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Understanding Joseph Campbell

I am one of those people who makes it a point to learn something new every day. While on my daily quest for information, I came across some about Joseph Campbell. Considering the fact that I have a passion for mythology of all kinds, he interested me right away.

The first thing that caught my eye was the fact that he studied math and biology at Dartmouth. While most mythologists have a passion for this very early in life, it is intriguing to know that he went a different way in the beginning. Before spending all of this time studying something of little interest to him, he decided to switch gears and enroll at Columbia instead.

In the mid-1920s, he and his family took a trip to Europe. While there, Campbell had the opportunity to talk to someone about the ageless wisdom of Indian philosophy. This incited a spark in him and he gained an intense interest in learning more about the Hindu thought process. In a move that should not surprise anyone, he became a teacher within a decade and attempted to write fiction books.

During the second World War, he went to a lecture held by Heinrich Zimmer, who was an Indologist and they struck up a friendship. After Zimmer passed away, Campbell too all of this papers, edited them and published them. This task took nearly ten years to complete. Around the time that the first paper was set to be published, Campbell decided to take a sabbatical and head to Asia. This was his first time traveling there, despite the fact that he had been studying the culture and mythology of this region for many years.

Campbell always said that the mysteries of life can never be fully explained with pictures or words. He belieded that symbols and metaphors within myths could accomplish this task far more effectively. He also believed that every myth had some of the same underlying meanings and they were only adjusted to reflect the reality that people were going through at the time that they were written.

There are several famous authors, included Dan Brown, that credit Campbell with inspiring their art. In fact, Brown says that the famed character Robert Langdon was created because of his passion for the teachings of Campbell. For a man who started off as a math/science major at Dartmouth, this is certainly a huge accomplishment.


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