Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell, circa 1984
Born Joseph John Campbell
March 26, 1904(1904-03-26)
White Plains,
New York,
United States
Died October 30, 1987(1987-10-30) (aged 83)
Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
Occupation Scholar
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Jean Erdman Campbell,

Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: "Follow your bliss."[1]



Early education

Joseph Campbell was born and raised in White Plains, New York[2] in an upper middle class Roman Catholic family. As a child Campbell became fascinated with Native American culture after his father took him to see the American Museum of Natural History in New York where he saw on display featured collections of Native American artifacts. He soon became versed in numerous aspects of Native American society, primarily in Native American mythology. This led to Campbell's lifelong passion for myth and to his study of and mapping of the cohesive threads in mythology that appeared to exist among even disparate human cultures.

In 1921 he was graduated from the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut.

While at Dartmouth College he studied biology and mathematics, but decided that he preferred the humanities. He transferred to Columbia University, where he received his B.A. in English literature in 1925 and M.A. in Medieval literature in 1927. At Dartmouth he joined Delta Tau Delta. Campbell was also an accomplished athlete, receiving awards in track and field events. For a time, he was among the fastest half-mile runners in the world.[3]


In 1924 Campbell traveled to Europe with his family. On the ship back, he encountered Jiddu Krishnamurti; they discussed Asian philosophy, sparking in Campbell a life-long interest in Hindu and Indian thought. Following this trip, Campbell ceased to be a practicing Catholic.[4]

In 1927 Campbell received a fellowship provided by Columbia University to study in Europe. Campbell studied Old French, Provençal and Sanskrit at the University of Paris in France and the University of Munich in Germany. He quickly learned to read and speak French and German, mastering them after only a few months of rigorous study. He remained fluent in these languages for the remainder of his life. (Already fluent in Latin, he would go on to add Japanese to his linguistic palette.)

He was highly influenced while in Europe by the period of the Lost Generation, a time of enormous intellectual and artistic innovation. Campbell commented on this influence, particularly that of James Joyce.

It was in this climate that Campbell was also introduced to the work of Thomas Mann, who was to prove equally influential upon his life and ideas. Also while in Europe, Campbell was introduced to modern art, becoming particularly enthusiastic about the work of Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso. A new world of exciting ideas opened up to Campbell while studying in Europe. Here he also discovered the works and writings of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

Great Depression

John Steinbeck at the White House (1966)

On his return to Columbia in 1929, Campbell expressed his desire to pursue the study of Sanskrit and Modern Art in addition to that of Medieval literature. Lacking faculty approval, Campbell withdrew from the graduate studies. He was very insistent, in later life, that he be addressed as Mr. Campbell, not Dr. Campbell.[5]

A few weeks later, the Great Depression began. Campbell spent the next five years (1929–34) figuring out what to do with his life,[6] while engaged in intensive and rigorous independent study. He later said that he "would divide the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four hour periods, and free one of them... I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight."[7]

Campbell traveled to California for a year (1931–32), continuing his independent studies and becoming close friends with the budding writer John Steinbeck and his wife Carol. On the Monterey Peninsula Campbell, like Steinbeck, fell under the spell of marine biologist Ed Ricketts (the model for "Doc" in Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row as well as central characters in several other novels).[8] Campbell lived for a while next door to Ricketts, participated in professional and social activities at his neighbor's, and accompanied him on a 1932 journey to the Canadian Inner Passage. Like Steinbeck, Campbell began writing a novel centered on Ricketts as hero, but unlike Steinbeck he did not complete his book.[9]

In later years [writes Bruce Robison] Campbell would refer to those days as a time when everything in his life was taking shape.... Campbell, the great chronicler of the 'hero's journey' in mythology, recognized patterns that paralleled his own thinking in one of Ricketts's unpublished philosophical essays. Echoes of Carl Jung, Robinson Jeffers and James Joyce can be found in the work of Steinbeck and Ricketts as well as Campbell.[10]

Campbell also maintained his independent reading while teaching for a year in 1933 at the Canterbury School, during which time he also attempted to publish works of fiction.[11]

Campbell's independent studies led to his greater exploration of the ideas of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, a contemporary and estranged colleague of Sigmund Freud. Campbell edited the first papers from Jung's annual Eranos conferences and helped Mary Mellon found the Bollingen Foundation's Bollingen Series of books on psychology, anthropology and myth. Many of Campbell's books would be published in this series.

Another dissident member of Freud's circle to influence Campbell was Wilhelm Stekel (1868–1939). Stekel pioneered the application of Freud's concepts of dreams, fantasies of the human mind, and the unconscious to anthropology and literature.

Sarah Lawrence College

In 1934 Campbell was offered a position as professor at Sarah Lawrence College (through the efforts of his former Columbia advisor W.W. Laurence).

Campbell and Jean Erdman c. 1939

In 1938 Campbell married one of his former students, dancer-choreographer Jean Erdman. Erdman and Campbell did not have any children. For most of their forty-nine years of marriage they shared a two-room apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City. In the 1980s they also purchased an apartment in Honolulu and divided their time between the two cities.

Early in World War II, Campbell attended a lecture by Indologist Heinrich Zimmer; the two men became good friends. After Zimmer's death, Campbell was given the task of editing and posthumously publishing Zimmer's papers, which he would do over the following decade.

In 1955–56, as the last volume of Zimmer's posthuma (The Art of Indian Asia, its Mythology and Transformations) was finally about to be published, Campbell took a sabbatical from Sarah Lawrence College and traveled, for the first time, to Asia. He spent six months in southern Asia (mostly India) and another six in East Asia (mostly Japan).

This year had a profound influence on his thinking about Asian religion and myth, and also on the necessity for teaching comparative mythology to a larger, non-academic audience.[12]

In 1972 Campbell retired from Sarah Lawrence College, after having taught there for 38 years.

Public outreach

After he returned from his trip to India and Japan in 1956, Campbell felt that Americans—both the general public and professionals who worked and studied overseas—were woefully uninformed with regard to the world's myths and cultures. He began to work on a number of levels to change this state of affairs. First, he began writing his magnum opus, The Masks of God, which explored the myths of the world's cultures across the millennia and around the globe.

At the same time, he began teaching courses at the US State Department's Foreign Service Institute, lecturing on comparative myth and religion.

Finally, he began to speak publicly on world myth. He would continue to do so—at colleges, churches and lecture halls, on radio and on television—for the rest of his life.[13]


Joseph Campbell died at the age of 83 on October 30, 1987 at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii, from complications of esophageal cancer.[14][15] Before his death he had completed filming the series of interviews with Bill Moyers that would be aired the following spring as The Power of Myth.

Campbell's Influences

Art, literature, philosophy

Campbell often referred to the work of modern writers James Joyce and Thomas Mann in his lectures and writings, as well as to the art of Pablo Picasso. He was introduced to their work during his stay as a graduate student in Paris. Campbell eventually corresponded with Mann.[16]

The works of German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche had a profound effect on Campbell's thinking; he quoted their writing frequently, often in his own translations from the original German.

The "follow your bliss" philosophy attributed to Campbell following the original broadcast of The Power of Myth (see below) derives from the Hindu Upanishads; however, Campbell was possibly also influenced by the 1922 Sinclair Lewis novel Babbitt. In The Power of Myth Campbell quotes from the novel:

Campbell: "Have you ever read Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt?"
Moyers: "Not in a long time."
Campbell: "Remember the last line? 'I have never done a thing that I wanted to do in all my life.' That is a man who never followed his bliss."[17]

Psychology and anthropology

Campbell's thinking on universal symbols and stories was deeply influenced by James Frazer (The Golden Bough), Adolf Bastian, and Otto Rank (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero), among others.

Anthropologist Leo Frobenius was important to Campbell’s view of cultural history.

Campbell's ideas regarding myth and its relation to the human psyche are dependent in part on the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud, but in particular on the work of Carl Jung, whose studies of human psychology, as previously mentioned, greatly influenced Campbell. Campbell's conception of myth is closely related to the Jungian method of dream interpretation, which is heavily reliant on symbolic interpretation.

Jung's insights into archetypes were in turn heavily influenced by the Bardo Thodol (also known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead). In his book The Mythic Image, Campbell quotes Jung's statement about the Bardo Thodol, that it "belongs to that class of writings which not only are of interest to specialists in Mahayana Buddhism, but also, because of their deep humanity and still deeper insight into the secrets of the human psyche, make an especial appeal to the layman seeking to broaden his knowledge of life... For years, ever since it was first published, the Bardo Thodol has been my constant companion, and to it I owe not only many stimulating ideas and discoveries, but also many fundamental insights."[18]

In 1940 Campbell attended a lecture by Professor Heinrich Zimmer at Columbia University; the two men became friends, and Campbell looked upon Zimmer as a mentor. Zimmer taught Campbell that myth (rather than a guru or spiritual guide) could serve in the role of a personal mentor, in that its stories provide a psychological road map for the finding of oneself in the labyrinth of the complex modern world. Zimmer relied more on the meanings of mythological tales (their symbols, metaphors, imagery, etc.) as a source for psychological realization than upon psychoanalysis itself. Campbell later borrowed from Jung's interpretative techniques and then reshaped them in a fashion that followed Zimmer's beliefs—interpreting directly from world mythology. This is an important distinction, because it serves to explain why Campbell did not directly follow Jung's footsteps in applied psychology.

Comparative mythology and Campbell's theories


Campbell's term monomyth, also referred to as the hero's journey, refers to a basic pattern found in many narratives from around the world. This widely distributed pattern was first fully described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).[19] An enthusiast of novelist James Joyce,[20] Campbell borrowed the term from Joyce's Finnegans Wake.[21] As a strong believer in the unity of human consciousness and its poetic expression through mythology, through the monomyth concept Campbell expressed the idea that the whole of the human race could be seen as reciting a single story of great spiritual importance and in the preface to The Hero with a Thousand Faces he indicated it was his goal to demonstrate similarities between Eastern and Western religions. As time evolves, this story gets broken down into local forms, taking on different guises (masks) depending on the necessities and social structure of the culture that interprets it. Its ultimate meaning relates to humanity's search for the same basic, unknown force from which everything came, within which everything currently exists, and into which everything will return and is considered to be "unknowable" because it existed before words and knowledge. The Story's form however has a known structure, which can be classified into the various stages of a hero's adventures like the Call to Adventure, Receiving Supernatural Aid, Meet with the Goddess/Atonement with the Father and Return. As the ultimate truth cannot be expressed in plain words, spiritual rituals and stories refer to it through the use of "metaphors", a term Campbell used heavily and insisted on its proper meaning: In contrast with comparisons which use the word like, metaphors pretend to a literal interpretation of what they are referring to, as in the sentence "Jesus is the Son of God" rather than "the relationship of man to God is like that of a son to a father".[22] According to Campbell, the Genesis myth from the Bible ought not be taken as a literal description of historical events happening in our current understanding of time and space, but as a metaphor for the rise of man's cognitive consciousness as it evolved from a prior animal state.[23]

Campbell made heavy use of Carl Jung's theories on the structure of the human psyche, and he often used terms like "anima/animus" and "ego consciousness". That is not to say that he necessarily agreed with Jung upon every issue, for he had very definite ideas of his own. He did believe, however, as he clearly stated in The Power of Myth, in a specific structure that exists in the psyche and is somehow reflected into myths.

Function of Myth

Campbell often described mythology as having a fourfold function for human society. These appear at the end of his work The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, as well as various lectures.[24]

  • The Metaphysical Function: Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being
    According to Campbell, the absolute mysteries of life cannot be captured directly in words or images. Myths are "being statements"[24] and the experience of this mystery can be had only through a participation in mythic rituals or the contemplation of mythic symbols that point beyond themselves. "Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of reason and coercion.... The first function of mythology is to reconcile waking consciousness to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of this universe as it is."[25]
  • The Cosmological Function: Explaining the shape of the universe
    Myth also functions as a proto-science, bringing the observable (physical) world into accord with the metaphysical and psychological meanings rendered by the other functions of mythology. Campbell noticed that the modern dilemma between science and religion on matters of truth is actually between science of the ancient world and that of today.
  • The Sociological Function: Validate and support the existing social order
    Ancient societies had to conform to an existing social order if they were to survive at all. This is because they evolved under "pressure" from necessities much more intense than the ones encountered in our modern world. Mythology confirmed that order and enforced it by reflecting it into the stories themselves, often describing how the order arrived from divine intervention.
  • The Psychological Function: Guide the individual through the stages of life
    As a person goes through life, many psychological challenges will be encountered. Myth may serve as a guide for successful passage through the stages of one's life. For example, most ancient cultures used rites of passage as a youth passed to the adult stage. Later on, a living mythology taught the same person to let go of material possessions and earthly plans as they prepared to die.

Campbell believed that if myths are to continue to fulfill their vital functions in our modern world, they must continually transform and evolve because the older mythologies, untransformed, simply do not address the realities of contemporary life, particularly with regard to the changing cosmological and sociological realities of each new era.

Evolution of Myth

Campbell's view of mythology was by no means static and his books describe in detail how mythologies evolved through time, reflecting the realities in which each society had to adjust.[26] Various stages of cultural development have different yet identifiable mythological systems. In brief these are:

  • The Way of the Animal Powers: Hunting and gathering societies
    At this stage of evolution religion was animistic, as all of nature was seen as being infused with a spirit or divine presence. At center stage was the main hunting animal of that culture, whether the buffalo for Native Americans or the eland for South African tribes, and a large part of religion focused on dealing with the psychological tension that came from the reality of the necessity to kill versus the divinity of the animal. This was done by presenting the animals as springing from an eternal archetypal source and coming to this world as willing victims, with the understanding that their lives would be returned to the soil or to the Mother through a ritual of restoration.[27] The act of slaughter then becomes a ritual where both parties, animal and mankind, are equal participants. In Mythos and The Power of Myth,[28] Campbell recounts the story he calls "The Buffalo's Wife" as told by the Blackfoot tribe of North America. The story tells of a time when the buffalos stopped coming to the hunting plains, leaving the tribe to starve. The chief's daughter promises to marry the buffalo chief in return for their reappearance, but is eventually spared and taught the buffalo dance by the animals themselves, through which the spirits of their dead will return to their eternal life source. Indeed, Campbell taught that throughout history mankind has held a belief that all life comes from and returns to another dimension which transcends temporality, but which can be reached through ritual.
  • The Way of the Seeded Earth: Early agrarian societies
    Beginning in the fertile grasslands of Europe in the Bronze Age and moving to the Levant and the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, the practice of agriculture spread along with a new way of understanding mankind's relationship to the world. At this time the earth was seen as the Mother, and the myths focused around Her life-giving powers. The plant and cultivation cycle was mirrored in religious rituals which often included human sacrifice, symbolic or literal.[29] The main figures of this system were a female Great Goddess, Mother Earth, and her ever-dying and ever-resurrected son/consort, a male God. At this time the focus was to participate in the repetitive rhythm the world moved in expressed as the four seasons, the birth and death of crops and the phases of the moon. At the center of this motion was the Mother Goddess from whom all life springs and to whom all life returns. This often gave Her a dual aspect as both mother and destroyer.
  • The Way of the Celestial Lights: The first high civilizations
    As the first agricultural societies evolved into the high civilisations of Mesopotamia and Babylonia, the observation of the stars inspired them with the idea that life on earth must also follow a similar mathematically predetermined pattern in which individual beings are but mere participants in an eternal cosmic play. The king was symbolised by the Sun with the golden crown as its main metaphor, while his court were the orbiting planets. The Mother Goddess remained, but her powers were now fixed within the rigid framework of a clockwork universe.
    However, two barbarian incursions changed that. As the Indo-European (Aryan) people descended from the north and the Semites swept up from the Arabian desert, they carried with them a male dominated mythology with a warrior god whose symbol was the thunder. As they conquered, mainly due to the superior technology of iron smithing, their mythology blended and subjugated the previous system of the Earth Goddess. Many of mythologies of the ancient world such as that of Greece, India, and Persia are a result of that fusion with gods retaining some of their original traits and character but now belonging to a single system. Figures such as Zeus and Indra are thunder gods who now interact with Demeter and Dionysus, whose ritual sacrifice and rebirth, bearing testament to his pre-Indo-European roots, were still enacted in classical Greece. But for the largest part the focus was heavily shifted toward the masculine, with Zeus ascending the throne of the gods and Dionysus demoted to a mere demi-god.
    This demotion was very profound in the case of the Biblical imaginary where the female elements where marginalized to an extreme. Campbell believed that Eve and the snake that tempted her were once fertility gods worshiped in their own rights with the tree of knowledge being the Tree of Life.[30] He also found the biblical story of Cain and Abel telling, with Cain being a farmer with his agrarian offering not accepted by God while a herder's animal sacrifice is. In the lecture series of Mythos Campbell speaks of the Mysteries of Eleusis in Ancient Greece, where Demeter's journey in the underworld was enacted for young men and women of the time. There he observed that wheat was presented as the ultimate mystery with wine being a symbol of Dionysus, much like in the Christian mysteries where bread and wine are considered to incarnate the body and blood of Jesus. Both religions carry the same "seeded earth" cosmology in different forms while retaining an image of the ever dying ever resurrected God.
  • The Way of Man: Medieval mythology, romantic love, and the birth of the modern spirit
    Campbell recognized that the poetic form of courtly love, carried through medieval Europe by the traveling troubadours, contained a complete mythology in its own right.[31] In the The Power of Myth as well as the "Occidental Mythology" volume of The Masks of God, Campbell describes the emergence of a new kind of erotic experience as a "person to person" affair, in contrast with the purely physical definition given to Eros in the ancient world and the communal agape found in the Christian religion. An archetypal story of this kind is the legend of Tristan and Isolde which, apart from its mystical function, shows the transition from an arranged marriage society as practiced in the Middle Ages and sanctified by the church, into the form of marriage by "falling in love" with another person that we recognize today. So what essentially started from a mythological theme has since become a social reality, mainly due to a change in perception brought about by a new mythology.
    Campbell believed that in the modern world the function served by formal, traditional mythological systems has been taken on by individual creators such as artists and philosophers.[32] In the works of some of his favorites, such as Thomas Mann, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce, he saw mythological themes that could serve the same life-giving purpose that mythology had once played. Accordingly, Campbell believed the religions of the world to be the various culturally influenced “masks” of the same fundamental, transcendent truths. All religions can bring one to an elevated awareness above and beyond a dualistic conception of reality, or idea of “pairs of opposites” such as being and non-being, or right and wrong. Indeed, he quotes from the Rg Veda in the preface to The Hero with a Thousand Faces: "Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names."


Joseph Campbell Foundation

In 1991, Campbell's widow, choreographer Jean Erdman, worked with Campbell's longtime friend and editor, Robert Walter, to create the Joseph Campbell Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to preserve, protect and perpetuate Campbell's work, as well as supporting work in his field of study.

Initiatives undertaken by the JCF include: The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell, a series of books and recordings that aims to pull together Campbell's myriad-minded work; the Erdman Campbell Award; the Mythological RoundTables, a network of local groups around the globe that explore the subjects of comparative mythology, psychology, religion and culture; and the collection of Campbell's library and papers housed at the OPUS Archives and Research Center (see below).[33]

Joseph Campbell Collection

After Campbell's death, Jean Erdman and the Joseph Campbell Foundation donated his papers, books and other effects to the Center for the Study of Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California. The Center became the OPUS Archives and Research Center [34] and is the home of the collection. Campbell had frequently lectured at Pacifica, a private school that supports graduate work in mythology and depth psychology. The founding curator, psychologist Jonathan Young, worked closely with Ms. Erdman to gather the materials from Campbell's homes in Honolulu and Greenwich Village, New York City. The Campbell Collection features approximately 3,000 volumes and covers a broad range of subjects, including anthropology, folklore, religion, literature, and psychology. The collection also includes audio and video tapes of lectures, original manuscripts, research papers, and some personal affects including the ruler he used to underline passages in his books.


George Lucas was the first Hollywood filmmaker to credit Campbell's influence. Lucas stated following the release of the first Star Wars film in 1977 that its story was shaped, in part, by ideas described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and other works of Campbell's. The linkage between Star Wars and Campbell was further reinforced when later reprints of Campbell's book used the image of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker on the cover.[35] Lucas discusses this influence at great length in the authorized biography of Joseph Campbell, A Fire in the Mind:

I [Lucas] came to the conclusion after American Graffiti that what's valuable for me is to set standards, not to show people the world the way it is...around the period of this came to me that there really was no modern use of mythology...The Western was possibly the last generically American fairy tale, telling us about our values. And once the Western disappeared, nothing has ever taken its place. In literature we were going off into science that's when I started doing more strenuous research on fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, and I started reading Joe's books. Before that I hadn't read any of Joe's books...It was very eerie because in reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following classic I modified my next draft [of Star Wars] according to what I'd been learning about classical motifs and made it a little bit more consistent...I went on to read 'The Masks of God' and many other books.[36]

It was not until after the completion of the original Star Wars trilogy in 1983, however, that Lucas met Campbell or heard any of his lectures.[37] The 1988 documentary The Power of Myth was filmed at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. During his interviews with Bill Moyers, Campbell discusses the way in which Lucas used The Hero's Journey in the Star Wars films (IV, V, and VI) to re-invent the mythology for the contemporary viewer. Moyers and Lucas filmed an interview 12 years later in 1999 called the Mythology of Star Wars with George Lucas & Bill Moyers to further discuss the impact of Campbell's work on Lucas' films.[38] In addition, the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution sponsored an exhibit during the late 1990s called Star Wars: The Magic of Myth, which discussed the ways in which Campbell's work shaped the Star Wars films.[39] A companion guide of the same name was published in 1997.

Christopher Vogler, a Hollywood screenwriter, was also highly influenced by Campbell. He created a 7-page company memo based on Campbell's work, A Practical Guide to The Hero With a Thousand Faces,[40] which led to the development of Disney's 1994 film The Lion King. Vogler's memo was later developed into the late 1990s book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.

Many filmmakers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have acknowledged the influence of Campbell's work on their own craft. Among films that many viewers have recognized as closely following the pattern of the monomyth are The Matrix series, the Batman series and the Indiana Jones series.[41]

The documentary film Finding Joe (2011, 1:20) explores Campbell's studies and their continuing impact on our culture through interviews interspersed with enactments of classic tales by a group of children. The film follows the stages of what Campbell called The Hero's Journey: challenges, fears, dragons, battles, and the return home as a changed person.

Popular Literature

After the explosion of popularity brought on by the Star Wars films and The Power of Myth, creative artists in many media recognized the potential to use Campbell's theories to try to unlock human responses to narrative patterns. Novelists,[42] songwriters,[43][44] video game designers[45] and even amusement park ride designers have studied Campbell's work in order better to understand mythology—in particular, the monomyth—and its impact.

Novelist Richard Adams acknowledges a debt to Campbell's work, and specifically to the concept of the monomyth.[46] In his best known work, Watership Down, Adams uses extracts from The Hero with a Thousand Faces as chapter epigrams.[47]

"Follow your bliss"

One of Campbell's most identifiable, most quoted and arguably most misunderstood sayings was his admonition to "follow your bliss." He derived this idea from the Upanishads:

Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence:Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word "Sat" means being. "Chit" means consciousness. "Ananda" means bliss or rapture. I thought, "I don't know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don't know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being." I think it worked.[48]

He saw this not merely as a mantra, but as a helpful guide to the individual along the hero journey that each of us walks through life:

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.[49]

Campbell began sharing this idea with students during his lectures in the 1970s. By the time that The Power of Myth was aired in 1988, six months following Campbell's death, "Follow your bliss" was a philosophy that resonated deeply with the American public—both religious and secular.[50]

During his later years, when some students took him to be encouraging hedonism, Campbell is reported to have grumbled, "I should have said, 'Follow your blisters.'"[51]

Posthumous controversy

After Campbell's death, culture critic Brendan Gill published an article in the New York Review of Books, "The Faces of Joseph Campbell," in which Gill accused Campbell of antisemitism.[52] Gill, who identified himself as a friend of Campbell's from the Century Association in New York City,[53] noted that he wrote the article in reaction to the enormous popularity of The Power of Myth series in 1988.

Professor of religion Robert Segal countered Gill's accusation of antisemitism in his own article, "Joseph Campbell on Jews and Judaism."[54] Segal suggests that this view of Campbell stems, at least partly, from his tendency to be blunt at times in critiquing certain aspects of organized religions—which, Campbell stated in his valedictory lecture series Transformations of Myth Through Time, was his job.[55]

Other scholars disagreed both with Gill's general critiques as well as the accusation of antisemitism. A few months after Gill's article appeared, the New York Review of Books published a series of letters: "Brendan Gill vs. Defenders of Joseph Campbell" (cover title), "Joseph Campbell: An Exchange" (article title).[56] A number of the letters from former students and colleagues argued against the accusations. In particular, Professors Roberta and Peter Markman state that "we were dismayed because this piece of character assassination was unsupported by any evidence."

Stephen Larsen and Robin Larsen, authors of the biography Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind (2002), also argued against what they referred to as "the so-called anti-Semitic charge". They state: "For the record, Campbell did not belong to any organization that condoned racial or social bias, nor do we know of any other way in which he endorsed such viewpoints. During his lifetime, there was no record of such accusations of public bigotry".[57]

Works by Campbell

Early Collaborations

The first published work that bore Campbell's name was Where the Two Came to Their Father (1943), a Navajo ceremony that was performed by singer (medicine man) Jeff King and recorded by artist and ethnologist Maud Oakes, recounting the story of two young heroes who go to the hogan of their father, the Sun, and return with the power to destroy the monsters that are plaguing their people. Campbell provided a commentary. He would use this tale through the rest of his career to illustrate both the universal symbols and structures of human myths and the particulars ("folk ideas") of Native American stories.

As noted above, James Joyce was an important influence on Campbell. Campbell's first important book (with Henry Morton Robinson), A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944), is a critical analysis of Joyce's final text Finnegans Wake. In addition, Campbell's seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), discusses what Campbell called the monomyth — the cycle of the journey of the hero — a term that he borrowed directly from Joyce's Finnegans Wake.[58]

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Originally titled How to Read a Myth, and based on the introductory class on mythology that he had been teaching at Sarah Lawrence College, The Hero with a Thousand Faces was published in 1949 as Campbell's first foray as a solo author; it established his name outside of scholarly circles and remains, arguably, his most influential work to this day. Not only did it introduce the concept of the hero's journey to popular thinking, but it also began to popularize the very idea of comparative mythology itself—the study of the human impulse to create stories and images that, though they are clothed in the motifs of a particular time and place, draw nonetheless on universal, eternal themes. Campbell asserted:

Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history, mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.[59]

The Masks of God

Written between 1962 and 1968, Campbell's four-volume work The Masks of God covers mythology from around the world, from ancient to modern. Where The Hero with a Thousand Faces focused on the commonality of mythology (the “elementary ideas”), the Masks of God books focus upon historical and cultural variations the monomyth takes on (the “folk ideas”). In other words, where The Hero with a Thousand Faces draws perhaps more from psychology, the Masks of God books draw more from anthropology and history. The four volumes of Masks of God are as follows: Primitive Mythology, Oriental Mythology, Occidental Mythology, and Creative Mythology.

Historical Atlas of World Mythology

At the time of his death, Campbell was in the midst of working upon a large-format, lavishly illustrated series entitled The Historical Atlas of World Mythology. This series was to build on Campbell’s idea, first presented in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, that myth evolves over time through four stages:

  • The Way of the Animal Powers—the myths of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers which focus on shamanism and animal totems.
  • The Way of the Seeded Earth—the myths of Neolithic, agrarian cultures which focus upon a mother goddess and associated fertility rites.
  • The Way of the Celestial Lights—the myths of Bronze Age city-states with pantheons of gods ruling from the heavens, led by a masculine god-king.
  • The Way of Man—religion and philosophy as it developed after the Axial Age (c. 6th century BC), in which the mythic imagery of previous eras was made consciously metaphorical, reinterpreted as referring to psycho-spiritual, not literal-historical, matters. This transition is evident in the East in Buddhism, Vedanta, and philosophical Taoism; and in the West in the Mystery Cults, Platonism, Christianity and Gnosticism.

Only the first two volumes were completed at the time of Campbell's death. Both of these volumes are now out of print.

The Power of Myth

Campbell's widest popular recognition followed his collaboration with Bill Moyers on the PBS series The Power of Myth, which was first broadcast in 1988, the year following Campbell's death. The series discusses mythological, religious, and psychological archetypes. A book, The Power of Myth, containing expanded transcripts of their conversations, was released shortly after the original broadcast.

Posthuma: Collected Works

The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series is a project initiated by the Joseph Campbell Foundation to release new, authoritative editions of Campbell's published and unpublished writing, as well as audio and video recordings of his lectures. Working with New World Library, Acorn Media UK and Roomful of Sky Records, as of 2009 the project has produced seventeen titles. The series' executive editor is Robert Walter, and the managing editor is David Kudler.

Other Books

  • Where the Two Came to Their Father: A Navaho War Ceremonial (1943). with Jeff King and Maud Oakes, Old Dominion Foundation
  • The Flight of the Wild Gander:Explorations in the Mythological Dimension (1968). Viking Press
  • Myths to Live By (1972). Viking Press
  • Erotic irony and mythic forms in the art of Thomas Mann (1973; monograph, later included in The Mythic Dimension)
  • The Mythic Image[60] (1974). Princeton University Press
  • The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor As Myth and As Religion (1986). Alfred van der Marck Editions
  • Transformations of Myth Through Time (1990). Harper and Row
  • A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living (1991). editor Diane K. Osbon
  • Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce[61] (1993). editor Edmund L. Epstein
  • The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays (1959–1987)[62] (1993). editor Anthony Van Couvering
  • Baksheesh & Brahman: Indian Journals (1954–1955)[63] (1995). editors Robin/Stephen Larsen & Anthony Van Couvering
  • Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor (2001). editor Eugene Kennedy, New World Library ISBN 1-57731-202-3. first volume in the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell
  • The Inner Reaches of Outer Space[64] (2002)
  • Sake & Satori: Asian Journals — Japan[65] (2002). editor David Kudler
  • Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal[66] (2003). editor David Kudler
  • Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation[67] (2004). editor David Kudler

Interview books

Audio tapes

  • Mythology and the Individual
  • The Power of Myth (With Bill Moyers) (1987)
  • Transformation of Myth through Time Volume 1–3 (1989)
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces: The Cosmogonic Cycle (Read by Ralph Blum) (1990)
  • The Way of Art (1990—unlicensed)
  • The Lost Teachings of Joseph Campbell Volume 1–9 (With Michael Toms) (1993)
  • On the Wings of Art: Joseph Campbell; Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce (1995)
  • The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell (With Michael Toms) (1997)
  • The Collected Lectures of Joseph Campbell:
    • Volume 1: Mythology and the Individual (1997)
    • Volume 2: The Inward Journey (1997)
    • Volume 3: The Eastern Way (1997)
    • Volume 4: Man and Myth (1997)
    • Volume 5: The Myths and Masks of God (1997)
    • Volume 6: The Western Quest (1997)
  • Myth and Metaphor in Society (With Jamake Highwater) (abridged)(2002)


  • The Hero's Journey (film): A Biographical Portrait—This film, made shortly before his death in 1987, follows Campbell's personal quest—a pathless journey of questioning, discovery, and ultimately of delight and joy in a life to which he said, "Yes"
  • Sukhavati: A Mythic Journey—This hypnotic and mesmerizing film is a deeply personal, almost spiritual, portrait of Campbell
  • Mythos—This series comprises talks that Campbell himself believed summed up his views on "the one great story of mankind."
  • Psyche & Symbol (12 part telecourse, Bay Area Open College, 1976)[68]
  • Transformations of Myth Through Time (1989)
  • Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth (1988)
  • Myth and Metaphor in Society (With Jamake Highwater) (1993)

Books edited by Campbell

  • Gupta, Mahendranath. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (1942) (translation from Bengali by Swami Nikhilananda; Joseph Campbell and Margaret Woodrow Wilson, translation assistants—see preface; foreword by Aldous Huxley)
  • Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Heinrich Zimmer (1946)
  • The King and the Corpse: Tales of the Soul's Conquest of Evil. Heinrich Zimmer (1948)
  • Philosophies of India. Heinrich Zimmer (1951)
  • The Portable Arabian Nights (1951)
  • The Art of Indian Asia. Heinrich Zimmer (1955)
  • Man and Time: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks. Various authors (1954–1969)
  • Man and Transformation: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks. Various authors (1954–1969)
  • The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks. Various authors (1954–1969)
  • The Mystic Vision: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks. Various authors (1954–1969)
  • Spirit and Nature: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks. Various authors (1954–1969)
  • Spiritual Disciplines: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks. Various authors (1954–1969)
  • Myths, Dreams, Religion. Various authors (1970)
  • The Portable Jung. Carl Jung (1971)

See also


  1. ^ Campbell's biography and Joseph Campbell: "Follow Your Bliss" from the Joseph Campbell Foundation website.
  2. ^ Joseph Campbell Foundation website
  3. ^ Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, third edition, edited by Phil Cousineau. Novato, California: New World Library, 2003, p. 25
  4. ^ Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, edited by Phil Cousineau, New World Library, 2003, p. 29.
  5. ^ The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, 1990, first edition: 54
  6. ^ Larsen and Larsen, 2002, p. 160
  7. ^ The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, first edition, 1990, pp. 52–53.
  8. ^ Larsen and Larsen, 2002, chapters 8 and 9.
  9. ^ Tamm, Eric Enno (2005) Of myths and men in Monterey: "Ed Heads" see Doc Ricketts as a cult figure
  10. ^ Bruce Robison, "Mavericks on Cannery Row," American Scientist, vol. 92, no. 6 (November–December 2004, p. 1: a review of Eric Enno Tamm, Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2004.
  11. ^ (Larsen and Larsen, 2002, p. 214; Pacifica Graduate Institute | Joseph Campbell & Marija Gimbutas Library | Joseph Campbell—Chronology
  12. ^ See Joseph Campbell, Baksheesh and Brahman: Asian Journals—India and Sake and Satori: Asian Journals—Japan, New World Library, 2002, 2003.
  13. ^ Joseph Campbell, Sake & Satori: Asian Journals—Japan, edited by David Kudler. Novato, California: New World Library, 2002, pp. xiv
  14. ^ "Joseph Campbell, Writer Known For His Scholarship on Mythology ", .
  15. ^ Joseph Campbell grave marker
  16. ^ Joseph Campbell Collection at the OPUS Archive.
  17. ^ The Power of Myth, Doubleday and Co., 1988, p. 117
  18. ^ Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, ISBN 0-691-01839-1, p. 392.
  19. ^ Monomyth Website, ORIAS, UC Berkeley accessed 2009-11-03
  20. ^ Joseph Campbell Foundation - Works: Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, A
  21. ^ Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949. p. 30, n35. Campbell cites James Joyce, Finnegans Wake. NY: Viking, 1939, p. 581
  22. ^ Campbell J. [1999] Mythos: The shaping of our mythic tradition
  23. ^ In a letter dated 23 April 1984 to David C. C. Watson, Hebrew Professor James Barr at the University of Oxford wrote: "... probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story (c) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguished all human and animal life except for those in the ark. Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the “days” of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know."
  24. ^ a b Campbell J. (1969) Lectures II.1.1 The Function of Myth (given at the The Esalen Institute in August, 1969)
  25. ^ Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, vol. 4: Creative Mythology (New York: Viking, 1965), p. 4
  26. ^ The schema laid out in the following text was one that Campbell explored in many of his works, including The Masks of God series; it was the explicit structure of his unfinished masterwork, The Historical Atlas of World Mythology.
  27. ^ Campbell J. (1988) Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. Interview by Bill Moyers. Episode 3: The first storytellers
  28. ^
  29. ^ Campbell J. (1988) The Way of the Seeded Earth, Part 1: The Sacrifice. Interview by Bill Moyers. Episode 3: The first storytellers
  30. ^ Campbell J. (1964) The Masks of God, Vol. 3: Occidental Mythology
  31. ^ Campbell J. (1988) Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. Interview by Bill Moyers. Episode 5: Love and the Goddess
  32. ^ This is the central thesis of the last volume of The Masks of God series, Creative Mythology.
  33. ^ The Joseph Campbell Foundation Website
  34. ^ OPUS Archives and Research Center
  35. ^ Campbell, J.: The Hero with a Thousand Faces
  36. ^ Stephen and Robin Larsen, Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind. 2002, p. 541.
  37. ^ George Lucas Interview: Well Rounded Entertainment
  38. ^ Films for the Humanities and Sciences—Educational Media—The Mythology of Star Wars with George Lucas and Bill Moyers
  39. ^ Star Wars @ NASM, Unit 1, Introduction Page
  40. ^ Pacifica Graduate Institute | Joseph Campbell & Marija Gimbutas Library | Joseph Campbell and the Skywalker: Meetings with George Lucas
  41. ^ James B. Grossman, Princeton University, "The Hero with Two Faces"
  42. ^ James N. Frey, How to Write Damned Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, Griffin; 1st edition edition (Jul 16 2002)
  43. ^ SubMerge, "Repairing Broken Molds"
  44. ^ Steven Daly, "Tori Amos: Her Secret Garden" Rolling Stone, June 25, 1998
  45. ^ Game Designer's Radio, "A Practical Guide to the Hero's Journey"
  46. ^ Bridgman, Joan (August 2000). "Richard Adams at Eighty". The Contemporary Review (The Contemporary Review Company Limited) 277.1615: 108. ISSN 0010-7565.
  47. ^ Richard Adams, Watership Down. Scribner, 2005, p. 225. ISBN 978-0-7432-7770-9
  48. ^ Campbell, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, edited by Betty Sue Flowers. Doubleday and Co, 1988, p. 120.
  49. ^ Op. cit., p. 113
  50. ^ Joseph Berger, "A Teacher of Legend Becomes One Himself", The New York Times, December 10, 1988
  51. ^
  52. ^ New York Review of Books, vol. 36, issue 14 (September 28, 1989), pp. 16–19.
  53. ^ This identification has been disputed by others of Campbell's close friends and associates.
  54. ^ Religion, volume 22, issue 2, April 1992, pp. 151–70.
  55. ^ Published as a book of the same title [ISBN 0-06-096463-4]. These lectures (which were never so titled by Campbell) are being re-released as part of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series by Acorn Media as Mythos in a substantially less expurgated form.
  56. ^ New York Review of Books, Volume 36, Issue 17, November 9, 1989, pages 57–61
  57. ^
  58. ^ Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bollingen Foundation, 1949, p. 30, note 35. Campbell cites James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, New York, Viking, 1939, p. 581.
  59. ^ "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", Joseph Campbell, p. 249, Fontana, 1993, ISBN 0-586-08571-8
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^
  66. ^
  67. ^
  68. ^ Never released


On life and work


  • Segal, Robert. Joseph Campbell an Introduction, (1987)
  • Larsen, Stephen and Robin. Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind. (1991)
  • Golden, Kenneth L. Uses of Comparative Mythology: Essays on the Work of Joseph Campbell (1992)
  • Manganaro, Marc. Myth, Rhetoric, and the Voice of Authority: A Critique of Frazer, Eliot, Frye, and Campbell. (1992)
  • Madden, Lawrence. (Editor) The Joseph Campbell Phenomenon: Implications for the Contemporary Church (1992)
  • Noel, Daniel C. (Editor) Paths to the Power of Myth (1994)
  • Snyder, Tom. Myth Conceptions: Joseph Campbell and the New Age (1995)
  • Henderson, Mary. Star Wars: The Magic of Myth (1997)Smithsonian Exhibit
  • Vogler, Christopher. The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers. (1998)
  • Ellwood, Robert. The Politics of Myth: A Study of C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell (1999)


  • Man and Myth: A Conversation with Joseph Campbell. Sam Keen. Psychology Today, v. 5 (1971)
  • Living Myths: A Conversation with Joseph Campbell. Lorraine Kisly. Parabola, v. 1 (1976)
  • The Professor with a Thousand Faces. Donald Newlove. Esquire, v. 88 (1977)
  • Earthrise: The Dawning of a New Spiritual Awareness. Eugene Kennedy. New York Times Magazine. (April 15, 1979)
  • Elders and Guides: A Conversation with Joseph Campbell. Michael McKnight. Parabola, v. 5 (1980)
  • The Masks of Joseph Campbell. Florence Sandler and Darrell Reeck. Religion, v. 11 (1981)
  • A Primer on Joseph Campbell and the Mythological Dimensions of Consciousness (Obituary). John Lobel. Whole Earth Review, Summer, 1988.
  • The faces of Joseph Campbell. Brendan Gill. New York Review of Books, v. 36, number 14 (September 28, 1989)
  • Brendan Gill vs Defenders of Joseph Campbell—An Exchange. Various Authors. New York Review of Books, v. 36, number 17 (November 9, 1989)
  • Joseph Campbell on Jews and Judaism. Robert Segal. Religion, v. 22 (April 1992)
  • “Was Joseph Campbell a Postmodernist?’’ Joseph M. Felser. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, v. 64 (1998)
  • Why Joseph Campbell's Psychologizing of Myth Precludes the Holocaust as Touchstone of Reality. Maurice Friedman, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, v. 67 (1998)
  • Joseph Campbell as Antisemite and as Theorist of Myth: A Response to Maurice Friedman. Robert A. Segal, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, v. 66 (1999)
  • A. M. Bilodeau, "Joseph Campbell: le jeu de l'éternité dans le temps", Religiologiques, 8 (1993), p. 182–203.

Secondary references


  • Pearson, Carol and Pope, Katherine. The Female Hero in American and British Literature. (1981)
  • Ford, Clyde W. The Hero with an African Face: Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa. (2000)
  • Jones, Steven Swann. The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror of the Imagination. (2002)
  • Erickson, Leslie Goss. Re-Visioning of the Heroic Journey in Postmodern Literature: Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, Arthur Miller, and American Beauty (2006)
  • Joiner, Ann Livingston. A Myth in Action: The Heroic Life of Audie Murphy. (2006:)

External links




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