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Beowulf in the beginning

An introduction to the history behind Beowulf, along with literary devices and vocabulary.

Julie Aaron

on 16 September 2016

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Transcript of Beowulf in the beginning

The History of Beowulf
One of the first epic poems to be written down.
The story is set in 500-600 A.D. in Denmark & Sweden.
It is thought to have been written down around 725 A.D.
Beowulf illustrates the customs, tradition, and values of the Anglo-Saxon society.
Although the story took place in time of a pagan people, the reader will find many references to Christianity because it is believed to have been written down by a Christian monk in England
Beowulf manuscript
Beowulf exists in only one manuscript, which survived the wholesale destruction of artifacts by Henry VIII
It also survived a disastrous fire in the 1500’s and is now housed in the British Library in London
1st page
of the
original Beowulf manuscript
Cut out of
The English Language
English is divided into three periods
Old English (ca. 449-1100) – sometimes known as Anglo-Saxon
Middle English (ca.1100-1500)
Modern English (ca. 1500-)
The English Language
English is divided into three periods
Old English (ca. 449-1100) – sometimes known as Anglo-Saxon
Middle English (ca.1100-1500)
Modern English (ca. 1500-)
The Old English alphabet
Old English
'Fæder ure þuþe eart on heofonum
si þin nama gehalgod tobecume þin rice gewurþe þin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us to dæg
and forgyf us ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum
and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge ac alys us of yfele soþlice.'
'Oure fadir þat art in heuenes halwid be þi name;
þi reume or kyngdom come to be. Be þi wille don in herþe as it is dounin heuene.
yeue to us today oure eche dayes bred.
And foryeue to us oure dettis þat is oure synnys as we foryeuen to oure dettouris þat is to men þat han synned in us.
And lede us not into temptacion but delyuere us from euyl.'
Middle English
Modern English
'Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debters.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'
The first is Old English and is, of course, taken from the Bible and is part of the Lord's Prayer.
The second passage is from the Wyclif Bible of 1348, two hundred years before Shakespeare, and it is written in what is called Middle English.
The Third is from the King James Authorised Bible and it came out in 1611. You have no difficulty with that extract, of course, because it is written in Modern English.
See if you can recognize this popular verse.
Kenning – two or more words which serve as a metaphor for another word
Some well-known Anglo-Saxon kennings include:
bone-house (banhus ) - the human body
battle-light (beadoleoma) - sword
wave-floater (wægflota) - ship
Descriptions of the sea included:
whale road (hronrad)
fish home (fiscesethel)
seal bath (seolbæp)
Literary Devices
Caesura – building block of Anglo-Saxon poetry
- each line had a pause in the middle to create a type of beat
Alliteration – repetition of initial consonant sounds
Many a mead-hall Scyld, son of Sceaf
Snatched from the forces of savage foes
From a friendless foundling, feeble and wretched,
He grew to a terror as time brought change

Used for entertainment, variety, and to keep the beat and rhythm
Scop – poet/storyteller/historian
Honored by warriors in hopes the scops would make them immortal

Mead-Hall - a great hall of a king; usually the safest place in the kingdom (mead – alcoholic drink made from fermented honey and water)

Archetype – from arkhe “first” and typos “model”
The original pattern or model; the prototype

Epic – from epos “speech, tale, song” and ic (creating adj.)
Long narrative poem that relates the deeds of a “larger-than-life” hero who embodies the values of a particular society
Beowulf Vocabulary
Beowulf – from “bee-wolf”, or bear
A Geat (from Sweden) -- the epic hero
Son of Edgetho -- nephew of Higlac, king of the Geats
Hrothgar - king of the Danes (Denmark), builder of Herot
Herot – from hart-hall
Mead-hall of King Hrothgar --attacked by Grendel
Decorated with antlers of stags
Wiglaf – a Geat warrior, one of Beowulf’s select band
The only one to help Beowulf in his last battle

Grendel – from Norse “grindill” or storm
Man-eating monster who lives at the bottom of a foul mere, or mountain lake
Archetypal villain
Beowulf Cast of Characters
Beowulf Prologue in Old English
Full transcript