One of the great mysteries surrounding the history of Western Europe is how, exactly, Christianity first co-existed with pagan traditions and ultimately took root, influencing virtually every facet of life. Mythology was not immune to this influence, as the traditional legends and stories that had been told for centuries eventually died out and in their place arose new legendary forms and new heroes. This Blog post is designed to have you explore some of the key changes that occurred during this broad transition. Our last four classes have covered a wide variety of medieval tales, including the Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf, Viking myths, the real-life legend of Joan of Arc, and stories about the famous warriors Roland and King Arthur. In order to examine these legends and the medieval period from which they arose, I want you to do three things:
1) Compare/contrast one of the stories you have read to an ancient myth we read over the first few weeks of the semester. Or, compare a medieval hero-figure with an ancient hero (or maybe even another hero from the Middle Ages) and see what there is to see.
2) Pick out a key theme that you find is powerfully resonating in these sources, and consider how two medieval stories recently assigned for class engage with and articulate ideas about that theme.
3) Identify a meaningful quotation from the story that you have enjoyed the most in our recent class forays. What does your chosen quote emphasize in terms of the story in which it is found, and what does it say about the trials and tribulations of the hero at the center of that story? Just as importantly, how does it highlight and raise questions about the transitional era known as the Middle Ages?
Each of these three parts should be at least one thoughtful paragraph in length. By completing these three tasks, my hope is that you identify some meaningful ideas, complexities, and connections that are found in the various legends written in medieval Europe, and come to a better understanding and appreciation for the “realities” of myth during the so-called Middle Ages.