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The term archetype /ˈɑrkɪtp/ refers to either:

  1. A statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.
  2. The Platonic philosophical idea, referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing.
  3. In Jungian psychology, archetypes refer to a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
  4. Archetypes can refer to a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting or mythology. This usage of the term draws from both comparative anthropology and Jungian archetypal theory.

In the first sense there are many more informal terms are frequently used instead, such as "standard example" or "basic example", and the longer form "archetypal example" is also found. In mathematics, an archetype is often called a "canonical example".


First attested in English in 1540s,[1] the word archetype derives from the Latin noun archetypum, the latinisation of the Greek noun ἀρχέτυπον (archetupon) and adjective ἀρχέτυπος (archetupos), meaning "first-moulded",[2] which is a compound of ἀρχή (archē,) "beginning, origin"[3] + τύπος (tupos), amongst others "pattern, model, type".[4]

Plato and archetypes

The origins of the archetypal hypothesis date back as far as Plato. In the seventeenth century Sir Thomas Browne and Francis Bacon both employ the word 'archetype' in their writings, Browne employed it in The Garden of Cyrus attempts to depict archetypes in his citing of symbolic proper-names. Plato's ideas were pure mental forms that were imprinted in the soul before it was born into the world. They were collective in the sense that they embodied the fundamental characteristics of a thing rather than its specific peculiarities.

Jungian archetypes

The concept of psychological archetypes was advanced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, c. 1919. In Jung's psychological framework, archetypes are innate, universal prototypes for ideas and may be used to interpret observations. A group of memories and interpretations associated with an archetype is a complex ( e.g. a mother complex associated with the mother archetype). Jung treated the archetypes as psychological organs, analogous to physical ones in that both are morphological constructs that arose through evolution.[5] Jung states in part one of 'Man And His Symbols' (12th printing, Nov.1973) that: "My views about the 'archaic remnants', which I call 'archetypes' or 'primordial images,' have been constantly criticized by people who lack a sufficient knowledge of the psychology of dreams and of mythology. The term 'archetype' is often misunderstood as meaning certain definite mythological images or motifs. But these are nothing more than conscious representations; it would be absurd to assume that such variable representations could be inherited. The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif - representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern."

Archetypal literary criticism

Archetypal literary criticism argues that archetypes determine the form and function of literary works, that a text's meaning is shaped by cultural and psychological myths. Archetypes are the unknowable basic forms personified or concretized in recurring images, symbols, or patterns which may include motifs such as the quest or the heavenly ascent, recognizable character types such as the trickster or the hero, symbols such as the apple or snake, or images such as crucifixion (as in King Kong, or Bride of Frankenstein) are all laden with meaning already when employed in a particular work.

See also

  • Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism
  • Character (arts)
  • Cliché
  • Mental model
  • Ostensive definition
  • Perennial philosophy
  • Personification
  • Prototype
  • Simulacrum
  • System Archetypes
  • Theory of Forms
  • Wounded healer


  1. Douglas Harper. "Online Etymology Dictionary - Archetype". 
  2. ἀρχέτυπος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. ἀρχή, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  4. τύπος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. Boeree, C. George. "Carl Jung". Archived from the original on 6 February 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-09. 

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