In various mythologies, there is a recurring theme of the main hero being raised in the wild apart from civilization. Two particular heroes are Jason of the Greek Argonautica and Sigurd of the Norse Völsunga Saga, though others abound in Western myth and legend. Why would the creators of these ancient tales take such care to place these men in a seemingly crippling environment, away from civilization and a royal court where their talent may be appreciated?
In Padraic Colum’s retelling of the Argonautica, Jason’s father sends him to Chiron the centaur as a baby. As Jason grows, Chiron “taught him the knowledge of the stars and the wisdom that had to do with the ways of the gods.”1 Sigurd the Völsung also retreats to the woods as a young man and lives with Regin, a dwarf and enchanter, who teaches Sigurd “the lore of other days.”2 In both these stories, the masters of wisdom live apart from mankind and these two heroes must also live apart from mankind if they wish to study under them.
A more obvious result of living in the wild is the heroes’ opportunity to become skilled hunters and woodsmen. Sigurd “built himself a hut in the forest that he might hunt wild beasts and live near [Regin] who was to train him in many crafts,”3 and Colum writes at length on the skill Jason learns while studying under Chiron. He says,
No heroes were ever better trained than those whose childhood and youth had been spent with Chiron the king-centaur. He made them more swift of foot than any other of the children of men. He made them stronger and more ready with the spear and bow.4
The skills Jason and Sigurd learn while hunting wild animals—dexterity and swift reflex, for example—are invaluable in battle.
Lastly, living among the little animals requires these heroes to soften their movements in order to avoid startling the creatures of the forest. This gentleness and care for those weaker than themselves offers Jason and Sigurd a mental dimension they would otherwise lack had they remined solely battle-oriented. Gentleness, being a form of humility, has always had its place among even the greatest warriors of the greatest mythologies.
The skill of these heroes is not weakened or compromised by their absence from civilization. Living in the wild, away from mortal influence and surrounded by veteran expertise, these heroes, and others like them, can become the best they can be.
A blessed Holy Week to you, my readers.
1Padraic Colum, The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles, Part I, Chapter 1
2Padraic Colum, The Children of Odin, Part VI, Chapter 1
4Padraic Colum, The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles, Part I, Chapter 1