Learn all about the wise old man archetype, including definition, characteristics, examples and how it relates to the Sage archetype.
What is the Wise Old Man Archetype?
The wise old man archetype, also sometimes known as the Sage, is one of an elderly man of philosophical bearing notable for his possession of great wisdom, knowledge and judgement.
Traditionally depicted in literature and art as a father-figure, the wise old man is a kindly and gentlemanly figure, often with an aura of mysticism about him.
He is a vivid and compelling storyteller, often using his storytelling as a means of passing on his wisdom and guidance to those whom he mentors.
Wise Old Man Archetype Characteristics & Traits
- The wise old man believes above all in the power of knowledge and in the importance of truth.
- A self-reflective individual, he is often depicted in literature as a person on a quest for the ‘truth’ or a sense of enlightenment.
- This makes the wise old man an introspective and sometimes introverted person who prefers their own company and lives with a degree of solitude.
- The wise old man is representative of the values of discipline, self-control, duty, rules, habit, temperance and rationalism.
- However, should their dark side take over they can become pompous, over possessed by their own intelligence, or bored and depressed by the drudgery and ordinariness of normal life and those around them.
Wise Old Man Archetype & Carl Jung
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung developed the concept of the archetypal wise old man as the ‘senex’ (the Latin word for ‘old man’) – one of wisdom, knowledge and power.
Jung believed that the archetype was representative of the innate spiritual aspects of an individual’s personality (or ‘Self’), appearing in the form of their dreams or the learning that they passed on to others.
Wise Old Man Archetype Examples
There are a whole host of historical examples of individuals who fit the wise old man archetype, including the ‘Seven Sages of Greece’, Confucius in China, the Sages of Talmudic lore and Abraham, Moses and Solomon in Judeo-Christian tradition.
In film and literature the wise old man archetype makes a regular appearance. Examples include Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Yoda in Star Wars, Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid and Iroh from Avatar.
Further reading on the wise old man archetype includes:
- The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – by C.G. Jung
- Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World – by Carol Pearson
- The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics – by Annping Chin