Celtic Society And The Story Of Deirdre English Literature Essay

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In almost all literary works we can see some aspects of a culture or society in which the author lives, especially those works published in the middle ages. Throughout the course of history many great authors have written these cultural traits into their stories and plays. One of the most obvious of these works to compare is found within the Celtic society and "The Story of Deirdre". We are able to see a substantial amount of comparisons with the Celts society with this story.

We can begin the comparison by looking at the Celtic people and how their society functioned. The Celts existed from about the seventh century B.C.E. to approximately the third century B.C.E.. They developed in central Europe east of Rhine and through waves spread into Italy and France. Their society and culture came to a halt by the spread of the Germanic tribes and the Roman Empire. Historians have found a reoccurring detail throughout the Celtic society. That is their religion placed emphasis on natural landscapes such as mountains, rivers, and forest clearings for their rituals and sacrifices. This can be proved by the countless objects that have been found in these sacred places. The last main point about the Celtic people and the most important was original to them alone. The Celts were the only known culture to practice head-hunting. They believed that the head housed the soul and by decapitating someone they would gain supernatural powers because they possessed the individual's soul. The Celts believed that for your soul to be released when you died that your head must be split open.

"The Story of Deirdre" takes place much like the Irish Heroic Age tradition, with the warriors and counselors, their wives and daughters all drinking in a public hall. The story begins as a druid by the name of Cathub prophesized that Deirdre would be the most gorgeous woman of her time and that her beauty would stir up conflict and wars. This is how he described her beauty. 

"In the cradle of your womb there cried out

A woman with twisted yellow hair

And beautiful grey green eyes.

Foxglove her purple pink cheeks,

The colour of snow her flawless teeth,"

Conchubur, who was the king of Ulster, had decided that he wanted Deirdre for himself. Since Deirdre was too young to marry at the time Conchubur had to seclude her from everyone else, until she was able to marry him. Conchubur left Deirdre with an old lady by the name of Lebarcham's. While she was staying with Lebarcham she fell in love with a warrior named Noisiu she describes him by saying "I could love a man with those three colours: hair like a raven, cheeks like blood and body like snow." Deirdre and Noisiu end up running off together, but they ran into problems everywhere they went because of her beauty until they finally found an isolated place where they thought no one could locate them. "We will all take her to another land--there is not in Eriu a king who will turn us away.'  That was their avice.  They departed that night: three fifties of warriors and three fifties of women and three fifties of hounds and three fifties of servants and Derdriu mingled in with them." However, Conchubur ends up sending spies. In finding them, he finds out she is still stunningly beautiful. In the pursuit to retrieve her Noisiu is killed and they take Deirdre to the king. The king only has her body and nothing else she never loves him in any way, as a result Conchubur gives her to one of his warriors and on their way home she commits suicide by placing her head out the chariot hitting it against a bolder. "She let her head be driven against it, and the boulder made fragments of her head, and she died."

"The Story of Deirdre" reflects on a major Celtic tradition that was one of their most identifying. At the end of this story we have a woman who decides to end her life, but she has a very distinct way of approaching it. There are numerous ways that someone even back in that day and time could commit suicide. The way she decided to commit suicide is very symbolic to the Celtic society, Deirdre wanted to make sure that she was going to release her soul when she died. The only way that she was going to release her soul, which was located in the skull according to the Celts, was to crack or split it open. No one wanted to die and not have their skull cracked open, because if the skull was left whole the soul would never have a chance to leave. She is successful in cracking her skull open, the book states that she made "fragments of her head". This is why the Celts, when they were head hunting, thought that they had supernatural powers, because they possessed whomever soul they had killed.

"The Story of Deirdre", though I only highlighted one, is filled with numerous accounts of the Celtic society. In most all works you will find at least one cultural trait that is emphasized throughout the work. This story just so happens to have a dramatic but logical ending. Even though there were easier ways for Deirdre to commit suicide she had to do it in a way that her soul would live on.