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On-line version ISSN 2309-8392
Print version ISSN 0018-229X


MAYLAM, Paul. Archetypal hero or living saint? The veneration of Nelson Mandela. Historia [online]. 2009, vol.54, n.2, pp.21-36. ISSN 2309-8392.

This article attempts to explain, along two lines of inquiry, why Nelson Mandela has come to be so revered and venerated in recent decades. According to the first approach, Mandela can be viewed as an archetypal hero. About sixty years ago, Joseph Campbell outlined the typical course of journeys undertaken by mythical heroes such as Odysseus and Aeneas. This course followed a regular pattern of separation, initiation and return: separation from society, followed by a dangerous journey or perilous ordeal, culminating in a triumphant return to society. Mandela's life has in many respects followed this pattern: the Rivonia Trial removed him from the public view; he endured the severe ordeal of imprisonment; and he returned to society as a saviour-like figure. While the trajectory of Mandela's life fits into Campbell's model, and may explain in part the reverence and veneration, this approach can also diminish Mandela into a semi-mythical figure. The second line of inquiry is given greater weight, attaching special significance to Mandela's human qualities - his humility, integrity, generosity of spirit, and wisdom. He renounced grandiosity, ostentation, and personality cults, and strove to adopt an exemplary lifestyle. These qualities, it is argued, have been the main source of his popular appeal.

Keywords : Archetypal heroes; imprisonment; Joseph Campbell; leadership qualities; Mandela's presidency; messianism; Nelson Mandela; political styles.

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