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Beowulf & Anglo-Saxon Literature

A description of Anglo-Saxon England and an introduction to the context of Beowulf.
by

Tiffany Cover

on 6 April 2016

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Transcript of Beowulf & Anglo-Saxon Literature

Anglo-Saxon Literature:
Beowulf
The story of Beowulf was originally passed down through oral tradition by "scops."
It was finally written down by a Christian, whose name is unknown, sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries.
Longest surviving English poem
A fire badly damaged some of the manuscript
Mysterious Origins
Language
Beowulf was written in Old English, but we will be reading a translation of the original text, because otherwise you wouldn't be able to understand it! Here's what it would look like in Old English:

"Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum."

Aren't you glad you get to read the translation?
Historical Context of the Story
When the Roman Empire fell, three tribes invaded the area that is now the United Kingdom. These tribes were the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes
Angle + land = England.
Before these tribes invaded, they lived in parts of modern day Denmark and Sweden.
The map at the right shows the locations of the peoples mentioned in Beowulf.
The proximity of those people to one another, together with the warrior code they followed, made for frequent clashes.
The Geats and the Danes are the two groups on which Beowulf most closely focuses.
Beowulf is an "epic poem."

What is an epic poem?
Epic Poem
An epic is a long narrative poem that recounts the adventures of a legendary hero in pursuit of a goal of national importance. The hero's accomplishments reflect the values of his culture and usually figure prominently in the history or mythology of his people.
Elements of the Epic
Epic hero
Quest
Valorous
Deeds
Divine Intervention
Great Events
Central, male character
Larger-than-life figure
Of noble or divine birth
Pits his
strength
, courage, skill, and virtue against opposing forces (often evil)

A long, dangerous journey or mission undertaken by the epic hero.
Hero's opportunity to prove his heroism and win honor.
Actions that demonstrate the hero's courage, strength, or
ethics
, or virtue.
Generally make up most of the plot's action.
These deeds are
glorified
by others.
Complete handout #1 and submit to inbox.
Epic Conventions
The plot opens in medias res, which is Latin for "in the middle of things." The reader joins the story in the thick of the action.
Most epics are serious in tone and lofty in style in order to convey the importance of events.
Long speeches by characters suggest formality, as do lists or battles, weapons, and foreign gifts.
In many epics, the hero receives help from a god or another supernatural force who takes an interest in his quest.
Important events from the history or mythology of a nation or culture often provide the backdrop for the epic narrative.

Raedewald = Scyld??
Both found as abandoned babies on a ship full of treasures and became mighty kings
Poetic devices to pay attention to...
The repetition of similar sounds, especially the initial consonant sound of a word or a stressed syllable.
Other terms to make note of...
The Germanic code of loyalty. Through this code, thanes or warriors swore loyalty to their king for whom they fought and whom they protected. In return the king was expected to be generous with gifts of treasure and land. The king also protected his thanes in return. Kings were highly praised for their generosity and hospitality. Warriors were expected to be brave, courageous, and loyal.
Weregild
Comitatus

The term translates literally to "man-payment." The practice of paying a slain man’s family to make up for the deed and to prevent them from taking revenge against the man-slayer. Weregild is mentioned in Beowulf before the events in the poem, Hrothgar paid a weregild to Beowulf’s father. Hence, Beowulf feels compelled to help Hrothgar in his time of need.
Alliteration
Kenning
A two-word metaphorical name for something, such as "sea-road" for ocean. (Complete handout #2 and submit to inbox).
Caesura
A pause or break in the middle of a verse line that separates the two strong accents before and after it.
Sometimes included in epic poetry...
So...the story...
Beo = bright
Wulf = wolf

Story of Scyld and character charts (upon my return tomorrow)

Full transcript