Date of Award

8-2009

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Advisor

Palmer, R. Barton

Committee Member

Hilligoss , Susan

Committee Member

Chapman , Wayne

Abstract

When studying the heroic tales and epics of medieval cultures, more questions
about their origins and influences remain than answers. The search for sources for a
single work, Beowulf, for example, can and has been examined within Germanic,
Brittanic, Norse, and even Irish traditions. Scores of sources, parallels, and analogues
have been found and analyzed, but so many possibilities may only serve to obfuscate
the actual origins of the Beowulf poet's myriad influences. However, the search for
analogous works can build a stronger sense of context for certain motifs and greater
themes within a large number of similar texts. Thus, repetitive elements, especially of
the mythological sort, can provide scholars with a glimpse of shared mythologies
between otherwise very different cultures.
The problem is that so many of these memes are hidden by centuries of
redactions and revisions by scribes who had no firsthand knowledge of the original
composer's cultural identity. The few shared elements that survive the transition from
oral to written literacy are among the strongest arguments for a shared Celtic
mythology that existed before the Christians or Anglo-Saxons. The surprising
frequency in which these memes appear in Irish, Anglo, Germanic, and Welsh texts
would seem to indicate that some motifs more accurately reflect the earlier Celtic
mythology than the more whitewashed elements found in later manuscripts. Two
particular motifs appear regularly within the context of the great heroic tales of
medieval Britain, Ireland, and Wales: the goddess of sovereignty and fertility, and the
magical properties of a certain cauldron, sometimes known as the Grail.

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