Newly re-mastered, Mythos I is the first of a multi-part documentary which consists of a series of lectures given by Joseph Campbell during his final years. These lectures are a remarkable summation of a remarkable life and are presented in the order and the manner in which Campbell intended. They are a basic recording of him lecturing in a room with students present. It is narrated by Susan Sarandon. Volume One was first released in 1987.
Joseph Campbell was born in New York State in 1904 and became fascinated with Native American mythology and myth in general. He graduated with a degree in literature in 1925 from Columbia University, and a M.A. in Medieval literature in 1927. He was influenced by writer James Joyce, the psychiatric works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, as well as Hindu philosophy and mythology.
What made Campbell's work so important was that unlike many in the field who concentrated on a single culture and the myths that arose from that culture, he looked across multiple cultures and saw the similarities that existed. In his series of books "The Masks of God," he tried to summarize the main spiritual threads that are common throughout the world.
Mythos I is about myths and mythologies. Simply put a mythology is a set of stories and ideas that try to make sense of the world and our place in it. These are big ideas, ideas that make you think. While the topics contained in this series may not be for everyone, neither is it exclusive toward the academic. No special knowledge is required to learn from and understand the information contained within. In fact, his lectures are very approachable for anyone with a willingness to learn.
Instead of studying the differences that existed between cultures, Campbell found the similarities between the world's religions. From there he shows that there are underlying themes that connect us all. According to Campbell "the material of myth is the material of our life, the material of our body, and the material of our environment. A living, vital mythology deals with these."
Campbell begins "Psyche and Symbol" by explaining how a functioning mythology serves both the individual and the society. Then he explains that psychology provides insights into how we live our lives. The more we know about our common psychological roots, the more we feel connected to those roots. He continues to talk about the self, the relationship between man and woman, as well as how the universal themes are accessible to all through art.
"The Spirit Land" initiates us in to the world of the American Indian. He begins by looking at modern society and the cycle of life that we all travel through. Campbell asks us difficult questions such as "Are you the vehicle of consciousness or are you the consciousness?" These themes are especially evident through the letter of Chief Seattle to the President. The psyche of the American Indian is completely different to that of the European Americans. It is from here that one can understand better the concept of what myth means to a culture.
"On Being Human" moves from the psychological origins of myths to the origins of human beings in prehistoric times. By tracing the development of mythic symbols from our earliest ancestors forward, we begin to see the themes that link all of us together into what Campbell calls the one great story of human kind.
"From Goddess to God" takes on the first major transformation for humankind. It begins with the emergence of agriculture and culminates with the world's first great empire: Egypt. While to some this may be just history, it is this history that has happened to the human race. By looking at these ancient cultures we can get a glimpse into our own lives.
"The Mystical Life" describes that the seed of the soul is where the inner and the outer worlds meet. While the outer world changes with time, the inner world, or soul, is constant to the human race. It is through myth that provides the link between these two worlds.
Again, while Mythos I may not be for everyone, it is for everyone who has a desire to learn about the human condition. It provides for a basis within our world and gives a framework for our world view. It shows us how we, as a human population, arrived at where we are today.
Mythos I was filmed in 1986 during the last year of Joseph Campbell's life. If you pay attention, you can hear him having some difficulty breathing, but he does not have a problem teaching his subject. You can see his passion and his ability to convey a topic is extraordinary. What might seem to be a boring topic suddenly comes alive through his teachings.
To see Joseph Campbell's influence on our culture, one has to look no further than the Star Wars movie series. Writer and director George Lucas used his book Hero with a Thousand Faces as the basis and inspiration to write the storyline of Star Wars. It is because of this that the series was so successful. All of the underlying themes can be seen in Campbell's works.
I have to say I found this highly engrossing and totally entertaining and I highly recommend this DVD for anyone who loves history, mythology, sociology, or just wants a better understanding the human spirit.