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Beowulf & Anglo-Saxon Literature

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

Tiffany Cover

on 4 May 2018

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Transcript of Beowulf & Anglo-Saxon Literature

Anglo-Saxon Literature:
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
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 next map 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
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 (= epic hero).
Elements of the Epic
Epic hero
Divine Intervention
Great Events
Central, male character
Larger-than-life figure
Of noble or divine birth
Pits his
, 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 demonstrate the hero's courage,
, or virtue
Generally make up most of the plot's action
Deeds are
by others.
Handout #1
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 of battles, weapons, lineage, 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.

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 and protect his thanes. Kings were highly praised for their generosity and hospitality. Warriors were expected to be brave, courageous, and loyal.

The term translates literally to "man-payment" or "blood money" and is 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.
A two-word metaphorical name for something, such as "sea-road" for ocean
Handout #2
Sometimes included in epic poetry...
So...the story...
Beo = bright
Wulf = wolf

Story of Scyld and character charts/lineage

Raedewald = Scyld??
Both found as abandoned babies on a ship full of treasures and became mighty kings

Full transcript