Models of ritual in old english and early irish heroic tales

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A Dissertation Presented


Submitted to the Graduate School of the

University of Massachusetts in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the degree of

May 1993
Department of English

(c) Copyright by Wade Tarzia 1993

All Rights Reserved



A Dissertation Presented

Approved as to style and content by:


Robert P. Creed, Chair


Maria Tymoczko, Member


John R. Cole, Member


Vincent DiMarco, Department Head

Department of English


This dissertation is dedicated with love to my mother, Lois Jones, who enacted in words and works her confidence and great expectation — all that a student requires from a mother, besides such things as a hard-earned, few hundred extra dollars sent just in time to save a broke folklorist in Ireland. And since I came into the world rear-end-first — a practical landing configuration but a motherly inconvenience — I'm pleased to show her this literary child, delivered with somewhat less (physical) pain but as much expectation.


Most proudly I acknowledge my two mentors, Robert P. Creed and Maria Tymoczko; their circa 14-year reign was benign, scholarly, and comradely. If I sometimes charged wildly and zealously ahead to put thoughts to paper, then Maria guided me without discouraging the zeal. If I was sometimes an obnoxious student while Bob was trying to treat me as a colleague, then his solution (treating me as a colleague and friend anyway) was in the best of human tradition; and I say without embarrassment that, one afternoon, Bob's stirring performance of Beowulf (that is, of oral tradition) decided my best of decisions. Both of my teachers were the first (often only) people to encourage my anthropological approach to literature; both people are now stuck with me co bráth. I met John R. Cole relatively recently yet still expected him to fulfill his duty (he did) in a period when multiple medical horrors were done to him; thanks for his endurance and the occasional anthropological fun we have. I must laud two of my bosses at the company where I earned my bread for many years, Walter Solak and Arthur Champagne; they often came by my desk and saw strange books where jet-engine texts should have been — many thanks for their humanity amidst employment, their indulgence to a distracted working-student. And thanks to my wife, Eileen, who married a man and a dissertation, giving up much romance and household improvements to the latter while keeping her humor. I promise to paint the living room before my next book.



MAY 1993
Directed by: Professor Robert P. Creed
Since humans engage in ritual activity in everyday life, we should expect that rituals are portrayed in literature. Thus I examine the question of whether rituals portrayed in heroic epics are realistic reflections of rituals from — in this case — Old English and Old Irish society, or idealized rituals, or anti-rituals (models of social behavior to be avoided). Taking this approach to heroic poetry requires an anthropological analysis of the societies that created the literary texts, which can help us generate hypotheses about the nature of the rituals and how they supported society. After such considerations, the narrative literature can be sifted for portrayals of rituals, and then analysis can tell us the complementary story: how the depicted rituals may have compared to actual use. In early chiefdom societies where warfare was endemic, rituals that regulated violent conflicts were important, as is attested by Germanic hoarding rituals and Irish boundary rituals. In Beowulf the dragon hoard may represent status symbols whose overabundance created social

conflicts. The events leading to the redeposition of the hoard may reflect rituals of communion. In Táin Bó Cúailnge, the events and rules of raiding may portray the real concern for maintaining tribal boundaries nonviolently in the fragmented political climate of early Ireland. Both literary traditions portray rituals as ideal methods of behavior translatable to deeds in real life, although both traditions portray the ill-effects caused when characters break the rules of rituals. Thus, although the dragon hoard was properly buried once upon a time, a thief breaks the rules, recovers some treasure, and unleashes supernatural havoc upon the tribe in the form of a dragon. The proper redeposition of the hoard is, perhaps, for long-term 'damage control' whose immediate application caused the death of Beowulf. Similarly, Irish tradition portrays the rules of single combat being followed for a time, in which Cú Chulainn is able to hold his turf against many invaders; but as the rules of warfare are broken against him in unfair combat, his supernatural prowess wreaks mass deaths upon the enemy — mass deaths that ritual warfare attempted to avoid. Therefore the tales portray the ideals of conflict-reducing rituals by showing the state of society without ritual controls.





My Hypotheses 7
The Choice of Texts and Approaches 14

On the Nature of Comparisons 16

Some Common Approaches to the Texts 20
Old English Tradition 20

Early Irish Tradition 21

My Assumptions about the Texts: Oral vs. Written

Composition, Dates, and History 23

The Dates of Old English and Other Germanic

Traditions 23

The Dates of Early Irish Tradition 25
TBC Recension I 26

TBC Recension II 28

TBC Recension III 29

Other Early Irish Texts 30

Text and History 31
The Texts as Unreliable History 31

History and Text: General Examples 33


History and Text: Irish Tradition 35

History and Text: Old English and

Old Norse Tradition 35

Subordination of History to Ritual and Narrative 37
Oral Tradition and the Texts 39
The Nature of an Orally Composed Text 39

The Nature of Written Text 41

Comparison of Oral and Written Texts 42

The Orality of Germanic Tradition 44

The Orality of Irish Tradition 48

From Oral Dictation to Reading Aloud 53

A Map for the Chapter 61

The General Anthropological Approach 62

Previous Anthropological Approaches to Folklore 62

A Note on Ethnographic Analogy 66

Ritual as the Specific Anthropological Approach 68
Beyond the Generic: Specific Rituals in the Texts 68

The Definition of Ritual 71

The Function of Rituals 73

Ritual and Narrative 78

Narrative and the Role of Emulation 80
Types of Societies 83
Chiefdoms as Foundations of European Culture 83

Band (or Hunter-Gatherer) Society 85

Tribal (or Segmentary) Society 88

Chiefdom (or Ranked) Society 89

State-Level Society 99
The Chiefdom in Old English Society 102
The Background of the Anglo-Saxon Invasion

of England 103


The Chiefdom in England 106

Society in Southern England 109

Society in Northern England 110

Early Old English Society 112

England, Chiefdoms, and Beowulf 121

The Chiefdom in Early Irish Society 126
The Continental Celts: Chiefdoms or States? 126

Irish Kingship (or Chiefdomship) 127

The Fine (Family) 132

The Ties of Clientship 133

The Túath (Loosely, 'Tribe') 137

Irish Economy 140

The Changing Chiefdom in Ireland 141

Ireland, Chiefdoms, and Texts 144

Conclusion to Discussion of Chiefdoms 146
About Tables 3.1 through 3.3 148
Note to Chapter 3 161


Treasure Hoards in Ritual and Epic 162

Literary Criticism about the Beowulf Hoard 164

The Functions of Bronze Age Hoarding 168

Analogy with Iron Age Hoards 178

Hoards and Status Symbols 184

Were Later Hoards Ritualistic or Run-of-the-Mill? 186

The Germanic Narrative Tradition 189

The Hoard in Beowulf 190

The Nature of the Treasure 190

The Nature of the Curses 193

Proper Behavior: Found but Untouched Hoards 201

What Happens If You Plunder a Hoard? 203

How to Treat a Recovered Hoard: A Crux Revisited 204


The Hoard in Sigurth's Saga 212

Comparison of the Traditions 217

Archaeology and Poetry: A Marriage? 228

Conclusion: Hoards and Funerals 234

Notes to Chapter 4 239



A Specialization of the Ulster Cycle 255

Pastoralism in Ireland 257

Pastoralism and Borderlands 259
The Magic and Law in Borders 260

Circumstances Behind Boundary Behaviors 262

Herding Population, Division of Labor, and Conflict 265

An Ethnographic Analogy with Irish Wars

and Rituals 272
Historical Reality Behind Border Behaviors 275

The Expression of Borders in the Sagas 278

The Focus on Place-Name Lore 278

Place-Lore: the Mental Map 279

The Ritual of Warfare 286
Hobbling Armies with the Spancel Ritual 287

Single Combat as Ritual Defense 299

The Setting of Terms 314

The Rules of Fair Play 320

Cú Chulainn in the (Too Common?) Role

of Lone Defender 324

The Special Motifs of Defense 329

Mass Warfare and the Doomsday Machine 335

A Reminder to Rath-Dwellers 336
Hostels and Borders 339
The Historical Function of Hostels 339

The Tale of Mac Datho's Pig: Language as Buffer 342

The Intoxication of the Ulstermen: Status and Ego 358

Bricriu's Feast: The Challenge of Discord 360
Conclusion: The Audience and Self-Assessment 366

Notes to Chapter 5 368

Summary of Hypotheses 370
Background Hypotheses 370

Specific Hypothesis 370

The Requirements of my Anthropological Approach

to the Narratives under Study 371

The Hypotheses Test Positive 372

Some Contrasting Functions in the Traditions 373

Similarities in the Function of the Traditions 376

Ritual and Narrative: Tomorrow's Work 379






Table Page
3.1. Chiefdom Features Gleaned from

Anthropological Literature 149

3.2. Chiefdom Motifs in Selected Old English Texts 154
3.3. Chiefdom Motifs in Selected Early Irish Texts 158



So he showed himself brave, the son of Ecgtheow,

a man known in war, of good deeds,

acted in accordance with fame, not [while] drunken

slew his hearth-companions. (Beowulf, Klaeber 1950, l. 1231ff, my translation)
We have heard of the wolfish mind of Eormanric; he held wide sway in the kingdom of the Goths; he was a savage king. Many a warrior sat, bound by sorrow, expecting woe, often wishing his kingdom should be overcome. (Deor, translated by R.K. Gordon 1976).
"A man in a chariot advancing upon us!" cried the watcher in Emain Macha. "He'll spill the blood of the whole court unless you see to him and send naked women to meet him." (Táin Bó Cúailnge, translated by Thomas Kinsella 1969).
"Stay," cried Sencha; "they are not enemies who have come; it is Bricriu who has set to quarreling the women who have gone out. By the gods of my tribe, unless the door be closed against them, our dead will outnumber our living." (Bricriu's Feast, eds. T.P. Cross and C. H. Slover, 1969 rpt./1936).

I took my first degree in anthropology and only afterwards turned to literature. Hence this dissertation is more of a scientific than an artistic, literary study of heroic traditions. Yet, despite my grounding in social science, this study of rituals and their avatars in story began as the simple pleasure I got from reading and hearing the tales themselves. Sometimes I was struck by the dramatic content of the stories; sometimes I laughed at the (seemingly) intentional humor in the tales and also because of surprise in discovering some of the differences in world view that define each culture. Why not greet revealing differences with delight? An example comes to mind of the time when the paleontologist, Harry Whittington, presented the peculiar, preCambrian fossil of Opabinia to the Royal Society, and his colleagues laughed, "...presumably a tribute to the strangeness of this animal" (Gould 1989, 124).

I pay tribute to the seeming strangeness of these tales; as with Opabinia, the tribute recognizes that the tales are not unimportant oddities but rather remarkable, specialized adaptations selected by social evolution to help Old English and early Irish communities survive. Just as an anthropologically inclined person feels that any way of life is good as a whole, as long as communities are surviving, by extension, any form of literature is good, if it is adaptive.

An adaptationist viewpoint first turned me to study Beowulf and Táin Bó Cúailnge ('The Cattle-Raid of Cúailnge'*), both tales in literary traditions that were often ignored by my fellow students because of perceived lack of rewarding complexity, or simply, of perceived lack of polish and sense. What can be said for a poem that exults in old swords and blood feuds, and then buries battle-spoils to rot in the ground? What can be said for tales in which head-hunting, cattle-stealing, and fighting over boiled pig play central roles?

I enjoyed these tales, accepted their place in their societies, then set out to discover their adaptive value — how they had been useful to an ancient audience. Anyone can immediately note some of the sensible advice the traditions offer; for example, in both traditions, greeting rituals show courteous, sometimes stately behavior on the part of visitor and visited — a fine thing in societies that knew the fast-draw as well as any wild-west cowboy.
* See the appendix for a list of the Irish-language names for English titles of other selected tales.

Soon I began seeking subtler advice, advice not made evident in the mouths of characters, but rather advice that the thinking audience imbued in its own traditions could identify, ponder, and perhaps accept. This is the challenge and the niche for anthropologically inclined studies, which should be asking, "What did ancient audiences have in the way of social systems, and what problems did they face that might explain these systems?"

These are the questions that need to be asked of traditions that have been dead for approximately 1,000 years. The questions must be asked as a series of subquestions while donning the clothes of anthropologists, archaeologists, and folklorists. The aesthetic attributes of the tales have a place, too. However, while attempting to explain how a story functioned for an ancient audience, not the modern one, literary criticism seems too value-ridden. What may seem odd or valueless to us may have been important to people with different needs.

An anthropological approach to traditional tales is an umbrella for the application of several subdisciplines, among them archaeology. Archaeology certainly has a place in this study, where it helps reconstruct past lifeways and compare them with depictions of lifeways and ideology preserved in the other record of past behavior: old manuscripts. In fact, archaeology began my original investigations into the traditions until I learned that a broader and more useful approach would be to use archaeological, ethnological, and historical data together to investigate rituals in life and lore.

As I read Táin Bó Cúailnge, for example, I noted how impractical Irish warfare seemed to be. My modern biases dictated that if you want to win a war, you get all the able-bodied folk together and then kill the enemy's able-bodied folk by whatever means. Instead, Irish warriors did 'strange' things, such as pause at tribal boundaries to ponder odd stipulations left by a lone defender; if the invaders could not abide by the stipulations, they were to halt their advance. Similarly strange, Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon hero, fights to win a treasure hoard from a dragon, expresses pleasure that he has won it for his people, dies from his wounds, and then his successor commands the hoard to be buried with the body alongside funerary riches collected specifically for the burial — thus thrift cannot explain the redeposit of the hoard.

Scholars seeking to understand these incongruities have done so by citing textual corruption, authorial (or traditional) incompetence, or (especially for Beowulf) by attempting half-way approaches involving cultural studies. I say "half-way" because genuine efforts are made to understand 'cruxes' by explicating the culture's social rules through logic or historical attestations, but few studies progress very far into archaeological reconstructions of past behavior or ethnographic analogies that can help us formulate hypotheses to test on the cruxes.

A hypothesis involving an anthropological consideration of ritual behavior in society and its expression in tale-telling tradition may explain some of the perceived incongruities of these tales. This approach is not a dear friend of the more stretched (and occasionally desperate and complex) invocations of Christian or Mediterranean literary influence, interpolations, incompetent authorship, or (an uncommon but attested approach) an incompetent tradition.

An anthropological approach must make a connection between traditional tales and actual behaviors in society. Traditional tales by definition have many common patterns approved and maintained within the tradition by the audience, which is one of the arguments against the use of traditions to glean historical information. I therefore do not seek historical attestation of past behavior in folk tradition. This job is better done by the less subjective disciplines of history and archaeology*. But the tales themselves may preserve analogues, mirror images, or purposely perverted images of rituals. We need not value one possibility over the other, but we must know if the narrative patterns contain analogues, mirror images, or purposely perverted images of rituals, and the reasons why.

I became interested in ritual as I learned that the characters of these heroic tales act out or participate in events that have patterns within the tradition. Beowulf and Sigurth both slay dragons and win hoards that are eventually returned whence they came; warfare in Irish saga may involve the imposition of rules that limit mass killings until the rules are broken. These are traditional patterns in that they are repeated in the corpus. They may depict rituals because they fulfill some of the definition of human rituals: cyclic behavior, patterned behavior, occurring at certain times between certain 'actors' (Chapter 3 will set out these definitions in detail). But why do these behaviors exist? Why did 'impractical' behaviors find reinforcement in the tradition? Was there indeed a practical
* Even if Heinrich Schliemann found Troy by reading The Iliad! I do not deny that traditions can preserve some facts, but I do question the degree to which we can identify those facts, and how useful those facts are. I consider these topics further in Chapter 2.

basis that Darwin would have recognized had he been a medieval scholar? Stated another way, were seemingly incongruous narrative patterns meant in the long-term to help these communities survive?

My answer is yes. Tales may have traditional patterns, and rituals around the world are also patterned; the relation between story and ritual has been made before and I make it again here. Story and ritual are cousins (Turner 1986). Ritual often has a noninstrumental purpose — having no immediately practical effect to support basic life — but in some observed cases has helped societies adapt to environmental realities (for example, see Rappaport 1967 and 1971, and Harris 1974).

The rituals in the tales I will discuss, whether real groundplans for behavior or distorted versions of ritual (designed to instruct through negative models, encouraging avoidance) are meant to mitigate the actions of heroes, who, the tales say, are both required and dangerous. I say "real or distorted" because stories are selective, not simply (or not even often) a mirror of society. What the poets have included in these tales is what they and their traditions have chosen to emphasize, an emphasis meant to make life better in their society.

So what was emphasized? The quotes mysteriously inflicted upon the reader at the outset of this chapter now come back full circle, as in any good tale or ritual. Beowulf, the good hero, did not slay his hearth-companions while drunken; a good quality, we agree, and a model of behavior that could only exist if such bad behavior within a group had been woefully frequent. Perhaps Eormanric did slay his own hearth companions, so that members of his tribe wished him brought down. On the Irish side, Cú Chulainn is the man to be mitigated with naked women (he is a boy and withdraws in embarrassment) or he will slay everybody in his unspent battle rage — and yet good little Cú Chulainn is this tribe's prime defender as his name 'hound' symbolizes. And Bricriu, an Irish Thersites, throws the Celtic equivalent of the Apple of Discord to foment internal strife among 'friendly' heroes, which happens easily as planned. What delightfully strange creatures these tales are, attesting to ingenious adaptations! The West African Epic of Son-Jara contains a proverb that suitably expresses these themes of my study: "The hero is only welcome on troubled days" (Johnson 1986, 42).
My Hypotheses
The two parts of my general hypothesis are: 1) some stories in the Old English and early Irish traditions were specific in the problems they presented and commented upon; that is, the society's particular concerns should be witnessed and resolved in the narrative patterns; moreover, 2) the problems should be either archaeologically or ethnographically recognizable. This requirement ensures that problems that appear to be addressed in the lore have some basis in fact — an assumption that is basic to the anthropological approach, which I discuss further in Chapter 3.

To test this second hypothesis one must have both the text and its specific, originating society at hand. The texts are at hand. But specifying the originating society is a problem. We have partial glimpses of societies that may have produced the texts, therefore allowing us to make an anthropological connection between text and particular culture and era. Or perhaps we do not have such glimpses at all. For example, although Beowulf may seem to depict prefeudal Germanic society, the tale's manuscript dates from about 1,000 A.D. and thus the tale itself may hail from 1,000 A.D. Alternatively, the manuscript may just as likely be a copy of a copy of a tale from, let us say, the eighth century.

Is it logical to test a hypothesis that assumes the poem, copied last in the eleventh century, supported an eleventh-century audience? Surely. The poem was important to someone in the eleventh century, else precious time and materials would not have been expended in its recording. I could test such a hypothesis for a twentieth-century audience and would probably find positive results. Not only scholars adore the poem for its challenges and merits, but also laypersons, else Burton Raffel would not have expended precious time in creating a translation in a modern, poetic idiom, and his work would not have been published.

It is not enough to ask whether the poem was meant to serve this or that era; empirical evidence proves that the poem served them all in some way, in different ways. I am more interested in testing the possibility that the poem served a society earlier than the date of its last manuscript recording. To me this seems most logical, if only because the society depicted by the poem is one that existed somewhat earlier than the eleventh century. Of course, the poem purports to record events from the early sixth century, but we have no other evidence to affirm or deny that the poem was composed so early. The artifactual references in the poem are too general to use the material culture depicted there as a means of dating. The poet did know of sail-driven ships, and the sail could be an easily datable reference if the archaeological record preserved more examples of ships. As it stands now, the earliest Viking Age ships so far discovered (at Oseberg) are from the eighth century and are fully developed for sailing; a carved stone on the Baltic isle of Gotland depicting a sailing vessel has been dated to the seventh century (Graham-Campbell and Kidd 1980, 125).

What seems important is that the poem depicts a chiefdom society (often wrongly called a 'tribal' society; see Chapter 3). Chiefdoms changed into primitive states slightly before the eighth century in England, and they may have died out on the continent not long after (see Chapter 3 for further details). The simplest assumption to make is that the poem was designed originally to serve a chiefdom — why else do we see reflections of this type of kinship-based, ranked society in the poem? — and the consequences of this assumption are that specific literary patterns of best use in chiefdoms suggest an early origin of the poem, perhaps in the seventh or eighth century.

Therefore, a connection between text and culture might logically begin with this hypothesis: the poem Beowulf hails from a chiefdom society and is shaped to support such a society by presenting a narrative representation (or filtering) of chiefdom rituals (see also Creed 1992, 70-71; Tarzia 1989). This is the primary hypothesis of this dissertation. To go about testing the notion, I must first compile a list of chiefdom traits observed by anthropologists and compare them with elements depicted in the tale. This is not a difficult task, but assuming that the poem does portray chiefdom society, I am still left with contrary empirical evidence: the poem also serves later eras that cannot possibly have a use for the specific rituals that I claim are taught in the narratives.

I have focused on Beowulf for simplicity's sake; but I extend the same arguments to the early Irish material, which was recorded in a variety of manuscripts dating between the twelfth and fourteenth century, although the language of the oldest version of Táin Bó Cúailnge is from the eighth century, and some of the verse passages may be older (MacCana 1972, 86-88). As Beowulf does, the early Irish tales seem to depict a chiefdom level of society, aspects of which died out or were modified certainly by the twelfth century under Norman influence and which was probably changing under other pressures even earlier than that. Even so, Irish sagas depict elements of Celtic society that seem even more archaic than their earliest language preserved in manuscripts.

What do we have, then? Tales representing chiefdom societies for audiences living in feudal states, functioning perhaps, as modern-day heroic-fantasy does, through a romanticizing kind of fantasy? Or do we have genuinely old tales depicting societies earlier than their last manuscript recension, thus preserving through the centuries the behavior of prefeudal times?

We need firm dates of the times when the Germanic and Celtic cultures were chiefdoms (region by region, since change is not uniform); then we need firm dates of the narratives or manuscripts to put them with reasonable confidence into the chiefdom-era of Germanic and Celtic culture. We do not have firm dates for either. We can only construct educated guesses and try to live by them.

The antiquarian tendency that allows something like Walter Scott's Ivanhoe or J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings to be written and become popular in the late eighteenth and twentieth centuries, respectively, shows us that no natural law forbids humans to have an interest in the past or past types of societies. But these modern novels are deceptive. They could not have existed without a vast body of knowledge that was their foundation, both in history, archaeology, and prior literature against which to innovate or imitate literary technique (what Todorov [1981, 23ff.] calls "anterior discourse"). Because the necessary scientific and academic sophistication did not exist in medieval times, I do not believe that such detailed knowledge of past cultures existed in late Anglo-Saxon or early Irish times. The fact that eleventh-century societies found it useful to preserve Beowulf and Táin Bó Cúailnge proves some kind of antiquarian tendency but not necessarily composition of these narratives in the eleventh century. Therefore, if significant attributes of chiefdom society are found in Old English and early Irish narratives, it is not because a body of historical knowledge allowed authentic 'historical romances' to be written but because elements of chiefdom-lore were transmitted directly to the recensions we now have. Such transmission happened because the societies were still or were recently chiefdoms or because manuscript tradition extended back to chiefdom periods. Broad patterns in traditional story-telling are ancient and tough, conservatively resisting change. Traditional inertia itself might well have been the impetus to retain narrative patterns best designed for one society but later perpetuated in a time of change.

This study will proceed by testing this idea: Old English and early Irish narratives depict chiefdoms faithfully because they were designed by and for such societies. For example, we cannot expect that an egalitarian society with little conception and use for the ideas of leadership, ownership of territory, and the protocols of hierarchy will in any way use these themes in its folklore; nor should we expect a feudal state to be concerned with mutual (and mutually terminable) obligations between lord and client when such concerns are not those of the feudal state. In contrast, a chiefdom, a society between a tribe and a state (these terms are defined in detail in Chapter 3), with its simple political hierarchy, should show the concerns of rank and territory in its lore as the main specialized topics, because the chiefdom level of society is above all a society operating on the concept of social ranking and ownership of property. Of course, the literature of most societies may be often concerned with very general themes — for example, the maturation process seen in 'fairy tales' as discussed by Max Lüthi (1987). This shared function aside, we should be able to see specialization beyond the basic 'fairy tale' function. Thus the lore of chiefdoms should show some specialized concerns peculiar to their social structure. I expect these concerns — rank and territoriality — to be highlighted in Old English and early Irish lore.

* * *

This chapter has reviewed the basic hypotheses tested in this study. To summarize them:
1) The tales studied here originate from chiefdom societies and are shaped to support such societies by presenting a traditional narrative representation (or filtering) of chiefdom rituals.
2) The lore of chiefdoms should show specialized concerns peculiar to their social structure. I expect these concerns — rank and territoriality — to be highlighted in Old English and early Irish lore. That is, the societies' particular concerns should be witnessed and resolved in the narrative patterns.
3) Rituals in the narratives were meant to mitigate the actions of the heroes, and, by extension, the actions of people in the audience. The audience was expected to emulate behavior depicted as rewarding and to avoid behavior depicted as penalizing to self and community. Thus the narratives depict 'hopeful' rituals in that the poet hopes the audience will emulate or avoid certain actions of fictional characters who follow or pervert the rituals. Rituals, being highly visible forms of human behavior, were emphasized in the traditions to lend weight to the importance of these goals.
Chapter 2 lays out the groundwork required to place the narrative texts in contexts of society and form. Chapter 3 further introduces my anthropological approach by discussing ritual, social structure in general, and the social structure of Ireland and England in the early medieval period. Chapter 4 tests my general hypotheses on Beowulf, with a comparison also with the Norse saga of the Volsungs. The hypotheses are applied to Táin Bó Cúailnge and other Old Irish texts in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 concludes the study.

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