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The Raglan hero pattern and Rank-Raglan mythotype are common patterns used to identify mythical heroes. The idea behind the metrics is that heroes in myth and legend share a common origin in the human imagination rather than being based in the lives of actual people.
The two most well-known patterns were created by Otto Rank (1884-1939), an Austrian writer, psychoanalyst, and colleague of Sigmund Freud, and FitzRoy Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan (1885-1964), a British soldier and anthropologist.
Rank's hero pattern
Rank developed his pattern in 1909, drawing heavily on Oedipus, and focusing on the early part of the hero's life. This possibly was influenced by his closeness to Freud.
Rank's 12 criteria were:
- Child of distinguished parents
- Father is a king
- Difficulty in conception
- Prophecy warning against birth
- Hero surrendered to the water in a box
- Saved by animals or lowly people
- Suckled by female animal or humble woman
- Hero grows up
- Hero finds distinguished parents
- Hero takes revenge on the father
- Acknowledged by people
- Achieves rank and honors
Raglan formulated his theory in The Hero, A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama (1936). He aimed to show that there is a common pattern of heroes in myth and legend, which he believed were drawn from ritual drama rather than being historically true.
In The Hero, Raglan rates a range of heroes including figures from Greek myth (Theseus, Heracles, Bellerophon…), Christianity (Moses, Joseph son of Jacob, Elijah), north European myth (Siegfried, King Arthur, and Robin Hood), and elsewhere. They are ranked on a scale with a maximum score of 22.
- Mother is a royal virgin
- Father is a king
- Father often a near relative to mother
- Unusual conception
- Hero reputed to be son of god
- Attempt to kill hero as an infant, often by father or maternal grandfather
- Hero spirited away as a child
- Reared by foster parents in a far country
- No details of childhood
- Returns or goes to future kingdom
- Is victor over king, giant, dragon or wild beast
- Marries a princess (often daughter of predecessor)
- Becomes king
- For a time he reigns uneventfully
- He prescribes laws
- Later loses favor with gods or his subjects
- Driven from throne and city
- Meets with mysterious death
- Often at the top of a hill
- His children, if any, do not succeed him
- His body is not buried
- Has one or more holy sepulchers or tombs
In Raglan's book, Oedipus is the highest, scoring 21.
Another source gives the following scores: Mithridates VI of Pontus (22), Krishna (21), Moses (20), Romulus (19), King Arthur (19), Perseus (18), Jesus (18), Watu Gunung of Java (18), Heracles (17), Muhammad (17), Beowulf (15), Buddha (15), Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (14), Zeus (14), Nyikang, a cult-hero of the Shiluk tribe of the Upper Nile (14), Samson (13), Sunjata, the Lion-King of Ancient Mali (11), Achilles (10), Odysseus (8), Harry Potter (8). The highest figure here, Mithridates, was a real person, although his life is heavily mythologised. Nicholas II is another high-ranking real person.
Application to Jesus
Raglan omitted Jesus from his book reportedly to avoid conflict with his publisher. However, the metric has been used by Jesus myth theorists to demonstrate that Jesus is likely an archetypal mythical figure rather than an actual human being. This does not prove that Jesus did not exist, but does suggest an extra-historical origin.
There is a debate about Jesus's exact score in Raglan's system. Thomas J. Sienkewicz scores Jesus 18: "His mother, Mary, is (1) a royal virgin (descendant of King David), and his father is (2) Joseph, who is (3) her close relative. He is reported to be (5) the son of God, who (4) sends his Holy Spirit to Mary. At his birth King Herod (6) tries to kill him, but he and his parents (7) flee to Egypt. We are told (9) almost nothing of his childhood, but on reaching manhood he begins to enter (10) his future kingdom. He teaches successfully (14) for some time, prescribing (15) ways of behavior and belief. His enemies (16) persecute him, and he is executed (18) on top of a hill (19). He defeats the forces of evil (11) and eventually returns (10) to his heavenly kingdom. He has (20) no children to succeed him. His body is (21) not buried, but he has a sepulchre (22) in Jerusalem." This omits: reared by foster-parents (although maybe you would count Joseph); marries princess; becomes king; driven from throne and city.
Robert Price scored him 20; Jesus fails on having closely-related parents and marrying a princess.
This shows the problem of ascribing the metric exactly to any individual as a certain degree of interpretation is involved. However, Jesus clearly scores highly. But so do some real historical people.
- Rank-Raglan mythotype
- See the Wikipedia article on FitzRoy Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan.
- Hero Pattern, Thomas J. Sienkewicz, Monmouth College
- Jesus Pattern, Thomas J. Sienkewicz, Monmouth College
- Life events shared by Yeshua (Jesus) and the "Mythic Hero Archetype", religioustolerance.org
- The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark by Dennis R. MacDonald (2000) Yale University Press. ISBN 0300172613.