Throughout the myths of the Celtic and Germanic peoples of northern Europe tales of epic heroes and their extraordinary deeds abound. These tales depict heroes performing a variety of incredible feats; many of which appear to be magical, superhuman, and, quite honestly, utterly impossible (e.g., wading across oceans, defeating armies virtually single-handedly, and other astounding exploits). Since the Celtic and Germanic tribes of antiquity inhabited neighboring lands and lived in close proximity to one another (as many of their modern descendants continue to do: i.e., in Great Britain), it is not surprising that they often established intimate relationships with each other via commerce, conquest, and the spread of religious beliefs. In light of this intimate association, it is not astonishing that the cultural and consequent poetic traditions of these ethnic groups were often remarkably analogous.
Frequently, the archetypical champions of Celtic and Germanic mythology exhibited similar characteristics regardless of whether or not they were Anglo-Saxon, Rhenish, or Irish. Indeed, there are many parallels between the behaviors demonstrated by the heroes of Beowulf, the Nibelungenlied, and the Tain Bo Cuailnge. Some of the most striking of these parallels are: the noble and divine lineage of the hero; the hero’s increased endurance and his exceptional combat abilities (including the use of powerful weapons and berserker behavior); the hero’s ability to attain victory against seemingly insurmountable odds or indestructible creatures; and the ritual practices of the taking of heads and the giving of rings.
The epic poem Beowulf may be considered unique in the context of mythol...
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...kely exception being Cuchulainn). Interestingly, as a result of the parallels between these champions, one can gain important insights regarding the values of ancient Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, or Rhenish culture by examining any one of them.
Beowulf. Translated by Chickering, Jr., Howell D. New York: Random House, Inc. 1977.
Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Norse Myths. New York: Random House, Inc. 1980.
Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and
Celtic Religions. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. 1988.
The Nibelungenlied. Translated by Hatto, A.T. London: The Penguin Group. 1969.
Powell, T.G.E. The Celts. New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc. 1980.
The Tain: From the Irish Epic Tain Bo Cuailnge. Translated by Kinsella, Thomas. New
York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 1969.
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