Should Darth Vader Sit at Hercules’ Table?


When I visited the exhibition “Founding Myths” at Musée du Louvre in Paris few weeks ago, I was surprised to see a statue of Hercules standing next to Darth Vader’s original bust. Is George Lucas really the Homer of our times? Maybe. But there were few contradictions that unsettled me. Hercules springs from ancient oral tales, while Vader is a synthetic modern figure of evil. The former’s tale highlights man’s boldness at the dawn of civilization, the latter is a construct of the nineteen-seventies who lives far, far away in the future. Hercules is the hero of a long poem, whereas Vader earned his authority from the screen. Vader was born from a kind of commercial storytelling that did not exist in Ancient Greece. So in what way do these figures belong to the same theme? Are they equal myths? Should these semi-gods sit at the same table?

One of the foremost thinkers in the 20th Century whose work sketched the functions of myth throughout many different societies was the Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. His work showed that, despite many variations in theme and content, myths from disparate places share some similarities. These intersections reveal certain truths that speak to some sort of universal human experience, with its stack of fears and passions. This “structural” core emphasizes how men use myths to reflect. This first breach led to more mainstream comparisons of myths, for instance through artwork collection in the writer André Malraux’s “Musée Imaginaire” (imaginary museum), in which massive artworks from different cultures are juxtaposed with one another, or more recently, the Louvre exhibition where Darth Vader stands next Hercules.

The philosopher Roland Barthes contended that anything could be a myth. If there’s heat, there’s myth. Institutions, products, people–let’s add today’s memes and jokes–they should all —> Read More