Comparing Heroes with Lord Raglan’s Scale

The AccoladeSince my post about heroism, I’ve known I would have to post on Lord Raglan’s scale for comparing heroes of legend. I learned about it while working on my English degree and was fascinated by the commonalities it revealed between various heroes.

Lord Raglan in his work, The Hero (1936), analyzed the legendary heroes of western culture and came up with a list of narrative features. Of all, Oedipus and Krishna scored the closest to perfect with 21 out of 22. [Note: Different experts interpret story vs. line item differently so you will see fluctuations on various sites regarding the actual numbers. Also, it doesn’t tend to apply as neatly to heroines, but I haven’t seen a scale built for them.]

  1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin;
  2. His father is a king, and
  3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
  4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
  5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
  6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
  7. He is spirited away, and
  8. Reared by foster parents in a far country.
  9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
  10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
  11. After a victory over the king, and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
  12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and
  13. Becomes king.
  14. For a time he reigns uneventfully, and
  15. Prescribes laws, but
  16. Later loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
  17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
  18. He meets a mysterious death,
  19. Often at the top of a hill.
  20. His children, if any, do not succeed him.
  21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
  22. He has one or more holy sepulchers

The scale was used to further the “myth-ritual” origin of religion and to demonstrate the commonalities across western culture. While many of its highest recipients are Greek, we also see English (Arthur, Robin Hood, and Guinevere at 19, 13, and 11 respectively), Judeo-Christian (Moses and Jesus at 20 and 19), and even heroes of current literature. People have rated Anakin Skywalker between 16 and 18, Superman @15, Optimus Prime at 14, Aragorn and Captain Kirk at 13, and Harry Potter at 8.

Some have used the scale as a sort of Occam’s razor for the veracity of historical truth with scores above a 6 being considered of suspicious historical accuracy. Personally, I just think it’s fun to think about what these commonalities say about our shared values.