There have been many legendary heroes throughout mankind's oral and written histories. From Romulus, to Hercules, to Zeus, to Arthur, Robin Hood, and Harry Potter, there are but three certainties in our life; Death, taxes, and heroes. Such hero-kings are so popular that throughout history they have been worshiped as gods. But are any of these legends based on reality?
Major FitzRoy Richard Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan (10 June 1885–1964), British soldier and author (as well as beekeeper - overachiever much?) - also known as Lord Raglan - was an ardent skeptic of hero myths. He was a man who believed Shakespeare was not a man, but a team of writers, with William only composing the comic parts of the plays. He took great joy in annoying his fellow aristocrats by stating there was, "no such thing as a Norman pedigree," and he amused himself by picking apart treasured local legends.
(Lord Raglan was the original punk rock.)
This is where his book, The Hero, published in 1936, comes into play.
Raglan's best-known work, The Hero, A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama, was published in 1936. The book's central thesis is that hero figures of mythology had their origin in ritual drama, not historical fact. In the book's most influential chapter, he outlined 22 common traits of god-heroes. They are:
1. 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 grand father 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. And becomes king.
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
15. Prescribes laws, but
16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
18. He meets with 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 sepulchres.
Raglan then encapsulates the lives of several heroes and awards points (marks) for thematic elements for a possible score of 22. He dissects Oedipus, Theseus, Romulus, Heracles, Perseus, Jason, Bellerophon, Pelops, Asclepios, Dionysos, Apollo, Zeus, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Watu Gunung, Nyikang, Sigurd or Siegfried, Llew Llawgyffes, Arthur, and Robin Hood. Oedipus earns the highest score with 21 marks.
Thus Raglan calculated the likelihood that these protagonists were actual historical figures. Unlike Joseph Campbell, who published The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1943, Raglan was not interested in the psychological or personal aspects of hero myths, only their factual basis.
The Hero established Raglan as a leading proponent of the "myth-ritual" theory of the origin of religion, whose antecedents included Sir James Frazer and the Cambridge Ritualists. The myth-ritual theory had a profound influence on literature and subsequently on literary criticism, reaching its height in the 1960s. Because of its succinct presentation of the theory, Raglan's scale is still frequently used as a teaching tool in cultural anthropology and comparative literature.
Significantly, Raglan excludes Jesus from the study, even though he "is reputed to be the son of a god", returned to his future kingdom, and met a mysterious death on the top of a hill, and was not buried. Raglan later claimed to omit Jesus to avoid conflict with his original publisher. The idea of Jesus as a god-hero is sometimes used by both sides in the debate over the historicity of Jesus.
Why did he come up with this "Hero Pattern"? Because a historical hero who matched on this scale well is quite unlikely to be historical at all. Here is a list of various hero scores, either analyzed by Lord Raglan himself, or independently by students of his book.
Oedipus scores 21
Theseus scores 20
Moses scores 20
Dionysus scores 19
Jesus scores 19
Romulus scores 18
Perseus scores 18
Hercules scores 17
Llew Llaw Gyffes scores 17
Bellerophon scores 16
Jason scores 15
Mwindo scores 14
Robin Hood scores 13
Pelops scores 13
Apollo scores 11
Sigurd scores 11
Pretty interesting, huh? Now let's study some more modern hero legends. As a rule of thumb, if the hero scores six points or more, they are unlikely to be a historical figure. Of course, with the characters I'm pulling from, you're not going to be that shocked to hear they aren't real. Still, it's good to know what a "passing" grade is, as we approach our modern heroes.
Harry Potter scores 8 out of 22.
Luke Skywalker scores 10 out of 22.
Spider-Man scores 9 out of 22.
Batman scores 14 out of 22.
Monkey D Luffy scores 8 out of 22.
(Though I strongly suspect he'll score as high as 13 when One Piece finishes.)
Uzumaki Naruto scores 9 out of 22.
(But again, likely 11 or more when his manga wraps up.)
Fascinating enough as it is, what if I told you Son Goku scores more than any of these characters? What if I told you he scores as much as Hercules, coming in at a whopping 17 out of 22. Because that's what I am telling you; Son Goku fits Lord Raglan's hero pattern remarkably well.
Goku starts off skipping the entire first block of 4 traits. His mother is not a royal virgin (he doesn't even appear to have a mother...), his father is not a king, they are certainly not near relatives*, and we can presume the circumstances around his conception were fairly normal. However, points 5 through 18 get quite a bit more interesting.
(*This bit is actually a probability, considering low class Saiyans were likely only bred with one another, so that they were all third, fourth cousins or better. This is implied by the character Tullece in Dragon Ball Z: A Super Decisive Battle for the Whole World. However, I've not counted it, because so much of our knowledge about Saiyan society can only be conjecture, and even in the Anime canon, Movie 3 cannot possibly have happened.)
He is reputed to be the son of a god.
Or in our case, the Legendary Super Saiyan, which is considered greater than any god in the Dragon Ball universe. It is heavily implied in the new anime side story, Episode of Bardock (based on the manga limited series of the same name), that Goku's father Bardock is the Legendary Super Saiyan -- and perhaps the father of all Saiyans? (He is the first on Planet Plant, after all.)
At birth, an attempt is made to kill him.
When Freeza strikes down the Planet Vegeta, it is with the goal of wiping out every Saiyan in existence, save for Vegeta, Nappa, and Raditz. This means that, however dimly, Freeza had his sights set on Goku, for fear of his potential, even before Son Goku could crawl.
But he is spirited away,
Goku survives the destruction of Planet Vegeta, just barely, due to his mission to clear Earth of all life.
And reared by foster-parents in a far country.
He is adopted by the martial arts hermit, Son Gohan, given his knew name, and taught how to fight. I think Earth counts as a fairly far country, considering it is a frontier planet to the Saiyans and Freeza.
We are told nothing of his childhood
All we are given is that he trained with Gohan and at some point, he turned into an Oozaru and smashed him. Anything more specific is skipped over entirely, until we meet the nearly-adolescent Goku.
But on reaching manhood, he goes to his future Kingdom.
Though 12 at the time, he reaches a sort of manhood through his training, and the journey for the Dragon Balls. But he certainly goes to his future Kingdom - the Tenka-ichi Budokai.
After a victory over the king,
Piccolo Daimao, the Demon King, is undisputably the "King" in the Dragon World. He even takes the official title on for a short time, before being defeated by Goku.
He marries a princess,
Gyumao's daughter Chichi, who becomes Goku's bride, may not be actual royalty in the Dragon World, but there is an implication that Gyumao built a Kingdom in the anime canon. And as the Demon Ox King, Chichi would fall into the title of Demon Ox Princess.
And becomes king.
Having won the Tenka-ichi Budokai, vaunted as the strongest under the heavens, Son Goku becomes the King of martial artists - taking the reins from Piccolo Daimao and his spawn, Piccolo Junior.
For a time he reigns uneventfully,
Goku is unchallenged for 5 years after becoming Budokai Champion. During that time, he has his son, Gohan.
And prescribes laws.
This one might be a stretch for some people, but allow me to explain; After becoming the King of martial artists, Goku spends nearly the entire rest of the series policing the universe. Villains like Vegeta, Freeza, Dr. Gero, Cell, Babidi, Majin Buu, Dr. Myuu, and Baby are all put down by Goku's swift hammer of justice. As the reigning king of strongest under the heavens, Goku enforces his law, his moral code, on the universe. The Dragon Balls aid him greatly, until...
Later he loses favor with the gods.
Specifically, the Dragon God, Shen Long. Having exploited the Dragon Balls so often, for so many years, negative energy builds in them and comes bursting forward. When Goku and friends try to restore the world after the wrath of Dr. Myuu, Dr. Gero, and Super #17, Shen Long refuses, and instead resolves to fight against Goku.
He is driven from the throne.
The One-Star Dragon (Yī Xīng Lóng) proves to be Goku's match utterly. Even in his strongest form, Super Saiyan 4, with the aid of his most powerful ally, Vegeta, Goku is beaten by the Yi Xing Long. His throne as strongest under the heavens, and reign after judge and jury of the universe, is at an end.
After which, he meets with a mysterious death.
Mysterious, indeed. The events of Dragon Ball GT episodes 63 and 64 have caused fans to scratch their head and theorize since they aired in 1997. Is Goku dead? Is Goku Shen Long? Has Goku become some sort of god, the way Shen Long was, but different? No one exactly knows what transpires during these final moments of Dragon Ball, but suffice it to say he meets a mysterious end.
His children do not succeed him.
Though there is heavy implication in early Dragon Ball Z that Son Gohan is meant to take the throne from his father, he never does. Even Gohan's greatest victory - against Perfect Cell - is done with the aid of our "King" Goku. Goten, though much like Goku as a child in personality, never has the drive to become a martial artist, and is never required to become one like Gohan.
His body is not buried,
Son Goku flies off into the last sunset on the back of Shen Long, as the Dragon Balls merge into his body.
But nevertheless, he has one or more holy sepulchres.
A statue is erected at the Tenka-ichi Budokai, displaying Goku as its former reigning king. To a martial artist in the Dragon World, it is no doubt considered to be holy.
Aside from the first 4 traits, Goku also skipped trait 19, where the hero dies "Often at the top of a hill". Goku has no Golgotha to speak of, so I skipped over this one. But 20, 21, and 22 all fit in perfectly. Not too shabby for a shonen manga about a monkey boy who does martial arts, eh? Though his story diverged from its origins in Journey to the West almost immediately, it's no wonder Akira Toriyama's version of the monkey boy is just as endearingly popular -- we've been reading stories about characters like him since humans could read.
Son Goku is a hero in the classic tradition. His legacy has already inspired so many heroes since; Monkey D Luffy, Uzumaki Naruto, and Toriko, to name just a few. And we can bet he will continue to inspire more as time moves ever onward, and the story of Goku and the Dragon Balls passes from tale, to myth, to legend...