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Riding the Horse, Writing the Cultural Myth: The European Knight and the American Cowboy as Equestrian Heroes

Riding the Horse, Writing the Cultural Myth: The European Knight and the American Cowboy as Equestrian Heroes

By Metin Boşnak and Cem Ceyhan

Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations, Vol.2:1 (2003)

Introduction: Any comparative study of cultures will prove that virtually every culture has created its own hero according to its historico-cultural needs, characters, and potentials. In Mexico that hero is called “vaquero;” in Columbia and Venezuela, “illenora;” in Argentina, “gaucha;” in Japan and China, “samurai,” and “karate man” respectively; in Ottoman empire, “akıncı.” Similarly, both the European knight and the American cowboy had an important role in the emergence and development of their national heritage. There are many similarities and historical ties between the two in that they are idealized representatives of the cultures in which they emerged, and that they are equestrian.

The popular images of the American cowboy and the European knight have been much misrepresented and distorted to fit the illusions of fiction. The medieval Latin word for “knight,” miles, does not help us sort out definitions much further. Originally signifying “soldier,” in the eleventh century miles became associated with notions of horsemanship and nobility in mysterious and complicated ways. The word eventually became interchangeable with Latin caballarius, its romance cognates, all of which etymologically refer to the idea of horsemanship. Mono-dimensional definition of the European knight, too, has so much been repeated and popularized that the sole perception of him today is the general conclusion that tends to determine him as the paragon of gentility, as was pictured in the Tudor age, when imitating the adventures of the knights of King Arthur was deemed very important by knights. Similarly, portrayal of the European knight as a gentle courtier Elizabethan period supplemented the false consciousness of this figure

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