Mythology in the Middle Ages: Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic, and Might

Mythology in the Middle Ages: Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic, and Might

Mythology in the Middle Ages: Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic, and Might

Mythology in the Middle Ages: Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic, and Might

Synopsis

Placing heroes from a wide range of medieval traditions shoulder to shoulder, this title provides the opportunity to examine what is common across medieval mythic, legendary, and folkloric traditions, as well as what seems unique.

Myths of gods, legends of battles, and folktales of magic abound in the heroic narratives of the Middle Ages. Mythology in the Middle Ages: Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic, and Might describes how Medieval heroes were developed from a variety of source materials: Early pagan gods become euhemerized through a Christian lens, and an older epic heroic sensibility was exchanged for a Christian typological and figural representation of saints. Most startlingly, the faces of Christian martyrs were refracted through a heroic lens in the battles between Christian standard-bearers and their opponents, who were at times explicitly described in demonic terms.

The book treats readers to a fantastic adventure as author Christopher R. Fee guides them on the trail of some of the greatest heroes of medieval literature. Discussing the meanings of medieval mythology, legend, and folklore through a wide variety of fantastic episodes, themes, and motifs, the journey takes readers across centuries and through the mythic, legendary, and folkloric imaginations of different peoples. Coverage ranges from the Atlantic and Baltic coasts of Europe, south into the Holy Roman Empire, west through the Iberian peninsula, and into North Africa. From there, it is east to Byzantium, Russia, and even the far reaches of Persia.

Excerpt

Mosaics bring together seemingly disparate pieces of material so that a discernable, coherent image emerges from a collection of castoff bits of broken glass, stone, and pottery; thus the pattern of the whole becomes much more than the sum of its fragmentary parts. Medieval heroes are generally composites of various remnants of ancient tales fashioned into new forms, and the medieval craftsman who assembled such a collection generally seems to have been unaware of or unconcerned with the original function of the fragments he used. Thus, medieval epics and heroic cycles are veritable treasure-troves of much older mythic, legendary, and folkloric elements, and the engaging and rich stories of the heroes themselves are often complemented with additional pieces of storylines drawn from ancient and sometimes forgotten traditions of gods, larger-than-life warriors, magicians, shamans, monsters, battles, magic, and marvels. In addition, many of the narrative elements of medieval heroic tales assert themselves in similar ways in very different contexts: For example, Sigurd of the far north is a classic dragon-slayer, but many of his brothers-in-arms from medieval epics also do battle with the great archetypal serpent-monster, including Basil the epic hero of Byzantine. On another front, the Welsh Culhwch beheads the Chief Giant Ysbaddaden to gain the lovely Olwen as his bride, reenacting a common folkloric motif concerning the giant’s daughter, but battles with giants abound in medieval tales, including Turkish and Arabic reinterpretations of the conflict between Odysseus and Polyphemus.

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