Wise old man

The wise old man (also called sage or "Senex") is an archetype as described by Carl Jung. It is also a classic literary figure, and may be seen as a stock character. [Northrop Frye, "Anatomy of Criticism", p 151, ISBN 0-691-01298-9] Historically, an expert was referred to as a sage. The individual was usually a profound philosopher distinguished for wisdom and sound judgment.


This type of character is typically represented as a kind and wise, older father-type figure who uses personal knowledge of people and the world to help tell stories and offer guidance that, in a mystical way, may impress upon his audience a sense of who they are and who they might become, thereby acting as a mentor. He may occasionally appear as an absent-minded professor, losing track of his surroundings because of his thoughts.

The wise old man is often seen to be in some way "foreign", that is, from a different culture, nation, or occasionally, even a different time, than those he advises. In extreme cases, he may be a liminal being, such as Merlin, who was only half human.

In medieval chivalric romance and modern fantasy literature, he is often presented as a wizard. [Northrop Frye, "Anatomy of Criticism", p 195, ISBN 0-691-01298-9] In the same works, he can also or instead feature as a hermit, who often explained to the knights — particularly those searching for the Holy Grail — the significiance of their encounters. [Penelope Reed Doob, "The Idea of the Labyrinth: from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages", p 179-81, ISBN 0-8014-8000-0]

In storytelling, the character of the wise old man is commonly killed or in some other way removed for a time, in order to allow the hero to develop on his/her own.


Jung dubbed this character as a "senex". This is Latin for old man in general, and in fact, two stock characters of the stage are the "senex iratus", an old man who irrationally objects to the love between the younger characters, and the "senex amans", an old man foolishly in love with a woman too young for him. Jung's "senex", unlike these characters, has grown old graciously. His wisdom is not only in his increased knowledge and judgment, but his knowing that younger people have taken on the role of hero, and that his position has changed to one of mentor.

Merlin fell from the role of "senex" to "senex amans" when he fell in love with Nimue; this lapse from judgment is what led to his being enchanted and imprisoned.



"Seven Sages of Greece"
*Solon of Athens
*Chilon of Sparta
*Thales of Miletus
*Bias of Priene
*Cleobulus of Lindos
*Pittacus of Mitylene
*Periander of Corinth

"Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove"
*Ruan Ji
*Xi Kang
*Liu Ling
*Shan Tao
*Ruan Xian
*Xiang Xiu
*Wang Rong

The "Rabbis, or Sages" of Talmudic lore (Judaism)
*Yohanan ben Zakkai
*Hillel I

*Benjamin Franklin, at least at the time of the American Revolution and afterwards, shows much of the character of a "wise old man".


*Mentor, in Greek mythology
*Merlin from the Matter of Britain and the legends of King Arthur
*Nestor from "Iliad"
*Tiresias from the "Odyssey", "Oedipus Rex", and other Greek myths
*Utnapishtim from the Epic of Gilgamesh


*Oogruk, in Gary Paulsen's novel "Dogsong"
*Zhuge Liang from Romance of the Three Kingdoms
*Aslan from C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia
*Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars.

*Wizards and other magicians: As noted above, due to the influence of Merlin (and later Gandalf and Shazam), a wise old man is often presented in the form of a wizard or other magician in medieval chivalric romance and modern fantasy literature (i.e. Albus Dumbledore) (See List of magicians in fantasy for examples.)


ee also

* Elderly martial arts master
* Jungian psychology
* Masonic
* Hermit
* Magicians in fantasy
* Magic Negro

External links

* [http://stg.kitoba.com Social Transformative Gaming] Citadel of Sages

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  • man — {{Roman}}I.{{/Roman}} noun 1 male person ADJECTIVE ▪ elderly, middle aged, old, older, young ▪ a little old man ▪ a middle aged, balding man …   Collocations dictionary

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