Joseph Campbell’s Western Quest


As the backdrop to my recent travels by car from Los Angeles to Chicago, I listened to the lectures series by Joseph Campbell on Occidental Mythology entitled Western Quest. These lectures focus on the troubadours and writers in the crucial century from 1150-1250 who created the medieval romances that centered on tales of King Arthur’s Court.

The titles of the five lectures are as follows:

1. Origins of Occidental Mythology
This gives the historical background to the Arthurian romances.

2. The Mythology of Love
Joseph Campbell relates the central figure of Eleanor of Aquitaine and how the force of love or Amor was seen as force to counterbalance the oppression of the church or Roma (which is Amor spelled backwards).

3. The Arthurian Tradition
This lecture describes how the English literary tradition centered on Arthur, but the French tradition focused not on Arthur but on the various Knights of the Round Table like Lancelot, Gawain, and Parcival.

4. The Grail Legend
This introduces the secular version of the Grail legend where the Grail is like the Philosophers Stone, as opposed to the ecclesiastical line of the legend where it was the vessel used by Jesus during the Last Supper (which is the version of the Grail legend most are familiar with).

5. The Forest Adventurous
This discusses the main theme of the Grail legend, which is the renewal of the “wasteland” through an act of individual compassion which sometimes requires one to perform it in spite of social conventions.

In all of these lectures, Joseph Campbell emphasizes the unique position that these legends hold in world mythology in their positive depiction of the role of the individual vis-a-vis society. It was the perfect series of lectures to listen to as I set off on a new adventure of my own, and I recommend them to anybody who wants to know more about the spiritual roots of the values that would eventually flower in the Enlightenment.

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