This semester, I am teaching a World Literature survey organized around the concept of archetypes. So far we have examined the Hero, the King, the Lover, the Beloved, and the Mother. All our examples have come from imaginative texts. In each case, the literary work contemplates important social issues through archetypes. For instance, Euripides’ Medea critiques the powerlessness of Greek women. The play turns the Mother and Hero archetypes inside out. Jason and Medea openly display violence and power-lust—forcing us to confront how far they have fallen from maternal and heroic ideals.
Archetypes are not confined to imaginative works. We also find them in histories, biographies, and autobiographies. The historian or biographer often presents an archetype as a social aspiration. Our next class will explore the archetype of the Sage or Wise Old Man. St. Augustine’s great spiritual autobiography, The Confessions, can be read as a story of becoming the Sage.
To understand the Sage/Wise Old Man archetype, we can review an excerpt from Wikipedia’s “Wise Old Man,” which carries the CC-BY-SA license. Citations for the sources used by the article’s editors appear at the end of this excerpt:
This type of character is typically represented as a kind and wise, older father-type figure who uses personal knowledge of people and the world to help tell stories and offer guidance that, in a mystical way, may impress upon his audience a sense of who they are and who they might become, thereby acting as a mentor. He may occasionally appear as an absent-minded professor, appearing absent-minded due to a predilection for contemplative pursuits.
The wise old man is often seen to be in some way “foreign”, that is, from a different culture, nation, or occasionally, even a different time, from those he advises. In extreme cases, he may be a liminal being, such as Merlin, who was only half human.
In medieval chivalric romance and modern fantasy literature, he is often presented as a wizard. He can also or instead be featured as a hermit. This character type often explained to the knights or heroes—particularly those searching for the Holy Grail—the significance of their encounters. . . .
In Jungian Psychology
In Jungian analytical psychology, senex is the specific term used in association with this archetype. In Ancient Rome, the title of Senex (Latin for old man) was only awarded to elderly men with families who had good standing in their village. Examples of the senex archetype in a positive form include the wise old man or wizard. The senex may also appear in a negative form as a devouring father (e.g. Uranus, Cronus) or a doddering fool.
In the individuation process, the archetype of the Wise old man was late to emerge, and seen as an indication of the Self. ‘If an individual has wrestled seriously enough and long enough with the anima (or animus) problem…the unconscious again changes its dominant character and appears in a new symbolic form…as a masculine initiator and guardian (an Indian guru), a wise old man, a spirit of nature, and so forth’.
1. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p 151, ISBN 0-691-01298-9
2. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p 195, ISBN 0-691-01298-9
3. Doob, Penelope Reed (1990). The Idea of the Labyrinth: from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. 179–181. ISBN 0-8014-8000-0.
4. Chalquist, Craig (2007). Terrapsychology: Reengaging the Soul of Place. Spring Journal Books. ISBN 978-1-882670-65-9.
5. Franz, Marie-Luise von (1978). “The Process of Individuation”. In Jung, C. G. Man and his Symbols. London: Picador. pp. 207–208. ISBN 0-330-25321-2.
This YouTube video by Mark O’Meara also explains the Sage Archetype:
O’Meara’s video carries the CC-BY license.
The Wise Old Man has seen a lot. He’s endured personal struggles. He wants to pass on his hard-gained wisdom to someone younger. The Wise One needs an initiate. Merlin has Arthur. Obi-wan has Luke, and so on.
St. Augustine expresses the Sage archetype in a sophisticated way. In his autobiography, he is both the old man and the young initiate. He travels from his birth place, Thagaste, to Carthage and later to Rome. He learns Latin and Greek and intensively studies Roman literary classics. He sees it all and does it all—he has affairs, he drinks, he dabbles in various religious heresies, all the while seeking transcendent meaning in the universe. And then one day he has a conversion, a moment of blinding clarity, when he sheds his errant ways and begins the ascent to wisdom.
Augustine structured his autobiographical narrative to emphasize the transformation from naïf to Sage, (as this fair-use quotation from The Longman Anthology of World Literature implies): “[He] tells the story in retrospect rather than from beginning to end, so that he is always able to comment upon his wayward past from the safe harbor in which he now finds himself. In this way he can show how each apparently errant step he took . . . could also play a role in his eventual salvation” (“Augustine” 847).
Artistic renderings of St. Augustine often emphasize his mystical “sage” qualities, as we can see in this image of a 1650 painting by Philippe de Champaigne, which is in the public domain:
The different licenses/usage declarations for the material that appears in this post are:
“Augustine.” The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Eds. David Damrosch and David L. Pike. Compact Edition. New York: Pearson Education-Longman, 2008. 846-48. Print.
De Champaigne, Philippe. St. Augustine. 1645-1650. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles. Wikipedia. Web. 15 Sep 2013.
O’Meara, Mark. Archetypes: The Wise Old Man. Online Video. YouTube. YouTube, 30 Jul. 2011.Web. 15 Sep. 2013.
“Wise Old Man.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Sep. 2013. Web. 15 Sep. 2013.
Reflection on Remixing
The most challenging thing for me, frankly, was the length. I had to stop myself from going on forever. Perhaps my topic was too complicated for this exercise. My discussion of the Sage archetype in Augustine is oversimplified. I had to cut out a lot, actually, just to keep it to this length.
I fretted over whether to include the list of sources from the Wikipedia excerpt, and decided to do so. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I also wondered whether or not to include a full-blown list of works cited at the end of the post. Finally, I decided to go ahead and make one. As I was scouring my sources for information to make the citations, I discovered that the image I initially chose had the GNU Free Documentation License, which supposedly makes it incompatible with the CC licenses. So I had to get another image. The original image was also noted as being in the public domain. How can it have the GNU license at the same time? How can something with a GNU license appear in Wikipedia, which uses the Creative Commons licenses? I do not understand.
I am not sure whether I have the copyright here or whether my employer would have the copyright. I will certainly use some of this information in my class next week. I doubt that I will use the actual blog entry as educational material. When does a piece of writing become an actual educational resource?
I decided to apply the CC-BY-SA license to this post because I am uncertain about the copyright ownership.