In the early Christian era, man was believed to be composed of two parts: he was half animal and half angel. His animal nature drew him to sin; his angelic spirit provided him with a conscience, and gave him his faith and knowledge of god. Life was seen as a great testing ground where the two sides of man battled for his soul and his place in the afterlife. If the angelic side controlled his behavior, heaven was the reward. If the animal ruled, hell was inevitable.
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The Renaissance added a new dimension to the traditional duality: the intellectual. Learning was of such importance (as seen in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus) from this time forward, that it altered the view of man. He was now tripartite. While there is some variety in the actual divisions, (one version includes reason, will and passion), the most common include physical, intellectual and spiritual. (It is assumed that passion is part of the physical in such a paradigm.)
The actual tripartic system is quite simple, and follows the natural growth of a human. When a child is born, he is a purely physical creature. His needs maintain his body, and it is through this strict attention to those needs that he can grow and develop. Without this concentration on the physical at a young age, the species would not survive.
After a few years, however, the child can manage to take care of himself, at least in part. He then enters the age of reason. A healthy child is well on his way by age seven, and a number of cultures attach religious rituals to this milestone. This does not mean that his mind is fully developed. It simply acknowledges a change in the ways of thought: things are examined; consequences are remembered; the world seems less a place of mystery and adventure and more a place to be studied and investigated. Like the physical, the intellectual stage continues to be important throughout life, but does not necessarily dominate a man’s actions for the remainder of his days. There is one more level to discover.
The ability to think spiritually, or abstractly, begins in the mid-teens. Once again, religious rituals may accompany this stage – usually involving entry into adulthood. An awareness of the patterns of humanity and questions about the underlying nature of man and the purpose of life begin to occupy the mind. Such esoteric concepts are not easily understood, and a man may spend the rest of his days pondering them. As youth and strength fade, it is expected that the mind turn to the great issues in life. The physical is important for survival, and the intellectual is necessary to function in society, but it is the final stage, the spiritual, that will be the salvation of the individual and, hopefully, society. It should not be forgotten, however, that temporary returns to one level may be necessary – battle, for example, would demand a high concentration of the physical.
Many authors include the concept of tripartite man in their work, and the methods to do so are vast and varied. A common technique involves using a different character to represent each level. The antagonist, who is in contact with each of these, can choose which of the three give the best advice, or which is the best role model. As the main character, he is the complete man, drawing from all levels when it suits him. On occasion, a character will become trapped on a particular level; in such circumstances, he will at first appear very knowledgeable in his area; he might even be admired. Later, however, he will become crippled by the lack of balance in his psyche, and he will become a danger both to himself and to society. Such characters may be included to deliver moral lessons, but more often, they contribute to the protagonist’s greater understanding of the world. As such, these protagonists reflect the authors’ personal views of man and his surroundings, and are one of the most effective means of incorporating both theme and character into a novel.