The Hero in the Middle Ages: A Comparative Study of the Theme, Plot, and Structure of Medieval Heroic Literature in Beowulf, the Navigatio Saneti Brendani, and Le Morte D 'Arthur
Forist, Alexander A.
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This paper proposes to study a selection of medieval heroes to examine how three different cultural and historical traditions created heroes with strikingly similar characteristics. For this purpose I have chosen to examine Beowulf, Saint Brendan, and Sir Lancelot. These three medieval heroes are each from different time periods and cover the majority of the period traditionally known as the Middle Ages. The earliest work is Beowulf, probably written around the year 750, while Malory's book first appears in print in an edition by William Caxton in 1485. The heroes all originate in the same area of the world, Great Britain and Ireland. This limits my scope geographically and gives the added advantage of studying literature that was originally written in either Latin or some form of English. These three heroes also represent a wide variety of the medieval social strata. Beowulf was a king, Lancelot a knight, and Brendan a saint. Kings, warriors, and clerks were each critically important to medieval society. This paper is intended as a case study. There are numerous other medieval heroes that I could have chosen, and still, I believe, have reached the same conclusions. However, I feel that these three, while limiting the range of 4 inquiry geographically and linguistically and hence primarily to the culture of medieval England and Ireland, represent a wide variety of the examples from medieval heroic literature.