The Western Quest
By Joseph Campbell
Available to download from JCF.org:
These five lectures, recorded early in Campbell’s career as a public speaker, explore how the modern European cultural explosion from the Middle Ages to the present, with its emphasis on the individual’s quest for fulfillment, has expressed itself mythologically. Provocative and exhilarating, full of wit and wisdom, they are windows into one of the greatest minds of our time.
Throughtout the myths of the world, certain elementary ideas appear that transcend all borders and languages, yet these universals are always clothes in the historical and social trappings of their native culture. In this far-reaching talk, Campbell explores the dynamic balance between these universals and their local manifestations by focusing on the central myths of the four ancient centers of high civilization: China, India, the Near East, and Europe. Central to his exploration is the way in which their primal myths continue to or fail to serve them to this day.
Love is central to all of the world’s mythologies. Why does love–that most transcendent, yet most personal, of emotions–occupy such a primary place in our most fundamental myths? The Greeks saw Eros, the god of love, as both the oldest of the gods and as the infant reborn “fresh and dewy-eyed in every loving heart.” In one Persian myth, love is the reason for Lucifer’s fall: he loved God so much he would not bow to God’s creation, Man. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the poet has a vision of a strand of love connecting the lowest depths of Hell, through Purgatory and Heaven, to God Himself.
The high period of the Arthurian romances is exactly that of the building of the great cathedrals: that wonderful century from A.D. 1150 to 1250. The grand tales of Arthur and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, Galahad, and Percival express the spirit of their time as passionately as their great stone counterparts at Chartres and Notre Dame. In this talk, Joseph Campbell explores the causes of this cultural exploration , tracing social, mythological, and cultural clues in the stories back to the prehistoric Celts and to classical China.
In this fascinating tape, Joseph Campbell explores the historical roots of the Grail lengend. He discusses the development of the Roman Catholic Church in the Dark Ages, and shows how new conceptions of love, marriage, and worship gave rise to a secular “religion,” that of courtly romance. He then examines the quest for the Holy Grail, both as an expression of these new ideas of love and as a reaction against the dogmatic practices of the medieval Church. Finally, in his own inimitable style, he recounts the Grail Legend.
In this talk, Joseph Campbell concludes the story of Percival’s exploits. Plagued with doubt, beset with travail, and tormented by temptation, he wanders through the wilderness for five years, steadfastly pursuing his quest for the Holy Grail. It’s in the forest adventurous, Campbell reminds us, that we meet our advertures when we are ready for them. Our Grail hero is at last united with his brother, succeeds in his quest by virture of his noble character, and becomes the Grail King. Campbell then continues his investigation of the Grail Legend by exploring a central theme, that of the Waste Land, the place where everybody is living an inauthentic life.