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Transcript of Beowulf Presentation
Composed around 700 A.D.
The story had been in circulation as an oral narrative for many years before it was written.
The action of the poem takes place around 500 AD
The poet is reviving the heroic language, style, values, and pagan values of ancient Germanic oral poetry
The poem deals with ancient Germanic forebears, the Danes and the Geats
Only a single manuscript of the poem survived the Anglo-Saxon era. In the 1700’s it was nearly destroyed in a fire
It was not until 1936 when the Oxford scholar J.R.R. Tolkien published a paper on the poem that is became popular.
The epic form has been defined as: "a long, narrative poem recounting heroic deeds against a background of war and the supernatural." Beowulf is usually termed a folk epic because it teaches “early ideals, characteristic, and traditions of a people or nation."
An epic is often an exemplary form— a story that acts as an example of behaviors men should follow.
The epic presents a cultural ideal and a human model—it is a great tool for teaching man to fight against the evil forces and temptation that surround him.
The poem begins with the story of Shield and his descendants, representatives of good kings and how men in power should behave/act.
Shield and Beow were good kings because they were ring-givers; they gave gifts. Rings, of course, are symbolic of unity, appropriate for a king to give his warriors.
This tension is at the heart of the poem
Pagan history and myth, when in the hands of monks, are made to point to a Christian moral
Beowulf is poised between two value systems
Conflict of Christian and Pagan Values
Community v. isolation
Light v. darkness
Harmony v. discord
Fate v. God’s will
Youth v. old age
Christian v. Pagan
Other Parallels to Consider
Heorot is symbolic of many things, but mainly as proof of the king’s greatness- his achievement. Most of the great men of the ancient world built incredible buildings or structures to prove their worthiness and magnificence. (Even the A-S would’ve been aware of The Temple of Solomon.)
When a king builds a structure, like Hrothgar does Heorot, he is building a symbol of peace and goodness, and of community. (It is not by chance that Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, tallest building in Manhattan — this was a symbol of Western civilization, the free, democratic culture they hate so much.)
The Germanic code of loyalty
Thanes and warriors swore loyalty to their king, for who they fought and protected.
In return, the king was expected to be generous with gifts of treasure and land. (and also his protection)
Kings were highly praised for their generosity and hospitality
Creation v. Chaos
If Heorot represents a form of Creation (or as some argue- Eden), it also is symbolic of God’s order, then Grendel is a symbolic representation of Chaos (in the Eden metaphor- Satan).
How does Grendel destroy the unity/community of Heorot? Consider Grendel’s refusal to pay wergild.
Creation v. Chaos
521 A.D. – death of Hygelac, who is mentioned in the poem
680 A.D. – appearance of alliterative verse
835 A.D. – the Danish started raiding other areas; after this, few poets would consider them heroes
SO: This version was likely composed between 680 and 835, though it may be set earlier
How Do We Date the Poem?
Repetition of the initial sounds of words
Usually no rhyme
Oft Scyld Scefing sceapena praetum,
Monegum maegpum meodo-setla ofteah;
Egsode Eorle, syddan aerest weard.
Example of Alliterative Verse
A metaphor that uses two hyphenated words
bone-house = body
ring-giver = lord or king
battle-blade = sword
Hell-dame= evil woman
Examples of Kennings
a poet or storyteller and an important part of A-S society
They recorded history, provided entertainment, and sang songs of heroes!
Other Important terms and vocabulary:
thane- a warrior
elegy- a poem that is sad and mournful