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Beowulf and the Celtic Tradition by Puhvel Martin

Author:Puhvel, Martin [Puhvel, Martin]

Language: eng

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Publisher: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Published: 2010-10-29T16:00:00+00:00

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Beowulf and the Celtic Tradition by Puhvel Martin

VIII

BEOWULF AND IRISH UNDERWATER ADVENTURE

Of the many miraculous elements in Beowulf, hardly any seems as startling as Beowulf’s lengthy submersion in the mere of Grendel and his mother. The dive to the bottom of the mere, lasting, it appears, a considerable length of time,1 seems fantastic enough for one to feel impelled to look for the influence of some body of myth where the barrier between the worlds above and under water tends to weaken or vanish. Such a quest is rendered all the more logical by a comparison with the corresponding element in Grettis saga, the hero’s descent into the cave behind the waterfall—a feat at least in theory not impossible2 for a bold and powerful swimmer.3 The folktale of the Bear’s Son also fails to provide meaningful parallelism to Beowulf’s aquatic feat. Here the hero only exceptionally descends through water—that of a well;4 he is then supported by a rope, and almost invariably an explanation is given—water parts around him forming an air pocket, or a magic sponge soaks it up, or he travels down through it in a chest. In one variant listed by Panzer—from India— the hero does descend into the sea, but apparently to no great depth and here he is also attached to a line.

 

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Beowulf and the Celtic Tradition by Puhvel Martin

Author:Puhvel, Martin [Puhvel, Martin] , Date: June 6, 2019

,Views: 18

Author:Puhvel, Martin [Puhvel, Martin]

Language: eng

Format: azw3

Tags: ebook, book

Publisher: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Published: 2010-10-29T16:00:00+00:00
VIII

BEOWULF AND IRISH UNDERWATER ADVENTURE

Of the many miraculous elements in Beowulf, hardly any seems as startling as Beowulf’s lengthy submersion in the mere of Grendel and his mother. The dive to the bottom of the mere, lasting, it appears, a considerable length of time,1 seems fantastic enough for one to feel impelled to look for the influence of some body of myth where the barrier between the worlds above and under water tends to weaken or vanish. Such a quest is rendered all the more logical by a comparison with the corresponding element in Grettis saga, the hero’s descent into the cave behind the waterfall—a feat at least in theory not impossible2 for a bold and powerful swimmer.3 The folktale of the Bear’s Son also fails to provide meaningful parallelism to Beowulf’s aquatic feat. Here the hero only exceptionally descends through water—that of a well;4 he is then supported by a rope, and almost invariably an explanation is given—water parts around him forming an air pocket, or a magic sponge soaks it up, or he travels down through it in a chest. In one variant listed by Panzer—from India— the hero does descend into the sea, but apparently to no great depth and here he is also attached to a line.

The only literary tradition which exhibits significant parallels, in some instances analogues, to Beowulf’s submersion is the Celtic. James Carney cites5 as parallels references in two poems edited by him to ancient Irish heroes’ underwater adventures. One such reference is found in a praise poem addressed to Fearghal O’Reilly; the poet, praising O’Reilly in allegorical terms, says:

When the descendant of Cathal (= Fearghal O’Reilly) was voyaging in the ocean he came to an Otherworld palace the man of Cuan Clochair (= Fearghal) recognized his ancestral treasures in a giant’s cave. Ó Duibhne (= Diarmaid Ó Duibhne), as a stout champion, went under the wave until he got the rings; (likewise) this bright blossom of Galway (= Fearghal) leapt under the lake at his opponent.6

In a praise poem to Pilib, son of Aodh Conallach O’Reilly, written shortly before 1596, the poet, also praising his subject in allegorical terms, says:

Though the heir of our Aodh (= Pilib) found hardship in the danger of the well-known struggle with it, he took a fierce venomous monster from the vegetation at the bottom of a deep stream. His spirits rise on seeing the monster inhabitant of the cold stream; its dwelling and treasures (literally “the place of its goblets”) are now in this stout hand, a monster caught by a hand that is stronger.7

Carney comments as follows: “It is apparent that in Irish material when one wishes to gain access to the underwater home of a monster, one simply dives in and somehow—it is never quite explained—one moves freely in the world beneath the water.”8

Carney suggests that this Irish motif manifests itself in Beowulf. While he is, I think, altogether right, the matter seems to demand some further attention, both for further illustrating and elucidating

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