In the middle ages, there were a lot of stories written that were tied together with the culture in which they were written by. Some even had an intense connection with the author that wrote them. A few examples are Thorstein the Staff- Struck in which was tied with the Norse culture, Everyman which has a Christian tie, and The Story of Deirdre with an Irish Celtic tie. To me the one that has the strongest tie to its culture is that of The Story of Deirdre and the Celtic culture. Just from reading the story and knowing a little about the Celtic culture will make this evident. So Ill start by giving you a little background or brief summary from the story.
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First I’ll start by giving you a brief summary of The Story of Deirdre. The story started off with a gathering of warriors and counselors and their wives and kids. The host is Felim MacDall. His wife is pregnant with a child. All of a sudden the unborn child screams from within its mother loud enough for all of the guests to hear it. After so a Druid named Cathbad tells the prophecy of the child. It is a girl and she will be named Deirdre, but she will cause a great amount of grief and also cause the death of many kings. Hearing this prophecy the King of Ulster, Conchubar mac Nessa wanted Deirdre for himself. So her family agreed and gave her to him. He thought he would wait for her to turn of marrying age and then they would be together forever. However a young warrior named Naoise came and Deirdre fell in love with him. They eventually ran away together causing a great deal of anger with Conchubar mac Nessa. Time passed and Conchubar mac Nessa agreed to let them return to the kingdom unharmed. That was a lie. Naoise was killed. But still Deirdre didn’t want him so he gave her to one of his warriors, MacDurthacht. Deirdre couldn’t stand the fact that she was being used like this so while she was in a chariot going down the road she put her head out of the window and smashed it on some passing rocks, which killed her.
In a few parts of that summary the Irish Celtic culture ties in with The Story of Deirdre. The beginning in which they are all gathered up is one. It is very typical of the Irish Heroic Age tradition for it all to start off with a large gathering where they are eating and drinking. The supernatural screaming of the unborn child also added to this tradition. Then the next thing would be the entrance of a druid. The druid comes in and gives a prophecy that sets the outcome of the future. All of these examples ties the story with an Irish Heroic Age tradition.
Another connection between the Irish Celtic culture and The Story of Deirdre is how Deirdre kills herself. The Irish Celtic people believed that the skull was where the soul rested, not the heart. The Celtic people were well known for the fact that they were the only known to date head hunters. They cut the heads off of the warriors they killed because they believed it to bring them supernatural abilities. Also when one of them died, the remaining living warriors would find the dead warriors bodies and crack their skulls. This was because they believe that the soul could not travel to the afterlife if it were not possible for it to leave the skull. So in the case of Deirdre she wasn’t going to continue life with Conchubar mac Nessa and his warrior so she decided to kill herself. But without cracking her skull, her soul wouldn’t be able to move on to the afterlife. So in a split second she hung her head out of the Carriage window and cracked her head against some passing rocks.
The Story of Deirdre also portrays its characters as being associated with the manner in which the Celtic personalities were portrayed then and continued to be portrayed now. One example is that of Conchubar mac Nessa. He planned on marrying Deirdre from before she was even born. This meant that he had to wait till she turned of age. This was often the case in the Celtic culture. Old men would declare a marriage to a young teenage girl before she was even the age to birth a child. This happened often with high ranked men such as counselors, warriors, and high up others. Also the girls that they declare marriage to often had a high social status themselves, most being kings or counselors daughters. Another example in which The Story of Deirdre ties in with the Celtic culture is that it has a similar format in which all of the other stories followed. Started off with a large group of people feasting or just a basic meeting. The characters are all basically believable but then it adds a supernatural event. In this case the unborn child screaming from within its mother’s womb. The rest of the story is filled with a controversy between to highly rated people, until the death of one of them. Also the story was based on the determination of fate. Deirdre was destined to cause all of this drama and also the death of these men.
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The middle ages period was filled with great works of literature that reflected the culture in which it was written and some of the time even reflected the author that wrote it. The stories I mentioned in the beginning are just a few examples that can be used to prove this true. The Story of Deirdre gave a good insight into the Celtic culture. Whether it be the characters personalities in the stories, the format in which the story was written, or the actions of some of the characters, Deirdre bashing her head on the rocks.
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