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SIR OWAIN, a knight of the court of King Stephen of England, is the hero of an old English romance, who is described as having passed through St. Patrick's Purgatory. The narrative was dramatized by the Spanish poet Calderon in the seventeenth century, and recalls to the student the Divina Commedia of Dante.
St. BRANDAN, or Borandan, is the name of an ancient Celtic ecclesiastic and navigator of Ireland, who is said to have lived in the sixth century, and is believed by some to have discovered America. His name was long given to a fabulous flying island to the west of the Canaries. This appeared on maps published as late as 1755. St. Brandan is the subject of many interesting traditions.
MAELDUNE is a hero of ancient Irish legend, who is said to have traversed the seas on an errand of vengeance and to have been dissuaded from his purpose at last by the Christian teachings of a saint who had been the companion of St. Brandan. The Voyage of Maeldune is the subject of a poem by Lord Tennyson.
The mythology of the Saxon invaders of Great Britain was essentially that of the Norse. They named the first day of the week in honor of the sun, and the second in honor of the moon.
SATER was their form of Saturn, and is preserved in the name of the seventh day. EOSTRE was the name of the goddess of Spring, for whom, singularly, the Christian festival of Easter is named.
The Saxons, who conquered Arthur's nation and occupied Britain, giving to its greater part the name of one of their tribes (England, or Angle-land, from the Angles), brought with them from the Continent a cycle of epic ballads recounting the deeds of the heroes and monsters. Many of these old songs are still preserved. They possess great interest, since they constitute the oldest existing composition in the mother tongue of the English, and bring before us the mythical beings that occupied the minds of our forefathers.
HROTHGAR was a great King of Denmark, who built a vast feasting hall for his warriors and councilors in commemoration of his victories.
GRENDEL was a terrible spirit of evil, a hideous monster of the fens, who stole away thirty sleeping Danes from the hall, and devoured them, and often returned for more through a period of twelve years.
BEOWULF (probably so called from the name of the woodpecker), the hero, was a chief from the Geat Country (Britain), who came to the aid of Hrothgar. Unaided and unarmed, Beowulf silently awaited in the great hall the approach of the fearful monster. Grendel advanced in the darkness, and sated his horrible thirst with the life-blood of a sleeping Dane. He then came to Beowulf himself. The hero boldly grasped his assailant, and a terrible conflict ensued, in which the great building resounded and even shook with the fury of the struggle. The monster's arm and shoulder-blade were completely severed from his body, and in the agonies of approaching death he fled to his fens, where he expired.
His mission accomplished, Beowulf returned to his home in the country of the Geats, where he subsequently reigned for half a century. The last of the famous deeds of Beowulf was his encounter with a great Dragon which lived in a cave by the seashore. The cave contained a vast treasure of gold, from which a golden cup was stolen by one of Beowulf's subjects. The infuriated Dragon rained fire upon the kingdom, and the conflagration advanced to the very palace of Beowulf. With the assistance of but one man, Beowulf destroyed the Dragon, but was himself killed by the poison of its blood, with which his hands were imbrued. Beowulf died in peace, gazing upon a portion of the treasure which he had won for his country.
ÆSCHERE was a member of Hrothgar's council, who was slain by Grendel's mother. The latter was sought by Beowulf in her foul fen. She dragged the hero into her cave,
where he seized a great sword which was hanging upon the wall and slew her.
WIGLAF was a kinsman of Beowulf, who assisted his king in the battle with the fiery Dragon. While Beowulf seized the monster, Wiglaf with a great sword divided the body in twain.
The oldest manuscript of the poetic cycle relating to Beowulf's deeds dates probably from the tenth century. The poem consists of several thousand lines. It is not rhymed, but is full of alliteration, as, indeed, we find all early English poems, the grace of rhyme having been acquired by poets later.
Long before the poem was written it was orally transmitted. It is, in fact, impossible to say when it was first committed to writing, though probably this was not until the beginning of the eighth century.
In the time of Queen Elizabeth the genius of Edmund Spenser introduced into English letters a new class of imaginary personages in his great work, The Faerie Queene.1 These differ from other British myths in that they are not derived from ancient popular tradition, but were created to serve the purposes of the poem. They are allegorical characters, representing abstract virtues and vices; but Spenser has interwoven with his narrative some very ancient legends.
GLORIANA is the Faerie Queene, representing glory, but
1 This was the last great work modeled on chivalry. Awakening from the gloom of the theological contests of Edward and Mary, the court of the Maiden Queen, from state policy and her own disposition, had been transformed into a court of romance. Glory was the cheap but inappreciable meed bestowed by the economical sovereign, and love was the language to which the female from the throne could bend to listen to her subject. Elizabeth, stately and tender, was herself the Faerie Queene, without even the poet's flattery, when seated under the dais, amid long galleries hung with cloth of gold or silver, and all the moving tilt-yard glittering in its sheen; "the noise of music” and the sound of shields; the solemn procession and gay crowds of the manycolored liveries ; the tasseled caparisons of the horses and the nodding plumes of the knights.-- Isaac Disraeli.
portraying especially the majesty of the Virgin Queen of England.
UNA is a lovely lady, symbolizing truth; her name (meaning, in Latin, one) has reference to her singleness of purpose and integrity of character.
THE RED-CROSS KNIGHT is a hero typifying holiness. He releases the father and the kingdom of Una from the power of a great Dragon, which he slays.
ACRASIA is a witch, depicted as dwelling in the Bower of Bliss, upon a floating island of marvelous beauty. She is a type of intemperance.
SIR Guyon is a knight, commissioned by the Faerie Queene to arrest Acrasia and destroy her home. He typifies temperance and self-control.
AMORET is a lady of the court, who is wooed and won by Sir Scudamore. She personifies conjugal devotion and womanly tenderness.
BRITOMARTIS, or Britomart, is a lady knight, armed with a resistless magic spear. She is a type of chastity and purity.
* DUESSA is a base witch, who, under tha name Fidessa, assumes the disguise of a lovely woman in distress, and entices the Red-Cross Knight into the House of Pride, where his virtue becomes weakened, and he is overcome by Orgoglio. She is overcome by Prince Arthur, and betakes herself in shame to a wilderness.
ORGOGLIO is a giant, the consort of Duessa.
In addition to the characters mentioned above are Archimago (hypocrisy), Abessa (superstition), Ignaro (ignorance), Sans Loy (lawlessness), Sans Joy (moroseness), the Seven Deadly Sins (idleness, gluttony, lechery, avarice, envy, wrath, and pride), Fidelia (faith), Speranza (hope), Charissa (charity), Mercy, Patience, and several others.
The fairy-lore of England is of high antiquity. Shakespeare makes use of it in the Midsummer-Night's Dream and in Romeo and Juliet.
OBERON and his wife TITANIA, king and queen of the fairies, are said to have come from India to northern Europe to dance by moonlight.
QUEEN MAB, a fairy queen, is a myth derived from an Irish princess of old time.
Puck, known at first as a fiend, appears in Shakespeare as a “merry wanderer of the night," and is called also Robin Goodfellow.
NOTES OF LITERATURE RELATING TO BRITISH FOLK-LORE.
Edmund Spenser's great poem, The Faerie Queene contains a succinct account of all the legendary kings of England down to Uther, the father of King Arthur. Spenser ranks among the four great masters of English verse, and his Faerie Queene is one of the greatest classics in the language. Later poets have generally acknowledged their indebtedness to him for much of their inspiration. The measure in which he wrote is known as the Spenserian stanza. The Faerie Queene is the repository of the Spenserian myths. One of the most familiar cantos of the poem is that which describes the slaying of the Dragon.
Boadicea, the British queen, emerges for a moment from the shadowy realm of legend into the clear light of recorded history through her heroic but ineffectual struggle with the Roman power in Britain. She is the subject of a number of poems by various authors. Lord Tennyson's Boadicea is a remarkable composition, classed among his Experiments. William Cowper's Boadicea is one of the best of his odes.
King Arthur, as previously stated, is supposed to have flourished at about the time of the Saxon invasion, in the fifth century A. D. He figures prominently in a very unhistorical History of the Kings of Britain, which was written (in Latin) by Geoffrey of Monmouth, about the year 1150. The Welsh claim that the materials for this work were taken from an older history by St. Talian, Bishop of St. Asaph, of the seventh century, and that Geoffrey's book was a translation from the Welsh, or Armorican.
The growth of Arthurian legend is thus critically traced by J. R. Green, in his Short History of the English People : “Out of Geoffrey's creation grew, little by little, the poem of the “Table Round.' Brittany, which has mingled with the story of Arthur the older and more mysterious legend of the Enchanter Merlin, lent that of Lancelot to the wandering minstrels of the day, who molded it, as they wandered from hall to hall, into the familiar song of knighthood wrested from its