What is the oldest example of the Joseph Campbell's monomyth (AKA: Hero's Journey) story structure ?

I know about Homer's Odyssey (circa VII BC). Are there any older examples ?

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    I'd think it would be on-topic on either, so its up to you. The answer will almost certainly be a myth, but we may be slightly better equipped to figure out which is actually oldest.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 28, 2016 at 17:13

1 Answer 1


While I'm not an expert on literary analysis, I highly suspect The Epic of Gilgamesh is going to be the one we have the oldest evidence of.

Its a very wide ranging story, but the hero Gilgamesh does go on a journey, and return to his home in Uruk at the end. At the beginning, he's a bit of a tyrant, while at the end he's been humbled by loss, and expresses appreciation for the works of Uruk.

Some of the tablets we have of it date back to the 22nd Century BC. At that time, the only other places we know for sure even had writing yet were Egypt, Elam, and the Indus Valley.

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    @NelsonTeixeira - I'm of the (Darwinian?) theory that in 4200 years, surely every possible permutation of story structure has been used. If the ones that last all tend to use a certain subset of those possible structures, that should tell you something.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 28, 2016 at 18:27
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    @NelsonTeixeira - But also nobody said every story does that. I can think of two good ones that didn't off the top of my head. (Which ones they are is way OT here. Perhaps on Movies.SE)
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 28, 2016 at 18:38
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    @NelsonTeixeira One thing to consider, though, is that Campbell's monomyth is widely criticized as being incredibly broad. You can't really dismiss Gilgamesh (or the Odyssey, or any other of the great works that fit the motif) as "yet another Hero's Journey storyline". There's so much more to these stories than that.
    – yannis
    Dec 28, 2016 at 19:02
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    Related question on Myth.SE: Why, according to Joseph Campbell, is the monomyth so common?
    – yannis
    Dec 28, 2016 at 19:09
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    @Yannis - Right. The Odyssey and Gilgamesh are clearly very different stories. I remember Babylon-5 writer JMS getting upset with people who'd come to him with story ideas and wanting money, thinking that coming up with those was the tough part and that the rest of the 99.9% of the actual work involved in writing was just meer wrench turning. Ideas are nothing, form is nothing. Implementation is everything.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 28, 2016 at 19:12

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