Starship as Symbol of the Hero
In our twentieth century, the symbol most appropriate for the concretization of the abstraction of the hero is "starship". As a word, "starship" is used frequently in the genre of popular literature called "science-fiction" (such as the popular Star Trek, in which are depicted the modern myths of cosmogony, eschatology, and heroism). However, as an archetypal model, which is symbolic of the enduring, heroic nature of humanity, "starship" refers to something more ultimate, more encompassing, more profound: "Starship" expresses man the hero as a being of light.
Throughout the ages of man, from his first sight of the points of light in the dark sky to the present day’s astronauts’ landings on the moon, the stars above have been focal points of endless wonderment and hopeful yearning. Myths abound with references to the stars as being the abode of the gods, the heaven of the pure spirits, the rulers of man’s destiny. "Star" thus became a symbol of "light"—of honor, power and glory, of wisdom, foresight, and vision—of all the ideals of truth, goodness and beauty. The stars represented the goals of life, the purposes of being, the rewards of achievement. Today, when the stars are known by the physicists to be entities similar to our Sun, the mythical meanings are becoming integrated with the literal, scientific definitions: the stars are both the material sources of energy for life, and the spiritual origins of inspiration for heroic adventure. "Star", as a symbol for "light", has become a symmetrical unity of mind and body, head and heart, idealism and realism.
Conjoined with the multivalent abstractions of "star", the symbol of "ship" complements the concretization by evoking the connotations of vessel, shelter, home, movement, a journey. And, when used as a suffix, "-ship" designates a state of being, a quality of existence, or a position of life—as in "friendship", or "leadership", or "worship". In short, "ship" is a particularization of the universal, "being", giving a tangible grasp of the intangible infinity. In this way, the endeavors of life, of human be-ing, can be perceived in the finite entity of a vessel, a ship, which houses and moves the spiritual quest for enlightenment. The "ship" is the being that moves with the "star" which is the light: "starship" is the "being of light".
As a symbol of the hero, starship is man’s ultimate creation, his highest potential—his greatest achievement of the outward and upward realization of his loftiest ideals. It perceptualizes the conceptual meaning of man’s essence: his imaginative mind, his noble soul, his powerful reason—-his ever-growing freedom. As a concretized abstraction, starship conveys an image of a physical structure with the sophisticated integrity to be a literal ship of the stars and yet, in embodying such ideals of light as honesty, justice, and courage, starship condenses the spiritual meanings of life into one unit: a being of light. Thus, starship communicates, projects, symbolizes, the heroic sense of life—the sense of unlimited potential, of invulnerable power, of endless adventure.
The adequacy of starship in revealing the vision of the ultimate is shown by the parallels between the voyages of the starship and the rites of passage of the monomythic hero. Just as the hero is required to cross the first threshold into the unknown, so does the starship need to escape the pull of Earth’s gravity. Just as the hero separates from the security of his old traditions and forges into the dangers of new mysteries, so does the starship depart from the protection of Earth’s atmosphere into the cold, dark, vacuous space. Just as the hero endures the trials that interfere between his present station and the ultimate glory, so does the starship survive the bombardment of destructive radiation and meteors. Just as the hero encounters strange creatures that help or hinder his quest, so does the starship meet alien cultures on other planets. Just as the hero eventually attains his reward and consequent rejuvenation, so does the starship finally discover a new Earth revolving around a new Sun. These correlations show that the hero’s task is symbolizable by the starship’s mission: to venture out, to discover new life, new values, new possibilities of existence—to extend the sphere of human being to the ends of the universe.
This duality of meanings within the integrity of starship’s symbolism, this correspondence between "ship of star" and "being of light", is what elevates the significance of contemporary programs of extra-terrestrial exploration from the obvious level of technical marvel to the profound level of philosophico-spiritual enlightenment. Since man is neither pure spirit nor brute matter but an indivisible unity of mind and body, then his conceptual abstractions of ultimate ideals, his limitless vision of potential infinity, must be realized in concrete actualizations—such that he can directly experience the exaltation of ecstatic becomings. His reach for the absolute, his dream for bliss, his search for the axiom of existence, can only be sustained by the commensurate, active achievements of his technology. On the other hand, without the comprehensive meaning afforded by philosophy, man’s technology would be lost, without direction, purpose and inspiration. That is why man is homo sapien and homo faber. And, man as homo symbolicus—as the ultimate concretizer of the ultimate abstraction—is man and hero integrated by symbols such as starship.
It should be clearer now how the symbolism of starship enhances the meaning of the heroic task. The hero who hears the call, who meets the challenge, who endures the hardship, and who achieves the purpose, is the man who is a starship, a being of light: a knower of truth, a doer of goodness, and a maker of beauty. The heroic starship of man is the dedication to the realization of the ideal self: the transcendent self whose growth is without bounds, whose vision is not clouded by dogmatism, whose wisdom overpowers pragmatism, and whose essence is light against darkness. Starship points to the endlessness of the sky and lights up the vacuous darkness. In being the light of starship, man the hero shines—eternally.
* * *
1. A comparison of eschatological myths and science-fiction is given by Raphael Patai in "Myths of the Future", Ch. 4 and "Myths of Planetary Escape", Ch.21, in Myth and Modern Man (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972).