Beowulf and Celtic Tradition

Beowulf and Celtic Tradition

Beowulf and Celtic Tradition

Beowulf and Celtic Tradition

Synopsis

Puhvel traces and evaluates the possible influences of Celtic tradition on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. He discusses theories of the origins of the poem, draws parallels between elements in Beowulf and in Celtic literary tradition, and suggests that the central plot of the poem, the conflict between Grendel and his mother, is "fundamentally indebted to Celtic folktale elements." The study is well documented and rich in references to Celtic literature, legend, and folklore.

Excerpt

This study of Celtic parallels and analogues to and possible source material of a considerable number of elements in Beowulf got its initial impetus many years ago in the course of a scrutiny of a number of puzzles and cruces in the Anglo- Saxon epic, relating mainly to seemingly preternatural elements such as the hero's superhuman, physiologically impossible swimming and diving exploits. Ancient Irish literary tradition appeared to provide striking enough parallels for the matter to demand closer investigation. It was only then that I fully familiarized myself with what may be called the Celtic case for Beowulf, a varied train of theorization undeservedly, I now think, paid relatively little attention by the main thrust of Beowulf scholarship of recent decades. I believe that it is time to take a long, close look at evidence of Celtic content and influence in the epic, the extent of which may well remain in dispute for some time but about whose presence there can now hardly be any doubt.

Some critics despaired long ago of arriving at a firm solution of the vexed problem of the origin of the story of Grendel and his mother on the basis of internal evidence; there was in the 1930s talk of a moratorium on this question, which seemed to many beyond a positive answer. In the last few decades numerous scholars have, while for the most part accepting the claim of basic Scandinavian origin of the Grendel adventure--a theory not backed by convincing evidence--often endeavoured to explain the manifold puzzles and anomalies in this part of the epic largely on the basis of modern realism. The Beowulf poet has been increasingly viewed as a sophisticated "maker" in full command of his material, almost always able to mould it according to a ra-

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