Faculty Seminar Advisor

Elizabeth Swedo

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

Document Type

Paper

Publication Date

2016

Abstract

Literature is a valuable resource for historical research, and literary analysis of motifs across genres produced at a similar time and place in history. The motif of the talking severed head that appears in both the genres of Celtic folklore and hagiography produced during the latter half of the Anglo-Saxon period in Britain can give insight to both medieval conceptualizations of the body and developing ideals of kingship in Britain. Other qualities attributed to severed heads in both Celtic folklore and medieval religious writing, such as lack of decay, demonstrate the presence of divine power that has remained in the head after episodes of decapitation. This association of divinity, as well as the similar protective purpose of the severed heads in each genre, reflects the shifting ideals of kingship at this time in Britain. Although the consideration of these two genres together has caused much debate in past scholarship, the broader knowledge gained by careful comparison of the qualities, symbolism, and roles of severed heads both mythology and hagiography reveals foundational concepts of Anglo-Saxon society that provide context for future historical study.

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