In a classic study of the Origins of English History, Charles Isaac Elton offered high praise for the wonders of Celtic mythology. In a notable passage, he proclaimed that the writing and “religion of the British tribes has exercised an important influence upon literature. The medieval romances and the legends which stood for history are full of the ‘fair humanities’ and figures of its bright mythology. The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the woods and streams appear again and again as kings in the Irish Annals, or as saints and hermits in Wales.” Having just begun our second unit with the powerful Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf we have made a transition in our course, not only moving forward in terms of our chronological timeline but also addressing texts written in Britain – a place, as Elton suggested, with a rich literary legacy and a place from which we trace our own “mother tongue.” In this Blog post, then, I want you to do the following as a way to forge some meaningful connections between various legends written in Great Britain. Specifically, I want you to present a single quotation from one of your assigned Celtic myths, and use it to draw thematic connections with Beowulf. How does your chosen quote offer us a window into understanding not only the Celtic myth itself that you are drawing from, but looking back, how might it provide an interesting way into making sense out of the complex text of Beowulf? Drawing on your chosen quotation, what connections can you make between the great Anglo-Saxon legend and the much shorter Celtic tale in question? In what ways are these two works similar, and in what ways are they noticeably different, and what might we learn about the myths and legends of Britain from these similarities and differences?
“… Eogan welcomed Noisiu with the hard thrust of a great spear that broke his back. Fergus’s son grasped Noisiu in his two arms and pulled him down and threw himself across him, and Noisiu was finished off through Fergus’s son’s body. Then the slaughter broke out all over the green… Fergus was told of this, and Dubthach and Cormac. They came at once and did mighty deeds. Dubthach killed Maine, Conchobor’s son. Fiachna, son of Conchobor’s daughter Fedelm, was killed with a single thrust… Fergus killed Traighthren, Triaglethan’s son, and his brother…”
(Exiles of the Sons of Uisliu, 133)
I feel as though this quotation highlights a sense of treachery and brutality not yet seen by us in this class. And it also shows a more barbarity and a different kind of evil not yet seen by us too. In Greece, most brutal acts (like a vulture pecking at Prometheus’s liver) were delivered and done on the Gods. For the most part, a battle in Greek text was “the two sides fought, and one died”.
Looking upon the much harsher environments and cultures (that of the Anglo-Saxon / Scandinavians for Beowulf and the Britannic / Celtic / Scots for The Exiled Sons of Uisliu) we can see a parallel in both texts. The connection I would go to make is that in both texts, warriors and violence are both held in high regard. Morals aren’t necessarily the same as we’ve seen, where they were seemingly innocuous and generally pleasant qualities we might aspire too, an ideal person in either story would be someone strong and proud. Someone handsome and daring and brave who can kill and not be killed. More than someone in, say, Greece, in which you may be strong but most heroes seem trickier than confrontational.
In Beowulf distinctly, Beowulf is taking these grizzly treasures from the corpses of monsters after massacring them. He plunders gold and booty, sure, but he takes putrid Grendel’s arm and head respectively. He values these things and all the people are proud to see his treasures, and these go on to spread his fame. It’s one thing to rob and loot, all cultures do it, and no one wants to waste good coin. But an arm is a poor and short lived treasure. Beowulf’s murders actually contribute to his fame, and while there’s some reasoning behind his actions, these are very slight things. No one in present day would murder someone for being loud (I hope).
In The Exiled Sons of Uisliu the violence seems more cause based. While there’s a fate and dread of sort around the beautiful Derdriu and her prophecy, people are killing in retaliation. We can sort of blame the Gods (unmentioned as they are) for the fate of Derdriu and those who surround her. Her beauty compels kings and armies to literally slaughter for her hand, and she herself, becomes grief stricken and sickly simply from the events transpiring around her. While Beowulf is acting in the interests of his people, he simply has no such prophecy, and is going about forging his own tale for the sake of his pride.
In summary (if this is simply too long), Beowulf centers on a boastful, brutal man carving out his name and being praised for it. The Exiles of the Sons of Uisliu focuses on the sad story of the sons of Uisliu and Derdriu whom was simply too beautiful for this world. But in both, there are horrific and bloody slaughters that either story simply find ordinary and necessary. And once again, in both cultures, “Might makes right”, and the winner takes all unchallenged.
A passage from the readings that appealed most to me was one from the story Beth Gellert. This Celtic myth told the story of a prince who had a beloved grey hound dog that he adored and cherished deeply. However one day, the prince came home after a hunt to see the dog and his infant child’s room covered in blood. As the prince desperately searched for his son and could not find the child, the prince immediately jumped to conclusions and assumed Gellert had killed his child. As punishment, the prince plunged his sword into the dog’s side only to hear his child cry out from underneath his cradle along with the slain body of a wolf. It was only at this moment that the prince realized, too late, that Gellert had protected his child and had not harmed him.
The particular quote that appealed to me went as follows:
“At last he felt sure the dog had destroyed his child, and shouting to Gellert, “Monster, thou hast devoured my child,” he drew out his sword and plunged it in the greyhound’s side, who fell with a deep yell and still gazing in his master’s eyes.”
I felt as though this quote connected with the legend of Beowulf through its mention of the term “monster”. In class, we discussed how monsters in mythology served the purpose of representing the notions of sin, fear, and possibly even misjudgment, throughout the text. In Beowulf, there were quite a few monsters but the ones that had the biggest impact on me were Grendel and his mother.
Grendel was considered a “monster” at birth because of the fact that he was a direct descendent of Cain. However, one has to question if it is truly fair and just to label someone a “monster” based upon their ancestry. Just because they are the descendent of evil does not mean they themselves are the embodiment of evil as well. Grendel could possibly be seen as this unfortunate, tormented creature, outcast from society who others viewed as a “monster” simply because he was different. Grendel’s purpose was to represent the very origin of evil, the fears of man and woman, and the misjudgment that can arise out of such beliefs.
Grendel’s mother was also labeled a “monster” in the legend of Beowulf but one could argue she was justified in her actions to avenge her son’s death. She wasn’t truly acting out of evil; she was acting out of revenge for what had been done to her son—as any loving mother would do for her child. Does this act, then, make her a “monster”? Was her act truly evil and sinful, or is it possible that the reader misjudged her actions in place of what society deems “monstrous”?
In the Celtic fairy tale Beth Gellert, the dog is incorrectly labeled as a “monster” when it had in fact done nothing wrong. His owner saw him as something evil that had committed a sinful act—that of murder—when in actuality, his dog had protected and saved his son from a real monster. The prince realized the truth too late and was forced to deal with the consequences of his actions.
Although the idea of “monsters” in Beowulf and Beth Gellert had their differences, they both still operated off of that “monster mentality” that seemed to plague Celtic and British myths—as well as many other cultural myths. Despite the story of the Beowulf monsters’ plotlines being much more drawn out and demonized, Beth Gellert’s mythical “monster” still served its purpose for readers of the tale. It is apparent from both of these readings and both of these cultures that they operated off of the “monster mentality” of evil and sin and demonstrated that members of society should possibly think more deeply about just what makes someone or something a “monster”.
“And then Culhwch said, “Everyone has received his gift, but I am still without on. I shall leave and take your honor with me”” (Culhwch and Olwen, The Quest for Olwen 6-7). This quote from Culhwch and Olwen does not seem to draw similarities between this story and Beowulf. Yet the mention of honor is the biggest comparison that I have found between the two stories. Two tales of men who take on challenging, somewhat impossible tasks for reasons of pride, honor, and glory are the main focuses of both the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Societies.
When referring to pride. both mythical tales show protagonists with extraordinary backgrounds and boastful mannerisms. Pride involves the notion that past actions show one’s value and worth in the world. But this worth is from only past actions and is driven by the inner drive to continue that good name. Failure is not an option to these protagonists.
In Beowulf, the protagonist is a mighty warrior from Geatland who takes on the monsters of the earth to protect those who he deems that he needs to protect. Beowulf uses his father’s debt to the Danes and his war history to get instant fame among the scared Danes. His pride is shown through his tales of beasts slain and wars fought. Whereas the protagonist of Culhwch, for arguments sake is really Arthur, uses his pride among his men to drive him through the tasks really set out for Culhwch. Though it’s not his fight, the continuation of Arthur’s pride through these tasks is his driving force.
Beowulf and Culhwch both display honor in a similar way to pride. Honor for both the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon comes from upholding the lineage of fathers and sons of the past. Slipping up and losing one’s honor destroys their connection to their families and, by extension, their peers. Beowulf displays the Anglo-Saxon lineage by using his father’s honor, good name, and debt to others as his entrance to his tale. Arthur’s lineage to Culhwch is also his reason for coming into the story and it is not as glorious as that of Beowulf. Yet the amount of people mentioned through the play’s search for Olwen of fathers and sons of each part of their land shows the hierarchical importance that these people value.
Finally, glory is the drive to finish what is laid out in front of the protagonists. Glory is important to the characters like pride and honor but is seen as the outcome of the heroic tasks. The final step in being immortalized for years to come by the sons of your sons is attaining your overall glory. Glory to Beowulf is the wealth of and praise of his king and then his people through his actions. Whereas the completion of the tasks by Arthur solidified his glory and made him an everlasting hero in his land.
In the two stories themselves, the heroes display the focuses of their people. Beowulf focused on wealth for success and Arthur focused on relationships with his family/peers. Both stories involved feats that the normal man would never be able to complete. And both stories involve protagonists that complete these tasks for reasons not directly benefitting themselves.
Similarities aside, the things steps that the set each story apart from one another is their reasoning behind their feats. Beowulf defeats the monsters of Grendel and his mother because the Danes needed help. And even the dragon that was slain was causing suffering in Geatland before it met its end. Culhwch wants a wife. That really is the only motivation for him to pursue the help of his cousin. Granted the actions of his step mother put him down this path but the salvation of an entire peoples seems to be more important than playing mystical match maker.
The similarities and differences in obtaining power shows that these two cultures like to emphasize the importance of action and the gaining of impact with in their societies. Where Anglo-Saxons see wealth as power family ties and mighty actions impact the Celtic culture. The myths of Beowulf and Culhwch are the products of their peoples focus on pride, honor, and glory.
“A big block of stone was in front of her. She let her head be driven against the stone, and made a mass of fragments of it, and she was dead” (Exile of the Sons of Uisliu, 136).
“Fergus’s son came and stood at Noisiu’s side. Eogan welcomed Noisiu with the hard thrust of a great spear that broke his back. Fergus’s son grasped Noisiu in his two arms and pulled him down and threw himself across him, and Noisiu was finished off through Fergus’s son’s body. Then the slaughter broke out all over the green. No one left except by spike of spear or slash of sword. Derdriu was brought over to Conchobor and stood beside him with her hands bound at her back” (Exile of the Sons of Uisliu, 133).
The story of the Exile of the Sons of Uisliu seems drastically different from that of Beowulf for numerous reasons but as I was reading the Celtic story, two main themes seemed to stick out. Throughout the story of Beowulf, magical, mystic creatures and phenomenon’s seem to be prevalent. The work suggests that the people of the time may have believed in monsters and dragons and possibly even other mythical beings and events. In the Exile of the Sons of Uisliu, the story and its events are a great deal more believable and plausible, displaying less emphasis on imagination and storytelling and more concentration on more realistic dilemmas that were probably more representative of issues of that time. The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu seems, in essence, more modernized, or more like stories we are accustomed to, then the story of Beowulf. That being said, the story of the Exile of the Sons of Uisliu seemed a great deal more brutal and ruthless to me, despite the fact that Beowulf had some gruesome parts. I do not know if this was because I was more emotionally invested in the story of Derdriu or if it had something to do with the lie that lead the Sons of Uisliu to return with Derdriu, or if because the characters being killed were humans rather than creatures of fantasy. At any rate, both stories exemplify the violence that was happening in that specific time period and society but based off the story of the Exile of the Sons of Uisliu, Celtic myths seem to be moving in the direction of more realistic (yet still very tragic). While Beowulf also contains the degradation of woman, as seen in the characters of Hrothgars wife and Grendels Mom, the story of Derdriu is arguably far more demeaning and divisive than anything we have read thus far in class, in my opinion, adding to the brutality (seen in the chosen quotations) found within the Celtic myth.
“Tis a glorious place, forsooth, that Connla holds among shortlived mortals awaiting the day of death. But now the folk of life, the ever-living ones, beg and bid thee come to Moy Mell, the Plain of Pleasure, for they have learnt to know thee, seeing thee in thy among thy dear ones.” (Connla and the Fairy Maiden). This quote and the entire poem show that Celtic myths have a sense of predetermined destiny. In this story Connla is destine to go with the maiden to another land that is not familiar to him or his people. This theme is also seen in Beowulf. Beowulf is destine to defend his people and fight monsters until the day he ultimately dies in battle. Before fighting the dragon we see Beowulf realize that he will likely die, but there is a sense of destiny that he will go out fighting. We also see that once Beowulf is killed his kingdom is destine to come under hardships.
The one main difference between the two texts is the role of women. In Beowulf there is no female character who is able to persuade or influence man. In Connla and the Fairy Maiden, the maiden is able to persuade Connla that he is better of leaving his home to live with her. In the end Connla does leave his home and we are not sure exactly where he ends up. Both stories share the common theme of adventure and destiny, they just portray them in different ways.
“She was sent for. And she came, with a robe of flame-red silk about her and a torque of red gold around the girl’s neck, and precious pearls on it and red gems”
Culhwch then goes on to describe the physical features of Ysbaddaden Chief Giant’s daughter Olwen. But he first points out the superficial and materialistic aspects to her appearance, such as the fine silk shes wearing and the luxurious jewelry. This portrays the importance of treasures in this time which is a reoccurring theme in Beowulf as well. In both tales, gifts and treasures are exchanged for respect, honor, and acceptance.
The highest form of dignity is earned in treasure and in both myths the greatest heroes are rewarded with material items and without such the honor would not have been as noteworthy. Culhwch has never met Olwen and yet as soon as he meets her and sees all her beautiful jewels he is only more eager to marry her.
Although this myth and Beowulf do have some similar themes there are also differing aspects to their story. In Beowulf the intentions of the hero normally derive out of fear or a monster reeking havoc on people. In those stories the hero is constantly battling some higher powered monster. Whereas the other myths have a more romantic background. For example, in the story of Culhwch and Olwen the heroes entire expedition was in order to win over a girl. It may give entry to some of the British literature people are more acquainted with that is deeply rooted in romance and love.
In “The She an Gannan and the Gurgagh Gare”, The King of Erin tells the She an Gannon, “On eleven of the spikes are the heads of kings’ sons who came seeking my daughter in marriage, and all of them went away to get the knowledge I wanted. Not one was able to get it and tell me what stopped the Gruagach Gaire from laughing. I took the heads off them all when they came back without the tidings for which they went, and I’m greatly in dread that your head’ll be on the twelfth spike, for I’ll do the same to you that I did to the eleven kings’ sons unless you tell what put a stop to the laughing of the Gruagach.” (pg. 122)
This introduction compares with that of Beowulf’s introduction to Hrothgar. Beowulf hears of Hrothgar’s struggles against Grendel and seeks to assist him. The She an Gannon seeks to marry the king’s daughter but must fulfill the task of the king to discover why the Gurgagh Gare stopped laughing. Both protagonists face a threat and a reward in their journey. Beowulf faces the threat of being killed by Grendel but if he completes his task will receive glory and treasure. If the She an Gannon succeeds he will marry the kings daughter, but if he fails his head will be stuck on a spear like all the other previous suitors.
While the She an Gannon is only seeking to answer the kings question he also comes across many fights that are similar to Beowulf’s. He wrestles the giant to the ground and cuts it’s heads off for attacking the cattle, much like Beowulf kills Grendel and his mother for attacking Hrothgar’s men.
“He put it on, and taking the twelve iron loops, put them on the necks of the twelve daughters of the house, then snapped the twelve heads off them, and turning to their father say “I’ll do the same thing to you unless you bring the twelve sons of my master to life and make them as well and strong as when you took their heads,’ ” From The Shee an Gannon and the Gruagach Gaire. I picked this quote because it reminded me of some of the characteristics and themes we visited in Beowulf. It matches some of he characteristics because it had a hero that was looking for some kind of gian of his own, and helped someone to get that. Beowulf wanted fame and treasure, he helped the king kill Grendel and his mother, got what he wanted in return. The same with Shee an Gannon. Shee wanted the kings daughter, he helped the king make Gruagach laugh, helped Grugach get his sons, Shee got the daughter. They have a similar plot idea. They both also touch on the ideas of the bible. In the Shee they have the 12 daughters, just like the 12 apostles. Another characteristic they share is the ‘monsters.’ In Beowulf we have the disgusting giant, his mother, and a dragon. In The Shee there is the giant.
The themes of this story, that connect it to Beowulf are violence, greed,friendship, glory, and confidence. Violence because in Beowulf he was always violently killing a monster, and misters were killing his men. With Shee there is the killing of the giant, hare, 12 sons, and 12 daughters. Another theme that presents itself is greed/money. Beowulf and the kings wanted treasure, in The Shee, he wanted the daughter of the king. We could say that they were both greedy. In Beowulf you have his best friend Wiglaf, while in this story The Shee and Gruagach become good friends and help each other, both stories displaying a theme of friendship. Glory is also found in both stories, Beowulf has the glory of becoming king and a brave solider, while The Shee has the glory of marrying the kings daughter and making Gruagach Gaire laugh again. The final theme these two share are confidence. Both heroes display confidence in all that they are doing.
Some other technical features they also share is that every time someone is introduced, they are introduced as ‘son of,’ rather then just their name. Besides just that quality with the name, everyone is named. In previous writings you might have jus gotten, a description. Like for instance it might have said chorus, or person on the street. In these stories everyone has a name, and we are known of the name. This can be a little overwhelming, I’m not good with names. Another similarity that they share is that they both seem to teach a lesson. At the end of all the Celtic tales, there is a lesson to be taught. Whether it is do not jump to conclusions or helping others will help you (karma). Beowulf’s lessons were to choose what battles to take, and always be a good leader. Though these two tales are similar, both in themes and general characteristics, they are also different. One difference, maybe the most obvious one, is the length. The Beowulf is much greater then the length of the Celtic tales. Another difference is that in Beowulf, they use a lot of real facts, and delve into their history. In the celtic tales, they do not share their history, they simply tell the tales. Another difference I noticed is the animals. Almost every tale included an animal, if not many animals. Beowulf did not really talk about a lot of animals, and none were centrally important to the story.
Overall I really enjoyed these short little tales. They were short and sweet, without all the fillers. They told good stories and seemed to teach a valuable lesson.
“’Tis a glorious place, forsooth, that Connla holds among shortlived mortals awaiting the day of death. But now the folk of life, the ever-living ones, beg and bid thee come to Moy Mell, the Plain of Pleasure, for they have learnt to know thee, seeing thee in thy home among thy dear ones.” (Connla and the Fairy Maiden)
From this quote, the feeling of fate really ties in. This myth along with many other stories and poems of the Celtics have a lot to do with fate. Especially in Beowulf, fate is a determinant of almost everything. Beowulf feels that it is his fate, or destiny, to fight and conquer the three monsters. Likewise in Connla and the Fairy Maiden, the fate lies in the death and romance in the lines.
Fate was not only important to the story of Beowulf, but it was also a very important idea in Britain at the time. Then, there was a lot of fighting and conquering, so the idea that fate plays a role in their future was appealing. On a second note, new religions and beliefs came into their world, so once again, fate may have been somewhat of stronger concept.
The difference between these two stories is that there is a stronger play on fate in the sense of love and romance in the story of Connla. Beowulf is more about fighting the monsters and becoming the hero of the story.
“You nasty brute,” said the cowboy, coming down to him from the tree, ” ’tis little I care for you;” and then they went at each other. So great was the noise between them that there was nothing in the world but what was looking on and listening to the combat.”
This quotation stood out to me because of the bravery and great might the Cowboy had, it demonstrated how willful he was in combat almost similar to how Beowulf was. Persistence and bravery was a common theme throughout this story, the Cowboy went through great challenges and did more than any other man. Much like Beowulf, he was motivated by his own endeavors and did anything he could to come out the victor. A connection we can assume from the Celtic tales and from the Anglo-Saxon legends that they both build up their heroes to have brute force and fight for what they want out of life. Although for the time period that is depicted in the Celtic tales, they seem to be merciless, the king had no problem killing off other kings’ sons because they could not deliver what he wanted. This could show how society was back then and how ruthless some kings were. Even when the cowboy stopped the wedding and exposed the other prince that he was a fraud, the king had him burned for lying.
“It’s easy for me to manage that, though you think it’s not easy.” (Culhwch and Olwen)
There’s a few reasons why I think that this quote can relate to Beowulf. It immediately came to me when reading this story, that in saying this, Culhwch in a way foreshadows the rest of the story; and by doing so, it seems to be that he assumes with confidence that he will get what he wants. Much like Beowulf, in the way that Beowulf always had the highest level of confidence.
Although in Beowulf, the ending of the story may not have been as clear as just one sentence, in both stories the main character, being Beowulf, and Culhwch do not let anything come in their way of what they want. Which is why I think those quote relates in a great way, because it does foreshadow that Culhwch will do whatever it takes to have Olwen.
Lastly, I feel as if this quote relates directly to Beowulf because by the end of Beowulf, there was doubt whether he could kill the dragon, due to age. With everything that the Giant has instructed Culhwch to do, the reader may think as well that Culhwch may run into troubles in trying to complete all these tasks. Although, that is not the case, because as we all now know, just like at the end of Beowulf, Culhwch is able to finish his tasks, and be happy.
“But the cowboy made after the hare, and the Gruagach after the cowboy, and they ran as fast as ever their legs could carry them till nightfall; and when the hare was entering the castle where the twelve sons of the Gruagach were killed, the cowboy caught him by the two hind legs and dashed out his brains against the wall; and the skull of the hare was knocked into the chief room of the castle, and fell at the feet of the master of the place. “Who has dared to interfere with my fighting pet?” screamed Yellow Face. “I,” said the cowboy; “and if your pet had had manners, he might be alive now.” (The Shee an Gannon and the Gruagach Gaire 126-127)
I choose this quote because I feel that it demonstrates a similar act of courage that Beowolf had in Anglo-Saxon’s storyline. Although both Shee an Gannon and Beowolf faced challenges that could possibly kill them they still went through to succeed. Beowolf faced the challenges of Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon which all three fights had the risk of being fatal. Shee an Gannon faced the King if he didn’t return with why Grugach Gaire doesn’t laugh anymore, the five headed giant, and Yellow Face. Both characters fought their battles to gain something in the end; Beowolf gaining honor and glory while Shee an Gannon gaining the King’s daughter’s hand in marriage.
The difference between the two characters is that I feel Beowolf fought more physically and impulsive to be the best warrior. Shee an Gannon I feel was less impulsive and more clever based on how he defeated Yellow Face. Also instead of asking Grugach Gaire right away why he doesn’t laugh anymore he in a way gained the trust of Gaire first by becoming his cowboy and defeating Yellow Face.
Both stories, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon’s, are based around an era that was all about violence and power. In my opinion it was also very ruthless and cuthroat, like the King telling Shee an Gannon how if he doesn’t bring back an answer he will put his head on a stake with the eleven other princes who failed. Having like a collection of heads in your backyard is pretty disturbing, but for the King it was like his trophies that he showed off.
Reading the Celtic Myths, the one which really intrigued me was Beth Gellert. This was about a Prince named Prince Llewelyn who had a grey-hound dog. This was his most treasured dog. His dog always went hunting with him, but one day the grey-hound was nowhere to be found. Prince Llewelyn went on the chase without his partner (the grey-hound). Eventually the dog came back to Prince Llewelyn, but the dog was covered in blood. All that Prince Llewelyn could think about is his new born child at home. He thought his beloved dog had hurt, or even worse killed his son. Prince Llewelyn quickly went home to find blood all around the child’s room. The child’s crib was flipped and disorganized. Prince Llewelyn believed it to be his favorite grey-hound who did this bad deed. Prince Llwelyn made a very quick decision to kill his beloved dog. Once he stabbed his dog, Prince Llewelyn’s child was heard. The prince had realized it was not his dog who was trying to hurt the prince’s child, but it was a wolf. Prince Llewelyn’s dog was trying to save the child from the wolf. It was too late to take back what the prince did to his dog, as he passed away from the sword wound. The prince buried his favorite dog in the castle, where everyone who walked by his grave could see it.
A quote that stood out to myself in this celtic myth was “Monster, thou hast devoured my child” This quote stood out to myself, because it relates in a way to Beowulf. In this Celtic myth, the prince believed his dog had turned into a monster, killing his child. In Beowulf, there were many monsters depicted, such as Grendel and the Dragon. This Celtic myth also relates to Beowulf, because the prince had killed the so-called ‘monster.’ In Beowulf, Beowulf himself defeated and killed Grendel and the Dragon, and Grendel’s mother.
Ways that the Celtic Myth and the Anglo Saxon legend are different, because in this Celtic myth that I read, it was not nearly as disturbing as Beowulf. In Beowulf, I believe it is described more of how disgusting something or someone is getting defeated or killed. In the Beth Gellert story, it was nothing but minor, just stating that there was blood dripping from the dogs mouth.
What we may learn from these myths are the way the people of this periods thought. They may have had different morals and different religions, and that is why the two our different from each other.
A commonality amongst most of the Celtic myths is the central idea of a “comely” and alluring women, and the great lengths to which men will go to have their hand. This commonality sheds light on the ideals of the time and interestingly enough, on Beowulf’s as well. In past stories we’ve read, women were not part and parcel of the plot. The Celtic women usually inadvertently caused a man and his men to go on quests in order to finally have her hand; and perhaps for that era, that was a noble and ideal thing for a man to do. However, in Beowulf this is not the case, the heroic deeds have nothing to do with women (with the exception of Grendel’s mother, of course), which sheds bright light on the ideals for that time.
In Culhwch and Olwen, Olwen tells Culhwch after he has expressed his adoration that “I cannot [come with you], for sin would be charged to you and me…Go ask my father for me. And however much he may ask of you, promise to get it. And you shall win me. But if he doubts a thing, you will not win me, and it will be well for you to escape with your life”. Thus, said quests/trials ensue so that Culhwch may have her. It is an onerous process, but in the end, Culhwch shows his self-worth (with the help of Arthur!) and gets Olwen.
It is important to mention that Culhwch appears very noble for going through this process. Beowulf, however does not act because there is a women but rather out of his benevolence (and perhaps other underlying affairs..) and as a reward instead of a women he gets gold etc. Even though there is this difference, the concept of a man going through different trials to win honor and some type of treasure is there, and thus, the literature from the two different periods is not dissimilar.
The Celtic myths are clearly more complex with regards to all the trickery and trials etc. but the juxtaposition of Beowulf and the Celtic myths shows an evolution of ideals. Beowulf: honor, boasting and gold! Celtic myths: nobility as well, but also the desirable women, and the part that they play in these ancient myths, and the trials the men must embark on to have them.
As we start this new unit I can clearly see the transition from deity influence, and stories of these immortal, non human being to a more humble group of characters who are human, human-like, or “deformed” beings, you also see the emergence of monsters, and dragons and things unlike anything we saw in the Greek literature. I also have noticed the trends are different in these new Celtic myths and when you look at Beowulf. I have notices the, “heroes”, no longer are the societies expected hero, what I mean is that the king doesn’t always save the day. We saw a lot of war in previous literary works, but now we see this new emerging idea of comradery, and the enjoyment of brutality. The trend I also saw in these Celtic myths that could compare to the story of Beowulf, is the returning of favors, or putting thy self in harms way to help out a friend and not necessarily for the glory. For instance, in Beowulf, he wasn’t the king or any of the soldiers from this kingdom, he was just in seek of returning a favor to this kingdom and bringing back its order. I don’t think there was any personal gain from Beowulfs triumphs in this story, he just felt an obligation to these people. I found this similar to the story of Olwen and Culhwch, where I believe that Culhwch was given the tasks and it was he journey to overcome, but if you really look at it, I believe Arthur the first cousin of Culhwch actually would be comparable to Beowulf. Arthur was called upon to give Culhwch this gift of Olwen, and it was he who truly became sucessful through all the “obstacle” that were given to Culhwch.
In the quote from this text, Olwens father says to Culhwch, after the daughter is won “but you don’t have to thank me for that. Instead thank Arthur, the man who made it happen for you. If I had it my way, you would never win her.But it is past the time to take away my life.” In this passage I think it is clarifying to the audience that indeed Arthur is the successor here. Arthur was not looking for any recognition or glory he just wanted to give a gift to his cousin. For the first time in these texts I think we are starting to see a sense of selflessness.
“One of the men said, ‘There is. The blood of the dark black witch, daughter of the pale white witch, from the head of the Valley of Sorrow in the uplands of hell. ‘” This is a direct quote from the Celtic myth. Although I didn’t find this to help further explain Beowulf, there are clear things that can be compared and contrasted. The main element of the hero is apparent, as is the impossible tasks that both the main characters have to undertake. In Beowulf, he is to fight off to creatures and eventually a dragon, and falls in the end of the story. This Celtic myth puts Culhwch as a hero, however, it is clearly stated that Arthur and his men do most of the work and tasks that have to be done.
There is the element of the monsters, which is why I quoted the task of getting the witches blood. Beowulf feels he has to help the Danes by defeating the creature who tortures them for enjoying themselves and being human. Culhwch has to fight off creatures to take on the chance at finding the only possible wife for him. Both men are heroic and put their lives on the line in battle. Beowulf, however, concentrates much more on his acts as opposed to this specific Celtic Myth, which shows that Arthur is truly great although he is not the main character. Culhwch does help though and pursues his goals in the face of danger, which is similar to Beowulf. The main comparison to make though is the importance of the ability to achieve what seems to be almost impossible, and the element of fate. Most of the myths feel as though they give way to an idea of an ending by displaying what may come of the character, and this “fate” theme comes up in both these tales. Overall, the Celtic myths are enjoyable and have some elements of what we read in Beowulf, but the concentration on the main character is significantly toned down in that of Culhwch and Olwen.
“Evil will come of this,”the warriors said. “But even so, you won’t be shamed as long as we live. We can bring her with us to some place. There’s no king in Ireland who would deny us a welcome.”
“They decided on that. They left that night, with three times fifty warriors and three times fifty women and the same of hounds and menials.” (Exile of the Sons of Uislui, 132 )
This to me relates a lot to Beowulf. Warriors only had one job. That was to put their lives on the line for their king or land no matter what. The warriors knew great evil was to come, but that did not stop them. They were going to get the job done or die trying. The Celtics and the Anglo Saxons were similar in a sense. The warriors all had the same mindset.That reminds me of Beowulf. It reminded me of the part when he was on the cliff having the thought that he was going to die fighting the dragon. At that moment he was almost certain that he was going to be killed, but that doesn’t matter to him. He knows he has to slay the dragon by any means necessary. It is simply his fate. Which is another major theme in both pieces writings. Also they always embraced the warriors and put them in the highest regards. The great warriors always boasted and got fed like kings because of their duties. I believe the main difference of the two is the use of female characters in Exile of the Suns of Uisliu. She was a big part of the story because of her love for the brother. Beowulf did not have any major female characters that played a large role.
The significance of religion is a thematic similarity between the Celtic myth, Culhwch and Olwen, and the epic story, Beowulf. Oftentimes, Arthur and his men start their sentences with “For God’s sake” or “God knows.” This is because, like in Beowulf, people deeply believed in the power of a holy being that watched over them, rewarded them for their strength and faith, and made them repent for their sins. One example of this is during Arthur’s episode with the prince-turned-boar, Twrch Trwyth, when his men ask him for the explanation of that pig, Arthur answers, “He was a king, and for his sins God turned him into a pig” (23). Religious belief was powerful and often used to explain the world around them in not only the Celtic tales, but also in Beowulf. An important element of Beowulf is the religious theme. Even though Beowulf’s strength is extraordinary, it’s not his most important trait. We learn that regardless of a warrior’s strength in battle, without faith their strength is useless. Beowulf has conflicting pagan and Christian theologies, because although the story is told in the Christian, medieval Anglo-Saxon Britain, it’s also about the pagan, early medieval Scandinavia. The narrator of Beowulf constantly refers to God’s decrees, but never seems to discuss any exact principles of Christianity like Jesus Christ. Although the narrator says Beowulf is a Geat, therefore making him pagan, it’s implied that the constant references to God is explained easily into Christian perspective. The ambiguous religion of Beowulf aside, it’s clear it was an important element in the creation of both these stories.
One thing that stood out in the Celtic myth that was also in Beowulf was stealing. It appears in the Celtic myth “Culhwch and Olwen” during the hunting of Twrch Trwyth. The text says “Menw went seeking the treasures, and the place where he saw them was at Esgeir Oerfel in Ireland. Menw changed himself into a bird and alighted above Twrch’s lair. He tried to pluck one of the treasures from. But he didn’t get a thing except one of his bristles. The boar got up very fiercely and shook himself so that some of his poison got onto him; from then on, Menw was never without a sore”. In that quote a warrior and shapeshifter, Menw, was attempted to steal from the boar and then was punished severely by poison. His punishment was that he would never be fully healed again.
A similar theme of punishment for thievery exists in Beowulf, as a slave stole a chalice or cup from the dragon and therefore caused the dragon to go on a destructive rampage. I think both of these texts are aiming to send a message that the Christian religion also preaches: thou shall not steal.
“A big block of stone was in front of her. She let her head be driven against the stone, and made a mass of fragments of it, and she was dead.” The focus of the Story of the Exile of the Sons of Uisliu is on the fate of one Derdriu, who was doomed cause a just immense amounts of death. So at the end, after causing so much turmoil she kills herself instead being subjected to having to be in the possession of the two people she hated most. She chose her end of her own free will, much to the same degree of which Beowulf did, who himself chose die by his own chosen method. It’s just Beowulf’s was more focused on his being stuck on rekindling past glory and not on being the hostage of his most hated enemy but that’s just semantics; after all can it not be said old age is the greatest enemy of the mighty next to their own hubris.
“’Tis a glorious place, forsooth, that Connla holds among shortlived mortals awaiting the day of death. But now the folk of life, the ever-living ones, beg and bid thee come to Moy Mell, the Plain of Pleasure, for they have learnt to know thee, seeing thee in thy home among thy dear ones.(Connla and the fairy Madian)
Celtic myth is highly based on there culture. The Celtic culture is one of pride for family and land. Also along with war and death. They were a furious ruthless bunch of tribes who try not even the armies of Rome. This is reflected a lot in this quote as it talks about both life and death. Death being a important part of Celtic culture because of the fact that Celtic culture is so high on Battle, courage, and pride.
This is seen a lot in the story of Beowulf. Beowulf is a strong worrier seen a lot thought celeriac culture. Also along with his pride for his kingdom and protecting it along with his pride to fight the three monsters of Grendel, grendels mother, and especially the dragon. The dragon was beowulfs fate, which is also seen a lot through the culture ,and is important throughout Celtic faith. Beowulf also shows the celtics sense of not backing down to any one when Beowulf fights the dragon at the end as an old man when he could of used his men, which would lead to his death. The Celtic culture is rich and beautiful, but also full of fate, heart ache, sadness. The Celtic cuture helped to change the way myths were wrote and the endings of them always not having to have happy ending.
While reading the Celtic myths, I noticed a few similarities between Beowulf and the myths. One of the connections I noticed immediately, and as I read other posts I see others noticed it too, was the theme of monsters and monstrous acts. Prince Llewelyn calls his own dog, one that he loved and thought so highly of, a monster after he believes Gellert ate his child. I think that signifies just how awful monsters were made out to be, that it take the eating of a child to be called a monster. Also a monster, specifically a five headed giant, tries to eat the Shee An Gannon. The Shee An Gannon calls him “A nasty brute,” then proceeds to kill the beast. Monsters, like we recently discussed in class, are a big part of Beowulf as well as these myths. They signify an opposition, as well as traits which should be looked down upon.
Another connection that should be made is the small role God plays in these stories and Beowulf despite the fact that he is mentioned so much. Much of what happens in these myths is dictated by fate, prophecies, and curses. None of which God has a say in. Also there is the presence of magic, an eternal kingdom which is not heaven, and a fairy. None of this is ever present within the bible.
And finally, some of the Celtic myths and Beowulf use some characters who are not quite fictional. In fact, the stories were written in a way assumed that the reader has knowledge of family and kingdom ties. I feel these could be ways to help explain and glorify lineage.
“Prince Llewelyn grew more and more terrified, and sought for his little son everywhere. He could not find him nowhere but only signs of some terrible conflict in which much blood had been shed. At last he felt sure the dog had destroyed his child, and shouting to Gellert, ‘Monster, thou hast devoured my child,’ he drew out his sword and plunged it in the greyhound’s side, who fell with a deep yell and still gazing in his master’s eyes.”
This quote from Beth Gellert reminded me a lot from Beowulf. In this Celtic tale, Prince Llewelyn kills his favorite dog because he thinks that Gellert has killed his son. In Beowulf, King Hrothgar wants Grendel killed because he has been terrorizing the mead hall. In both of these stories, they have defined what their “monster” is. Before knowing much about the “monster’s” side, you side with the hero or the prince. In Beth Gellert, you believe that the dog has actually killed the one year old. In Beowulf, you side with the king because Grendel has caused so much destruction for what you think is no reason. Also in both myths, the “monster” is misunderstood. In Beowulf, Grendel was upset about the mead hall hurting his ears. He was defending himself and trying to make himself more comfortable in his own home. In Beth Gellert, the dog thought he was doing something heroic and saving the son from being eaten by the wolf.
The difference between the two stories is that Beowulf or the king never saw that killing Grendel was the wrong thing to do. They saw him as a monster and he needed to be eliminated. In Beth Gellert, Prince Llewelyn felt horrible after he found out the truth. He even buried Gellert outside the castle walls for everyone to see and have the place named after him. This would memorialize Gellert and everyone would know the heroic gesture he made.
The Celtic fairy tales, although much shorter in length than Beowulf, reflect the same common themes. Revenge, for example, is a major theme in Beowulf, as Grendel is killed for all the men he murdered. Likewise, in the story The Shee An Gannon and the Gruagach Gaire, the Shee An Gannon kills a five headed monster, a hare, and 12 daughters in order to get revenge against all that have wronged the Guragach Gaire and caused him to stop laughing. The theme loyalty is shown through Beowulf’s loyalty to his men and his debts that need to be paid. Connla, the son in the story Connla and the Fairy Maiden, is torn between the desire of the fairy maiden and loyalty to his family and father at home. Honor is another theme that is reflected in both Beowulf and the shorter fairy tales. One of Beowulf’s main drives behind his quests is his honor and desire to prove that he is the best and the strongest. Just the same, honor (if not loyalty) is perhaps the biggest theme in the story Beth Gellert, as is shown with the following line: “In vain was all Llevelyn’s grief: he could not bring his faithful dog to life again. So he buried him outside the castle walls within sight of the great mountain of Snowden, where every passer-by might see his grave and raised over it a great cairn of stones.” This line follows the incident where the dogs master kills his best hound after mistakenly thinking it killed his son. Soon after, he finds in reality his dog proved to be unfailingly faithful by killing a wolf in order to protect his son. After this realization, the man repays his loyal dog in the best way he possibly could: honor. The fact that this gesture of honor is considered the highest payment for such loyalty shows the importance of honor in this story.
Although Beowulf and these stories differ in many ways, such as length, detail, and timing, they reflect the same themes and therefore show that the same values were held throughout these periods. These Britain myths and legends serve as a window into the morals, beliefs, and values of their culture.
Beowulf and the classic Celtic tales at first might seem like completely opposite stories, but are not. Both Beowulf and the tales share the same theme of revenge, greed , and violence.
“They came at once and did mighty deeds. Dubthach killed Maine, Conchobor’s son. Fiachna, son of Conchobor’s daughter Fedelm, was killed with a single thrust… Fergus killed Traighthren, Triaglethan’s son, and his brother…”
(Exiles of the Sons of Uisliu, 133)
This quote from Exiles of the Sons of Uisliu is a perfect example of how tales and epics are similar in many ways. When I first read this tale a saw some of the same ideas and action in the epic Beowulf. The idea that violence and hate was all throughout the text. This tale proved that treachery and bloodshed is not just for epics; that tales can also be thought to be surprising and violence
The difference between the tales and Beowulf are known, and are important to know. In my opinion the tales are used as teachable lessons for children. Were, when you analyze Beowulf you’ll see that the epic doesn’t have a message behind it at all. The epic of Beowulf is about power and glory.It is violent, chaotic and tragic. However, it does not leave you with a message; the epic ends with death and nothing to learn.