What's an ancient story that's a good example for the plot structure of the monomyth, meaning most of the stations are there?

In my youth I read the popular classical Greek myths as well as a few German (Grimms fairytales, Nibelungenlied) and Norse sagas, and quite a few variations of the king Arthur stories. Either I forgot that some of them followed the monomyth plot structure, or none do, or I'm really bad at spotting plot structures. Supposedly the monomyth is everywhere, but the oldest example that comes to my mind is The Hobbit.

I've looked at wikipedia and these two TV Tropes pages, but the only examples mentioned where the bible (Jesus and Moses) and the life of Buddha. I'm interested in examples that are not (yawnsome) religious scripture.

So what is a good, pre-modern example of the monomyth in action? Which story follows the plot structure most closely?

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    Joseph Campbell wrote several books about the monomyth (the most popular is the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces). Since it's bad practice to make arguments without backing them up, he included several examples of myths that featured the monomyth. The best way to answer this question would be for you to get a copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces (available from a local library, and I also think you might be able to find it online).
    – user62
    Apr 10, 2016 at 22:34
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    This caveat may be relevant here.
    – plannapus
    Apr 11, 2016 at 8:43
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    Possible duplicate of Why, according to Joseph Campbell, is the monomyth so common?
    – user62
    Apr 11, 2016 at 15:59
  • Even the wikipedia page you link to mentions (amongst others) Oddyseus, which was the first name that came to mind even before I read that page.Going by the description, I guess almost every single Greek classical hero-story could be construed as a monomyth. Either I (and Campbell?) are using th edefinition a bit loosely, or you are restricting yourself so much you don't see any (obvious?) examples...
    – oerkelens
    May 4, 2016 at 14:19

3 Answers 3


It's interesting that over 3 years, no-one thought of Gilgamesh's search for immortality.

After his great friend Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh goes off on a quest to find Utnapishtim, survivor of the Great Flood and the only man to have been made immortal by the gods.

Gilgamesh is so focused on this quest that he forgoes sleep... Eventually he finds Utnapishtim, who tells him of the futlity of searching for immortality. There's another episode where he searches for a plant that will grant youth, only to have it stolen by a snake after he's finally gone to sleep.

So Gilgamesh returns home to Uruk, having learned to be satisfied with the life he has. (It's good to be the king, after all...)


The story of Cupid and Psyche, a story within a story in "The Golden Ass" by Lucius Apuleius has several characteristics of a Hero's Journey. Or, a Heroine's Journey, if you will.

Psyche goes to all sorts of adventures, including a quest to the underworld, and faces a multitude of obstacles to win back Cupid's love.

There's a brief section on Psyche and Monomyth in wikipedia here

  • Hi, this is a great answer but I feel like it could be improved, would you please mind adding some links to this story? And also I would love to see the steps of the mono-myth next to the steps of the story to support your claim.
    – Calaom
    May 27, 2019 at 9:21

To my understanding of monomyth conception, Iliad and Odyssey pulled together is a good example. Also myth of Argonauts, and lots of other myths and stories. For any story or myth, you can abstract it as much as you can and see if it is a "go for quest - have adventures - return with new knowledge/abilities". If it fits in the scheme – it's a monomyth. I believe, the Red Hood tale could also be considered a monomyth example as well as King Arthur stories.

  • I wouldn't pull the Illiad and Oddysee together. The Oddysee is the story of one hero's travels (along the lines of the monomyth), but the Illiad, albeit a "prequel", is certainly not about that same hero. If you would see the Illiad as a monomyth, who's the hero? Possibly Achilles, but certainly not Oddyseus.
    – oerkelens
    May 4, 2016 at 14:21
  • It is not my very own conclusion, but I've read this somewhere. Odyssey cannot be considered monomyth example by itself, as it is about a hero having adventures and returning home, but the beginning is lost. So we need to add Iliad, as it is about hero going for quest, which is the beginning, that Odyssey lacks. But I may be mistaken.
    – Alissa
    May 4, 2016 at 17:04

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