Any culture/epoch develops its own
images of the child and the ways of upbringing and instruction of
him/her. They act as patterns, models and ideals both for adults and
children. Following them means the evolution and the development of a
full-fledged member of society in the eyes of this society that is
confirmed by the fact that transition to the adult state orients to
The history of child developent images
as tools for definition of educational approaches is of many pages.
The first positive infant image was the image of a hero boy going
through a so-called “heroic childhood” which was the privilege of only
the most prominent characters of myths and legends. Boy functioned as
an infant warrior, athlete, king, wizard, priest, saint, god.
The major ideas relating to the
imaginative implementation of differences between male and female
education emerged and formed an archetype of the human civilisation at
the stage of archaic traditional society largely understanding itself
through heroic epos. Ideas of an extraordinary, heroic, in a broad
sense, childhood of some not epic, but merely legendary characters
pertaining to ethnic, occupational, confessional, or other
consciousness took an active part in socialising both the boy of the
ancient world and the early medieval boy as a child of a still
archaic, traditional society. Beginning to exercise any adult
activity, children understood it by symbolic means on the basis of
instructions in the tradition.
Ancient texts underline the period
during which the hero studies the tradition and his great success in
it. He develops a personal relationship with gods, sacralized
ancestral arms, with the court and the environment in which certain
events with his heroic predecessors, with his horse etc. took place.
The central point of this phenomenon of early pedagogical culture -
the heroic childhood of a hero boy - is the primary subject of this
The history of gender education is not
only the history of training in the individual and social perception
of gender stereotypes but also the history of upbringing of the
sex/age behavioral patterns in practice conduct. Stable and age-old
images of traditional consciousness play an important role in this
perception and in the reproduction of educational models. And the role
of the “hero boy” archetype in this consciousness is very great.
It is known generally enough, that any
culture/epoch develops its own image of the child. It acts as a
pattern, model and ideal both for adults and children. Following it
means the evolution of a full-fledged member of society in the eyes of
this society that is confirmed by the fact that transition to the
adult state orients to this pattern.
The history of childhood
images is of many pages. Most anciently, people perceived a new-born
as something foul, that is indicated by the performance of certain
complicated purgative rites over it to allow gradual integration of
the child into the cosmic structures and eventually into the number of
Relics of such attitude are traced not only in the rites being
administered for the mother and new-born but also in the custom,
occurring back with the Celtic peoples of Europe, not to appear in
society with little children.
Later on, the first
positive infant image was formed, the image of a hero boy going
through a so-called “heroic childhood” (often including babyhood)
which was the privilege of only the most prominent characters of myths
When in the history of culture a boy’s image is made heroic, he
functions as an infant warrior, athlete, king, wizard, priest, saint,
This report is based on the assumption
that the major ideas relating to the imaginative implementation of
differences between male and female education emerged and formed an
archetype of the human civilisation at the stage of archaic
traditional society largely understanding itself through heroic epos.
The central point of this phenomenon of early pedagogical culture -
the heroic childhood of a hero boy - will be the primary subject of
this report. The image of girls (in contrast to adult women) is likely
to have appeared later and is much less widespread.
The heroic childhood is generally
defined as the childhood of an epic hero distinguished be
well-pronounced athletic qualities serving as prototype for the
subsequent behaviour of such heroes and paradigmatic models for the
entire profane society. Monuments of archaic traditional society,
primarily its epos, have reflected and formulated the concepts of
“boy-hero” and, to a certain extend, “boy-seer”. Almost every people
has preserved stories about heroes including elements of extraordinary
childhood. Scholars are usually confused by the fact that the epos,
myths, and legends, following the laws of genre, don’t represent any
reliable reflection of reality, but in this case we are not concerned
by the fact, since we are specifically interested in the epic concept
of this monuments and its impact on young generations in the historic
The first stage of any
heroic childhood is the wonderful conception of the hero. He takes on
the ability of gods to be born in an unusual manner. Heracles was
conceived by Zeus in the image of Amphitrionus, Alkmene’s husband. The
conception of such a hero, the protector of gods and people, required
a night thrice longer than usual, for which the ordinary course of
time was suspended.
Theseus was born by Ephra to Poseidonus, though he was considered a
son of Aegeus, son of Pandion and grandson of Cecropus.
Volkh and Saur Vanidovich, heroes of Slavic legends, were born by
widows without men, and the first of them was born to the cruel
Plutarch tells about a suspicion that Alexander of Macedonia was also
born not to Philip, but to a serpent.
Conchobhar and Cu Chulainn, heroes of Old Irish legends, were
conceived through something drunk by their mothers with water.
Tsovinar, the mother of Sanasar and Bagdasar, ancient Armenian heroes,
also became pregnant from water (foam), when she,being nude, came into
Wonderful conception occurs in the Mongolian, Uzbek, Kazakh, Kyrgyz,
Oguz, and other eposes. It can be accompanied by magic acts, for
example, the prospective father’s steed mating with the mares of the
The simultaneity of human and natural conception imparts additional
power to both.
The next stage is the
birth proper. The unusual nature of the child is expressed either in a
universal response to this event or in a too short or too long period
of pregnancy, or in the emergence of the child from other parts than
the mother’s belly. When Slavic hero Volkh Vseslavievich was being
born, the earth shuddered, the sea waved, and all beasts ran away.
A similar response, added by thunder, accompanies the birth of
Alexander of Macedonia as described by Pseudo-Callisphen, Helgi in
Scandinavian legends, Isan in the Nart epos, Gasar in the Mongolian
epos etc. Olympic gods fought each other during the birth of Heracles.
The mother carried Theseus only four months.
Soslan, a Nart hero, was born from a stone treated by his father’s
sperm, and another Nart, Batraz was born from a tumour on back of
Haemyc in which the foetus had been ripening after his mother had
returned from his father to her native home.
The hero boy is an intersection of that and this worlds, and the point
of birth is the point of transition from there to here.
Hence prenatal phenomena
or visions are frequent. Plutarch describes various prophetic dreams
and visions haunting Olympias, Philip, and the whole court before the
birth of Alexander of Macedonia.
The role of visions in the story of Christ the Child is enormous.
In “Kissat al-amir Khamza al-Bachlavan” (“The Story of Khamza, a Hero
Emir”) Khosrov Anushyrvan, the king of Iran, has a wonderful prophetic
dream about a wonderful boy to be born to Ibrahim, the emir of Mecca,
who shall be glorious for his deeds and tribulations. The author of
the story attributes the following words to the minister interpreting
the dream: “Your wife will give birth to a boy like a full moon. That
infant is designated to glorify the Arabs famous, but his life will be
hard, full of trials, troubles, and sorrows”. The fate of a heroic boy
is hard, and he often ends his life in a young age.
The next point of the heroic biography
of a child is the feast and prediction of his future life. After the
birth of the hero, everyone meets at a feast. Such feast occur in the
myths of the Old Irish, Narts, Oirats, Slavs, Buryats. If no
prediction of destiny was made before birth, then it ill happen now.
Frequently, the father leaving his spouse after the birth of his son
announces some instructions or conditions for his son’s in future.
Aegeus, the formal father of Theseus, left for the latter a sword
inherited from Cecropos, along with his shoes, under a rock then
called the Alter of Mighty Zeus. If the boy, as he grows, shifts the
rock and recovers the things, then he may and should be sent to
Athens, to Aegeus.
Cu Chullainn also gives instructions to his son, yet unborn, before
leaving the place where his son will be born.
The feast often coincides with the next element of a heroic biography,
name-giving, which is as if the second birth and the beginning of
entering the world.
The giving or alteration,
of name, is a very significant point for the hero’s fate as well as
for his own inner consciousness. The name was transparent and
meaningful. Most frequently, the hero changes his name with age. Such
alteration was understood as the recovery of our heroes from their
powerless, or rather baby-like, “minor” childhood, the first period of
infant years, and the point when the hero began to act “really”. Cu
Chulainn (“Chulainn’s Hound”) acquired this name after his first
infant deed when, being at the age of seven, he killed an enormously
big and furious hound of Chulainn, a blacksmith, and undertook, to
make up for the damage, to serve the blacksmith until a similar hound
would grow. Until that event, he had the name Setanta, given at birth.
Mongolian Gasar changes his name on completion of his infant years.
The name Heracles (“glorified hero”) came to the hero at a mature age
after his recovery from insanity, though this name had been
predetermined for him by Zeus.
After Ilya Muromets, the Russian hero, was cured at the age of thirty,
he, as if for the second time, acquires his “heroic”name at a feast.
Finn, the hero of medieval Irish legends, receives this name (instead
of the name Demna) after wonderful acquisition of wisdom and secret
knowledge during his service to his teacher.
The giving / alteration of name proves the transformation of the boy
to a hero.
A hero spends the first
period of his life in his native house joking and playing, and
performing his first deeds. Sometimes he also becomes invulnerable
here, for example, through special “hardening” like Achilles, Batraz,
or Kabardinian Sosruqo. In this way, he gets the blessing of the
superior powers for his fate. At an age under five, Cu Chulainn begins
to play with noble boys (150 of them), that all but results in a major
slaughter, for they didn’t provide for their mutual patronage and
didn’t promise protection to each other.
Mger the Junior, the hero of Armenian epos, in the age of 6, is
kidding over passers-by, trying either to pass over the bridge built
by him, or, when he beats them there, to avoid that and ford yet with
the same result (“Why aren’t you passing over the bridge built by
The epic hero plays wooden toy weapons, balls, sling, tries his force.
This force trying starts since his early babyhood. Heracles sucks
painfully the breast of his divine wet-nurse, stifles the serpents
Abkhazian Tsvits drinks metal melt instead of his mother’s milk, and
another hero of the same epos (Sesrqvaj) carries his own cradle to his
home which adults can not even remove from its place. Slavic Volkh
demands not to wrap him but to clothe him in armour: “When Volkh is an
hour and a half, / Volkh speaks as thunder: / “... Wrap me, mother, /
In hard steel armour”.
Infant David of the Armenian epos, lying in his cradle, breaks cradle
belts and even an iron chain when breathing, and the only thing
sustaining his breath is a “vein rope” stretching out to a necessary
length when he breathes. Than he will be also invincible in games
crippling his opponents. Armenian Sanasar and Bagdasar beat children
to tears and injures in games.
The epic child displays enviable strength of spirit as for example,
seven year Theseus, the only of all boys who was not scared by the
lion skin of Heracles, hanging on the back of a chair and who returned
with an axe intending to fight with that lying lion (the children were
unaware of that being merely a skin).
Such heroic qualities don’t always appear since the very birth,
initially many heroes look worse than ordinary children: Gasar, dubbed
“sucker”, Batradz, Tsvits, Ilya Muromets
and others. Than the heroic qualities emerge at once, through an
instantaneous transformation. But that is a rare case. Usually the
extraordinary nature of a child is originally obvious. However, this
nature should be concealed for some time. It results in the phenomenon
of “secret education”, where the hero accumulates his forces beyond
the common environment. Kabardinian hero Batraz is secretly brought up
by an old widow as an avenger for this father, another Kabardinian,
Badynoko, is also brought up by a certain nameless old couple under
the supervision of his mother. Old Irish hero Finn Mac Cumal is
secretly raised by his mother as an avenger for his father.
The archetype of secret upbringing, outside his own people, outside
the world, in a certain liminal position giving the hero sacral power
for a dialogue with his tribe, people, and society, became the basis
then underlying the biographies of the principal characters of world
religions. One may recall the confinement of Prince Gautama in a
palace by his father, his subsequent hermitage in the forest and
transformation in a Buddha under a boddhi tree. John the Baptist was
saved from Herod’s repression by escaping with his mother to the
desert, where they hid in a certain “mountain of God”, and he grew in
that mountain for some time.
In secret from his people, Jesus Christ, generally described by the
Gospels as a wonderful boy, was brought up for some time (according to
various chronologies of his life, from the first half to three years).
It is characteristic that the Bible contains no descriptions for the
childhood of female characters, even the most worshipped ones, while
Christ’s childhood has all attributes of an extraordinary childhood,
though heroic in spirit, not in strength and smartness. Secret
upbringing was also assimilated by the system of genre tools of
medieval legends, that is most conspicuously exemplified by the early
years of King Arthur.
The “positive” secret
upbringing of men in the archaic epoch is often neighboured and
contrasted by the “negative” secret upbringing of women - they are
brought up in confinement, in order to prevent a predicted evil from
such a character.
The secret upbringing in the isolated premises also occurs: David of
Sassun is brought up in jail, Ilya Muromets, Batraz, Chinese epic
character Hyang Yuj are brought up in certain closed, not to say dark,
premises. Boy David tries to fight a sun beam which got to his prison
for the first time, yet he is discouraged by the failure.
Sometimes the secret upbringing of a boy is introduced due to the
reluctance of the boy’s parents to follow his destiny. That is the
case with upbringing of the medieval Welsh hero Peredur, son of Evrawg
in a remote, wild, and woody area. His mother makes every effort to
save him from the career as a knight.
The first deed often
falls on the early years; in this way, ancient and medieval heroes act
including Heracles, Cu Chulainn, Gasar, Batraz, and Spanish Cid in a
version of the Old Spanish epos, where he, being twelve years old,
kills a count who has offended his father.
Gui, the nephew of epic Guillaume d’Orange, breaks his home education
Sometimes the first deed proves the last one: many epic heroes
represent not only the type of heroic childhood, but also its separate
species of a child hero, who encounters his early death. The hero as
an avenger executes his function and leaves the stage. Such are
Scandinavian Vali, Ossetian Togradz, Slavic (Russian) Mikhailo
Danilovich and Yermak. The child hero is often similar to a fabulous
wonderful assistant and adviser to adult charters. The notion of a
wonderful child persisted for a very long time. In Ireland after Lord
Edward Fitzgerald, a revolutionary and conspire dreaming to separate
Ireland from Great Britain, died in jail in 1798, a legend developed
that “once in 7 years Count Gerald rides into a racing ground in
Kilder. His horse, like Arthur’s horse in Cadbury, has silver
horseshoes. In the year that Gerald fell asleep, they were half an
inch thick. When they become no thicker than a cat’s ear, the miller’s
son, six fingers on both hands, will blow his horn, and Gerald will
give a battle to the English”.
The games, jokes and
first deeds are followed by two episodes whose sequence is reversible.
Let’s arrange them in the most organic version. These are fosterage
and then initiation and introduction to arms. The hero is given to
various famous teachers either concurrently or in a sequence. Thus,
Heracles, after his formal father Amphitrion had taught the boy to
drive, turn, and generally control the chariot, was given for training
to Castor (fencing, weapon techniques, fighting tactics in foot and
mounted arrays, basic strategy), Autolycos (first fighting), Euritos
or Scythian Teutaros (arching), Eumolpos (singing, playing cithara),
Linos (literature), than he lived with shepherds until the age of
The Athenians sacrificed a ram to Connides, Theseus’ teacher on the
eve of the Thesean festival.
Cu Chulainn enumerates his six teachers who instructed him in his
uncle’s estate, in addition to the fact that all members of the tribe
“raised me - chariot drivers and warriors, kings and the first
singers”, and eventually, he has to go overseas, to Scotland, for
In the Old French Novel of Seven Sages the royal offspring is
committed to the seven most educated teachers.
Slavic Volkh Vseslavievich was sent to study at his seven, and by the
age of ten he learned not only reading and writing, but also some
“arts” - to turn into a falcon, wolf, “gold horned bay bull”. Many
heroes were brought up by their uncles and suite, and such uncles
might act as both positive and negative characters. Uncles bring up
Slavic Dobrynya, Volga, Yermak, Irish Cu Chulainn, Mongolian Gasar.
Leaving the home was possible also for another reason - “to look at
people, to show oneself” (Mger the Senior), perilous labour, search,
revenge, merely departure for “the early ages are over” etc.
After training with
teachers and numerous exercises the moment of trial, initiation comes.
Theseus in his sixteen, having sacrificed his curl to Apollo in
Delphi, managed to remove the rock easily and get the hidden sword and
This episode reflects the remembrance of so-called “arms taking”, a
widespread type of trial. In the most detail, it occurs in the heroic
childhood of Cu Chulainn. He passes it very early (for an ordinary
child) - before the age of seven.
The early medieval epos “The Abduction of the Bull of Cualnge”
narrates that Cu Chulainn, on learning from a druid that the current
day is favourable for taking arms by those who wish to win a great
glory but shortly die, gives up his still infant games and heads for
the king to take arms in this day. He successfully passes a test for
proficiency in adult arms (he was trained for it with toy wooden
spares, sword, balls etc.). Cu Chulainn tests the arms, and the arms
The trial as a game with spares and arrows also waits for Khamza,
Arabian hero of the medieval folklore novel, close to the prosaic epos
in its initial chapters.
Such customs are recorded in the historical German and many other
It is partial or complete initiation.
Having become the
full-fledged in traditional society, the hero starts to perform his
young deeds for the benefit of his tribe and gods. Heracles defends
town of Phoebes from Aergin, Minoan king, collecting contribution from
Young Theseus seeks to repeat Heracles’ deeds, he takes away a club of
Periphetos, a robber, defeats Sinis, a “pine bender”, kills a creature
of Tiphon and Echidna, swine of Crommion, having invented the art of
fighting, he defeats fighter Cercion, kills Procrustos on his own bed,
defeats his 50 nephews, tames the white bull of Poseidon, and,
finally, crashes Minotauros. Seven-year Cu Chulainn in his first
chariot ride defeats three mature warriors.
Being the same age of Theseus, who performs his outstanding deeds, he
successfully stands against all famous fighters of the Irish island.
The heroic childhood turns into heroic
match-making and ends in it. During this match-making the hero has to
overcome numerous obstacles, to learn the most sophisticated martial
and magic arts, to resolve contradictions and ruin intrigues.
This is the sequence of the epic hero’s
living through his childhood. Moulded in the lines of legends, its
features and stages acquired the function of the pedagogical
imperative for many generations living in the conditions of military
aristocracies. Epic heroic boys supported and reproduced the tradition
of military aristocracies for which the epos itself existed. The real
socialisation of these societies’ children retained many elements
defined by the epic heroic childhood.
The epic genre laws had
much more impact on the matter of the hero’s origin and exaggeration
of all his superhuman features. The hero grows and develops faster
than usually. His appearance is beautiful. He exceeds everyone in
physical and mental abilities. He is wise though he is underage. His
life cycle is greatly accelerated (from 1,5 to 50-60 times). In his
seventeen Cu Chulainn stands against the entire army of all four other
Irish kingdoms. Being twelve years old, Volkh Vseslavievich gathers a
squad of the same age, and in his fifteen he leads them into battle as
its commander. The young men, born the same day with Khamza, the
Arabian hero, form his squad. The force of Finn include young teenage
men for they are not integrated with society.
Even the deeds are made by the heroes in the marginal areas of the
world, at the boundary between cosmos and chaos dominated by madness
and asocial forces.
principles of the heroic childhood influenced subsequent phenomena in
the extraordinary childhood series as well as the boy wizard, boy seer
image. We see the features of such character in both some epic heroes
and their succeeding characters. The wizard and sorcerer features
belong to Volkh Vseslavievich who is able to turn into a beast, having
obtained this skill during his training since 7 till 10 years old, and
to Finn Mac Cumal, who, also while being young, got the opportunity to
understand the language of animals and gift of a seer (serving to a
wiseman, he accidentally puts his finger with a grave of a cooked
“salmon of wisdom” into his mouth). Jesus Christ also has features of
the boy wizard and boy seer. Apocrypha depict vividly the structure of
Jesus Christ’s childhood biography under the canons of the
extraordinary heroic childhood.
It is known that the
Middle Ages approved the paradigm of a child as a holy child. Holiness
is sex insensitive, childhood of a holy man and holy woman are
approximately similar. A phenomenon is formed, defined as “universally
accepted codes of conduct and behaviour”.
The archetype of the holy childhood is the childhood of Christ. Jesus
Christ had to pass all normal periods of the first part of human life
as he was sent to the World to break out sins of mankind. But from the
very beginning of Christianity an another attitude has been created
into Christian communities. Christ ought to have himself unusual
features from the very birth. So, for example, the episode with Christ
the Child in the Temple during the lesson of Hebrew sages had been
transformed into various apocrypha about the deeds of Christ the
Child. This paradigm was transferred into the early hagiography. A boy
hero became a holy child. A holy man/woman was described via the
image of puer senex during their childhood.
He/she had been noticed as a child of age but a wise adult of a mind.
Any creation of a holy man/woman during their childhood had been begun
with the rejection by him(her)self of childish games, toys etc. At the
same time Christianity used “a child image” in another kind. All
Christians had been thought as “infants in front of God”.
God Allmighty and Christ the Savior were considered as Teachers of
Mankind distributing the real birth for everybody, the birth to
But, paradoxically, the childhood of
both Christ (especially in apocrypha) and saints is structured with
regard to more ancient paradigms of the archaic heroic and magic
childhood - that of a seer, magus, wizard, and sorcerer, too wise for
his age. The basic principle of extraordinarity produced by the epoch
of the heroic childhood is preserved here in the Old and New
Testaments. However, within the Bible its rests upon the lines from
“Solomon’s Wisdom”: “Senectus enim venerabilis est non diuturna, neque
annorum numero compulata: cani autem sunt sensus hominis, et aetas
senectutis vita immaculata” (“For venerable long age is not that of
long time, nor counted by the number of years: but the understanding
of a man is grey hairs, and a spotless life is old age” 4: 8-9). It is
through God’s blessing that saint qualities can be obtained, and when
it happens at birth or in an early childhood, then the further
biography of the character will unfold to the pattern of an
extraordinary, largely heroic, childhood.
The Middle Ages retained
the age/sex models of pedagogical consciousness relating to the epoch
of the heroic epos.
Of course, they were carried on to the fullest extent by the military
aristocracy where they were supported not only the old characters of
archaic epic tradition, but also newly emerging images of the medieval
epics. The heroic childhood retains the same role of a paradigm for
the upbringing and initiation of the youth, especially in the form of
serial trials before knighting or tests on the way to virtuous and
fair life (the basic principle of structure and perception of a
normative childhood, irrespective of its contents, is preserved).
Development of medieval noble young men and the epic heroes includes
the same stages: birth, name-giving, games, upbringing in a family,
fosterage, trial-initiation, deeds of youth, match-making, early
death. The heroic epos’ standards still function in their military
environment: the first ride of the hero, sworn brotherhood, boasting
before fighting, prophetic dreams and miracles, sword and war horse.
Ideas of an extraordinary, heroic, in a
broad sense, childhood of some not epic, but merely legendary
characters pertaining to ethnic, occupational, confessional, or other
consciousness took an active part in socialising both the boy of the
ancient world and the early medieval boy (as a child of a still
archaic, traditional society), often through symbols of the
environment, space, material world and not only through genealogical
stories. Beginning to exercise any adult activity (corresponding to
their sex and age), children understood it by symbolic means on the
basis of instructions in the tradition and the extent of its
knowledge. Reasonably enough, medieval texts, as well as more ancient
ones, underline the period during which the hero studies the tradition
and his great success in it. He develops a personal relationship with
sacralized ancestral arms, with the court and the environment in which
certain events with his heroic predecessors, with his horse etc. took
The social history of gender is not
only the history of its individual and social perception of it but
also the history of sex/age patterns. Stable and age-old stereotypes
and images of traditional consciousness play an important role in this
perception and in the reproduction of educational models. And the role
of the “hero boy” archetype in this consciousness is very great and