Friday, December 3, 2010


This is the final draft of my presentation notes, entitles "Recognition of a Hero: Convention, Principles and Customs.

Literary and Linguistic Recognition
¨  Regardless of cultural context, heroes are almost indefinitely given a number of prefixes and heroic descriptions by which they are easily recognized.
¨  Examples: 
¨  “Glorious Achilles” – Homer’s Iliad
¨  “The mightiest man on earth” – Beowulf
¨  “The Amazing Spiderman” - Spiderman
¨  “Action Man, The Greatest Hero of Them All” – Action  Man
¨  Oftentimes the name of the hero is also the name of the text within which the hero exists

The heroic attire perhaps the most significant factor in their recognition.
Robin Hood – Characterized in a tunic.
Beowulf – Infamous for battle with Grendel choosing to wear no clothes at all.
Beowulf’s battle with Grendel, Beowulf chooses to display his true sense of the heroic code in fighting the vicious monster entirely naked. His refusal to employ the use of weaponry showcases his desire to combat the demon on an equal plain.
•Contemporary heroes in popular culture are generally masked so as to hide their true identity.
Spiderman, Batman, Zorro, Daredevil etc.
Costume reflects their mental state – Spiderman adopts the black equivalent of his red outfit following the death of his aunt.
¨  Emblems are often used to signify the identity of the hero.
¨  This convention is particularly associated with the contemporary comic book style super hero.
¨  Used to solidify the unique identity of that particular super hero,
or perhaps to promote the high street
costumes market.

Heroic Weaponry

¨  Arsenal is also particularly relevant from classical to contemporary heroic texts.
¨  Examples:
¨  Beowulf’s Hrutning – Used in his underwater battle with Grendel’s mother.
¨  Robin Hood’s Bow and Arrow – Continuously illustrated as Robin Hood’s expertise.
¨  King Arthur’s Excalibur – A symbol of Arthur’s Kingship and the sovereignty of Britain.
¨   Xena’s Chakram – Most often associated weapon of choice in Robert Tapert’s televised franchise.

Others: Mjolnir – Thor (Pronounced Myolneer)
Heroic  Super Powers : Spiderman, Batman, X-Men etc.

 The Heroic Code
¨  Classical heroes such as Aeneas generally obeyed the laws of Fatum.
Fatum – The concept of unswayable destiny – must be followed in fear of the direst of consequences. Also translated to the heroic code – should a hero ignore his duties to society and to Fatum, society itself will suffer (example: In Virgil’s Aeneid, Achilles decision to remain in Carthage with his beloved Dido halts all construction to the city).

¨  Focused on the concept of ignoring personal pride in favour of fighting for one’s society.
¨  Convention which is also seen in Beowulf – criticised for battle with the dragon.

Beowulf’s Battle with the Dragon: Not true to the heroic code for 2 reasons:

1: The dragon is merely acting as it should, and enacts no such crime as to justify Beowulf’s decision to slaughter it.

2: Beowulf decides to attack the dragon himself. His attempt at showcasing both his sense of Kingship and heroism is flawed in that the probability of his death is dangerously high, and with his ultimate failure he in fact leaves his people with no King whatsoever.

-Has altered in contemporary times – paradox often seen of a hero battling with personal desire and sense of duty to society.

Contemporary Heroic Code:
Heroes often seen to battle with both personal desires as well of sense of duty to society.
Often conceal their identity so they may balance their heroic life with their mortal one.

Images Used:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Caedmon's Hymn

The manuscript culture of the Anglo-Saxon era marks the first momentous developments within heroic texts. The shift from orality to literacy is one of the most imperative progressions in textual transmission history. Texts such as Caedmon’s Hymn (recorded in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History),  The Risala of Ibn Fadlan (discovered in the 13th Century), and of course the zenith of Anglo-Saxon scripture, the epic Beowulf, the culture of heroic texts became a staple of early literature, literary criticisms of which are still being shaped and changed today.
The concept of the Anglo-Saxon hero has transcended from it’s original cultural context through to the contemporary era in a myriad of avenues. Beowulf has seen countless film adaptions, most recently Robert Zemeckis’ 2007 effort. J.R.R. Tolkien’s infamous book trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, is intricately rooted in Anglo-Saxon folklore – the elvish language within the tale is remarkably similar to Old English and the societal customs of Kingship and the heroic code saturate the storyline. The books themselves also received a film adaption, Peter Jackson’s infamous approach to the original in the early noughties. In this respect it is quite simple to comprehend the extent of the influence the Anglo-Saxon period has had on the development and textual transmission on heroic tales and indeed on the concept of what a “hero” can actually be defined as.

Caedmon’s Hymn may be regarded as a dream visions narrative. This style of poetry is formulated by an individual who has experienced a dreamlike revelation within which they are guided by an authoritative figure, in Caedmon’s case this figure being God. The “hero” discussed within the poem is perhaps unconventional in modern terms, but just as the Gods of classical literature were seen as heroes within their cultural context, so too does the Christian God in Caedmon’s Hymn represent a hero to the people of Caedmon’s culture.
The poem features heavy use of stylistic features archetypal of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is clearly a work permeated in the many distinctive characteristics of orality. In his commentary of the poem, Ian Lancashire analyses the musical quality of the poem, and suggests that the poem itself constitutes merely two sentences. In his essay, he writes:

“Caedmon's hymn has just two sentences, which can be summarized: "Let me now praise God the Creator" (1-4), and "God created Heaven, earth, and man" (5-9). The assertion itself has a simple logic that ensures Caedmon can link together, in memory, the larger units, the full lines, into a verse paragraph. Its length may also reflect a common cognitive upper-limit on large text segments.”

In light of the concept that each segment of the poem itself exists solely to portray but one simple message, and to recite the poem entirely from memory, it is of no surprise that Caedmon’s Hymn also contains an abundance of alliteration. From the very opening of the poem this typical aspect of orality is clearly evident:

(1)  Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes uard
 (2) metud├Žs maecti end his modgidanc

The poem itself consistently repeats phrases associated with God being an almighty figure which has created the world within which we exist, which can loosely be translated to descriptions such as “the Father of Glory”, and “the Almighty Lord”. These descriptions, used in order to formulate a romanticised illustration of an all powerful God, are perhaps a precursor to later buzz words used in connection with heroes as they are described in various texts. Beowulf is described as “the mightiest man on earth” amongst a plethora of other typical heroic depictions, and indeed in a far more modern context heroes are portrayed using such phrases as “The Incredible Spiderman”. Indeed, the Christian God is vastly different to these characters, but the mounting composite of prefixed words which highlight the importance of the heroic figure present definite similarities in the way in which dignitary heroes are portrayed.

The influence of Caedmon’s Hymn on later Anglo-Saxon works is clearly evident and stretches even to the 20th and 21st Centuries. Caedmon’s use of the phrase “middingard”, meaning Middle-Earth, in contemporary popular culture is known as the realm within which J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic heroic narrative “The Lord of The Rings” takes place. Suggested to be the first ever Anglo-Saxon poem to be recorded, Caedmon’s Hymn could have arguably instigated the butterfly effect which manifested itself in the form of one of the most famous literary and cinematic works in recent times, and with regard to the subject of heroes, works which produced perhaps the most infamous heroic protagonists in today’s textual culture. The fact that it has been recorded in writing also showcases the momentous movement from orality to literacy in Anglo Saxon culture. In terms of textual transmission, this movement was momentous to say the least. Prior to the era of increased literacy, characters within folklore and tales were two dimensional and lacked the depth of those of, for example, the Shakespearean epoch. The fact that the vast majority of tales were spoken or sung restricted the storytellers from developing the heroes within the tale for fear that some details may be forgotten. The heroic code, a staple of classical authors in the development of epic poetry, allowed for an exact template by which the heroes of texts were obliged to follow, once again aiding memory and allowing those who recite the tale to remain true to it’s original format. The advent of written text coincided with the formulation of more complex and convoluted heroes, allowing for the concepts of the “outlaw” hero and the anti-hero to become more common, and indeed from the point of Caemdon’s Hymn through the rest of the Anglo-Saxon manuscript culture we begin to see these developments arise.

1st Video Conference

Our first video conference with Pace University New York clearly marked the differences between each group's approach to the course. Whilst Pace appeared to have a significant number of texts covered, it
became apparent that Dr. Murphy's chosen approach to focus more coherently on a lesser number of texts proved to have noteworthy advantages.

1. Our understanding of the texts and indeed their cultural contexts provided greater lucidity as to the position of the heroes within the text and the role they played for the communities of the text.

2. The classic juxtaposition between the hero and the monster he is required to battle was investigated more vigorously. Particularly interesting was our hypothesis on the justification of these conflicts, notably in Beowulf - is Beowulf justified in his hunt of Grendel's mother who is acting against Heorot entirely out of revenge for the murder of her own son?

3. Our focus on the general relations between the King's and heroes between our chosen texts proved to be quite concise and once again more coherent. For example, the concept that the emotional and physical state of the King directly translates to the environment within which he resides is a common theme throughout each of the studied texts.

Of course, studying a greater number of texts in less detail offers insights into Medieval Heroic culture in different respects.

The video conference proved immensely useful and interesting as we compared our views on the course. Notably the comparison between the two translations of Beowulf showed how two approaches to the same text in different interpretations culminates in a different outlook on the text itself. Heaney's translation, though not entirely accurate in terms of literary merit, holds true to the original poetic form of the text. It was a hugely rewarding and exciting experience to correspond with a trans-continental university approaching the exact same course from a different angle.

I happened across an interesting article which outlines the benefits of University Video- Conferencing. It illustrates the effectiveness of this method as paramount to education even when compared to the traditional lecture method favoured by the majority of courses:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Paralells of Kingship between Germanic Kings in Studied Texts

As the seminar sessions progress, certain paralells are becoming evident between the Germanic Kings discussed in The 13th Warrior, the Risala of Ibn Fadlan, The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers and Beowulf. Throughout each text the King is seen a Godlike figure who, through his inauguration, underwent a divine transformation akin to apotheosis. Certain practises and rituals are seen to form a patternt throughout the text.

The location within which the King resides is of immense importance. The name of the location will always be linked directly to the King who has ascended to it's throan. This place oftentimes reflects the values, morals and ethical approach of the King as well as the current state of the society over which he resides. In Beowulf, King Hrothgar resides within Heorot, a hall of civility, nobitlity and diplomacy. Amidst the diabolical seige on the hall by the monster Grendel, the hall becomes a desolate place saturated in fear and death, reflecting both the outlook of  the King as well as his society. Similiar to this is the kingdom of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. As King Theodin lies under a wicked spell and loses his once diligent and noble self, Rohan becomes almost derelict of the traditional traits of a place under which a competent and worthy King rules. His restoration to his former self as a result of the White Wizard breaking the spell also results in a natural restitution of the pride and vibrancy of Rohan.