Definition of Quest

Literally, quest means search. It means to find out something, or go to find out something lost somewhere. It also means to search for some solution such as the quest for a vaccine for some disease. Etymological, the first occurrence of the term quest world seems to have been traced in the Middle English as quest or queste. It means the same thing. It also seems to have arrived from Anglo-Norman queste or Old French queste that means a hunt or a search. Its Latin equivalent is quaesta that means tax, inquiry or tribute.

In literature, a quest is a specific mission for finding treasures or solving a mystery. It serves as a device in a narrative plot where it shows the journey of a hero toward a goal that may not be achievable or may be achievable.

Signs of Quest

The question in a plot has as a significant place. It shows the following signs.

  1. It is achievable or unachievable.
  2. It is the specific purpose of the hero.
  3. A hero usually achieves it after undergoing hardships and difficulties.
  4. These goals for the quest is generally very difficult, mysterious and full of obstacles.

Examples of Quest in Literature

Example #1

Odyssey by Homer

O Shaker of the Earth, do not refuse
to grant our prayer; may all these things come true.
Bring fame to Nestor and his sons, and grant
gifts to the Pylians, as recompense
for this fine sacrifice. And may the quest
for which we sailed here in our swift black ship
succeed, and may we come home safe again.”

These lines occur in Odyssey by Homer. He presents Athena, the goddess, talking to Poseidon to accept her prayers about recompense to the progeny of Pylians. She also mentions the quest that involves sailing of the black ship and its success to return safely. This quest is only about the return of the voyage and not of Odysseus about whom the epic tells a different quest.

Example #2

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

And now, although
he wanted this challenge to be one he’d face
by himself alone—the shepherd of our land,
a man unequalled in the quest for glory
and a name for daring—now the day has come
when this lord we serve needs sound men
to give him their support. Let us go to him,
help our leader through the hot flame
and dread of the fire.

These lines occur in Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney. He presents Beowulf and Hrothgar joining hands to go on the quest to find Grendel to kill him so that they could avenge the killing of Danes. The use of quest in these lines show that it is the quest of Beowulf that Hrothgar joins to help him despite the fact that Beowulf has arrived there to assistant them against the monster.

Example #3

From Jason and the Golden Fleece by Apollonius, translated by Richard Hunter

In a remote spot, the heroes lurked in the river-marshes and held an assembly as they sat on the benches of their ship. The son of Aison himself spoke, and the others sat in due order and listened quietly, each in his own place: Friends, I shall tell you the plan I myself a favour, but it is for you to give it your assent. Common is our need, and common to all alike is the right to speak. The man who holds back his view and opinion in silence should know that he alone deprives our expedition of its chance for safe return. I suggest that you all remain quietly in the ship, your arms at the ready. I shall go to Aides’ palace, together with the sons of Phrixos and two of our comrades as well, and I shall first speak to him to test whether he is willing in friendship to grant us the golden fleece or prefers to refuse and, trusting in his might, reject our quest.

Richard Hunter presents the son of Aison talking to his comrades that their mission and needs are the same and they should embark upon the quest with the resolve to return safely. However, he also states that if his comrades or any one of them does not agree, they can reject his quest. Here by quest he means the route that they are going to undertake, or the task that they are taking upon themselves.

Example #4

Le Morte D’Arthur Volume 1 by Sir Thomas Malory

And so he made him ready to go with Balin, and left the damosel still. And as they were even afore King Arthur’s pavilion, there came one invisible and smote this knight that went with Balin throughout the body with a spear. ‘Alas,’ said the knight, ‘I am slain under your conduct with a knight called Garlon; therefore take my horse that is better than yours, and ride to the damosel, and follow the quest that I was in as she will lead you, and revenge my death when ye may.’

This passage shows Balin appearing in the pavilion of King Arthur. The king, over there, states that he should follow the quest in which he was involved as his horse has been killed. It means that the quest could be transferred to some other person. This use of quest shows that it was mostly used in the olden times for chivalry.

Functions of Quest

Although it seems that quest is only used in the old or medieval romances, it is clear that quest also means something that is difficult to achieve but the hero is all set to achieve it through any means and that it means good for the people as well as for the hero. Its real function is to show how a hero goes through a test set for him. It teaches the readers that such realities could emerge in their cases and that they should also be able to surmount such things with their intellect, perseverance and courage.


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