaning in the stories: “Upon deliberate consideration, my judgment is, that a concealed instruction and allegory was originally intended in many of the ancient fables”:

the argument of most weight with me is this, that many of these fables by no means appear to have been invented by the persons who relate and divulge them, whether Homer, Hesiod, or others; for if I were assured they first flowed from those later times and authors that transmit them to us, I should never expect anything singularly great or noble from such an origin.

Bacon pointedly tells us he does not believe the works of Homer and Hesiod were composed (at least entirely) by their purported authors; is this a sly allusion to Shakespeare? 


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...