The heroic biography of Fergus Mac Róich. A case study of the heroic-biographical pattern in Old and Middle Irish literature
Ní Mhaoileoin, Patricia
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The heroic-biographical pattern has been investigated for other heroes of medieval Irish literature such as Cú Chulainn and Cormac mac Airt, but not much scholarship has been devoted to either the investigation of the pattern outside of these heroes. This case study carried out a survey of the extant literature in order to investigate the heroic-biographical pattern for the Ulster hero Fergus mac Róich. Analysis of extant narrative and genealogical material combined with an analysis and comparison of the patterns proposed by Lord Raglan and Jan de Vries showed that while Fergus possessed a heroic biography, he lacked the tales that constitute the conception, birth and youth episodes of a heroic-biographical pattern. Fergus’ detailed genealogies suggest that there may have originally been these sorts of tales composed on his behalf, but they have simply not survived. This investigation of the extant material relating to Fergus mac Róich has been beneficial in arriving at an understanding the development of his heroic biography and providing a valuable contrast to the heroic biography of Cormac mac Airt, a king-hero, whose heroic biography, of necessity, differs from that of Fergus. The application of the heroic biography pattern to the extant material regarding Fergus has proven to be a useful analytical tool for the understanding of Old and Middle Irish literature. Certain of the episodes that comprise Fergus’ heroic biography would seem to be unique in the context of early medieval Irish literature; there are no other examples of two warriors fighting to the death for the hand of a woman in Old and Middle Irish literature. As Fergus’ heroic biography is developed it appears that his heroic standing within the literature is diminished, and the composition of episodes which would seem to ‘fill in the blanks’ of his heroic biography do not lend additional prestige to his character in the tales.
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