, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 121-139
Date: 22 Mar 2011

Friends and friendship in heroic epics: with a focus on Beowulf, Chanson de Roland, the Nibelungenlied, and Njal’s Saga

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Abstract

While the theme of friendship in the Middle Ages has traditionally been associated with the world of courtly literature and the Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, deeply influenced by Cicero, there are also other strands of friendship that determine, contrary to our expectations, the world of heroic epics. As much as the heroic individuals often seem to be wood-cut like figures with no or little feelings, a closer analysis of Beowulf, Le Chanson de Roland, the Nibelungenlied, and Njal’s Saga demonstrates that some of the true tragic elements contained in them are the conflicts among friends or the inability of friendship to avoid the massive killing. This friendship often comes to the surface only in the ultimate situation of death and dying, but the poets of those heroic epics were apparently deeply inspired to elaborate on the profound value of friendship in a bellicose and catastrophic world where human existence was at great risk. One of the greatest strengths of these heroes proves to be their deeply moving effort to reach out to their friends even in the most deadly situations.