After marking Owain ap Urien as a superhero of Rheged  it made be think about what makes a superhero and who else of the early medieval/late antique period would I consider a superhero.

So characteristics of a superhero?

  1. Exists in more than one piece of literature, including allusions that hint at larger stories. No one-hit-wonders.
  2. Found in stories outside of their original context.
  3. Found in stories that transcend their time or their historic timeline.
  4. They are not the personification or historification of a god, but they could be compared to one.

So how many early medieval superheroes can I list?

  • Owain ap Urien Rheged
  • Cadwalaldr ap Cadwallon
  • Arthur
  • Tristian/Drustan
  • Hengest (Bede, Historia Brittonum, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Beowulf, Flight of Finnsburg)
  • Offa of Angln (Widsith, Beowulf, and Tale of Two Offas)
  • Finn of Ireland
  • Oswald (Bede, various hagiography, romance Oswallt, and included in one Irish saga).

Each of these men have traditional followers and opponents.

You’ll notice that there is one hero who is missing… Beowulf. He is mentioned in just one manuscript and therefore for all we know, he could be a one-hit-wonder — maybe, maybe not. There is not so much as a single vague allusion to Beowulf in any other manuscript in any language.

For there supposedly being so little English heroic literature, you should notice that three of the superheroes listed above are English. Interesting that Oswald became a superhero outside of England….

So are there any superheroes that I have missed? Or any that you think should be removed?

10 thoughts on “Superheroes

  1. Hmmn. This may not count because he wasn’t known for his sword-swanging prowess but for his, ah, truthiness (and other aspects of the three kingly attributes)…but how about Niall Frossach (Book of Leinster, and Liber Flavus Fergusiorum and a version in Leabhar Cloinne Aodha Buidhe)? And I’m waaay out of my territory here, but just wanted to play the game 🙂

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could find some women superheroes?

  2. Well, Niall of the Nine Hostages is a possibility. Bran the blessed is a god and so I don’t think he gets to count. Otherwise Bran would have been a prehistoric superhero.

  3. With the exception of Ffin, and of course Beowulph, all your other figures are either Cambrian or were adversaries of the Cambrians. The interpretation of there being an Anglian presence in the North of England for the Arthurian and immediate post Arthurian period is pure fantasy.

    You could list Peredur as one of your superheroes but be sure to get his location correct as Ebrauc, his realm, was Wroxeter not the wrongly interpreted York.

  4. Interesting, no actually most of them were not Cambrians or adversaries of Cambrians. Cadwaladr was from North Wales. Tristan/Drustan has been located all over like Arthur. He is usually in Cornwall in most literature. Offa of Angln of course is far from a Cambrian. He is 4th-5th century if he existed at all. Cambrians do not figure in the romances and other literature of Oswald.

    Peredur Steel Arms is a superhero that I was probably lumping under Arthur’s followers. He is listed in his own literture, in Y Gododdin, and as an Arthurian figure. Come to think of it, Geraint ap Erbin should be considered a superhero. He is imported into Arthurian lit but he is also mentioned as ‘Geraint from the South’ in Y Gododdin.

  5. Michelle,
    Where was North Wales if it was not in Cambria? Most literature places Cernyw as Cornwall, but before being attributed to Cornwall it was a section of Gwent, Sir Tristram/ was the son of Marcus Conomorus originally a Glamorgan prince who in turn was the son of Merchion Vesanus of Gwrhir, besides at the date to which our figures relate to history Cornwall was in Cambria, that was the province of Britannia Prima (Britain) when the Romans departed in AD 410; so where do you think Cambria was? Hengist was in Ceint (West Gloucestershire).
    Anglen was that land from the Ceint in which Hengist landed, not Kent, and his son Oesc landed above ‘Y Gwawl’ / Wat’s Dyke . The whole of the Welsh Borderlands were first the eastern part of Cambria before the Angles conquered it and made it Angeln, in Latin Anglia, to which East Anglia was to the far East and Middle Anglia was in between the two.
    As I have this thing about this so-called mighty King called Offa of the 8th may I presume that you were referring to Ossa the nephew of Oesc who most certainly was active in that Angeln, formerly east Cambria.

    I agree that Gereint is worthy of consideration as a superhero, but I would not make the list too long just yet as there are many more to be repatriated from Northern England. I do not understand why you say that Gereint was imported into Arthurian literature, he was essentially part of the real history of Arthur. Have you decided where Gododdin was as it most certainly was not Catterick? In its correct place Gereint coming from the south, albeit in a different period to the Battle at Catraeth of the poem, was exactly south of Eidyn, once you have also located that place correctly.

  6. Jonathan.
    You have me there, I am not conversant with Godwin’s law, but i would imagine that your comment is not intended to be complimentary. Never mind, i am not one to take offence. I am firmly of the opinion that the history which we currently accept as dark Age History is doing an injustice to the reality of that which pertained in the period. If there is a particular aspect of my comments with which you take umbrage I would willingly tell you why Ihave reached my conclusions. Conversely you could tell me what you consider is the version of Arthur’s History that best suits you, out of the many options. Perhaps you would be good enough to tell me where you consider each of the twelve battles fought by Arthur and listed by Nennius took place,

  7. Oh, I couldn’t be that good because I don’t pretend to have an idea, and indeed doubt that it can be recovered from what remains of the record. Such take as I have is on record and I’m sure you’ll find it woefully unresearched, but that would be because I’ve not done more than very cursory research on it. It’s your certainty on these matters that startles me, rather than their contents, which I couldn’t refute myself and wouldn’t want to; the more ideas there are out there, the better is the chance of someone being right.

    Godwin’s Law, for what it’s worth, is an old Usenet cliché, which purports to state that as a Usenet discussion continues the probability of one party comparing another to the Nazis tends towards 1. There is an associated convention that when the conversation reaches that point, it’s time to stop it, though this convention is rarely followed by the relevant disputants.

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